Tuesday 17 September 2019

Review finds evidence of historic child abuse in Scouting Ireland

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

A REVIEW of historic cases of alleged child abuse in Scouting Ireland has found evidence of 71 alleged abusers and 108 victims.

Children Minister Katherine Zappone revealed the shocking figures at an Oireachtas committee this morning.

The alleged cases relate to a period between the 1960s and 1980s.

Ms Zappone said that none of the alleged abusers are still working with Scouting Ireland.

She said reports have been made to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency and the Gardaí in relation to all of the alleged abusers who are still living.

Ms Zappone described the revelations as "deeply upsetting".

Scouting Ireland's new chairperson Aisling Kelly said she is "very distressed" to learn of the alleged abuse.

She told the committee: "It is apparent from the ongoing review of past practice, being carried out by Mr Elliott at the behest of the Board, that there is evidence of past abuse emerging from the former organisations that merged to form Scouting Ireland some sixteen years ago.

"Unfortunately, this is so as with so many other organisations in this country’s history.

"Scouting Ireland is working hard to establish the full extent of the knowledge that exists in relation to that abuse; a process that deserves time and space in order to gather an accurate picture.

"No adult volunteer wants to hear that of their organisation which forms more than a hobby for them, but rather a way of life."

Ms Kelly said: "Personally, as a mother of two very young children, this fills me with deep sadness.

"I want to say categorically that Scouting Ireland is committed to providing support and help to all victims of past abuse within Scouting and is looking to include this in our policy framework.

"The Committee should be assured that this new Board of oversight will meet this situation with integrity, compassion and dedication," she added.

Safeguarding expert Ian Elliott has been reviewing historic cases. Mr Elliot told TDs and Senators that he doesn’t believe the final figures have been uncovered. He said the numbers are expected to increase.

He said that 14 of the alleged abusers had multiple victims.

Mr Elliot said the majority of the suspected abusers are deceased.

Those who are alive have been reported to the jurisdiction they are in, including Northern Ireland and overseas.

He said he does not know what all of the living individuals are currently doing, but they are not involved in scouting and have been reported to the authorities.

The revelations came at the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.

Its chairman, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, said the alleged abuse cases are deeply disturbing and underscore the urgent need for reform within the voluntary organisation.

He said committee members have unanimously expressed their "dismay and shock" that independent safeguarding official Mr Elliot had uncovered the historic cases.

Mr Farrell said the information broadens and deepens the context for the need for "root and branch" reform within Scouting Ireland.

He said: "To be told that these previously undisclosed cases within Scouting Ireland files date from the 1960s to 1980s, and do not involve current staff or volunteers, provides cold comfort".

He noted that Mr Elliot expects the number of cases to rise considerably as he continues to audit Scouting Ireland files.

Mr Farrell said: "The Committee will carefully weigh today’s assurances from Scouting Ireland leaders that all is being done now to build strong child safeguarding policies within their institution."

Scouting Ireland released a statement this afternoon where its chairperson apologised for the hurt that has been caused by the actions of some past members and the organisations that preceded it.

Aisling Kelly said the board of the organisation is committed to a new era of openness, integrity, transparency and accountability.

She said it's clear from Mr Elliot's work that there is evidence of past abuse within the former organisations that merged to form Scouting Ireland 16 years ago.

She added: "Neither the offenders nor the victims were always dealt with appropriately by either organisation.

"We are working hard to establish the full extent of the knowledge that exists in relation to that abuse but as of today, we have identified 108 alleged victims of abuse which was perpetrated by 71 alleged offenders.

"These cases go back to the 1940’s with the majority occurring between the 1960’s and 1980’s.

"The appropriate statutory agencies have been fully informed of alleged perpetrators still living."

Ms Kelly said: “We are deeply sorry for the hurt that has been caused by the actions of some past members of Scouting Ireland and its legacy organisations.

"We are taking a victim led approach to this work and we are determined to ensure a comprehensive and compassionate response to those that were so badly wronged in the past.  "

She said many of the cases were identified by victims coming forward to Scouting Ireland with their stories.

According to Ms Kelly: "We now have a process where victims are being listened to and many feel that for the first time their voice is being heard."

She said the organisation is committed to providing support and help to all victims of past abuse within our organisation.

"You will be listened to, you will be supported”, she said.

 Ms Kelly added that a new policy for supporting victims of abuse has been developed and will be considered for approval by the Board at its next meeting.

She also said Scouting Ireland is increasing its professional Safeguarding resources, including recruiting a full-time Safeguarding Manager.

She said that, as recommended in a report by former senator Jillian Van Turnhout Report, safeguarding is now a standing item on the Board’s agenda.

Ms Kelly said: "Safeguarding of children and adults is our number one priority.

"We cannot change the past, but we can make sure that this organisation is a safe environment for all our members now and into the future."

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