“Be prepared” is the scouting motto, but it is unlikely that Scouting Ireland was ready to deal with the fact that a full review of the organisation has found evidence of 71 alleged abusers and 108 victims between the 1960s and 1980s.
These shocking revelations were disclosed by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, and Scouting Ireland officials, at a meeting of the Oireachtas committee on children and youth affairs.
However, safeguarding expert, Ian Elliott, who carried out the review, has said he expected the number of known victims to increase “quite considerably”.
The fact that more abuse may be disclosed in the coming days and weeks is, of course, very worrying and the concern must be that the number of abusers and victims may be much larger. But, even as it stands, the fact that there are more than 100 victims of abuse is testament not just to a lack of proper governance within Scouting Ireland, but to an absence of any effective oversight by Irish authorities.
In many ways, it mirrors the decades of child sexual and physical abuse by clerics within the Catholic Church, at schools and institutions that were, in many instances, supported by the State and which considered themselves impregnable.
Scouting Ireland is one of Ireland’s largest youth movements, with more than 50,000 members, including around 12,000 adult volunteers. It was founded in 2004, following the amalgamation of two of the scouting organisations: the Scout Association of Ireland (SAI), formerly known as the Boy Scouts of Ireland, and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI). Both branches can trace their roots back to Lord Baden-Powell’s scout movement.
The review by Ian Elliott must be taken seriously by Scouting Ireland, as well as by the Government and, in particular, Katherine Zappone. It was Elliott who headed the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland for six years, and it was largely his efforts that led to reforms of the Church’s child-protection structures.
Ms Zappone said she wanted to reassure parents that all the actions she is taking stem from bad governance and are in no way connected to the “fantastic work that is being carried out by groups and volunteers around the country”.
There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of adult volunteers within Scouting Ireland are innocent of any wrongdoing, but all it takes is one or two bad apples to do tremendous harm and to taint the reputation of the organisation. Activities such as camping trips featured prominently in victims’ stories of abuse.
It is all very well for Ms Zappone to lay the blame solely at “bad governance” within Scouting Ireland, but, as a member of Cabinet, she must recognise that she and the government of which she is a member have a duty of care to vulnerable young people.
She has offered increasing support to the victims of Scouting Ireland. She must do more than that to ensure that this level of abuse can never happen again.