Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs

Governance Issues in Scouting Ireland: Discussion

Mr. GearĂ³id Begley:

No, they are not. There is a facility whereby if somebody calls outside office hours he or she can leave a voicemail with contact details to request that we make contact. There are calls where a person discloses information, seeks advice or asks what happens if he or she makes a disclosure, and the process is explained. That is not recorded electronically. A written contemporaneous note is made by the person receiving the call. The caller is thanked for making the call and it is acknowledged that making such a call can be a very difficult thing to do.

On some occasions we get calls which are silent because the person does not feel able to speak. We have had people call two or three times. They may not have spoken on the first occasion, but will speak on the second occasion without giving details and we would encourage them to return by saying if they call again they can give us any name so we know they have called before. When we get to a point where people are happy to discuss or disclose some information we will take a written note of that and give a heartfelt apology on behalf of the organisation because people who were abused in scouting when they were children were the victims of a major betrayal of trust. We offer them the choice to avail of a free and confidential counselling service if they wish. Some people want to take the information or say they are already in counselling and others say they do not want the information and it is not for them. It is their choice. They give us as much information as they want to give us.

Some people have come to terms with what has happened to them and are quite comfortable discussing what can be quite graphic details. They are not easy calls to take and are as emotionally draining for the person taking them as for the person making them. We would record whatever information people give us. Sometimes it can be quite a lot of information, on other occasions it can be a person simply saying, "I was abused". The only clarification we try to get from people is whether they were sexually abused because then it immediately reaches a threshold of harm in terms of reporting to Tusla and An Garda Síochána.

We listen more than we ask questions. The person on the line may or may not wish to give contact details. If we are to provide people with details about counselling, we need some sort of contact information. The committee has to appreciate that sometimes the people calling us do not want to give their home addresses, their families may not be aware of the abuse and they may not have discussed it with anybody else. It is unusual to get a call where a person has not discussed the abuse, but on occasion we are the first person to be told that abuse took place. Those us who take those calls are very conscious of how difficult and traumatic it is for the people making the calls.

We will examine our documents to determine whether what happened meets the threshold, as I explained earlier. If it does, and once it is sexual abuse, it is over the threshold and will be reported to State agencies. We provide State agencies with as much information as we have been given and explain the process to the caller. We advise callers that what they have told us is confidential but if they tell us something that we have a legal obligation to report then we have to do that. We qualify that and make it clear that the decision on whether to make a criminal complaint lies with the person. If a person tells us he or she does not want to talk to An Garda Síochána or Tusla, we tell him or her that is fine. However, we have a legal obligation to report information on abuse and we do so. Does that answer the question?