Government still has Scouting Ireland concerns, says Tánaiste

The Tánaiste has said the Government still has concerns about the safety of children at Scouting Ireland.

Government still has Scouting Ireland concerns, says Tánaiste

Update 4.27pm: The Tánaiste has said the Government still has concerns about the safety of children at Scouting Ireland.

The child and family agency Tusla has called for a review of child safety and supervision at the organisation.

It comes amid concerns over the handling of the reporting of sexual abuse.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney says they are working to make sure things are safe for scouts.

He said: "There are still remaining concerns in terms of the need for Scouting Ireland to put procedures in place to make sure that they are fully consistent with Tusla recommendations on child protection.

"Because we know that there has been real concerns and cases of concern in the past.

"And so that is an ongoing process where Tusla now going to work directly with Scouting Ireland.

Update 11:07am; Scouting Ireland 'baffled' by Tusla letter to minister, says organisation 'not trying to hide anything'

By Elaine Loughlin, Political Correspondent

Scouting Ireland’s child protection consultant Ian Elliot says the organisation is “baffled” by the letter from Tusla to the Minister for Children and said the organisation is “not trying to hide anything.”

He was responding to comments by the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in the Dáil yesterday when she expressed concern about the viability of overnight scout trips following a recommendation from Tusla.

Mr Elliot said it came as “a very great surprise to us” when the minister raised the content of the letter in the Dail.

Katherine Zappone said Scouting Ireland ‘must act’ on eight recommendations made by Tusla (Niall Carson/PA)
Katherine Zappone said Scouting Ireland ‘must act’ on eight recommendations made by Tusla (Niall Carson/PA)

In the letter sent to Scouting Ireland chief executive John Lawlor on February 18, Tusla highlighted “serious concerns” around its failure to implement the Children First national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children and made eight recommendations:

  • It is imperative that a proposed meeting between Scouting Ireland board of management is progressed without delay;
  • The actions of key personnel holding a role in safeguarding within Scouting Ireland may have been compromised;
  • Consideration should be given to nominate the CEO of Scouting Ireland to be the principal liaison in relation to work on Children First;
  • A sub-committee should be put in place to review the child safeguarding statement and procedures throughout the organisation;
  • An urgent review of the manner in which Scouting Ireland manage current child protection concerns and disclosures from children should commence;
  • There should be an immediate review of the supervision of children involved in scouting;
  • Scouting Ireland should consider the viability of continuing with overnight trips;
  • Consideration should be given to ensure the personnel manning the helpline set up to deal with historical abuse issues are independent of Scouting Ireland.

Mr Elliott told RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke’s show the position taken by Scouting Ireland over several months was one of “daily cooperation” with statutory organisations such as Tusla and an Garda Siochana.

“We have worked closely with them at inter-agency meetings. We had a meeting last Monday and asked if there were any concerns and we were told no, so we are confused by this.

“We want to discuss the evidence mentioned in this letter. We have stringent and robust policies now in place that I believe are best practice.”

Mr Elliot acknowledged that this had not been the case in the past. “Where we are today is a safe place.”

Scouting Ireland’s child protection consultant Ian Elliot
Scouting Ireland’s child protection consultant Ian Elliot

He said it was Scouting Ireland that had brought this issue to the attention of the Minister and her officials, but he was unaware of any evidence. “It is important for us to understand where it (evidence) came from so we can address it.

“We are wholeheartedly committed to the safety and welfare of children.”

He addressed the complaint that the operation of a helpline by Scouting Ireland compromised the organisation. “I was one of the people who answered the phone. I supervised the work directly. I can stand over it.”

Mr Elliot said that “every single safeguarding issue that arises in Scouting Ireland” is reviewed by him. He admitted that he had spoken to children who made complaints “so we can confirm and gather the minimum level of information. But we do not investigate.”

The letter to the Minister from Tusla had come out of the blue, he said. “We’re not trying to hide anything here. We have cooperated. I’m baffled, we don’t know where it (evidence) came from.”

He said he is seeking an urgent meeting with Tusla.

Mr Elliot was adamant that overnight trips are entirely safe. “I am saying clearly to parents that it is as safe as it can be and it is getting safer.”

There are 17 “robust policies and procedures” in place about over night trips, he said. “We provide detailed training that is constantly refreshed.”

With regard to the three helplines operated by Scouting Ireland, Tusla and an Garda Siochana, Mr Elliot pointed out that Scouting Ireland received 175 calls, Tusla dealt with 49 and an Garda Siochana received five calls.

The suggestion that it was a compromising situation for Scouting Ireland to have a helpine came from the belief that someone within Scouting Ireland would be reluctant to make a complaint, he explained.

“If someone felt that being listened to by personnel from Scouting Ireland would be compromising they could have gone to an Garda Siochana or Tusla.”

One in Four director said she would not allow her child go on an overnight trip

The director of the abuse survivor support organisation One in Four has said that if she had a child involved in the scouts she would not be comfortable allowing that child go on an overnight camping trip this weekend.

Maeve Lewis, told RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show: “Reading that letter from child protection experts in Tusla, if I had a child involved in scouts this weekend I don't think I would be comfortable allowing that child to go off on an overnight camping trip until all these various issues have been addressed.

“Children have received enormous benefits from being involved in scouting, children have enjoyed camping trips and jamborees, and so on. I think it would be a terrible shame if Scouting Ireland were to collapse, but at the moment I would be waiting.

“Tusla's view is that things are still being mishandled, so that is something that Scouting Ireland needs to take very seriously. I am alarmed that there now seems to be a conflict and that Scouting Ireland are not accepting the issues raised in the letter from Tusla.”

Maeve Lewis
Maeve Lewis

Ms Lewis said she was somewhat taken aback by the conflict which now seems to be emerging between Tusla's intervention and the concerns they raised and Scouting Ireland apparently not accepting those.

“Anybody reading the letter published yesterday will be aghast at the live cases that are outlined and the very inappropriate ways that it appears Scouting Ireland personnel interrogated children about what happened and so on and so forth.

“I think we have to take very seriously that there are a number of areas of poor practice, this has left children exposed to the risk of harm, for any parent reading that letter that surely must cause great alarm. From the point of view of the historic survivors, again, I was always uneasy that Scouting Ireland was itself providing a helpline.

“We know from our experience of working with survivors from other organisations for example, the Church, that generally survivors would not be at all comfortable seeking support from the organisation in which they were sexually abused.

“Again Tusla highlighted problems in how the helpline was operated. They for example say there was a significant conflict of interest and they talk about one caller making an allegation and the person taking the call disputed with the caller the accuracy of the timeframes, and was really questioning the credibility of what the person was saying.

“That's the last thing a traumatise abuse survivor needs when they seek support on a helpline.

“I take the point that there were a number of helplines, but I think there was a great deal of confusion and I don't think the general public were aware that Tusla was also operating a helpline and I'm very glad that number is now being advertised on the Minister's website.

“I am left very, very concerned despite what Ian (Elliot) has said this morning.”

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