Monday 16 September 2019

Withholding funding from Scouting Ireland is 'inhibiting' their ability to hire staff for safeguarding roles, group says

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

THE withholding of funds from Scouting Ireland is “inhibiting” their ability to hire staff to fill safeguarding roles and may see current staff let go, the group has said.

The organisation saw some €1m state funding suspended in April by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone when concerns about the group’s handling of a rape allegation emerged.

Representatives of Scouting Ireland appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.

Martin Burbridge, the vice president of Scouting Ireland, told the committee the suspension of funding was having an “immediate and serious” impact on the finances of the group.

The funding, which makes up about a third of the group’s funding, pays for their national office and 34 professional staff.

If the funding issue is not resolved in time staff will be placed on protective notice in June, Mr Burbridge said. Some “key” staff members had already left the organisation due to uncertainty over their role.

It was also proving to be an “inhibiting factor” in attracting suitable staff as people are not keen to work in an organisation that may not be able to pay its existing staff in eight weeks he said.

The group said an additional 10 staff are already required on top of the extra safeguarding staff and it “does not have the financial resources to close this human resources gap”.

Safeguarding consultant Ian Elliot who has compiled a number of reports into a specific case and overall procedures of the organisation has recommended an overhaul of the way in which child safeguarding is addressed in the organisation. The previous set-up allowed for lobbying of members by those party to a complaint it was found.

In response Minister Zappone said it is not her intention that Scouting Ireland become insolvent.

A report to be compiled by the former senator Jillian van Turnhout into the matter is due to be completed in the coming weeks.

Scouting Ireland also apologised for any “anxiety and hurt” caused. The group pledged to improve in a number of areas including governance and safeguarding.

Meanwhile, a barrister-led report into the handling of a rape allegation by the organisation is due to be concluded by the end of May.

An allegation of rape was made by a female leader against a male leader. The complaint, disclosed in 2016, alleged the rape took place on a 2009 camping trip. When the DPP decided not to prosecute the man was reinstated without being officially vetted again as per garda advice.

The board later approved the man's promotion, and some directors knew of the allegation against the man but did not inform others.

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