Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs
Scouting Ireland: Discussion
On behalf of the joint committee I welcome John Lawlor, chief executive, Scouting Ireland, and his colleagues. Thank you for appearing before the committee today.
In accordance with procedure, I am required to draw your to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009 witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Any submission or opening statement witnesses have made to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. The witnesses will make a short presentation. This will be followed by questions from members of the committee. Mr. Lawlor, I invite you and your colleagues to make your opening statements.
Mr. John Lawlor:
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus le Baill an choiste. Ar son Gasóga na hÉireann, táimid buíoch as ucht an deis labhairt os comhair an choiste inniu. Many thanks for the opportunity to address the committee today. This is our first time to come before an Oireachtas committee. It is an important occasion for us today. Ócáid tábhachtach stairiúil atá ann. We see this as a milestone for Scouting Ireland and a recognition of the opportunities scouting provides for young people in all age groups throughout the island.
Scouting is a collaborative effort and therefore I will introduce our team. On my left is our chief scout and president of our organisation, Christy McCann. Our operations manager is Noel O'Connor. Our research officer is Dubheasa Kelly. Our rover scout is Ciara Keegan. Our adult volunteer is Ray Moran.
We hope to clearly convey a sense of who we are, our position within the youth sector and within education and of how we can develop further over the coming years. Our chief scout, Mr. Christy McCann, will speak briefly about scouting in a general context. He will outline a clearer picture of what we do. I will then outline our structures and strategic aims for the future with the help of my colleagues Ms Kelly and Mr. O'Connor.
The committee will then hear from our youth members who will convey a real-life context of what scouting means and has meant to them. With your indulgence, a Chathaoirligh, I will hand over to our chief scout, Christy McCann.
Mr. Christy McCann:
I am the chief scout of Scouting Ireland. As chief scout, president of Scouting Ireland and lead senior volunteer, I chair the national council and national management committee. I am responsible for co-ordinating the activities of Scouting Ireland. I am honoured to be invited here to speak on behalf of the members of Scouting Ireland.
Scouting is a worldwide movement of young people with a membership of 40 million in 160 countries and territories. Scouting Ireland represents 50,000 of these members across the island of Ireland, making it one of the largest youth organisations in the country. We are co-educational, non-denominational and non-political. We have proudly served the young people of Ireland for 110 years. Our programmes are as popular and as relevant as they have been for the past century. Our work in the development of young people is spread over 500 communities throughout the island. The aim of scouting is simply to create a better world.
Scouting is based on friendship, fun, challenge and adventure for young people. While Scouting Ireland is delivered in a fun and friendly environment a powerful educational method is at play in our programmes. Positive outcomes for young people include character building, leadership skills, self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility. Scouting develops young people to enable them to become the leaders of tomorrow in the context of their lives and their communities. Scouting is about nurturing proactive and caring citizens. Academic research shows that scouts and former scouts are more likely to vote, to be politically engaged, to be in positions of leadership in the communities and to contribute to our society.
Scouting Ireland works in partnership with local communities. Our youth membership age ranges from six to 26 years of age. The members are supported by 12,000 volunteers. The staff is comprised of 35 full-time employees and is headed by our chief executive, John Lawlor. They support this volunteer-led organisation. I will now hand back to John Lawlor.
Mr. John Lawlor:
Scouting Ireland was established as a successor to the historical scout organisations in Ireland in 2004. Since then, it has thrived and currently it is at an all-time high in membership. Membership has been growing at a rate of 4% year-on-year for the past seven years. Based on the most recently available Central Statistics Office figures, we currently reach 5% of the youth population, that is to say, those between six and 17 years of age. This figure is extraordinary by comparison with a corresponding figure of 0.9% with France. Our research officer, Ms Kelly, will put context around these figures presently to provide insight to the impact we make for young people.
The 12,000 adult volunteers referenced by the chief scout represent 30% of all adult youth volunteers in the sector. No other organisation is comparable in scale or comes with this number of trained and vetted youth volunteers working week in, week out with children. Our ratio of professional staff to volunteers is the leanest and most efficient in the sector, with 35 staff to 12,000 adult volunteers.
The objectives and programmes of Scouting Ireland are aligned to the national policy framework document for children and young people - Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures - and to the national youth strategy. The targeted national outcomes of being connected, being respected and contributing, achieving in all areas of learning and development, being active and healthy, having economic security and opportunity and being safe and protected from harm are well served through the scout educational method and programme.
We strongly believe that the role of non-formal learning, as delivered through scouting, and its complementary interaction with formal learning in the development of young people will become increasingly important as we embrace what is generally described as 21st century learning. There is clear evidence that positive out-of-school activity that promotes empowerment and leadership has a powerful effect on outcomes for young people. Significantly, recent research has demonstrated the positive long-term effect on mental health of involvement in scouting. The combination of our scouting method, our work, increased membership and youth engagement is a testament to our 110-year method.
We have waiting lists for membership in most of our existing groups.
Like any organisation or sector of society, we have challenges. As an organisation, we are finding it increasingly difficult to support our volunteers and youth members in the way we would like due to the cost of implementing additional compliance requirements in areas such as safeguarding, the national qualities standards framework, NQSF, charities regulation and governance to give four examples. Mr. Noel O’Connor, our operations manager, will speak briefly on this.
Like most organisations, the impact of Brexit will be significant for us. As Ireland’s only all-island youth organisation, it becomes an even bigger challenge. We currently have 60 groups operating in the North. Access to ERASMUS funding for our groups, access to Peace and Reconciliation funding which helped us build our world class centre facility at Castle Saunderson on the Cavan-Fermanagh border, and our good working relationship with the Scout Association UK which also operates in the North, all have to be addressed in light of a Brexit. That is not to mention our significant number of volunteers and youth members who cross the Border on a weekly basis to attend meetings. How will a hard Brexit affect them?
The issue of identity and our youth members seeing themselves as EU citizens is also significant. Our uniform carries a strip which has on it the EU flag and our members in Northern Ireland proudly wear that badge. It is not an inconsiderable issue that this right may be stripped from them. In the true "Late Late Show" fashion I will have one for everyone in the audience to remind the members of the significance of EU citizenship for our youth members in Northern Ireland.
Before I pass over to Ms Dubheasa Kelly and Mr. Noel O'Connor, I want to say that we are a project-based organisation and have been engaging in several large projects, which is worth bringing to the attention of members, as they may better create a sense of what it is we do as a youth movement. Our youth employability scheme is a project of which we are particularly proud, and we hope to replicate and expand on it in the future. Our Lelievlet boat-building project based in Limerick city aligns with the Government’s national policy framework objectives. The project aims to provide young people with skills such as welding and woodwork and to give them FETAC standard qualifications in order to prepare them for work. These are young people in the needs category, not in employment, education or training.
Scouting Ireland is also working on a number of programmes aimed at supporting refugees in Ireland. We run a Refugee Access Programme in conjunction with the City of Dublin Youth Services board aimed at integrating unaccompanied minors into Irish society. We are also establishing links with direct provision centres around Ireland to break down the stigma that exists in regard to these centres.
In 2015 Scouting Ireland won an international bid to host the World Scout Moot to be held in 2021. This ten-day experience will see 6,000 international scouts aged 18 to 24 from more than 120 countries travel to Ireland. It is our hope to showcase Ireland in the best possible manner but perhaps more importantly use the experience of hosting such a world prestigious event to develop our young people and our organisation. The single most important objective in winning and hosting this major international event is to use its preparation and its successful delivery as a platform for transformational development in Irish scouting. It is that for programme of development that we actively seek the committee's support today. It is a wonderful opportunity to have the World Scout Moot come to Ireland. It is an opportunity we want to ensure leaves a lasting legacy.
Those are some of the projects on which Scouting Ireland is currently working. I will now hand over to Ms Dubheasa Kelly and Mr. Noel O'Connor before the members hear from our youth representatives who will give them a sense of what scouting really means to young people and the impact it has on their lives.
Ms Dubheasa Kelly:
I will briefly highlight some of the measurable impacts scouting has on young people. The impact of scouting is wide-ranging and varied. Through research conducted by Scouting Ireland in 2015, we found four main areas of measurable positive impact, and these were identified by our youth members. The first was emotional development. This included increases in confidence, positivity, maturity and patience. Second, there was personal development and they identified areas such as team work, leadership, time management, independence, responsibility, respect and even critical thinking as being explicitly taught in scouting. Others described how being a member of the organisation impacted on their social skills with increased friendships, improved sociability and people skills. Practical skills were also identified and youth members reported gaining skills such as first aid, cooking, navigation, budgeting and problem solving to mention a few.
Additional research published in 2016 identified that those who engage in scouting are more likely to report better mental health later in life. The results were based on a life-long study of 10,000 people born in the UK in 1959. Researchers found that those who have been active members of scouts tended to have better mental health by the age of 50. In addition, it was noted that engaging in scouting activity seemed to remove the higher risk of mental illness in those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Research published in the UK in 2012 demonstrates a substantially higher proportion of scouts engage in voluntary activities than children and young people who had not engaged in scouting. This effect is identified as being long-lasting with 35% of former youth members volunteering regularly at least two hour per week as opposed to 26% of the general population who volunteer regularly. Of the former youth members who volunteer, 66% said that scouting had positively impacted their decision to get involved. Overall, it is clear from research studies conducted, that scouting provides long-lasting and varied benefits to young people and society.
Mr. Noel O'Connor:
Scouting Ireland is committed to compliance and best practice in financial reporting, company law, safeguarding on Children's First legislation, the national quality standards framework, the governance code for community and voluntary organisations and charities legislation in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Our journey to compliance with the governance code has identified a need for a major national and local restructure. We want to be leaders in this area. In terms of compliance, we want to be seen as a transparent organisation with a reputation for accountability and probity. Our work in this area while heavy on our limited resources is a major priority and will safeguard Scouting Ireland for future generations so that they can benefit form the same opportunities that so many young people have had over the past 110 years.
Ms Ciara Keegan:
Good morning Chairman and committee members. I began scouting as a cub scout at the age of nine. I am now 21 and I remain an active rover scout and an adult scouter with Blancharstown, 104-144 scout group to this day. My years in scouting have taught me a number of things. It has taught me that my best is always good enough. It has taught me that there does not have to be borders if I do not want them there. It has taught me that I get to decide my own path in this world because scouting has empowered, motivated and encouraged me to think for myself. I have never been told where to go; I have just been told that there is nowhere I cannot go. We are taught to reflect on our actions and be proud of them, or take responsibility. We know that our actions have an effect and that sometimes they have an effect on a person or a group but also if we want to, and I mean really want to, we can effect the world in a really positive and meaningful way.
I know how to stand up for myself, take action for myself and I know how to take action for others when they cannot do so at the time. Soon we will have scouts volunteering on the refugee camps in Greece. Their main job will be to give the young people there a sense of childhood, care and importance because we know the value of empowering a child, even if only for a brief moment. This is another value we have been taught. We have been taught to care, or maybe it is not something that can be taught but rather experienced. This is what we call learning by doing. We do this by hands-on experience that is not only team driven but self-driven in the real world. This is how I know what I know. It is by real hands-on experience away from any sort of screen or classroom, out with real people who care and who one can trust.
We are told today to be frightened of so many things and because of being involved with the scouts I am not frightened. I have been pushed to knock on that stranger's door in Hungary and ask them if I can camp in their garden and then find out they are no longer strangers. I was handed a pocket knife at the age of ten and hesitated to use it but because somebody trusted me to do it, I have learned to trust my capabilities too.
I have got lost in the Mourne Mountains and knew that was fine because I was with a team who cared about each other and that there were no problems there, just challenges. I have stood up in front of the World Scouting Conference and helped deliver the bid for the international event that John has mentioned and not even flinched because that was nothing in comparison to when a tropical storm hits in Japan and one has decided one has put up one's tent well enough to withstand anything. I have been equipped through scouting to withstand anything, but if it comes to a point when I am knocked back, I will be fine too.
Scouting breeds resilience. That is a difficult thing to master but scouting makes us bouncy in spirit and in nature. Probably the biggest thing I have learned on my travels is that I am totally happy with who I am and that there are so many people out there who are happy with who I am too. What we are doing is a positive thing for the self-esteem of young people like me. It has a positive effect on our young people's overall mental health. If we can continue to do that for nearly 50,000 young people in Ireland, that is something I want to remain a part of and help make happen.
Mr. Ray Moran:
Good morning. My name is Ray Moran. I live on a council estate in Dublin 7 with my mam. I am 26 and have been in scouting for the past 19 years. I am a leader of the cub scout section in Dublin 7 that I grew up in. It is a pleasure to be here today to share how scouting has changed my life.
I grew up in a disadvantaged area where the easiest thing to do was just to get into trouble. My mam knew this. She enlisted me in scouts with my two older brothers just to try to keep me busy and out of trouble. Without doubt, scouting has been the foundation of my upbringing. I have experienced so much while growing up in scouts. I have travelled the world, befriended so many different people and learned to be a good person. One of my most memorable experiences was when I travelled to Romania to assist in an orphanage for mentally and physically disabled children. Experiences like this form a strong foundation of leadership, volunteering and teamwork. Scouting taught me to aim high, learn from failure, succeed beyond expectations and that, no matter how difficult things may appear, a solution always exists.
I have volunteered with several other causes. I am currently months from finishing my PhD in computational biology. I have been relentless in achieving my goals. I will be the best in the world at what I do and I will change other people's lives. I am determined that this will be so. Scouting has given this to me. It has taught me that I do not need to be the smartest person in the room. If I work hard, be prepared, do my best and am helpful, I will succeed. I consider myself lucky for growing up within a local scout group. Without it, I would have followed the path in front of me rather than creating my own and succeeding beyond my expectations.
I thank all of the witnesses. I agree with the Chairman that the contributions from Ms Keegan and Mr. Moran gave us a real sense of the personal development that is involved in scouting. This is the first time they have appeared before an Oireachtas committee. We want to ensure that their appearance here is a positive one in terms of what the committee ask of them.
Mr. Lawlor referred to the World Scout Moot which is to be held here in 2021 and that he wants to use that as a platform for transformation and development in Irish scouting. He is seeking our support for that programme. Can Mr. Lawlor tell the committee how we can support Scouting Ireland in that?
Scouting is clearly a very positive movement of which we are all personally aware in our local areas. The boat-building project in Limerick city is one very positive example. The last time I met Mr. McCann was on the banks of the Shannon in regard to an outdoor development for one of the local troops in Limerick.
I note that the percentage of the population reached by scouting is 5%. It is growing but it would be good to be able to spread the benefits even wider. To have 12,000 volunteers is very impressive. The witnesses said that there are waiting lists. What are the obstacles to growing in terms of granting access to those on waiting lists and those who have not had the opportunity to engage with a local scouting group?
The witnesses have made us aware of the challenges Brexit poses for Scouting Ireland and probably other voluntary organisations as well. I am particularly familiar with the ERASMUS programme. People in Northern Ireland will possibly have difficulty accessing it. Brexit will cause many difficulties. What can the committee do to support the witnesses in their work, particularly in the context of this transformational programme?
I thank the witnesses for their presentation and also for the extraordinary work that scouting does in communities throughout the island. The ratio of 35 staff to 12,000 volunteers and 50,000 members is incredible. I thank the witnesses personally because, as a youth member of the 37th Togher and an adult member of the 5th Cork, the Lough Scouts, I have benefited from the unique experience, training and education that scouting provides and experienced what it does for one's sense of confidence and leadership skills. I know exactly how valuable and empowering involvement in scouts is, as either a youth or adult member.
I will come back to the ratio of staff to volunteers. On a certain level it is a great positive. It is also a significant challenge for any organisation to try and manage that so many volunteers with that number of staff.
As Deputy Jan O'Sullivan said, there are areas where scouting is very, very strong. Cork would be one of those. However, there are parts of the country that probably have less coverage. I imagine that, because of the way it is structured, access to premises and getting people to become trustees are issues. Could the witnesses tell the committee what proportion of scouting groups operate without their own premises or premises to which they have permanent access? How many rely on community halls or GAA halls or places like that? I imagine it is a minority.
Changes in charity regulations have put a very significant onus on scouting groups up and down the country. If I understand it correctly, they have to register themselves as individual units. That is obviously a big undertaking for volunteers. How is Scouting Ireland responding to that? Do Scouting Ireland and other voluntary groups need further resources from the State to ensure that they are able to meet their obligations under the charities regulations?
I will be travelling to NIjam at Crawfordsburn Scout Centre this summer. There are very strong links between the North and the South. I am concerned that Brexit will be very difficult for an all-Ireland body such as Scouting Ireland, which has a good relationship with the Scout Association of the United Kingdom and the Northern Ireland Scout Council.
I support the two projects involving Scouting Ireland working with unaccompanied minors. There is work ongoing with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to bring over another category of unaccompanied minors from Calais. Members of the Oireachtas were pushing for about 200 but I think it is going to fall short of that. Has the Department engaged with Scouting Ireland on whether their programme can be expanded or whether another category of unaccompanied minors could be brought into that project?
Is Scouting Ireland considering expanding the Lelievelet project in Limerick to other places?
I have a few questions in terms of asks for the committee and things we can support. What is the current state of play in relation to Scouting Ireland's applications for capital funding for Larch Hill and Killaloe? The applications were made a number of years ago for those two very important projects. Second, there are 35 full-time staff to 12,000 voluntary staff and 50,000 members. It is a reflection of a very efficient organisation. However, is it adequate and is there a need for additional funding for Scouting Ireland from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs? Is it something the committee needs to push?
Mr. John Lawlor:
I will take the question on the world scout movement myself. It is a very important project for us. There is a bit of the John Kennedy thing about it. We are not trying to do it because it is easy, we want to do it because it is hard. If we set ourselves a major target and objective, it had be one in the face of stiff opposition. There was a brilliant performance at the world conference by Ciara Keegan and the young team to win the bid. It is very much about developing our young people on the route to the moot. We have a thing called AcadaMoot which is about certifying our young people in project management skills, logistics and all of those skill necessary to run an event of that scale. It can be very good for scouting in Ireland. It also involves a focus on our older age group, our young adults, which is really important. The committee has seen two wonderful examples of them here today. It could also be very good for the country with 120 nations represented. We would love to bring some of them to the Houses of the Oireachtas to meet Members and perhaps have a youth parliament or United Nations of scouting, which would be wonderful. That would be a great opportunity. That could be very good for the country and do for scouting what the Special Olympics achieved in terms of perception and the impact across the country. That could be quite important.
We have worked with the Minister and her officials to seek support for this. It is a bit like the Olympics. Iceland is hosting the moot this summer, the flag will pass to us in July and our event will take place in 2021. Iceland is a lot smaller than Ireland in terms of population and scouts there had significant support from the Icelandic Government for the event. We seek support from the Government here and are working actively with the Minister and her officials to secure it because it is a big challenge for our organisation. I hope that answers the question.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire raised the issue of the challenge of staff ratios and coverage across the country, which is really important. To give an example, we have one development officer to cover the area from Sligo to Clare. Development officers are the people who work to open new groups. We have set a target of opening between 15 and 20 new groups a year and, perhaps, expanding 90 existing groups to allow more young people to benefit from scouting. We have done that in Lettermullen and Letterfrack in the west recently. However, it demands work from professional staff. We have identified that professional support is particularly required to open groups among communities in disadvantaged areas. As such, we are engaging with the Department now to try to get more development officers so that we can open scouting in those areas, which we think is very important.
Access to premises was also raised. Approximately 50% of our groups have their own property or exclusive access to a property, which is a very important thing for a scouting group. One cannot imagine a GAA club operating without its own premises and it is similarly the case for a scout group. It is a big challenge given our programme. It is approximately 50%.
I will ask Mr. O'Connor to deal with supports for changes to the charities legislation. He has been actively involved in ensuring compliance with charities and company law changes.
Mr. Noel O'Connor:
We started a project three years ago this month to identify our requirements around charities legislation and how it will affect us. It identified a number of issues for us which is resulting in a proposal for a national and local restructuring. That means our groups will now have to register as individual entities, i.e. as individual charities. Obviously, that entails big challenges for us. We have already registered our groups in Northern Ireland with the Charity Commission there, so that process is finished. However, to get that done, we had to have people in place to assist groups. We had to develop resources and provide training and we had extra insurance requirements because we were asking people not only to be volunteers locally anymore but to take on legal responsibilities as trustees of their groups. Until now, a scout group council could have a membership of 20 or 30 people sharing the responsibility of running it. The proposed restructure to help us with compliance in this area will shrink the group down to five or seven people who will be the identifiable trustees and responsible for all the actions of the scout group. That clearly imposes big challenges in terms of how we maintain democracy within the group to provide all our volunteers and young people with a say in how it is run. That requires a new way of thinking and a great deal of work is having to go into that. Our national council in three weeks time will debate these challenges, cast some votes and decide how to make progress in this area.
From a Scouting Ireland point of view, this has been a three-year project and it has been resource heavy. That means we have had to use our volunteer resources, including expert volunteers in this area. We have also had to use professional resources meaning people who are knowledgeable and qualified in the area on our professional team. We also had to pay for some support on this also with financial and legal advice. Every time we have to allocate resources to something like this, it takes away resources from something else. Typically, it is the front-line stuff that suffers straight away. We are pulling people off our front-line support to allocate some of their time to help us with this project. The project is obviously a major and worthwhile one. We want to be compliant and to demonstrate accountability, transparency and probity but that does not come without a cost. It seems to us that this added cost is an unintended consequence of the legislation. Other groups and organisations are having to face this now. We see it within our own NYCI network. It is a sectoral issue rather than just a Scouting Ireland issue. Any organisation dealing with young people, working with local communities, handling money and going through vetting is facing these challenges.
As we pull resources from our front-line support, it means we are not getting to our scout groups as often as we would like. We are failing to provide the level of support to groups that we would like and we are not developing as many groups or sections as we would like. To be blunt, we need more resources allocated to us to allow us to do both. We want to do both. We want to be compliant and we want to develop and provide people with more opportunities. Ultimately, it is the case that there is only so much money in the account and so many hours in the week. Extra resources are needed for us to do everything we want to do.
The witnesses are very welcome to the committee today. I was not a scout. I have to put my hand up there. What really struck me in the presentation was the material on youth mental health. I advocate for mental health and campaign on mental health progression.
I know from involvement with the arts that using arts or community organisations can greatly strengthen their resolve. Young people can learn more about themselves and take care of their emotional well-being much better and improve their personal development. There is a blueprint already in the scout movement, which the witnesses have highlighted. While it may not have been highlighted in the past, I hope we will continue to speak more openly about mental health problems although there is still a stigma attached to them which we all have to try to combat. The scout movement seems to contribute to combatting it. Young people are growing up in a different way and with a different outlook from those of generations before theirs. That is a cultural change which has to be flagged but there is an opportunity to use that. The scout movement is probably aware of it but I am not. We need to do more to promote that type of education because the marketability of the scouts in respect of mental health is strong and young people will identify with that. Presentations to this committee show that cyberbullying starts at eight and nine years of age. That can be combatted. The committee might consider how to co-ordinate resources.
Have the scouts approached any mental health organisations to work as partners in a strategic way rather than in isolation to promote good mental health? While ensuring everybody's health and safety, is there any red tape that can be shed in respect of compliance that would free up the witnesses' time? Do the witnesses see fluctuations in the people joining the scouts when it has recruitment drives? We know that in a time of economic prosperity volunteerism drops. Does that happen in the scout movement? In a time of recession volunteerism goes up maybe because people have more free time.
Is there a big fluctuation between city and rural members? If there are fewer rural members we could tie the scouts into our work on rural regeneration.
I apologise for missing the presentation but I was in the Seanad for a Commencement matter. I thank the witnesses for coming here today. I have read their presentation. I was not a scout but my sisters were and they loved it. I am very friendly with the family who per seran the scouts over the years. I am not sure what the organisation is now in Mayo, where I come from, but they were very committed and provided a lot of enjoyment to children in the area.
Is there any reason to believe that funding will not be forthcoming for the World Scout Moot next year? It seems to me to be a project that would necessarily receive funding. What level would the funding be? In communities where scout groups do not have their own buildings, are GAA clubs, town halls and community centres generally co-operative in providing a venue? I would imagine they are. I thank the witnesses for the positive work they do for children around the country.
What annual funding do the scouts receive from the Exchequer? We know the movement wants more money but Mr. Lawlor might put that in the context of the annual funding it receives from the State, if any. Where does it come from and where do Mr. Lawlor wish to see it going? The objective of this meeting is to highlight the work the scouts do, create awareness of it, recognise the State's involvement or lack thereof and see how we can improve on that.
I would love to see a scouting group begin in Clonakilty, where I come from. How would I or any member go about that? What infrastructure is required to start a group to add value to our society by introducing scouting in our area?
Could I get an answer to my questions on contact with the Department about unaccompanied minors and the possible influx and capital spending on the two projects at Larch Hill and Killaloe?
Mr. John Lawlor:
I will deal with the funding questions and then bring in some of my colleagues to respond.
Scouting Ireland receives an annual youth services grant through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, which we very much appreciate. This year it stands at €876,000. That represents a 5% improvement on last year which was a 2.5% increase on the previous year. Before the recession, it stood at €1.3 million. Like most organisations in the sector, we suffered a cutback of approximately 35%. That knocked us back a fair bit. We have had to be prudent. We understood the challenge to the nation and shouldered our burden. The fact that we are growing helped a little but it has imposed strains on us.
Apart from that annual funding we receive project funding for certain projects, for example, the youth employment project in Limerick, which came from dormant accounts. We very much appreciated that support which allowed us to do some different things. Our refugee programmes have not been funded but we are optimistic that the next round will be, particularly the funding for the rover scouts working with the Greek scouts, which we think is a very important programme for Ireland.
On the capital side we were disappointed because we engaged in major capital works last year at Killaloe and Larch Hill, which cost approximately €1.3 million. We made significant submissions to Government on that. We received a grant of €50,000 towards the Killaloe project but we had made significant submissions on that. It fell in the change of Government, which was a disadvantage. In Larch Hill almost €1 million was invested without any State support whatsoever. That is our major centre in the Dublin area. It is a state-of-the-art 56-bed hostel and training centre. We are delighted to have it but it would have been much easier for us if we had support on that capital project. I hope that answers the Deputy's question.
Starting up a scout troop is very expensive and we support that internally. Before Ms Kelly took on the role of research officer she was a development officer in the west of Ireland and so is probably best qualified to give an insight into what is involved in supporting the establishment of a new scout troop. We would be thrilled to do that in Clonakilty if and when we can.
Ms Dubheasa Kelly:
One aspect of starting a scout group in a local community is it is community-driven. It is the local community to which we respond and with which we engage about opening a scout group. Normally somebody from the area picks up the telephone and asks, "Where is my local scout group?" or "How would I go about setting one up?" People engage with the national office and details are sent to the local development officers. The community person is then asked to go out into his or her community to rally the troops and gather as many people as possible who would be interesting in setting up a scout group and volunteering as scout leaders. It takes a number of months to train the adults. It takes significant time on the professional side to engage with them and it is only after all of the adults have been trained and when they are ready to engage with the children that we recruit them.
Mr. John Lawlor:
I will ask the chief scout to comment on the issues of dens, property and so on which are related to the charity issue. Local groups are our strength. They are based in the community and, a little like a GAA club, absorb whatever energy is in a local area to make things happen. That is more challenging in disadvantaged areas. We have wonderful support in our engagement with other community organisations, but it is a big issue for groups to have somewhere to meet, store their equipment and train.
Mr. Christy McCann:
I welcome the intriguing and interesting questions because it shows that there is engagement. Sometimes we cannot see the wood from the trees and sometimes think scouting is only what is important, whereas it is about the young people whom we are there to serve. It is our great intention to increase the percentage of young people involved in scouting, but that has a knock-on effect and, in some cases, presents tremendous challenges. There was a question about the number of scout halls. As Mr. Lawlor alluded to, half of our groups have their own premises. Anyone connected to a group with its own premises would probably only then value having a safe haven where young children could meet and parents would not have to worry that they were out and about or in danger. They are under the right supervision with their friends and have a place in which to meet to talk about, for example, mental health or LGBT issues. They can meet in small groups and talk among their peers. That is a core foundation for the success of scout groups around the country. Unfortunately, we do not enjoy that luxury in every town, but we have the goodwill of the GAA and various schools and organisations that share premises. However, it is never the same as it is like sharing a house with somebody else. One cannot leave one's pictures on the wall or log one's photographs and one does not have a sense of belonging.
These are the challenges and while it would be great to have a scouting group in every town and be able to answer that need and because we do not like to refuse a scouting place to any young person, before we launch a scout group, we have to make sure it is sustainable and that there is a future and a lifeline, whether it be funding or support. Not everything we do is created through funding; much of it is done through partnerships with the likes of Pieta House. They allow us to tap into resources such that our programme becomes relevant and meaningful. Whether we have scout dens, we have partnerships in local communities and scouting will survive. It takes support nationally and locally, which is why we are so successful with the number of groups we have. However, we know that our reach could be much greater, but then we are very much dependent on adult volunteers. We have 12,000 adult volunteers doing scout work - I keep being told that is greater than the number in the Army or the Garda - but they are under time pressures and trying to maintain their own families. They also have to cope with all of the other pressures in life. What generally keeps many of them engaged is the fact that they can bring their own children into the organisation when they are involved. It is part of growing up and becoming a family-oriented activity.
Reference was made to the Moot. In Ireland we are good at acknowledging that it is a global movement and the best way to show this is by bringing the world to Ireland in order that people can see various cultures. Diversity and inclusion are at the core of our programmes. When we create an event, not only are we selling Ireland as a country but we are also selling the culture and mixes and matches that go within it. That is why we encourage biting off more than we can chew, but we recognise the greater long-term benefits. When the Moot is over and the memories are still there, we will have a legacy from it in so far as the national campsites will have been enriched, local communities will be more aware of what scouting is about and premises will become available. Without knocking on the door of NAMA and similar bodies, there are tonnes of premises lying idle in communities and perhaps with the will and support of public representatives, doors might be opened. We are good at the scouting part but not good at the begging part. That is why we do not ask for enough money and help, but this is our opportunity to ask public representatives to open the door and point us in the right direction. The goodwill, as witnessed here, is also witnessed within the community, but scouting is perhaps the best kept secret. Much of the good scouting happens on the hills or in forests. It is now time for us, in using opportunities such as this, to shout from the rafters that we are working with young people and that it is not so much about scouting. We welcome the opportunity to do so.
Mr. John Lawlor:
Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked about unaccompanied minors. A positive response to the challenge of strangers coming to our shores should be cherished among young people. That is why scouting groups are involved in this issue in a world in which fear is being bred and there is the exact opposite response from leaders. It is correct to establish that value and state clearly that Ireland is a country that welcomes those who are at a distance from their homes. We are involved in the refugee access programme for the benefit of those coming to our shores but also for that of our young people in order that this value is inculcated in the nation. That is part of what Ireland is about. We have good engagement with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on this issue and look forward to receiving support in this regard in the future. We will expand our refugee programmes in the next few years and would like to part of the new programmes coming on stream.
The Deputy also referred to the number of staff. It is far too few to run an organisation of our scale. We have outgrown our professional capacity. Our recent manpower planning suggests we are ten to 12 staff short on the basis of the current volume of business, which means that we have to rob Peter to pay Paul to keep projects going and keep balls in the air. We understand the country has gone through a difficult time. However, there are 40,000 youth volunteers, of whom we have 12,000. There are 1,400 paid youth workers, of whom we have 35. Scouting Ireland is, therefore, good value for money. It will be important in the years ahead as the economy strengthens to recognise this. The fact that Scouting Ireland has been good at this should not disadvantage us and we should be allowed to improve our programmes. That will require professional support to open new groups, work in disadvantaged areas and expand our programmes for young people.
By way of concluding comments, what message would Ms Keegan and Mr. Moran give to young people who are thinking of joining the scouts? I would like to end with a word of encouragement. We have a large young viewership, but we could promote scouting on social media. We are big at this time of the morning on live television. I do not wish to put the representatives on the spot, but they have made powerful presentations, although I do not want to take from anybody else's contribution.
With regard to what makes the community we create different, I do not know of any others that are as pure. Our whole ethos is concerned with actual human connection and interaction. That message is getting lost a little, especially with social media. There is something really nice about the fact that I feel as though I have a friend in every county. Regardless of whether I know them, there is someone there with a neckerchief. As I got older, I started to see that, in the exact same way, I had a friend in every country that has scouting. It is a global view. What one is entering into is a global network. There is not much I can think of that I cannot do because I have a friend or brother or sister scouts all over the world. I cannot see that kind of insurance and trust in the world in any other organisation.
Mr. Ray Moran:
The first thing I would say is, "Just do it". I have friends I tried to convince when I was younger. The earlier one goes in, the more one gets from it. It is particularly hard to get involved with things like this in the teenage years. If one becomes part of the organisation as a cub or beaver, it is just part of one. It is very hard to explain. If one is from a disadvantaged area such the one we are from - most people would be in the DEIS category - it is so easy to get into trouble. Scouting is a great opportunity to get out of it and find something else. One does so many fun things. One does what one wants to do. The most important thing I have got from it is meeting different people. Particularly if one is from a disadvantaged area, one is thinking about this a lot, in every situation. It hinders one's confidence but when one grows up in the scouts, one meets so many people from different socioeconomic classes and becomes aware of them. One talks about silly things, particularly when one is a kid. Particularly when one is a kid, one will talk about anything and say anything. One learns from this. Then one learns that where one is from does not actually matter. One does not realise it when one is younger. When I was starting university - I was the only one from my school - I did not know anyone. No one in my family could even tell me what it was like. The prospect terrified me but when I went in on the first day I was fine. I said the people were like people I meet everywhere. That is the big difference it made for me later on in life. It really prepares one for anything one meets. It is a lesson. It is like life education. To me, it teaches one to be a good person and have common sense and empathy with others. It results in a desire to help people wherever possible. When one does that, people usually want to be a part of one's life. That is the biggest thing I have got from the scouts.
I do not think the delegates could do it any more justice than they have done here today. I thank them for their presentations. In the interest of balance, we will be bringing in the Irish Girl Guides. We agreed on that earlier this morning. I thank the delegates for their time. We look forward to this not being an end but a beginning. We appreciate it is the delegates' first time before the committee. They have a huge event coming up in 2021. Along the way, I hope there will be more with which we can assist. We will liaise with the Minister and her officials at any opportunity we have to assist.
I acknowledge the members who appeared later, they were late for a very good reason.
That is how the House goes, unfortunately. All of us have conflicting diaries. I thank the members for their contribution. At our next meeting, we will continue with our consideration of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2017.