Tusla chairman defends agency’s actions in Scouting Ireland controversy
Scouting Ireland and Tusla representatives invited to appear at Oireachtas Committee
Mr Rabbitte said Ms Zappone had made it clear that she expected the recommendations of Tusla to be implemented by Scouting Ireland. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Scouting Ireland’s interim safeguarding manager, Ian Elliott, wrote to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone earlier this week seeking to have a letter from Tusla criticising the youth organisation “withdrawn”.
Child protection standards in the organisation, which has 40,000 juvenile members, were sharply criticised by Tusla, the child and family agency, which said an assessment by its officials had found “live cases” where poor practice had “left children exposed to risk of harm”.
The criticism was part of a letter sent by Tusla on February 18th to Scouting Ireland chief executive Dr John Lawlor. The letter made a series of urgent recommendations over existing safeguarding failings at Scouting Ireland.
Mr Elliott wrote to the Minister, outlining Scouting Ireland’s “complete surprise” at the Tusla letter, and said the organisation was “very anxious to sit down and talk through the evidence on which it was based”.
Mr Rabbitte defended Tusla’s handling of the matter and the concerns raised by its officials. “I have satisfied myself that the agency has acted professionally,” he told The Irish Times.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Mr Rabbitte said Tusla had been involved in its “routine everyday professional business” liaising with Scouting Ireland about Children First compliance.
Mr Rabbitte said he understood “Ian Elliot wrote in strident terms” to the Minister, in relation to the letter from Tusla.
Ms Zappone then had to “weigh up” two letters and decided to put the matter in the public domain, he said.
Mr Rabbitte was critical that it seemed Ian Elliot was challenging the content of Tusla’s letter, and “demanding in intemperate terms” that it be withdrawn. “These are serious concerns,” he said.
Mr Rabbitte said he acknowledged Mr Elliot’s reputation and the good work of Scouting Ireland. However, Ireland had changed, he said, as had the attitude of policy makers towards the issue of child safety. Ms Zappone “took the safety first approach”, he said.
He denied Ms Zappone had taken a publicity first approach. “Scouting Ireland decided not to deal with it in the normal way, they wrote to the Minister, not to Tusla. It was not Tusla that departed from normal professional conduct,” he said.
Mr Rabbitte said Ms Zappone had made it clear that she expected the recommendations of Tusla to be implemented by Scouting Ireland.
Meanwhile, representatives from Scouting Ireland and Tusla have been invited to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, to discuss the current issues in relation to the youth organisation. The committee hearing is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, March 13th. It is understood Scouting Ireland officials have confirmed they will attend the hearing to face questions.