Saturday 21 September 2019

Editorial: 'Scouting Ireland's priority must be welfare of victims'

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: PA
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: PA


We have long lost the excuse of helplessness in the face of the suffering of children.

This is after all the 21st century.

The decades of darkness, cover-up and denial which characterised Church abuse scandals ought surely to have been sufficient to guarantee every safeguard and sanction to protect the young would be firmly in place.

Yet there is to be no respite from shocking revelations, as the audit of Scouting Ireland's records shows.

As many of 108 alleged child abuse victims have been found, and the number is likely to increase.

An inspection of files found evidence of 71 alleged abusers. According to Children's Minister Katherine Zappone: "None of the alleged abusers is still working with Scouting Ireland."

Ms Zappone said she found the information "extremely distressing".

Scouting Ireland was formed in 2004, after a merger of the Scout Association of Ireland and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland.

These cases were uncovered by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott, in a probe of the organisation's past child protection files.

It is understood that the incidents happened in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

Rigid compliance with the highest level of child protection is the very least we must demand to honour the legacy of pain suffered by survivors.

Yet in the past year Scouting Ireland has found itself mired in controversy over its handling of a rape allegation. Indeed Ms Zappone was driven to suspend the organisation's State funding over a lack of confidence in governance.

The entire board was replaced and Ms Zappone has provisionally reinstated public funding. Full transparency and total co-operation with all investigations must be insisted upon. There can be no repetition of past patterns, engineered for the protection of institutions at the expense of all else, as witnessed in other inquiries.

The abuse scandals were not just an indelible stain on the Church. They were a shocking indictment of our society as a whole.

Just as nowhere should have been safer for children than the Church, Scouting Ireland and all organisations involving children are the repositories of public trust, and must reflect the highest standards.

Any betrayal can have catastrophic and irreversible consequences.

It seems astonishing that such a high number of cases could suddenly come into the public arena. Why it has taken so long for these stories to emerge will no doubt eventually come to light.

While many of the perpetrators may well be deceased, the survivors are living with the anguish and scars of betrayal.

Their care and welfare must now be the most urgent priority for the State and Scouting Ireland.

Irish Independent

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