Three years of sustained cuts in government funding have hampered Scouting Ireland’s ability to expand into new communities.
That was the warning from its chief executive John Lawlor, who told its annual national conference in Sligo at the weekend that its funding from the State has fallen 27% since 2011.
“These cuts are hitting us at a time when scouting has never been more popular. We saw a 4% growth in numbers last year. We have scope to expand but we are being hampered because of these cuts. It is limiting our ability to get into new communities.”
He said the scouting movement in the North has five British government- funded development officers, who help expand the organisation.
However, in the Republic, Mr Lawlor said they have just eight officers to cover the entire country.
If the funding cuts continue, it will have a huge impact on the services Scouting Ireland delivers to tens of thousands of young people across the country, he warned.
“Any further cuts would be an attack on volunteerism and the positive development of our youth,” he said.
The body, which has 34 full-time staff and 10,000 adult volunteers working with 46,000 young people across Ireland, will receive €846,000 from the State this year.
Mr Lawlor said this represents extremely good value for money in terms of youth work funding.
Chief Scout Michael John Shinnick said their non-formal educational approach helps develop confident, self-assured young people who are able to contribute effectively to society.
“Through weekly activities we are helping the youth of Ireland to cope with daily life stresses such as bullying or low self-esteem, as well as helping them to build leadership and problem-solving skills. Any cut to funding would hinder the personal and social development of young people.”
Scouting Ireland’s conference also heard calls for the Government to abandon the proposed sale of harvesting rights of Coillte forests.
“Ireland’s forests are the essential playground for beaver scouts and cub scouts,” said Ian Davy, chief commissioner with the organisation’s youth programme.
“We rely on access to this beautiful natural resource to run many of our activities.
“The proposed sale will threaten the current open access policy and will lead to a slow decline in current recreational amenities.”
The organisation also called on the justice minister to enact legislation to force internet service providers (ISPs) operating in Ireland to block access to all child abuse material, as has been done in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Malta, Italy, and Britain.
Children’s rights activist Senator Jillian van Turnhout welcomed Scouting Ireland’s backing for this campaign.
“A child abuse image is a crime scene; a digital record of sexual abuse being perpetrated against a real child in the real world,” she said.
“This is not about censorship or restricting internet freedom; it is about protecting real children from real abuse in the real world.”
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