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Scouts scandal a lesson for all volunteer institutions

Editorial


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Scouting achievement badges (Niall Carson/PA)

Scouting achievement badges (Niall Carson/PA)

The shocking report released yesterday was prepared by Ian Elliot, who is Ireland’s foremost safeguarding expert. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

The shocking report released yesterday was prepared by Ian Elliot, who is Ireland’s foremost safeguarding expert. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

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Scouting achievement badges (Niall Carson/PA)

The scale of abuse in the scouting movement is truly appalling. To date, 356 victims and survivors have came forward to share their stories of sexual and physical abuse and there are 275 known or suspected perpetrators.

It has also emerged some alleged perpetrators were serial abusers with multiple victims; that they were operating at all levels within their organisations and a culture of "cronyism" existed to cover up or look the other way.

"It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the scouting body involved was a seriously dysfunctional organisation with sex offenders dominating the leadership," says a shocking report released yesterday.

It was prepared by Ian Elliott, who is Ireland's foremost safeguarding expert. The report was commissioned by Scouting Ireland, formed in 2004 when the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the non-denominational Scout Association of Ireland came together.

The report deals primarily with legacy issues but the author found that cronyism remained a significant problem in scouting up until his involvement a few years ago.

What is clear is that for decades scouting in Ireland existed in two different worlds.

Thousands of dedicated volunteers worked for the benefit of countless young people. But several hundred sexual predators also used the movement to abuse young people and, in the process, destroyed many lives.

Where adult volunteers brought matters to the attention of national officers they were ignored or not believed or supported.

What is particularly shameful is the improper keeping of safeguarding records. Even worse is the disclosure that certain former officers held on to records which they have been reluctant to release.

There are similarities in this scandal with what happened in the Catholic Church, which has had a painful reconciliation with its past.

Scouting Ireland has been attempting that in recent years and has accepted that poor structures and governance allowed a bad culture to thrive. Its new structures are designed to deliver greater transparency and accountability and seem to be working satisfactorily.

Better safeguards and procedures have been introduced to protect all young scouts. But the organisation - which has issued a comprehensive apology to victims of abuse - needs to do more.

Those that are believed to have behaved badly in the past should be held to account quickly and in a transparent way.

Volunteers who are not suitable for scouting should be removed.

The report is called a learning review and has important lessons not just for Scouting Ireland but for all organisations dealing with children and young people.

One particular comment by Mr Elliott applies to all organisations which rely on voluntary help, that "being a volunteer is a privilege".

"It is not a right," he said.

Irish Independent