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Scouting Ireland: Statements (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell] Indeed, it has also been brought to my attention that individuals who were not subject to abuse at the hands of those in the scouting movement in the past have also been offered counselling and support from Scouting Ireland. That should be put into the public domain. We must ensure that victims know that supports are available to them and that they receive every assistance to help them address the trauma they experienced.

Our society has a shameful past when it comes to historical sexual abuse allegations, not just in legacy scouting organisations but also, unfortunately, across a number of sectors. In the past we have failed children and young people and today we must do everything we can to address that wrong. As legislators, we can never do anything to undo the wrongs of the past, but we must do all in our power to support victims. We cannot sweep those injustices under the rug. We must address them head on and work collectively in both Houses to ensure they are never repeated in the future.

I wish to record my appreciation of the willingness not just of the scouting movement to appear before us but also of the volunteers throughout the country who have been in touch with all Members, on multiple occasions in many instances. The hierarchy of Scouting Ireland has changed, but it has appeared before the committee on a number of occasions. I appreciate the structural changes it has made on foot of the recommendations and the Minister's announcement that the former Senator, Jillian van Turnhout, will return to assess Scouting Ireland in respect of the previous recommendations she made. That is warranted. Given the public awareness of this issue, it is something we must follow up.

It is a pity the Minister could not be present, but given the lateness of the hour and the fact that the debate was rescheduled, perhaps she thought it would be dealt with tomorrow. It is important that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs continues to press Scouting Ireland and Mr. Elliott to make this report on historical abuse cases available as quickly as possible so recommendations can flow from it in terms of what we can learn from it and what we can do to ensure such abuse does not recur in the future. If any supports are not being provided, we can identify them through that report. I hope it will be published well in advance of the next general election and certainly by the end of February, which is the commitment.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte While I acknowledge that failures in previous decades were undoubtedly highlighted in RTÉ's "Scouts Dishonour" programme, the programme also outlined details of a case that involved an alleged abuser who was reported to the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s but was only removed from Scouting Ireland in 2018. That is not a historical failure but a current one. Scouting Ireland's full review conducted in August 2012 found that no volunteers active in the commissioning organisation in 2012 were found to be named in the legacy files. Based on the information aired on RTÉ, this is not the case. How is it that an alleged abuser was able to continue in his role with Scouting Ireland even though the accusations had been reported in previous decades? Was his file overlooked in 2012, and if so, why?

Scouting Ireland has provided a breakdown of 401 sexual abuse files it has in its possession. All of them have been reported to the appropriate authorities, which is reassuring. It is important to refer to Scouting Ireland's safeguarding file overview of 29 March 2019. Deputy Farrell, Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, spoke about the 995 files. They were broken down as follows: 457 as abuse, 516 as not abuse, and ten other files. On the abuse classification, 401 were classified as sexual abuse, 13 were classified as emotional, five were classified as neglect, and 38 were classified as physical. The sexual abuse breakdown was 321 adult on youth, two were adult on adult, seven were unclassified, and 70 were youth on youth. Scouting Ireland talks continuously about the 321 from the breakdown. There are still another 70 to 80 files that we have not discussed. What is not clear to me - I put this question to Scouting Ireland last week and followed up with it today when its representatives were before the committee, but I am still awaiting a reply - is how many of the 401 files are historical files from the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scouting Association of Ireland and how many relate to Scouting Ireland files that have been created between its founding in 2003 and 2019. We must have clarity on this issue, but it does not appear to be forthcoming.

It is crucial that an independent, statutory inquiry is held into the child abuse allegations in the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, the Scouting Association of Ireland and Scouting Ireland. Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, the former special rapporteur on child protection, has said any review must be independent, prompt, effective and transparent. While I do not doubt Ian Elliott's qualifications or professionalism in conducting this so-called learning review, it does not change the fact that Scouting Ireland previously employed Mr. Elliott as its interim safeguarding manager in 2018. The level of independence is questionable. It is clear there must be an independent inquiry to ensure wrongdoing is exposed and the structural failings in these organisations are documented. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, must immediately outline what her Department is doing to address these serious issues. I welcome her announcement last week in the Dáil regarding Jillian van Turnhout conducting another comprehensive review on what was recommended previously. Trust has been broken and we must remedy this urgently.

It is important to acknowledge the volunteers and scout troops throughout the country. They have been rocked by what has been happening for the past 18 months in Scouting Ireland. "Prime Time" programmes and Oireachtas debates do nothing to instil confidence in parents, volunteers and children. It is a fabulous organisation at grassroots level. It is supported and embedded in most communities in Ireland and I wish to see that continue. However, governance is required, and stability and reassurance must come down from the top.

Deputy John Lahart: Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I echo the words of the contributors this evening, not least those of my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, who has been vigilant on this matter. In particular, I echo her concluding comments. There is not a Deputy in the country who does not have multiple numbers of scout troops in their constituency. In my 20 years' experience as a public representative, it is an organisation that seeks the help of its public representatives least often and is the least likely group to impose on its Deputies and councillors. It does its work quietly, and that might have led to some of its problems at the start of this. Public representatives, unless they were deeply involved with the organisation as volunteers, tended not to know much about the structures of the organisation, and perhaps that left it vulnerable.

One of the most famous scouting centres in Ireland, Larch Hill, is in my constituency. It is an amazing facility that is run by great volunteers. Up to 40,000 children are under the care of Scouting Ireland across the island of Ireland, and we are thinking of them. We also think of the adults who volunteer their time and have done so for years. They give up a huge amount of time. On some occasions there are up to 5,000 scouts at Larch Hill. It is something the local population is not aware of in terms of traffic because it moves quietly and seamlessly. The volunteers do great work and equip young children with amazing skills. They are skills one would not necessarily acquire in sports. Sports do not always suit every child, nor does being a boy or girl scout suit every child, but those who opt for it learn amazing skills. That cannot be left unsaid.

I was in the Chamber last week when the Minister, Deputy Zappone, spoke on this. As Minister, she has responsibility, so her words carry a great deal of weight.

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