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Scouting Ireland 'not opposed' to public inquiry into sexual abuse

The leaders of Scouting Ireland apolgoised again to victims of abuse.

Image: Shutterstock

SCOUTING IRELAND HAS said that it is open to the idea of a public inquiry as it addresses a historic child sexual abuse scandal. 

The organisation appeared today before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.

Scouting Ireland, the modern organisation, was founded when the two scouting traditions Scouting Association of Ireland and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland joined together in 2003. It has a devoted membership of roughly 50,000 people country wide.

In his opening statement, Adrian Tennant, the Chair of the Board of Directors, offered a new apology to victims of abuse, which took place between the 1960s and the 1990s. 

“We recognise the courage and bravery of all survivors who have told their stories directly to use and who featured on the programme. It is an example of leadership to all and it is humbling. We again apologise unreservedly to those who were hurt by the actions of adult volunteers in these legacy organisations,” he said.

“Scouting Ireland is as safe an organisation as it can be.”

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion asked the officials whether they’d support a public inquiry into the abuse. 

Last month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the government was considering a statutory inquiry into the handling of abuse in Scouting Ireland. 

CEO of Scouting Ireland, John Lawlor, said that his organisation “is not opposed to a public inquiry”. 

That’s a matter for government,” he said. “We have no issue with scrutiny.”

Independence

The appearance at the Oireachtas committee saw staff face frank questions from politicians over the independence of the review currently being carried out by Ian Elliott.

Elliott, who was not able to attend the committee today, had worked as an interim safeguarding manager part-time for Scouting Ireland. 

Several members of the committee questioned his role in the organisation and the review of Scouting Ireland’s child safeguarding policies and procedures.

“In my language, he is paid by Scouting Ireland to conduct a review,” Labour’s Sean Sherlock said.

While not criticising Elliott personally, members suggested that it might look like Scouting Ireland is investigating itself.

The organisation, Sherlock said, has “gamed” the way the review could play out.

“You know what way this process is going. We don’t,” Sherlock said.

“He is not an independent person,” committee chair Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell said.

Tennant and other officials rejected the charge. He said that Elliott “always operates independently. He has access to all our files and information systems”.

Legal fees

Officials from Scouting Ireland conceded that addressing the legacy of abuse had been expensive. 

The organisation has spent between €150,000 and €200,000 on legal costs in relation to the scandal in 2019. 

Lawlor said that thousands of euro had been spent on counselling – but said he couldn’t provide an exact figure. 

The organisation pays for an independent counselling service for anyone who makes disclosures to Scouting Ireland on its helpline, which was established in the aftermath of the scandal. 

Gearóid Begley, a former garda who is now in charge of the organisation’s safeguarding office, said that 200 calls had been received to the helpline. 

An RTÉ Investigates programme into the handling of abuse was aired in November. 

Last December, Scouting Ireland wrote to the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone. It said that its ongoing review of historic complaints found evidence of “extensive prolonged and organised child sex abuse” and “abuse at all levels” in both scouting organisations.

Tennant praised the “heroic” response of Scouting Ireland staff to the scandal. 

“The staff we have behaved in an exemplary fashion,” he said. 

A report is expected to be seen to the Minister for Children in February.  

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