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Tusla denies trying to close down Scouting Ireland 'in one fell swoop'

The organisation said a letter sent to the CEO of Scouting Ireland was not meant to enter the public domain.

Tusla's CEO Pat Smyth
Tusla's CEO Pat Smyth
Image: Oireachtas.ie

TUSLA HAS DENIED trying to close down Scouting Ireland “in one fell swoop” with a letter sent to the organisation last month.

The letter in question was sent to Scouting Ireland CEO John Lawlor on 18 February and later made public by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone.

It said parents should seek assurances that no overnight scouting trips take place without adequate numbers of trained supervisors.

In the letter, the Child and Family Agency also called for an “urgent review” into the manner in which Scouting Ireland manages child protection concerns and disclosures, and questioned the current viability of overnight trips.

The letter was sent on foot of an investigation into the alleged sexual abuse of hundreds of children who were members of Scouting Ireland. 

Most cases date between the 1960s and 1980s, although there may be one from an earlier period. The Irish Times, which first reported the allegations, has said there are over 300 alleged victims and over 200 alleged abusers.

In a statement issued about the letter last month, Scouting Ireland said: “It would be helpful to understand what evidence Tusla has for suggesting that ‘Scouting Ireland should consider the viability of continuing with 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.”

Representatives from Tusla were questioned about the letter’s impact when appearing before the Oireachtas Children’s Committee today.

‘Devastating’

Labour TD Seán Sherlock said the line in the letter regarding overnight trips was “explosive”, asking: “Did Tusla have any sense of the hurt, the shock, that would cause when it went into the public domain?”

Sherlock said parents and other volunteers who have gone through garda vetting and undertaken training about safeguarding children were deeply hurt by the tone of the letter. He said the correspondence could have possibly led to the “closing down an organisation in one fell swoop”.

sean Labour TD Seán Sherlock Source: Oireachtas.ie

“It was devastating to the thousands of innocent and decent people who give hours and hours of their time, who dedicate themselves to this lifestyle,” he added.

Tusla’s CEO Pat Smyth said the State body never intended for the letter to end up in the public domain. He said the letter ultimately dealt with “identifying practice issues and the need to improve those practice issues”.

‘Knee-jerk reaction’ 

Tusla’s COO Jim Gibson added that the organisation never set out to attack Scouting Ireland. He said the letter was not a “knee-jerk reaction,” adding that such a reaction “happened elsewhere”.

He noted that one of the eight recommendations made by Tusla last month references the need for “an immediate review of the supervision of children” involved in Scouting Ireland.

Another recommendation notes that Scouting Ireland “should consider the viability of continuing with overnight trips given the concerns outlined”. 

Gibson said this review will “look at overnight camping trips and what measures are in place” to protect children as well as any changes that may need to be made. He agreed that there were no issues with the vast majority of volunteers, many of whom are parents.

jim Tusla's COO Jim Gibson Source: Oireachtas.ie

Gibson said last week’s meeting was an “open discussion”, adding: “We don’t get business done by having a dog fight, we want to work with [Scouting Ireland] and assist them in becoming compliant.”

The other recommendations made by Tusla in February were as follows:

  • CFIAO [Children First Information Advice Officer] suggest that it is imperative that the proposed meeting with SI BOM is progressed without delay
  • The actions of key personnel holding a role in safeguarding may have been compromised and further consideration may have to be given to this
  • CFIAO suggest that consideration should be given to nominate the CEO of SI to be the principal liaison person in relation to this work
  • A sub-committee should be put in place to review SI child safeguarding statement and procedures and support implementation of same throughout the organisation
  • An urgent review of the manner in which SI managed the current child protection concerns and disclosures from children should commence
  • Consideration should be given to ensuring that personnel manning the helpline are independent of SI, and have appropriate qualifications and experience to manage the information

The Action Plan for Scouting Ireland – agreed with Tusla at a meeting last week – includes the following recommendations:

  • Tusla will meet with Scouting Ireland Board of Directors to make a presentation on Children First Legislation and Safeguarding at the Board’s next scheduled meeting
  • Scouting Ireland is recruiting a Safeguarding Manager, directly managed by the CEO; the manager will be recruited by tomorrow and will be the liaison person with Tusla
  • Scouting Ireland will share their updated implementation strategy with Tusla; this strategy will include mechanisms to review the implementation of Scouting Ireland’s Child Safeguarding Statement, update policies and procedures and support implementation of same throughout the organisation; it will also include mechanisms for monitoring and quality assuring safeguarding policies and procedures in place and the implementation of same
  • Scouting Ireland will meet with Tusla and An Garda Síochana to discuss the management of allegations regarding the case samples outlined
  • Scouting Ireland will review their Safeguarding Risk Assessment and relevant procedures, particularly their code of behaviour regarding overnight trips and jamborees in collaboration with Tusla
  • Scouting Ireland has agreed to an independent evaluation of their helpline and will draw learning from this, and apply same to current and future policies, procedures and practice relevant to the helpline

Speaking about the helplines set up to field people’s concerns about the abuse allegations, Tusla’s Service Director Linda Creamer said the initial helpline set up by Scouting Ireland received 43 calls before being disbanded before Christmas due to lack of use.

linda Tusla's Service Director Linda Creamer Source: Oireachtas.ie

A new helpline set up by Tusla has received 23 calls in recent weeks.

Creamer said a review will be carried out into whether it’s “independence enough” for people involved with Scouting Ireland to field such calls. She said there has been “full cooperation” between Tusla and Scouting Ireland in this regard.

Representatives from Scouting Ireland are set to appear before the committee later today.

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Órla Ryan

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