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What has this row between Scouting Ireland and Tusla been about?

Child safety expert Ian Elliott said that the organisation is “as safe as it can be and getting safer” – Tusla disagrees.

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A ROW ERUPTED between the Department of Children and Tusla, and Scouting Ireland over the organisations’ child safety practices – here’s what it’s about.

On Wednesday 27 February, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone told Dáil Éireann that parents should ensure that there are an adequate number of trained supervisors on overnight Scouting Ireland trips.

She said that Tusla had written to Scouting Ireland calling for an “urgent review” into the manner in which the organisation manages child protection concerns and disclosures, and questioned the current viability of overnight trips.

This caused some surprise: the organisation is going through an overhaul in relation to its child protection, governance and complaints procedures; it wasn’t thought that there were ongoing issues.

A review had found evidence of alleged abusers and hundreds of alleged victims based on the work to date, with most cases dating between the 1960s and 1980s, although there may be one from an earlier period.

The Irish Times has reported that there are over 300 alleged victims and over 200 alleged abusers. Up until recently it was the government’s understanding that those alleged abusers were no longer working at the organisation.

But on Wednesday, Zappone’s statement inferred that there were ongoing safety issues.

Irish Times journalist Jack Power, who first reported the 2016 rape allegation at the organisation which prompted investigations and an overhaul of its procedures, reports that the Tusla letter questioned practices based on incidents in recent years where children were allegedly subjected to sexual assaults by other juveniles while camping overnight.  

“Parents who seek these assurances and ask sensible questions are behaving reasonably and responsibly,” Zappone asserted on Wednesday. 

The chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell said that this turn of events was worrying, and that he would write to Scouting Ireland to request that the organisation appears before the committee as soon as possible.

Where’s the evidence?

But yesterday, Scouting Ireland responded by asking for proof as to why the government raised concerns over its overnight trips.

Overnight trips and the experience of camping outside at night is an experience every scout should have the opportunity to enjoy and we have a strong policy framework in place to support this activity in Scouting Ireland.

“Again this matter was never raised by Tusla in any meetings with our organisation,” it said.

The organisation said that Tusla made a “serious allegation” in alleging that “the actions of key personnel holding a role in safeguarding may have been compromised”.

“This is a most serious allegation, which we would have responded to immediately, had we known or understood Tusla’s concerns. It has not been raised in any of our meetings with Tusla,” Scouting Ireland says.

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Safeguarding expert Ian Elliott, whose report found that Scouting Ireland’s handling of a rape allegation was “deeply flawed”, yesterday held interviews on RTÉ Radio One and the Six One News where he said that he wanted the letter from Tusla to Scouting Ireland to be withdrawn.

Elliott, who is also the interim safeguarding manager for Scouting Ireland, called for an urgent meeting with Tusla, “with regards to where is the evidence, or what evidence exists, to support the very serious contents of this letter”.

He said that the letter from Tusla ordering a full review into Scouting Ireland’s child safeguarding is ‘baffling’ to him, and came as a ‘very great surprise’ to Scouting Ireland. 

He also said that the organisation is “as safe as it can be and getting safer, we’re working on it all the time”.

There are 17 policies and procedures in place for camping and overnight trips, he said.

Elliott also added that it was important to address the impression that young people involved in Scouting Ireland are unsafe.

Its expected that officials from Tusla will meet with Scouting Ireland in the coming days to discuss this issue. 

- with reporting from Christina Finn and Rónán Duffy 

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