Wednesday 20 March 2019

Move to ban overnight scout trips like throwing baby out with water

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has called for ban on overnight scout trips
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has called for ban on overnight scout trips

David Looby

Having returned from a lovely midterm break in Co Mayo I was struck down with not one but two doses last week.

The first, an eye infection, rendered me temporarily half blind. The second, a flu, was more tolerable. Luckily enough I wasn't so hampered as to be prevented from watching the US House of Representatives' oversight committee hearing in which President Donald Trump was described as a liar, racist and conman by his former lawyer Michael Cohen, just as Trump was trying (between looking at his phone) to broker a deal with fellow world leader Kim Jong-un. It was around the same time that I heard Tusla had recommended ending overnight trips for scouting groups. I couldn't believe my eyes or ears all week!

The national children and family representative body had written to Scouting Ireland calling for an urgent review of how the organisation manages current child protection concerns. Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said Scouting Ireland have been told to consider the viability of continuing with overnight trips without adequate numbers of trained supervisors and have been ordered to carry out an immediate review of the supervision of children involved in scouting. The move follows an internal review which has identified 313 alleged victims and 237 alleged abusers within the organisation between the 1960s and 1990s. Widespread historic abuse in the organisation was uncovered late last year by Ian Elliot, who was tasked with examining Scouting Ireland's records. The majority of the alleged abuse occurred in legacy scouting organisations - including the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland - which merged with the secular Scout Association of Ireland to form Scouting Ireland in 2004. Tusla has now written to the organisation outlining issues about the implementation of Children First, the national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children, and has made eight recommendations to Scouting Ireland.

Aisling Kelly, chair of the organisation's new board, told a private meeting of senior volunteers in December that if anyone was implicated in concealing historic abuse, they would be dealt with. As with clerical sex abuse, 'extensive, prolonged, and at times organised child sexual abuse' was 'covered-up' and alleged perpetrators had been 'protected' in past organisations.

People allowed abusers to move from group to group, Ms Kelly said, in a disturbing echo of what happened within the Catholic Church here.

As a parent of a young girl who is a Beaver, I can't say enough good things about the current organisation, locally at least, and it is the local leaders: volunteers one and all - who make the Scouts what they are.

I never took the opportunity to join the scouts in my youth. My daughter did and she and her friends spend countless hours together out in nature, away from the screen. Part of this is camping out, making fires and enjoying the visceral rush of life, not vicariously living through an iPad. To stop children from camping out with their scout troop is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Zappone and co should rise above the tendency towards knee jerk reactions, especially towards an organisation that has given so much. The focus should be on investigating who the perpetrators were and jailing them if they are still alive.

Bray People