I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the opportunity to appear before it again. I am the chairperson of the board of directors of Scouting Ireland. With me today are Dr. John Lawlor and Mr Gearóid Begley.
I reaffirm that Scouting Ireland is as safe an organisation as it can be. Even in the period since our last meeting, improvements have been made to our already good safeguarding procedures and practices, not least of which was the recruitment of a professional safeguarding manager last April and an expansion in the professional safeguarding team. Safeguarding our young people and adult volunteers is not a static environment, however. Scouting Ireland has not rested on its laurels in that regard but instead is continuously reviewing practices and systems to ensure we remain best in class at all times, as all youth organisations should. Scouting Ireland has gone through a major governance transformation since our previous meeting. The board of Scouting Ireland is now fully a board of oversight. We will move to full compliance with the community and voluntary governance code by the end of January 2020, with full compliance with the charities regulatory code by year end in time for the mandatory application of the code.
The committee will be aware that we have recruited a new CEO to take office in the new year. We have also just completed an exercise to co-opt outside directors to the board, enhancing our skill set. Two new directors have been co-opted to the board, namely, Mr. Donal Lawlor, a fellow of Chartered Accountants Ireland and former managing director of a multinational company in Ireland, and Ms Lorraine Lally, a barrister and qualified mediator. We have a positive working relationship with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and her Department for their ongoing support and guidance over the past year. Similarly, our working relationship with all of the State agencies continues to be positive, including the relationships with Tusla, An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and the gateway teams in Northern Ireland, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, CCNI, and the Charities Regulator in the Republic.
The board of Scouting Ireland has entered into an independently managed evaluation process to ensure proper performance management of the board as a team. Directors and trustees have completed training to support them in their roles and we are due our first election cycle at our April annual general meeting.
A full review of all risk in Scouting Ireland has been completed and a workforce plan has been delivered with required resources identified. New departmental core teams and department managers have been appointed and are operating. All new positions are implemented via open and rigorous recruitment processes, whether that is at board, sub-committee, core team or CEO level. We are currently formulating our new strategic plan which will be completed by the end of January 2020.
A phenomenon which has emerged is the influx of external individuals with no previous connection to Scouting Ireland with the skills and experience to fill competency gaps across our organisation. We have defined new organisational structures with clear lines of accountability and reporting. All of this has been facilitated by a dedicated transition sub-committee, along with the assistance and expertise of an external governance expert. This is a period of significant change for our membership and we recognise the fast pace of the changes. However, the majority of our membership see the need for such governance changes and have supported the board in its important work in this regard.
Moving to historical matters, the recent “RTÉ Investigates” programme again shone a searing light on the hurt done to young people in the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, CBSI, and the Scout Association of Ireland, SAI. We recognise the courage and bravery of all survivors who have told their stories directly to us and who featured on the programme. It is an example of leadership to all and it is humbling. We again apologise unreservedly to those who were hurt by the actions of adult volunteers in these legacy organisations.
The picture which emerged of these organisations over the past 18 months is grim and shocking. Although Scouting Ireland inherited this situation from the CBSI and the SAI, we have not shirked our responsibilities in looking after our survivors, inviting them to contact us directly, which the majority did, and offering support where we can. We are continuing to deal with the consequences of the betrayal that some adults in the past visited upon our most vulnerable members. It should be recognised that once Scouting Ireland understood the extent of the problem in the legacy organisations following Mr. Ian Elliott’s work, not only did we acknowledge it but it was we who brought it into the public domain. We have apologised to all individuals who contacted us. We also maintained the helpline to allow more survivors to share their stories. Our focus has been to support people coming forward to us with allegations of sexual abuse, as well as to report any reportable offences brought to the attention of our safeguarding team to the statutory authorities, namely, Tusla and An Garda Síochána in the Republic of Ireland, and the PSNI and Gateway in Northern Ireland. Our helpline, 1-800-221199, remains open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for those wishing to report new information to the safeguarding team. We want to assure survivors that they will be listened to, they will be treated compassionately and every new piece of information provided to us will be followed up.
The RTÉ programme made several allegations relating to individuals in senior positions in these organisations and their failure to act on information relating to sexual abuse in scout groups across Ireland. Whereas we cannot comment on individual cases, we can assure the committee, parents, guardians, and our volunteers and staff that Scouting Ireland is a very different organisation from these legacy organisations in which so many were let down and badly treated. Scouting Ireland has always reported any reportable offences brought to the attention of our safeguarding team to the appropriate authorities. We adopted mandatory reporting in 2003, 12 years before Children First legislation was enacted in 2015 and 14 years before it became law in 2017. Our adult volunteers must be Garda vetted and undertake mandatory safeguarding training every three years. The continual improvement of safeguarding in Scouting Ireland is a priority for the board and the executive. We have put in place strong governance and safeguarding measures within our organisation to help ensure scouting is a safe place for our members, volunteers and employees.
In the past 18 months, we have introduced new governance structures within Scouting Ireland that provide greater accountability, transparency and openness in our organisation, implemented the agreed Scouting Ireland-Tusla action plan and fully completed the findings of the Jillian van Turnhout governance review. As previously stated, we appointed a full-time safeguarding manager and expanded the professional safeguarding team. Child safeguarding policies and procedures have been independently reviewed by Mr. Ian Elliott and further developed by our safeguarding manager and team. We developed new procedures for the assessment and handling of child protection disclosures. We introduced a new disciplinary code and appointed a disciplinary panel of three members, one of whom is external to Scouting Ireland. We continue to liaise with all relevant authorities, including Tusla, Gateway, An Garda Síochána, the PSNI, the Charities Regulator and the Charities Commission of Northern Ireland.
This is not to say that we are standing still. As already stated, we continue to make improvements to our safeguarding structures and look to implement best practices. Mr. Ian Elliott is conducting a learning review which will appraise the history of abuse in the CBSI and the SAI, how allegations were handled by these organisations and the learnings for Scouting Ireland for the future. Mr. Elliott's work has been a driver for substantial change in Scouting Ireland to date. It goes without saying that he is absolutely independent in his recommendations to us and in his judgment concerning safeguarding matters. Regrettably, for personal reasons, he cannot be here today.
We strongly assure the committee, our members and employees, parents and the general public that we are acting with urgency and will act immediately when a safeguarding issue is brought to our attention. We cannot allow the past to define our present or future. The key credential we present for that different future is the manner in which we are facing up to that past, in those historical scouting organisations. Scouting Ireland is different. Scouting Ireland will continue to prioritise safeguarding in order that thousands of children can benefit from scouting in a safe environment. I remind the committee of the dedication of our youth members, their parents, our adult volunteers and our professional staff team.
Our unsung heroes are the 14,000 adult volunteers and small but highly dedicated staff who have kept scouting going in their communities across the island through challenging times. As we advance to a better, safer and engaging future for our young people, Scouting Ireland will retain its standing in our communities and country, continue its important work in developing the citizens of today and tomorrow, always with the young person to the fore.