Tuesday 17 September 2019

Q&A: Review found Scouting Ireland's handling of 2016 rape allegation was 'deeply flawed'


(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Q: How did the revelations about suspected child abuse in the scouts emerge?

Scouting Ireland has been at the centre of controversy over governance issues for more than a year. It has seen funding withheld by Children's Minister Katherine Zappone until it promised to implement reforms. One of those commitments was to carry out a full review of historic cases. Child safeguarding expert Ian Elliot carried out the probe. Ms Zappone revealed that this review has so far found evidence of 71 suspected abusers and 108 victims. Most of the alleged abuse took place between the 1960s and 1980s.

Q: What was the initial controversy over governance?

Serious questions were raised about the organisation's handling of a rape allegation made in 2016 by a female scout leader against one of Scouting Ireland's officials. The incident was alleged to have taken place in 2009. A man was suspended but was reinstated after the DPP decided not to proceed with the case. A 2017 review by Mr Elliot reportedly found Scouting Ireland's handling of the allegation was "deeply flawed". An independent barrister has since been hired to conduct a full investigation into the allegation. Ms Zappone said she became aware of deficits in governance at Scouting Ireland in March. She temporarily withheld funding at this point. Former senator Jillian van Turnhout was appointed to examine governance.

Q: What did her report say?

Ms van Turnhout found a "dysfunctional" culture in Scouting Ireland where there was "blind loyalty" to senior figures. This is said to have led to decisions that were against the interests of the organisation. Scouting Ireland promised to act on her recommendations and the board announced its intention to resign in October. Ms Zappone restored three-months' worth of State funding of around €220,000 as a result of these promises. Funding was later suspended again in September after Ms Zappone had further concerns. A new board was appointed and funding was later restored for six months on the condition the organisation reforms its child protection rules. A progress report on this is due by the end of March.

Q: How many of the historic child abuse cases resulted in prosecutions?

This is not clear. Gardaí did not respond directly when asked but said any allegations reported to them will be fully investigated. Scouting Ireland did not respond to questions on the matter. A Department of Children statement said: "According to Scouting Ireland, because prosecutions and convictions are not matters that lie within their remit they will check their files to establish what they know happened. Where they have the information, they will share it with the minister and officials."

Q: What steps has Scouting Ireland taken to ensure children are safe now?

Ian Elliot is working as interim safeguarding manager. He insisted there were "very good" measures in place at the organisation's jamboree earlier this year. Scouting Ireland this week advertised for a permanent safeguarding manager. There are to be other professional safeguarding officers and they will need administrative support. Chief executive John Lawlor said this will require "substantial investment". Chairperson Aisling Kelly said: "Safeguarding of children and adults is our number one priority."

Q: What happens next?

Mr Elliot's review of historical cases is continuing. Other victims are expected to come forward. Ms Zappone has written to Scouting Ireland seeking an urgent meeting. She wants full details of its proposed protocols to deal with alleged victims. A spokesperson said: "Until she is provided with these details, it is far too early to outline the next course of action."

Irish Independent

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