A proposal by the Chief Scout and former Chief Scouts

Sharing this as is it is an open letter and will undoubtedly be of interest to many.

We understand that it was sent to the Board of Scouting Ireland this afternoon.

A pdf version of the letter is available here

Scouting Ireland the future – a proposal by the Chief Scout and former Chief Scouts

Open letter to the Board of Directors and Members of Scouting Ireland

Introduction

We must recognise that we are in extraordinary times that require extraordinary responses if
Scouting Ireland is to survive. We need to respond in a unified and true scouting manner.
As we all know Ireland has been struggling to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and Scouting Ireland
has been struggling too. Whilst a number of our Scout Groups have managed to cope and deliver a
modified scout programme in accordance with Government guidelines a significant number of Scout
Groups have and continue to struggle to deliver a scout programme given the difficulties caused by
the pandemic.

In addition to those problems Scout Groups are being asked to comply with Scouting Ireland census
and registration procedures, including payment of fees, as well as dealing with parents in
unprecedented circumstances and uncertainty about when a full scouting programme can be
implemented safely. Scout Groups are also being told to prepare for Charity Regulatory Authority
(CRA) registration in the Republic of Ireland.

To help and support Scout Groups to cope it is essential that all these matters are prioritised and
that each and every Scout Group is provided with specifically tailored support to enable them to deal
with all these matters effectively.

We recognise that a considerable number of our members have concerns on a variety of issues as
indeed we as former Chief Scouts do too.

However, in order to ensure the very survival of our Movement all of these must be put on hold
for now. There will be time enough to revisit these issues at a future date, if necessary, but right
now we need a cohesive strategy to support our Scout Groups over the coming months in order to
resume “normal scouting activities” as soon as practicable.

The recent clarification from the Chairperson of the Board regarding the separation of the annual
membership census and the payment of registration fees is to be welcomed. However, this must be
accompanied by a genuine effort to liaise with each and every Scout Group to determine what
supports they need in order to be able to resume normal scouting activities and how and when they
will be able to pay registration fees.

This will require a refocussing of support by all Scouting Ireland staff both paid and volunteer at
National, Provincial and Scout County levels to meet with Scout Groups to identify and deliver
appropriate support.

The Board must set the direction for this and the CEO will have the responsibility to lead the
delivery of the necessary support that each and every Scout Group needs in these difficult and
uncertain times. The Board needs to set a realistic and achievable deadline for completion of this
work, e.g. end of August 2021, so that we can be fully prepared for the start of the new 2021\2022
scout year.

There is no doubt that implementing the actions we propose below will be difficult and will cause
issues particularly for the Board of Directors. We have no intention whatsoever of trying to
undermine the Board but are simply making suggestions as to how our Movement can work in a
collegiate manner to ensure its survival.

Proposed Actions

  •  We must put any differences and issues we have to one side for now in order to work in
    concert with each other to tackle the problems we are facing. We have proven over the
    years that when we work together with a shared sense of purpose we can achieve amazing
    results and the current situation our Movement finds itself in, requires us to do so again.
  • The Board must set the direction for this and the CEO will have the responsibility to lead the
    delivery of the necessary support that each and every Scout Group needs in these difficult
    and uncertain times.
  • The Chief Scout should resume his duties immediately to work in conjunction with the Board
    of Directors, the CEO, paid and volunteer staff and Provincial and County Teams in order to
    reassure and support Scout Groups in dealing with the difficulties currently being
    experienced.
  • The Board of Directors and the CEO must urgently liaise with the Minister and DCYA to spell
    out the difficulties Scouting Ireland is facing and fully explain the strategy being
    implemented and the key role the Chief Scout must play.
  • The Board should also seek additional government financial support to help Scouting Ireland
    to implement whatever initiatives are necessary to return to full Youth Programme
    operations as soon as practicable.
  • Given the issues that need to be addressed in the coming months that the AGM and
    elections due to be held in April 2021 should be deferred until September or October.
  • The Board should consider agreeing with the CRA to defer commencement of Scout Group
    registration in the Republic of Ireland until at least October 2021.
  • Throughout 2021 there should be a monthly bulletin issued to provide timely updates on
    progress and remaining or newly identified difficulties.
  • Preparations should commence shortly to hold Provincial Scouters and Scout Conferences in
    July or August 2021. This would result in a more collegiate approach in dealing with issues
    and exchanging views and should in due course reduce the amount of rhetoric posted on
    social media.
  • All Members should be more careful and considerate whilst using social media. The
    Scouters and Scout Conferences and access to the Chief Scout and his Team will help with
    this.

Governance

It has to be recognised that the Board of Directors have been working hard since the EGM held in
October 2018 to address the governance changes required in Scouting Ireland.

They have done so whilst faced with unprecedented and uncharted difficulties. Significant progress
has been made with Departments restructured and with an updated Safeguarding policy,
procedures and practices put in place.

However, there are significant gaps in the national structure that was envisaged by the Governance
Proposals approved by National Council in October 2018. An oversight Board, Operational
Departments, Provincial and County Commissioners are in place but there are at least two major
vital elements missing:

  • Provincial and National Scouters and Scouts Conferences;
  • The Chief Scout.

Provincial and National Conferences

The Governance Proposals envisaged that in addition to general meetings of the company there
would be a Scouters and Scouts Conference held in each Province at least once a year. This would
provide opportunities to receive information from SI Department Heads and to have much needed
debate on whatever issues Scouters wished. Provision was also made for a National Scouters and
Scouts Conference if one was needed.

We believe preparations should commence shortly to hold Provincial Conferences in July or August
2021. In our view this would result in a more collegiate approach in dealing with issues and
xchanging views and should in due course reduce the amount of rhetoric posted on social media.

The Chief Scout

As set out in the Governance Proposals the Chief Scout is the inspirational leader of Scouting Ireland.
It is a voluntary role and is the highest elected position in Scouting Ireland. It is an office of great
honour and history in Irish Scouting and it goes all the way back to the first Chief Scout, Robert
Baden Powell. The role includes senior administrative duties for the Company and ceremonial
obligations towards youth members in terms of the Youth Programme Awards & achievements and
Adult Awards & distinctions.

The Chief Scout is the chairperson of the General Meetings of the Company. He/she may also chair
other meetings or conferences from time to time as appropriate, such as the National Youth
Assembly. The Chief Scout will also be chairperson of the Motions Committee which will examine
motions received by members for consideration at the AGM and will be assisted by two others none
of whom may be directors of the company.

The role of the Chief Scout will require regular interaction with Scouts and Scouters throughout the
island. He/she will represent Scouting Ireland at home and abroad. He/she will be supported by a
dedicated team of staff.

The Chief Scout is not a Director of the Company but the Board will consult with him/her on an
constant basis. As such he/she will have to attend Board meetings as often as necessary to
discharge his/her responsibilities and to make and receive reports.

The Chief Scout and the Board will work together to be guardians of the Scout Promise & Law with
the responsibility to ensure that all within Scouting Ireland are true to the Scout Principles and
Method and endeavour to live the Scout Law and Promise.

In this time of crisis for our Movement we must have an active Chief Scout in place to carry out the
functions of that office and to support and encourage all of our members to work cohesively in
concert with the Board of Directors and our paid and volunteer staff so that Scouting Ireland can
survive.

The Chief Scouts Team

It was envisaged that the Chief Scout would be supported by a dedicated team of staff. The team
will need to be strengthened further by the addition of a number of volunteers to assist him with his
duties including, scouter representation etc. We the former Chief Scouts will assist him in any way
that we can.

The Chief Scout will be establishing a subset of his/her team to, in the first instance, support and
represent volunteer Scouters in Ireland. This group will also offer advice and potentially advocate for
and/or represent the interests of individual scouter volunteers who find themselves in dispute with
Scouting Ireland.

Such a group is necessary because for some time it is evident that the disputes resolution process
within Scouting Ireland is unfit for purpose with those accused of inappropriate behaviour etc being
provided with little or no support to state their case and defend themselves.

The disciplinary process appears to be unnecessarily adversarial it does not offer a fair, transparent
or independently overseen route to dispute resolution from a volunteers perspective.

So if you are a volunteer scouter and you want someone in your corner, should you end up in a
dispute with Scouting Ireland, particularly one that was not of your making – you can contact the
Chief Scouts Team for help and support.

Paid staff are, quite rightly, afforded a full set of protections under the various employment acts,
through their membership of a union, the presence of a shop steward. In addition, professional staff
enjoy the unconditional support of the Chief Executive Officer and Board of Scouting Ireland.
Consequently, they will not be able to avail of this initiative.

The Lorna Lynch Report

This issue has been dragging on for far too long and has and continues to damage Scouting Ireland
and needs to be finalised urgently.

In early 2018 the National Management Committee of Scouting Ireland resolved to appoint Lorna
Lynch BL to conduct an investigation as to whether an NMC Member, the two Chief Commissioners
and the Chief Scout acted appropriately in relation to a Complaint, including without prejudice to the
generality of the investigation, whether they inappropriately contacted the staff involved in
managing the Complaint seeking to exert influence in favour of the person who was the subject of
the Complaint.

In April 2018 the four respondents, as they became known, all voluntarily stepped aside from their
roles for the duration if the investigation which was initially expected to take about six weeks.
Ms Lynch set out the details of her investigation and findings in a report of about 60 pages that was
delivered in January 2019. We are summarising the findings regarding the Chief Scout and the two
Chief Commissioners as follows:

  • The Chief Scout did not act appropriately when meeting with the subject of the Complaint in
    January 2017 and in failing to disclose at a Board meeting in February 2017 the fact and/or
    details of his meeting with the subject of the Complaint;
  • There were no findings that the Chief Scout inappropriately contacted the staff involved in
    managing the Complaint seeking to exert influence in favour of the person who was the
    subject of the Complaint;
  • The CCAR did not act appropriately in relation to the Complaint during a Child Protection
    Management Team (CPMT) conference call in July 2016 where, although she considered
    herself conflicted and did not vote during the meeting, she participated in the discussion of
    the Complaint and expressed her view that it was not appropriate for the CPMT to deal with
    the Complaint and that she failed, as Chair of the CPMT, to bring the issue forward to the
    Board at a meeting held in July 2016;
  • There were no other findings, that the CCAR did not act appropriately in relation to the
    Complaint or that she inappropriately contacted the staff involved in managing the
    Complaint seeking to exert influence in favour of the person who was the subject of the
    Complaint;
  • The CCYP did not act appropriately in relation to the Complaint during the CPMT conference
    call in July 2016 in circumstances where he was conflicted by virtue of a friendship with the
    subject of the Complaint and he did not act appropriately in relation to the Complaint by
    requesting the Chief Scout to meet with the subject of the Complaint;
  • There were no other findings, that the CCYP did not act appropriately in relation to the
    Complaint or that he inappropriately contacted the staff involved in managing the Complaint
    seeking to exert influence in favour of the person who was the subject of the Complaint.

Following receipt of this report it was decided, based on legal advice, that it fell under the remit of
the NMC rather than the Board of Directors. We understand that the NMC considered the report
and eventually appointed a subcommittee to determine what disciplinary action should be taken
regarding the four respondents. We understand that the subcommittee decided that the Chief
Scout and the two Chief Commissioners should be suspended from office until the next general
meeting of the National Council. We understand that this decision was appealed and that the
National Secretary appointed himself to hear the appeal. He decided to uphold the decision of the
subcommittee. No date has yet been set for a general meeting of National Council.

Having considered the findings of Ms Lynch it is contended that the amount of time that the CS and
CC’s have been inactive in their roles should be deemed to be sufficient punishment for not acting
appropriately. Consequently, they should be allowed to resume their roles immediately.
There is no doubt that this will present difficulty for the Board of Directors particularly given their
dealings with DCYA and former Minister Zappone. However, we believe it is vital that the Chief
Scout can join with the Board and others to galvanise our members in these troubled times.

The Association

Closing down the Association is important and should be completed as soon as possible, however,
given the extraordinary difficulties being faced by Scouting Ireland now on this matter should not be
prioritised ahead of the actions proposed above.

Conclusion

We are very concerned for the future of our Movement and taking appropriate action in the coming
months will determine whether or not it will survive.

It is essential that all elements of Scouting Ireland work cohesively with the Board setting the
direction and the CEO, Provincial & County Commissioners and Chief Scout helping Scout Groups
to implement actions appropriate to each Individual Scout Group.

Yours in Scouting

Christy McCann, Ken Ramsey, Donald Harvey, Martin Burbridge

Chief Scouts

11 December 2020

A pdf version of the letter is available here