Scouting Ireland makes ‘organisational apology’ to abuse survivors

Volunteers who tried to report abuse were put under pressure and told that certain senior officials were ‘too important’ to be challenged, report says

Survivors of alleged abuse in legacy scouting bodies have called for a statutory inquiry to be set up on foot of the report’s findings. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Survivors of alleged abuse in legacy scouting bodies have called for a statutory inquiry to be set up on foot of the report’s findings. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Scouting Ireland has made a full “organisational apology” to survivors of past child sexual abuse in legacy scouting bodies, in response to a damning report by child protection expert Ian Elliott.

The historical child sexual abuse scandal relates to predecessor organisations, the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) and the Scout Association of Ireland (SAI), which merged to form Scouting Ireland in 2004.

Mr Elliott, who acted as Scouting Ireland’s interim safeguarding manager for a period, had been investigating the scale of the historical abuse for more than a year.

There is evidence that sex offenders at the top level of the legacy organisations operated in groups to protect each other, “preventing any attempts to hold an alleged offender accountable for their actions, if they were part of their group”, the report said.

Volunteers who tried to report abuse were put under pressure and told that certain senior officials were “too important” to be challenged, the report said.

In some cases, people in power used information of allegations made against individuals for the “purposes of exerting pressure” on them to support certain policies or actions.

The culture of the legacy organisations was “driven by self-interest”, with little attention paid to the young people involved in scouting, the report said.

Cronyism “thrived” in the former bodies and remained a “significant problem in scouting” up until Mr Elliott’s first involvement with Scouting Ireland in mid-2017, he said.

In an online press conference, board chairman Adrian Tennant said Scouting Ireland “unreservedly apologise to the victims and survivors of abuse in scouting who were failed”.

“We are sorry that adults in scouting harmed you. We are sorry that you were not protected,” he said.

Anne Griffin, the organisation’s chief executive, said just under 40 survivors of past alleged abuse were seeking to take legal cases against Scouting Ireland. Separately, there was a survivors’ support fund to pay for services such as counselling.

Gearóid Begley, Scouting Ireland’s safeguarding manager, said the organisation had committed to an external audit of child protection practices every two years, and an annual internal review.

Commenting on current policy he said: “If an allegation of abuse is made against an adult, they are suspended without prejudice from scouting until the matter is investigated by the relevant agencies.”

‘Chaotic’ record-keeping

Mr Elliott’s report found the previous record-keeping system of files related to alleged child abuse cases was “chaotic” and material was “often stored in the homes of key volunteers”.

Despite repeated requests over the past two years for these files to be passed to Scouting Ireland’s headquarters in Larch Hill, “very little additional documentation has been surrendered,” the report said.

The prevailing response to abuse allegations by former figures in positions of leadership “was to protect the organisation’s reputation”, the report said.

Standard practice was for alleged abusers to be asked to resign from scouting, leaving with “their good name in place”, without any report being made to statutory authorities.

Records show in these situations the motivation was to protect the organisations’ reputation and prevent “negative publicity” with no attention paid to the protection of the vulnerable child, the report said.

There were several examples of individuals facing allegations leaving one legacy scout body to join the other one.

In conclusion, Mr Elliott said the review of past cases “shows clear mismanagement and a gross failure to respond to risk” with known abusers consistently not held to account and allowed to remain in scouting bodies.

Survivors of alleged abuse in legacy scouting bodies have called for a statutory inquiry to be set up on foot of the report’s findings.

John Allen, who is alleged to have been abused by a scout leader in the 1970s aged 12, said the report was “disturbing” reading. Mr Allen last year settled a legal case against Scouting Ireland over the historic alleged abuse.

Mark Gaffney, who is taking a case against Scouting Ireland over alleged abuse that took place in the early 1980s, said survivors “want the full picture”.

Both men called for the Government to set up a statutory inquiry into the abuse.

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE