Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs

Governance and Child Safeguarding Issues in Scouting Ireland: Tusla and Scouting Ireland

10:00 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee today. It is unfortunate that we are where we are and that two organisations that work quite well together have found themselves in a highly public conflict on a very serious matter. I agree with Deputy Mitchell that there have been conflicting reports around how things happened, what transpired and who said what and when. When something is put on paper and when Tusla wrote that letter it must have known it would go into the public domain. That is how the world works even if the intention was that it would stay private. When one sends a letter to a large organisation, knowing it is probably not going to be received too well and might cause some upset, it is not surprising that it would enter the public domain in some way. It is also not surprising that the Minister requested the letter the moment she discovered the letter existed. Given the pressures of this particular job, the immediate thing to do was to publish and put it out there. The minute that pen was put to paper and there were words on a page, it was going to become public at some point. That is just the reality. Even if it had not been published, the letter would have been the subject of a freedom of information request at some point.

That letter had quite a significant impact on many thousands of volunteers across the country. There was concern among parents who wondered if they had sent their children to an organisation that is not safe. They wondered if they had asked the right questions or if they had been too trusting. There was a direct and significant impact on a very large organisation and on many families across the country. Perhaps it might have been handled in a different way. I acknowledge that hindsight is great. It is easy for us to sit here and say that we might have done things differently, with the benefit of hindsight. I appreciate that Tusla was in a particular position where it had to take action and that there were genuine concerns on its side.

Tusla is a very good organisation. At times it becomes mired in controversy because it deals with historic legacy issues, which is a difficulty for the organisation. I have said before in this committee that Tusla needs to do a little bit more around putting out the good work it does, highlighting the positive impact of Tusla and all of the really good stuff that comes out of it.

With regard to the safeguarding statement issued in February around Scouting Ireland being compliant, there was a perception - even for those of us who are active on this committee and who deal with Tusla regularly - that the organisation was fully compliant right across the board, and that the procedures and practice on the ground were compliant. Perhaps communications need to be looked at for future situations so that what is actually meant is explained better. I refer to Mr. Lee's example that having a health and safety statement in a building or an organisation does not mean that health and safety practice is up to scratch, and that perhaps we need to explain ourselves a little bit better.

I take on board that Scouting Ireland was taken aback and very upset by the letter sent to it on 18 February. Can the Tusla representatives talk the committee through what led it to compile that letter? Where did Tusla get the information? It appears that there were no conversations with Scouting Ireland before the letter was sent. Where did Tusla get the information? Were there any phone calls, interactions or advance warnings with Scouting Ireland to indicate that Tusla was looking into the organisation and at its processes and that Tusla was probably going to have to draft a serious letter and seek further engagement? Did any of that happen or was it just drafted within Tusla without any outside interaction at all?