I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for giving us the opportunity to appear before them again.
I am the chairperson of the board of directors. With me today is Dr. John Lawlor, chief executive officer of Scouting Ireland and Mr Ian Elliott, independent safeguarding consultant who has been working with Scouting Ireland since 2017, acting as the interim safeguarding manager for the past year.
Let me begin by confirming that Scouting Ireland is a safe organisation. The letter received by Scouting Ireland on 22 February last, dated 18 February, from the child and family agency, Tusla, shocked Scouting Ireland to the core. I read this letter, not only as a scouter but also, like so many other volunteers, as a parent of three daughters, aged from ten to 17, all of whom enjoy the adventure that is scouting. As such I was shocked by the letter, the content of which concerned me greatly. Scouting Ireland has a track record of working with Tusla and I reaffirm that Scouting Ireland is not in conflict with Tusla. We value co-operation with Tusla and will work closely with it so that confidence in Scouting Ireland as the largest non-formal education provider on the island is restored.
I would like to demonstrate the progress that Scouting Ireland has made since last we met on a number of the key issues that have been discussed here before. In respect of governance, we are finalising our plans regarding the oversight and executive function of the organisation. The current board, most of whom are here in the Visitors Gallery today, is now fully disentangled from the executive function, which had not been the case with preceding boards. It is now well-established and regarded as a board of oversight. We have sought expert advice that will see us fully compliant with the governance code for type C organisations. We are announcing our new structure in the coming weeks and have briefed the transition implementation monitoring group in that regard.
In regard to our membership, the majority of groups have now transferred to membership of the company rather than the outgoing association, with the remaining groups being captured in a mopping-up exercise. This is a significant development and is a practical demonstration of the progress to date in the change over to the company-only format for Scouting Ireland.
The committee will be aware that the independent barrister report completed by Ms Lynch BL was received by Scouting Ireland some weeks back. This report, commissioned by the national management committee, NMC, of the association, has been received by the NMC and reviewed by a sub-committee which has accepted the report in full and determined that the four respondents in this matter be subject to disciplinary procedures. The board will consider the outcome of the disciplinary procedure and, once complete, come to a view with regard to future membership.
On accountability, Scouting Ireland has worked hard at developing the good working relationship with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. We recognise and are grateful for the Minister's commitment to scouting. Following the recommendations of Ms Jillian van Turnhout in her review of Scouting Ireland at the request of the Minister, Scouting Ireland is pleased to be able to inform this committee that we will be submitting quite a positive final progress report to the Minister later this month. We have completed all of the recommendations set out. Those elements that were of concern due to lack of funding can now be addressed due to the Minister's indication of improved financial support. A key element, the recruitment of a permanent safeguarding manager, has been completed. The new safeguarding manager is due to begin his employment with Scouting Ireland on 5 April and Scouting Ireland will shortly make an announcement on this appointment.
The element of scouting under most scrutiny is our safeguarding capability and practice. As chairperson of Scouting Ireland, I confirm that Scouting Ireland is a safe organisation for our young people and adult volunteers. Our safeguarding team, who have worked over and above the call of duty in recent months, have provided their regular service to the organisation while at the same time operating our successful helpline for survivors of historic abuse. The committee might wonder why I would refer to a helpline, set up under such circumstances, as being successful. The answer is quite simple. Tusla had received 49 calls and closed down its helpline before Christmas. An Garda Síochána received five calls. Scouting Ireland has received 180 individual calls to date. Those who wished to tell their story had options for whom to speak to. Most spoke to us and we do not accept the criticism of Tusla regarding our helpline. We have a team of professional staff who have listened, respected and assisted 180 individual callers to tell their story and feel that they had been heard. They have provided heartfelt individualised apologies on behalf of Scouting Ireland for the wrongs in our legacy organisations, and all have been offered an opportunity to engage in counselling.
Notwithstanding the great courage shown by survivors in coming forward to tell their story and the recognition by Scouting Ireland and our professional staff of how difficult this can be, it may at times help those so badly hurt and betrayed by former members to tell their story to someone who can understand how the former organisations operated. At the time of this committee meeting, the most recent case that has come to Scouting Ireland's attention has been in 1998. The majority of cases still refer to the decades between the 1960s and 1990s, with a smaller number either side of that. It is very humbling to note that the majority of our survivors still hold a high regard for scouting, recognise that Scouting Ireland is not the legacy organisation in which they were badly treated, and wish no harm to our organisation that continues to do so much good for young people in our communities across the island of Ireland.
I now want to address the letter received from Tusla. Our relationship with Tusla is a professional one and we are constantly engaged with it on all aspects of safeguarding. We received a letter from Tusla on 22 February which, as stated, caused us serious shock and concern. Many of the issues raised in the letter had not been brought to our attention previously. The following working day, 25 February, Scouting Ireland hosted an inter-agency meeting with Tusla and An Garda Síochána where Scouting Ireland's representatives asked the parties present if they were content with Scouting Ireland's engagement with them and the provision of information to them. It was confirmed that they were. Following receipt of the letter, Scouting Ireland requested an urgent meeting with Tusla, which took place on Thursday, 7 March last. This was a productive meeting and concentrated on Scouting Ireland's efforts to understand Tusla's concerns. During this meeting, we outlined the dedication of our safeguarding team and our adult volunteers and reiterated our absolute commitment as a child-centred organisation to safeguarding. We further reaffirmed our commitment to continuing to work with Tusla in a positive and collaborative way, as we have always done since its inception, and with all relevant statutory authorities.
We have over recent days agreed on a joint action plan which includes a number of actions. These include the following: Tusla representatives will make a presentation to our board of directors on Children First and safeguarding; Scouting Ireland's new safeguarding manager will be our liaison person with Tusla; and we will share our updated implementation strategy with Tusla, which includes mechanisms to review the implementation of Scouting Ireland's child safeguarding statement, updated policies and procedures, and supporting implementation of same throughout the organisation. This strategy will also include mechanisms for monitoring and quality assurance of safeguarding policies and procedures and the implementation of these. Further, we have committed to engaging with An Garda Síochána and Tusla to discuss the management of allegations regarding the case samples outlined within the letter. Specific to this, Scouting Ireland would like to reassure our members and the public that we do not, and have never, investigated claims. Scouting Ireland is a child-centred organisation. We have always listened and will continue to listen to our young people. This extends to our safeguarding team when a youth member presents with a concern, and this is done where the welfare of the child is paramount. Scouting Ireland is, as ever, committed to reviewing our safeguarding risk assessment and relevant procedures with a specific focus on our code of behaviour regarding overnight trips and jamborees.
Finally, Scouting Ireland is constantly aiming to improve and develop its safeguarding practice. To that end, the board of directors will consider how best to draw learning from the successful provision of a dedicated helpline over recent months, by way of the independent evaluation, thus ensuring professional development within Scouting Ireland. However, we assure our members and the public that at no time have any of Scouting Ireland's safeguarding team been compromised in the delivery of the helpline. Scouting Ireland chose to face the difficult problems within our former organisations. We chose to do this in as open and transparent a manner as possible. This is further evidenced by our continual reporting of our updated figures and the development of a victim support programme.
I would like to conclude by telling the committee about the dedication of our youth members, their parents, our adult volunteers and professional staff team. The 14,000 adult volunteers who have kept scouting going in this country in their communities through difficult times are the unsung heroes. They have helped our numbers to grow and provided quality programmes in a safe environment. Young people are always to the fore. Our groups are supported to do what they do best by a small but very dedicated and highly effective staff team. Our staff members keep the children at the centre of everything they do in carrying out their roles. As the committee will be aware, scouts are brave. We will climb any mountain, cross any sea and weather any storm to ensure our way of life and reason for being and the mission we share with 50 million fellow scouts throughout the world will not falter or be taken from us. We will scout another day and do it together.