Scouting Ireland to get extra €220,000 for child protection

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone says she will not compromise on child safety

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone  said she shared the ‘huge concerns of parents about the safeguarding issues at Scouting Ireland’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she shared the ‘huge concerns of parents about the safeguarding issues at Scouting Ireland’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Scouting Ireland will receive an extra €220,000 in State funding this year to go towards child-protection improvements, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone will announce on Friday.

The increase brings the youth organisation’s annual public grant to €1.1 million, and comes amid a major historic child sex abuse scandal facing the organisation.

The additional €220,000 is being provided by the Department of Children to be ringfenced to help adequately staff the organisation’s safeguarding office.

Speaking to The Irish Times ahead of the announcement, Ms Zappone said she shared the “huge concerns of parents about the safeguarding issues at Scouting Ireland”.

The extra funding was being provided on the “strictest understanding that it will be solely used to staff its safeguarding office,” she said.

The lack of child-protection staff was a key criticism of reports carried out by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott, and children’s rights expert Jillian van Turnhout, into the organisation.

Mr Elliott’s report on safeguarding standards found the organisation had one dedicated child-protection officer, where it should have between three and four, overseen by a safeguarding manager.

Ms Zappone said she would not compromise on child safety, and it was essential current shortcomings in the area were addressed by Scouting Ireland.

“I want to be clear, Scouting Ireland still has work to do. My officials continue to monitor developments within the organisation to ensure all safeguarding and child-protection standards are met,” she said.

Last year Ms Zappone twice suspended the youth organisation’s State funding over concerns with its governance.

Sex abuse scandal

Scouting Ireland is facing a major past child sex-abuse scandal, and an ongoing internal review has identified 313 alleged victims, and 237 alleged abusers. The majority of abuse occurred between the 1960s and 1990s, in legacy scouting organisations which merged to form Scouting Ireland in 2004.

The organisation’s funding was still linked to continued progress on governance and safeguarding reforms, Ms Zappone said.

The organisation had estimated before getting this latest funding that it would need an extra €350,000 to staff its safeguarding office adequately, to ensure child-protection standards are robust. It is currently in the process of recruiting a full-time safeguarding manager, with Mr Elliott filling in the role on a part-time basis currently.

Last month the board of Scouting Ireland sent a message to members informing them the department had committed to increasing the organisation’s funding. The message said the decision should be seen as a sign of confidence from the Minister that the organisation was “on the right path”.

The message created a degree of tension with the department, where one source stressed the increase in funding should not be seen as an indication Scouting Ireland was “out of the woods, and back into the good books”.

Commenting on the increase in funding, chairman of the Oireachtas youth affairs committee Alan Farrell TD said it was critical the public had confidence in the organisation’s current safeguarding standards.

“Failure to put the protection of children first within the organisation would be to jeopardise the future of Scouting Ireland itself,” he said.

The decision to provide extra funds for safeguarding staff was a “vital measure” to ensure standards are “strengthened to the highest levels possible”, Mr Farrell said.