Scouting Ireland has today apologised to victims and survivors of sexual abuse in the group which has stretched back over decades.
The chair of Scouting Ireland, Adrian Tennant, made the apology as the report by child protection consultant Ian Elliott on his investigations into abuse in the organisation was published.
Mr Tennant said that Mr Elliott’s learning review into historical sexual abuse, which was commissioned by Scouting Ireland, uncovered “shocking stories of sexual abuse in Scouting over many decades.”
“To date 356 victims and survivors have come forward to Scouting Ireland, to the Gardai, to the PSNI and to Tusla and Gateway to share their stories. We know of 275 known or suspected perpetrators,” he added.
“Young people in Scouting were abused, sexually and physically, and sometimes violently. Some alleged perpetrators were serial abusers with multiple victims. The alleged perpetrators were at all levels within their organisations up to the most senior levels,” he stated.
“There is evidence that very senior people knew of, and protected, alleged perpetrators within these organisations. This ‘cronyism’ led to cover-up or looking the other way. Abuse did happen, it was not responded to in a way that protected the young person or sought to hold the offender to account,” he said.
“Most shockingly of all, Mr Elliott states that based on emerging evidence, that senior volunteers, who were thought to be sex offenders, did share information with each other about their abuse and took steps to facilitate that abuse for each other,” he added.
In his apology, Mr Tennant said Scouting Ireland “unreservedly apologises 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. We are sorry that you were not listened to or were unable to tell your story at that time,” he said.
“We are sorry for the hurt caused to you and the legacy of that hurt which many of you still live with today. We know we cannot take away that hurt. But we do want you to know that you have been heard,” he added.
“We want you to know that you are believed. We want you to know that we will support you. We are determined that there is no place in Scouting for anyone who, by design or by omission, harms a child, as you were. Cronyism, looking away and covering up are not victimless crimes. They are enabling actions,” he explained.
“We pledge to adopt and deliver the Learnings and Recommendations of this Report. It is a light pointing into a very dark corner but it is also a beacon for the standards, culture and structures we must have, and which must be resourced to ensure that Scouting is a safe place for young people,” said Mr Tennant.
“You, by your bravery in speaking out, have helped to uncover the truth. Your legacy now is to have helped to make Scouting Ireland a safer place for young people; to have reminded us of why we exist – to support and cherish our young people through their scouting experience,” the apology concluded.
Anne Griffin, CEO, Scouting Ireland said she wanted to assure all its members and the wider public that Scouting Ireland is a very different organisation today.
“Bad culture, as described in Mr Elliott’s Learning Review, thrives in poor structure and poor governance. Over the past three years we have implemented new governance and safeguarding structures which I believe, help us to stamp out any lingering elements of this damaging behaviour. I am determined to ensure that we continue this work so that we become an organisation that is the standard bearer for best in class safeguarding and governance,” she said.
Gearoid Begley, Safeguarding Manager of Scouting Ireland said safeguarding is a continuous and ever evolving issue.
“We have to continually review our processes and procedures and as our understanding and knowledge of perpetrators evolve and as new dangers emerge, we must be ready to meet them. There will never come a time when we can rest on our laurels,” he added.
In a statement released today, Mr Elliott, the independent safeguarding consultant who carried out the review, said scouting is a wonderful activity for the vast majority of young people that participate in it.
“For some, this has not been the case and that is a tragedy. It is so important that the hard lessons of past mistakes are studied and applied to present practice,” he added.
“Not every institution has the courage and commitment to do this, and it is very much to the credit of Scouting Ireland that they have shown their willingness to face their history and address it. Scouting Ireland will be stronger and safer through the commissioning of this Learning Review and the adoption of the recommendations that it contains,” he said.
“My hope is that this Learning Review represents a clear line of demarcation between past bad practice and a refocused, stronger, safer, and contrite Scouting that can be enjoyed by all of the young people involved in it for many years to come,” he added.
In his review, Ian Elliott highlighted that many difficulties occurred in the history of scouting, particularly through the eighties and nineties.
He highlighted how suspected or known sex offenders gained positions of power in the organisation, and how they exercised control and engaged in cronyism that would allow the abuse to continue.
“Abuse did happen and was not responded to in a way that protected the young person or sought to hold the offender to account. There was cover up and there was a failure to report,” he said.
“The full extent of this cannot be determined exactly as records have been lost and destroyed. There appears to have been an almost complete absence of any concern for the young people that were abused,” he added.
“Where attempts were made to support them, this is poorly recorded. A characteristic of the poor governance that existed in scouting was the existence of a culture driven by self-interest, with little attention paid to the young people involved,” he said.
“Small cliques emerged and played too great a part in how the scouting bodies operated. Individuals who had a sexual interest in young people, rose to positions of power and influence on occasions and controlled any fledgling accountability processes, preventing known offenders from being removed from scouting,” he stated.
“Cronyism thrived and remained a significant problem in scouting up to and including the reviewer's involvement with Scouting Ireland. Poor governance structures contributed greatly to the failure of scouting to consistently and comprehensively address abuse,” he added.
“Individuals who behaved badly, were not held to account through robust, and timely disciplinary processes. The introduction of an accountability framework was resisted. Ironically, the popularity of scouting increased during the time when sexual abuse appears to have been most prevalent,” said Mr Elliott.
“Individuals, who were suspected or known to be sex offenders, gained positions of power and became largely impregnable,” he added.
“The Learning Review cites the existence of this negative culture driven by self-interest,along with poor governance structures as being the main cause of the continuation of sexual abuse in scouting,” he added.
“Independent monitoring of practice and strict adherence to robust, accountability processes, are crucial to ensuring that the progress that Scouting Ireland has made, continues. It must be recognized and accepted by all that there is no greater priority for scouting today than the safeguarding of the young people that are involved with it, and the removal of anyone from scouting who places them at risk,” he said.
Scouting Ireland was formed in 2004 following the coming together of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scout Association of Ireland.
Today it is the largest youth organisation in the country, with nearly 50,000 members, comprising youth members, facilitated by adult volunteers, taking part in activities in virtually every town and community in Ireland.
“This Learning Review is a milestone in Scouting Ireland’s determination to search for the truth. It exposes past failings, particularly in our legacy organisations. It enables us to learn from an appalling backdrop of abuse which was ignored and unfortunately, in some cases, actively covered up,” said Scouting Ireland chairman Adrian Tennant.
“As Scouts, we will not hide from our responsibility to tell the truth. By looking ‘beneath the stone’ and searching ‘the darker corners of the organisation’ we have faced up to the fact that scouting on this island was not always safe for our young people in the past,” he added.
“Today, we have put the protection of young people where it should always have been – front and centre of everything we do. We, as adult volunteers in Scouting, understand that being an adult volunteer in Scouting Ireland is a privilege, not a right,” he explained.
“The current Board of Scouting Ireland is in office now for twenty months. We are not simply a new Board; we are driving forward a completely new approach to good governance and accountability. What motivates us is the determination to deal fully with issues that arose from the past,” he said.
“Scouting Ireland unreservedly accepts the findings of this Learning Review in their entirety. It is an appalling vision of abuse, of cronyism and a catastrophic failure over decades of the prevailing governance structures at the time to deal with it,” he stated.
“In his review, Ian Elliott made 12 recommendations on governance, safeguarding, disciplinary process and procedures, records and documentation, interagency co-operation, preventing cronyism, and to make an institutional apology to victims and survivors of abuse in scouting. We have accepted his recommendations and are implementing them,” he stressed.