Wednesday, 13 June 2018
In April of this year I decided to withhold all further funding to Scouting Ireland until such time as I could be satisfied that the organisation's governance standards met the required level. This followed publicity surrounding an incident of alleged sexual assault and concerns raised about how this serious matter was handled by Scouting Ireland.
Having made my decision to withhold funding, I met representatives from Scouting Ireland on 19 April to discuss the standards of governance within the organisation. The leadership of Scouting Ireland provided assurances to me at that meeting that they were involved in a governance project and reforms in the way they do their work. The project focused in particular on governance at board level. They informed me that these reforms would be put to their membership at a meeting this month.
In May, as Deputy Sherlock referenced, I appointed Ms Jillian van Turnhout as an independent expert to examine governance and related issues within Scouting Ireland. In accordance with her terms of reference she was asked to provide me with a clear assessment of Scouting Ireland's governance arrangements, including the organisation's plan to improve governance. She is completing her assessment and I expect to have her final report shortly. I will examine the content of the report carefully. I need to be satisfied that Scouting Ireland is taking the necessary steps to provide the assurances I need. Based on the outcome I will make a decision about the restoration of funding.
I cannot and will not compromise on issues that impact on the safety of children. Scouting Ireland must be in compliance with the legal requirements of the Children First Act 2015 and related legislation. I want scouts and parents throughout the country to know that I and the Government have a strong regard for the organisation and the generosity and dedication of the 13,000 adult volunteers involved. I want to acknowledge that Scouting Ireland provides exceptional engagement for the 40,000 children and young people who are members nationwide. In light of this and following the final report I will be in a position to make a decision.
I welcome the Minister's response. I understand that the Minister cannot give us an exact date by which she will receive the report. I hope she will keep the House and individual Members who have a particular interest informed on this issue. Moreover, I hope that when the report comes before her, she will keep an open door in communicating with us. I fully accept the Minister's answer.
Has the Minister been made aware of the fact that there are many good people within Scouting Ireland who believe they have not been communicated with with regard to some of the governance or change management procedures under way currently, especially in respect of the proposed new national structure? I have written to the Minister and asked if she would communicate with Ms van Turnhout with a view to hearing from reasonable and rational voices within Scouting Ireland who wish to make their views known officially to Ms van Turnhout on some of the concerns they have in respect of the current process. Will the Minister do her best through her good offices to facilitate that, please?
As Deputy Sherlock indicated, he sent me an email recently outlining those issues and concerns from members of the organisation.
The staff and board have been engaging in and trying to finalise a reform process in recent months and weeks. I received the email in question and I have asked my officials to pass it on to Ms van Turnhout and for her to take account of the contents in making her decisions in that regard. As Deputies are aware, Ms van Turnhout is an independent person working with the organisation. I believe the most appropriate course was to send her Deputy Sherlock's request and to bring it to her attention.
We are all conscious of the fact that time is passing, that there is a funding issue and that these things need to be resolved as soon as possible.
We are very much aware that there is a funding issue and that there are time constraints as well. However, it is vital that the vast bulk of the ordinary members of Scouting Ireland, the people who volunteer at weekends, have confidence in the process that is under way. Everyone is mindful of the fact that taxpayers' money is being used to fund this organisation. Everyone within the organisation bar none must have absolute confidence in the process under way at the moment. It is important because certain voices have not been heard heretofore and they should be heard.
I totally accept what the Deputy is saying. That is why I have taken action in respect of the information he has shared with me. Decisions need to be made in that regard. As the Deputy is aware, these questions are being raised by some people who are coming to him. My understanding is that there is ongoing communication between the members, staff and the board on this reform project. Perhaps some people believe that they need to have more of a voice in respect of what is going on there. I hear what the Deputy is saying in that regard.
My understanding following my meeting with the organisation is that it undertook a long and engaged process. It is a membership organisation and that is how it has decided to approach the matter. Again, I am happy that the Deputy has raised these issues and I have passed them on.