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 Header Item Domestic Violence: Statements (Continued)
 Header Item Scouting Ireland: Statements (Resumed)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton] Tusla has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual or gender-based violence, with €25.3 million allocated to it for these services in 2019. It met my Department and the strategy national monitoring committee today and will carry out a review of needs in terms of numbers of spaces and other support services. It is hoped we will shortly have a response from that. Working with relevant NGOs, my Department and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the strategy monitoring committee is the forum at which all stakeholders are represented and will build a consensus on the precise approach Ireland must adopt to ensure we meet the very real needs to which Deputies have referred.

A transformation programme under way this year in my Department has changed how it approaches many issues. It has improved collaboration through a strengthened partnership with key NGOs in this area and bolstered the Department's policy capacity. As Deputies will be aware, the aim of the transformation is to create a Department that is more agile, evidence-based and open, while remaining loyal to traditional Civil Service values of integrity, impartiality and professionalism. Work in this area was carried out by Cosc recently, but the Department has reorganised into specialist teams with a focus on specific functions relating to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The intention is that the Department will be in a better position to deliver on its strategic objectives. More clearly defined roles and responsibilities will mean improved accountability, while services will be delivered in a better and more streamlined way. Information will be shared with stakeholders and the public in a more proactive way through a dedicated transparency function. The Department aims to ensure that the important issues within our responsibility, including in respect of tackling domestic violence, will be handled in a better way in the future. This renewed engagement with stakeholders will be important to ensure that those actions are achieved and will help us to look forward and prepare the groundwork for the next iteration of the strategy in 2021. It will continue to work on behalf of and for victims of these crimes.

I am grateful to the Deputies who contributed on this very important topic. I thank the Business Committee for allocating time for statements on domestic violence which has allowed me to outline the changes that have been made this year to tackle the issue. I acknowledge that we have far more to do to reduce domestic violence and tackle its awful effects. Important progress has been made this year with the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the passage of legislation. All Deputies must do more on the issue. The Department and the Government, in partnership with civil society, will continue to prioritise the fight against domestic violence. This debate has been an important part of that process. I thank Deputies for their robust, honest and straightforward contributions and for bringing this very important issue to the fore again.

Scouting Ireland: Statements (Resumed)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin was in possession but is not present. As Chairman of the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Farrell has ten minutes.

Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I thank the Business Committee for agreeing to schedule the resumption of this debate.

The issues arising from the scouting movement are emblematic of Irish society's failure of our children in the distant and not so distant past. Similar issues in many sectors of society have too often come to light. The victims in each case have real experiences and have had to suffer in silence for far too long the scars inflicted upon them by those experiences. Failing our children is not, and never can be, acceptable. The victims deserve to have their voices and stories heard, while those responsible must be held to account. The protection of our children is of paramount importance. The legacy issues which have come to light in respect of scouting in Ireland have undermined public confidence in the scouting movement.

The report into historic abuses is expected to be completed in February. It will be important in terms of ensuring attention is drawn to all aspects of historic abuse and sending the message that the culture of silence which permeated the scouting movement in respect of these abuses will no longer be tolerated. Without acknowledging the evidence of cover-ups, we cannot fully address the abuses that took place. It is a sad indictment of our society that anyone would contemplate trying to cover up abuses which occurred. Such actions are wholly disrespectful to the victims.

Representatives of Scouting Ireland who appeared last week before the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, which I chair, provided an update regarding the files held by the Scouting Ireland safeguarding team. As of March of this year, Scouting Ireland held 995 files, including historic files from the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scouting Association of Ireland, as well as Scouting Ireland files from 2003 until January of this year. I acknowledge that many of the files are not related to cases of sexual abuse, but the number of files held is significant. Some 457 of the 995 files are classified as containing abuse and, of them, 401 relate to sexual abuse involving 247 alleged perpetrators. Those figures were provided to the committee following its meeting last week. I note that Scouting Ireland stated the number of files is not equivalent to the number of abuse cases. Scouting Ireland stated all abuse cases have been reported to the relevant authorities, but the sheer volume of files relating to sexual abuse is astounding and shameful. It is shameful that abuse, particularly sexual abuse, could happen in one case, let alone the number identified in the files held by the Scouting Ireland safeguarding team.

The cases relating to abuse and sexual abuse of children have called the future of the scouting movement in Ireland into question. Many parents are concerned about allowing their children to become part of the scouting movement. Action must be taken by Scouting Ireland to fully address these concerns. As a parent, this conversation has taken place within my family, as is the case for many families throughout the country. Scouting Ireland has recognised the damage caused by these revelations, as well as the more recent evidence of a cover-up outlined by its consultant, Mr. Ian Elliott, at a meeting of the committee some weeks ago. Another report consisting of a barrister's opinion regarding certain aspects of the scouting operation in recent years is due to be published and may provide an opportunity to restore public confidence in the organisation and how it is currently operating. However, once confidence is lost, it is not easily rebuilt. The challenges facing Scouting Ireland in this regard are significant and the concerns parents and guardians may hold are fully understandable. Scouting groups are well embedded in local communities and those involved are well known and trusted. However, the safeguarding issues may be a cause of concern parents and guardians worried without it being a reflection on the great work of the many people working at grassroots within the organisation.

There has been discussion on the establishment of a statutory inquiry into allegations of historic child sexual abuse within legacy scouting organisations. Such an investigation would be warranted. However, it is important that we allow the internal investigation within Scouting Ireland to be completed and made available to the Minister and the committee for consideration, as Scouting Ireland has committed. I hope that in February or March we will collectively be in a position to make a recommendation to the Department on whether the committee believes a statutory inquiry would be appropriate, notwithstanding the position of any political party or Independent. That is the appropriate course of action for the committee, given the significant work it has put into the issue. I wish to acknowledge the Minister picking up on my statement at last week's committee meeting that, after Tusla, Scouting Ireland has consumed the largest portion of the committee's time over the past year or so. That has been acknowledged by other committee members. I commend and appreciate their support in getting through the business of the committee relating to Scouting Ireland.

Nothing can right the wrongs suffered by victims of child sexual abuse, but we must do all we can to ensure accountability and that victims are listened to as well as heard. I am aware that those who contact the Scouting Ireland helpline are offered counselling.

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