Governance Issues in Scouting Ireland: Discussion

I welcome members and viewers who may be watching our proceedings on Oireachtas TV to the public session of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. The purpose of today's meeting is to meet representatives of Scouting Ireland to get an update on governance and child safeguarding issues.

I advise members that while there have been reports in the media, it is important to note the committee cannot discuss individual cases, should avoid naming individuals, regardless of whether those names are in the public domain, and should not discuss anything that is likely to be subject to court proceedings. I further advise members that according to reports, a number of investigations are open and, as a committee, we must avoid direct discussion of the action or inaction of named individuals which might prejudice any such investigation.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome from Scouting Ireland Mr. Adrian Tennant, chair of the board of directors; Dr. John Lawlor, chief executive officer; and Mr. Gearóid Begley, safeguarding manager. Apologies have been received from Deputy Lisa Chambers and Senators Freeman and Noone.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I ask witnesses, members and visitors in the Gallery to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with our recording systems and make it difficult for those watching at home.

I advise witnesses that any submissions or opening statements they make to this committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. After the opening presentation, members will ask questions. I invite Mr. Tennant to make his opening statement.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

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.

I thank Mr. Tennant for his opening statement. Notwithstanding the absence of Mr. Ian Elliott for personal reasons, is it Mr. Tennant’s expectation that his report will be completed, at least, and published in February, which is the planned date?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

Yes. I can confirm that it is our understanding that this report will be finished and published in February 2020.

I thank Mr. Tennant for his opening presentation. It is much appreciated.

In his conclusion, Mr. Tennant stated Scouting Ireland is different. He referred to issues raised in the RTÉ programme on historical child abuse matters in scouting. How is this the case when one of those accused who was referred to in the RTÉ programme was a volunteer in the organisation up until 2018? That is not historical. I would like to know Mr. Tennant's definition of “historical”.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I thank the Deputy for her question. It is probably one of the biggest questions that jumped out from the television programme in question. While we cannot discuss individual cases, I can assure the committee, as well as the general public listening, that everything that has been reported to Scouting Ireland since 2003 has been and continues to be reported to the statutory authorities. We continue to take advice and guidance from the statutory authorities on each and every case.

This time last year when Mr. Tennant sat in front of the committee, I asked a clear question as to whether there were any members in Scouting Ireland at that moment who were involved in any historical cases. The answer I got that day was “No”. Why am I to believe Mr. Tennant today?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

All the information we receive comes in at a different point in time. In the November meeting to which the Deputy referred, we had our helpline, which has been successful, set up in the interim. Much new information came to us at that time. At the time we spoke to the Deputy and made that statement, we only know what we can know. At that time, we were not aware of any people who were involved in historical cases who were current members of Scouting Ireland. I will pass the Deputy's question to Scouting Ireland's CEO.

Dr. John Lawlor

I echo the caution provided by the Chair to the committee at the beginning of the meeting. Scouting Ireland cannot discuss individual cases. It is not appropriate to do so. We are extremely conscious of the confidentiality of those involved. Where disclosure has been made to Scouting Ireland, the individual making such a disclosure has done so on the understanding that the information they provided will be treated confidentially. It is essential that that trust is not breached. Additionally, the discussion of an individual case in a public forum has the potential unintentionally to identify an individual who has made a disclosure that could result in further trauma for the person. Scouting Ireland is also conscious that to discuss individual cases in a public forum has the potential to jeopardise inquiries being made by State agencies such as An Garda Síochána or Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Scouting Ireland is aware that individuals have been named in the media. What can be said in respect of that is that all disclosures made to the child protection and safeguarding personnel in Scouting Ireland have been, and were, reported to State agencies. In all cases where it was appropriate or recommended that a person would be removed, that was actioned. I hope that answers Deputy Rabbitte's question.

I thank Dr. Lawlor. Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the former special rapporteur on child protection, has said any review must be independent, prompt, effective and transparent. Ian Elliott is currently working on his report into the historic abuse in the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, CBSI, and the Scout Association of Ireland, SAI. How independent can his review be, as someone who was formerly employed as Scouting Ireland's acting safeguarding manager? Is it not essentially Scouting Ireland investigating itself? It was said that Ian Elliott is conducting a learning review, which indicates that this report is more for Scouting Ireland as opposed to those affected by any harm done. Will the witnesses expand on that please?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I will gladly do that. First, on the independence of Mr. Ian Elliott, he is not here today for personal reasons, but anyone who knows him or his previous work will say that if one wants somebody to look at files or to carry out a review of an organisation and leave no stone unturned, Mr. Elliott is the man to choose. As I said in my opening statement, he always operates independently. He has access to all our files and information systems. He is independent in that regard and in regard to the learning review he is currently undertaking.

Will the report Mr. Elliott is doing be put in the public domain or is it for Scouting Ireland?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

The report carried out by Mr. Elliott has been agreed between ourselves and the Minister, and like all the information and reports to the Minister we have provided to date, we have published them all.

Specifically, will the learning review be put into the public domain? I accept Mr. Tennant has said it will be given to the Minister, but will we have access to it?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

In our view, there is no point in carrying out such a learning review if we keep it internal. Such a review as Mr. Elliott is carrying out has to be something that is open and transparent. We will share it with the Minister, and if it is the wish of the Chair of this committee, we will also share it with the committee.

My question is whether it will be put in the public domain.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

Anything that we share with this committee or with the Minister is usually in the public domain.

All right. That is okay. Are there any people involved in the broader review team that have been in positions where they were the recipients of allegations of abuse?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

If it is okay, I will pass the question to the CEO.

Dr. John Lawlor

As the chair of Scouting Ireland said, the review is carried out by Mr. Elliott, who is operating independently. There is nobody in Scouting Ireland-----

I refer to the broader review team.

Dr. John Lawlor

Deputy Rabbitte will have to help me with that question.

Mr. Elliott did not just go in and pick up the files and sit down in a room all on his own. He would have conferred with people and asked people for signposting and direction.

Dr. John Lawlor

Mr. Elliott has access to any file to which he wants access. He knows how the system works. He was involved in the cataloguing of it already.

Dr. Lawlor is not answering my question.

Dr. John Lawlor

I am doing my best to understand the Deputy's question.

I will read it again. Are there any people involved in the broader review team that have been in positions where they were the recipients of allegations of abuse?

Dr. John Lawlor

In terms of the review of historic cases, that is Mr. Elliott's work on his own. In terms of the management of cases in Scouting Ireland, that is the remit of the Scouting Ireland safeguarding team, led by our new safeguarding manager, Gearóid Begley. Perhaps he would like to comment.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Three people are involved in the safeguarding team: me and the two case officers.

What was the case before Mr. Begley arrived?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Before I came along?

Yes. I am sorry, I have strayed. I do not wish to stray.

I do not think Deputy Rabbitte has strayed.

My question is about the broader review team.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I do not understand what is meant by that term.

I am not part of the broader review team so the witnesses must help me to understand.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

My understanding is that Mr. Elliott is conducting a piece of work and he is doing that himself.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I can certainly say that neither I nor my staff who deal with child safeguarding issues within Scouting Ireland have had an allegation made against us.

That was not the question.

I will read the question once more.

Yes, perhaps once more.

Are there any people involved in the broader review team that have been in positions where they were the recipients of allegations of abuse? It is a "Yes" or a "No". I do not wish to delve or stray or to put people in awkward positions.

Dr. John Lawlor

I will try to assist. There is no broader review team. The review is being carried out by Mr. Elliott.

Is it a case of Mr. Elliott and his independent work for Scouting Ireland? For legal clarity, was Mr. Elliott an employee of Scouting Ireland?

Dr. John Lawlor

Mr. Elliott was engaged in the summer of 2017 on a contract basis and his terms of reference were that he would operate independently. Those who know of Mr. Elliott's work in Northern Ireland would know that-----

Absolutely. Dr. Lawlor will appreciate that I did not ask that question.

Dr. John Lawlor

I understand that. No, he was never a direct employee of Scouting Ireland.

He was a contractor.

Dr. John Lawlor

He is not an employee of Scouting Ireland. He would also understand that he has a direct line to the Minister and has availed of that in the past when he felt it necessary to make a point.

That is fine. I appreciate Dr. Lawlor's response. Mr. Tennant said that all reports since 2017 have been published. That begs the question of the Lorna Lynch report, which has not been published. I know Mr. Tennant parsed his words and said the report was provided to the Minister. As we well know, all matters sent to the Minister are subject to freedom of information requests but the report is not in the public domain and it has not been provided. I wanted to put that to Mr. Tennant because Deputy Rabbitte asked a relevant question and in my view he did not answer appropriately. Would he like to revisit his answer?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

There is still an ongoing process regarding that particular review. The publication of the report in the public domain would prejudice an ongoing case.

I appreciate Mr. Tennant's response.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I appreciate the opportunity to clarify.

Mr. Tennant will understand the reason I asked the question.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I appreciate the opportunity you provided, Chairman, to provide total clarity.

I appreciate Mr. Tennant's response.

I appreciate the fact that the witnesses are here with us today. We all know the history we have in this country of child sexual abuse and it just seems that this is another organisation with another story and cover-ups. That is what it feels like to the general public, whether Scouting Ireland agrees or disagrees with the statement.

There are a number of elements involved. There is the present day and how Scouting Ireland will give people confidence going forward. As a parent of two, I recently decided not to allow my child to join the scouts. Some might say that is due to total paranoia on my part, but I honestly did not feel in any way confident in the organisation after everything that came out. I am generally a fairly reasonable and open-minded person but I still do not feel confidence in the organisation. One way Scouting Ireland could restore confidence is by dealing adequately with the historic cases and by being open to a genuine, independent public inquiry. That will not take away anything that happened to those people at all, which was horrific, and here we are again talking about horrific cases, but it would give people confidence and it would also give people the justice they deserve.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

A number of issues arise and, with your permission, Chairman, we will deal with them separately. I will deal with the confidence piece.

It would then be useful for me to pass over to our safeguarding manager to explain the current procedure and safety systems to help the Deputy. On the final piece, the inquiry, I will pass over to our CEO. Is that okay?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

With regard to the issue of confidence, the Deputy says that Scouting Ireland is yet another organisation in which there is historical abuse. That is quite correct and we have owned that since we became aware of it last year. We broke that story ourselves. It was horrific and depraved. While we have inherited strong traditions and other good things from our former organisations, equally we must also own this. We take the good with the bad. It is absolutely horrific. We were as upset as anybody else when watching those television programmes. I again acknowledge the bravery of those who spoke out and those who have come forward and spoke to us and to other statutory agencies.

The Deputy spoke about current confidence in the organisation. As I said in my opening statement, we are in the middle of developing a new strategic plan for Scouting Ireland. As part of this, we carried out a survey of people involved with Scouting Ireland, including youth members, adult members, parents and some outside stakeholders. We expected 300 to 400 responses, which would give us a good data set on which to formulate our new strategic plan. We actually got 1,306 responses. To help in answering Deputy Funchion's question, 695 of those responses came from parents. We asked specific questions of those who identified themselves as parents. We asked them how strongly they agreed with certain statements on a scale of one to ten. These statements included "My child is safe when attending Scouts", "I am aware of Scouting Ireland's Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy" and "I feel there is good supervision for children at Scouts". This is very recent information so I am quite happy to share it today. The average score for each of these statements was 9.1, 9.4 and 9.1 respectively. The parents who are with us at the moment and to whom we owe a great deal for retaining that trust and faith in us continue to have great confidence in Scouting Ireland because they know the changes we have made in respect of safeguarding over recent years. It is our job, as the board of directors, to protect that trust and to continue implementing best practice in this area. On the issue of best practice, I will pass over to Mr. Begley who will speak about what happens now.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

The task before me since I took up this post is to ensure that processes are in place which give confidence to parents and to ensure that, where issues are raised, they are properly addressed. That is the challenge for the organisation. We recognise that. Public confidence and parents' confidence and trust in Scouting Ireland is very important. The task facing Scouting Ireland, which my team and I have undertaken, is to put processes in place to make sure that, where a disclosure is made, it is properly recorded, that the decision-making process in respect of the disclosure is also recorded, and that if the disclosure meets the threshold of harm set out by Tusla, a report is made as mandated and all information is provided to the statutory agency.

If the disclosure does not meet the threshold of harm for a mandated report, we ask whether it is still a cause for concern. Consideration is given to making a report on that basis. If a disclosure does not meet either standard, we ask whether action needs to be taken. We then go back to the person who made the disclosure and tell him or her that, after consideration, we have decided that it either came under one of those two categories or that we do not believe it meets the thresholds. We may have a suggestion as to what action should be taken within the organisation but we tell the person who made the disclosure that, if he or she is not happy with our suggestion, he or she is at liberty to make a report to the relevant State agency, which may be An Garda Síochána, Tusla, the PSNI, or Gateway. If we do make a report, we liaise with the State agency involved. If it needs any information from our records, we make it available. On occasion a member of Scouting Ireland may have to make a witness statement that could become part of a criminal prosecution. That is part of the process.

I could talk about it at more length but it is part of ensuring that systems are in place to record disclosures, the decisions made on such disclosures, the feedback given to those who make disclosures, and the information provided to State agencies in that regard. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We built on what Mr. Ian Elliott had done. We are developing it further. We are always conscious that this is a movable feast. Things change and we have constantly to review and improve what we are doing. It will never reach an endgame. We will always have to move forward to mitigate risk and improve what we are doing.

May I ask a brief follow-up question? If a parent contacts Scouting Ireland and says that he or she is concerned about a given volunteer, will that volunteer be suspended from that role pending an investigation? As Mr. Tennant will know from a previous life, that happens all the time. It is not necessarily a matter of saying that someone is guilty. He or she is just suspended without prejudice until an investigation is carried out. Does that happen? If so, how quickly does it happen? Is that one of the things that have been changed?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Each case is different. When an allegation or disclosure is made against somebody, we have to consider the circumstances of that particular case. A person may be suspended without prejudice if that is the appropriate reaction. That process would take place quickly because, if there is a risk to a child, it needs to be reacted to promptly. We have reviewed the process as to how this is done internally, but it still takes place. The important thing is that the safety of the children is always paramount. We all understand that an allegation can be made against an adult that may not be substantiated when the process is followed through. The volunteers have rights as well, and we must be conscious of that in the process.

I understand that.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Any suspension is made without prejudice.

That is the thing. Such a suspension respects that person's rights but it also means the person is prevented from dealing with children during the investigation. If Scouting Ireland really wants to change things, that has to be dealt with promptly.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Yes. That is the aim of what we do and that is the process we have in place. We have looked at how those processes are carried out and we ensure that each case is treated individually, that the facts of each case are carefully considered, and that appropriate steps are taken that may comprise reporting to State agencies or suspending a person without prejudice. In some circumstances, neither of these actions may be taken. Recording the rationale for not taking action can be just as important as recording the rationale for taking action.

I agree with that 100%.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I do not want to gloss over the fine detail of the Deputy's question with regard to the public inquiry. We would welcome an opportunity to respond to that. My colleague, Dr. Lawlor, will answer on that matter.

Dr. John Lawlor

Scouting Ireland is not closed to the idea of a public inquiry. In fact, Scouting Ireland has been open to co-operating with statutory agencies in both jurisdictions, North and South, since its foundation. To refer to this jurisdiction, both Tusla and An Garda Síochána have powers of investigation. It is the responsibility of Scouting Ireland to report, and we do that. Both agencies in this jurisdiction, to stick to the Republic of Ireland, have had access to our files since the inception of Scouting Ireland. An Garda Síochána has utilised these files in the context of investigations since the beginning of Scouting Ireland. It is not the case that Scouting Ireland is opposed to a public inquiry. That is a matter for Government. We have worked very hard to secure the confidence of the statutory agencies, the Department and the Minister. The Deputy will know from the previous time we were before the committee, in March, that Tusla said that no organisation had been subject to the same level of scrutiny as Scouting Ireland. That is true and we welcome it. We are open to scrutiny. We have no issue with it. We have made our files available and made them accessible to statutory agencies. That has been the history of the organisation since its foundation and that co-operation will continue.

I will ask a follow-up question next, but for clarity, is Dr. Lawlor saying Scouting Ireland is open to a public inquiry?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

To clarify, we are saying it is not a decision for Scouting Ireland.

I know, but if Mr. Tennant were-----

Mr. Adrian Tennant

We have not-----

What would be Scouting Ireland's opinion on that?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

Our opinion is that that would be a decision made by the Government rather than ourselves. Notwithstanding that, our files are fully open, by which I mean all our information systems, our membership management systems and so on. Not only are they all currently open to all State agencies but they have been, and continue to be, used in the pursuance of investigations, reviews and so on. That has happened, continues to happen and there is nothing to hide.

My final question is linked to that. When Tulsa was before the committee some weeks ago, I asked it the same thing around independent reviews, appeals or inquiries generally. What is Scouting Ireland's view on that? Any organisation that deals with children and that is getting public money should be open to that. It shows it has nothing to hide. I ask it not only of Scouting Ireland but also Tusla why it would not be open to that. That is why I asked about the public inquiry too.

Dr. John Lawlor

Generally, the principle of independent investigation is very important. That is why in the summer of 2017 we commissioned Ian Elliott. In reviewing our safeguarding policies and procedures and looking at historic cases, we determined that it was important that it be done by someone who was independent, expert and external. That is why we sourced Ian Elliott and it was on that basis that we gave him his terms of reference. I understand the suggestion that because he was employed by Scouting Ireland, it compromised him. I believe his own standing is above that and demonstrates our openness to external examination. We have no issue with external examination. It is not the case that Scouting Ireland is opposed to it. It is a matter for Government how it happens. We have been open to examination by Tusla and by An Garda Síochána, and Ian Elliott has done a fine job of maintaining his independence in respect of the legacy issues we have had and his commentary on how we should improve what we do in the modern era.

Mr. Tennant said that the RTÉ programme made a number of 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. Will he expand on that? What exactly does he mean by that statement?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

The key piece for us is that there is an independent review ongoing by Mr. Elliott into exactly that. He has access to all the past case files, he is reviewing all of them to learn how cases were managed in the past and how reports were received, and I am sure that he will leave no stone unturned. We will gain that learning from then. I do not want to pre-empt anything that will be in the report. It will be published in February, which is not too far from now. We are happy to come back to the committee after that to answer more specific questions like that.

Mr. Tennant would agree that they are his words. There is an agreement that there is a failure to act on information. In other words, staff or responsible persons in a safeguarding role arguably failed to act on information relating to sexual abuse. Is that the case?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I will pass on to the CEO for more information.

No, I would like Mr. Tennant to answer the question.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

There are two pieces to that. The Deputy is specifying staff.

They are Mr. Tennant's words. Mr. Tennant has to stand over them as chairman.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I do. However, the Deputy spoke of the older legacy organisations and staff, so I will pass over to the CEO in relation to that because I would not have the same organisational knowledge of those organisations as the CEO.

Something is fundamental to this. We all understand that there is Scouting Ireland now. We all accept that and have given goodwill to the new procedures and protocols that have been put in place relating to governance. However, Mr. Tennant is here as head of Scouting Ireland. I argue that he must also answer for what happened in the CBSI and the SAI. Our job here is to interrogate the dynamic that led to allegations against persons not being dealt with by the organisation. I am still unclear in my mind as to why, if the Children First guidelines were adopted in 2012, it took a full five years before Scouting Ireland brought in Ian Elliott. During that time, and arguably now, there were persons in the organisation, and I do not know if they are still in the organisation, who took receipt of information from people who were traumatised and those case files were put into a filing cabinet. A review was to have taken place in 2012 but we remain blind about where that review went, how those cases were managed and whether there are people who are part of the 2017 to 2019 review who are taking receipt of the information who are still part of the staff. We want to understand the culture that existed within the organisation. If, as Mr. Tennant suggests, the new broom is sweeping clean, are there people who were in receipt of information in 1987 and 1996, the years which were subject of the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, who are still on the staff and are part of the old culture who continue to be employed? That is the kernel of the matter. Mr. Tennant speaks of Scouting Ireland opening up its processes and creating helplines, but I find it hard to understand how anybody who was dealt with by personnel in 1987 or 1996 might find themselves being dealt with by the same personnel in 2017, 2018 or 2019. Does Mr. Tennant understand how that might look extremely bad for an organisation such as Scouting Ireland?

Mr. Tennant is putting a lot of store in the Ian Elliott process. Everyone here accepts Ian Elliott's bona fides, but what they do not buy is that regardless of whether he is a consultant, he is paid by Scouting Ireland to conduct a review and therefore he is an employee of Scouting Ireland. We are questioning the independence of the process. What we are trying to get at is what will arise from the Elliott process when he reports. Regardless of whether he likes it, Mr. Tennant has an idea of how this will play out because he strikes me as someone who has gamed this, which I do not mean in a pejorative sense. He knows how the process is going; we do not. I do not know the contents of Ian Elliott's report. I am very concerned that it will go into the public domain and the people who made complaints in 1987 and 1996 and the people who were the subject of the "RTÉ Investigates" programme will have no justice, recourse or right of reply. Does Mr. Tennant see my point?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

There is a lot there so I will go through it piece by piece and will rely on my colleagues to answer specific parts.

Mr. Tennant should start with the staff.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I will begin with legacy organisations and the mismanagement of cases back then. We have told this committee previously and told the Minister, including in our report, that Mr. Elliott told us he was uncovering situations where it looked as though cases were mismanaged, there were cover-ups and things like that. That is in the public domain. Mr. Elliott's job now is to figure out how that happened and what systems were in place.

There is a lot in what Deputy Sherlock said and I want to ensure that we answer all of it, particularly on the 2012 review, on which I will pass him over to the CEO. I will bring in the current safeguarding manager to speak specifically on who now receives those calls and the current safeguarding team. I do not want to move off this without answering each of those questions, so I will pass over to the CEO first part.

Dr. John Lawlor

It is unfortunate if there is a suggestion that staff did not properly handle complaints. There is no record to that at all. Professional staff were involved in safeguarding in the legacy organisations from the late 1990s and consistently through the history of Scouting Ireland from its foundation in 2003.

I will leave Mr. Elliott to comment on how these complaints were processed internally in his time and I am confident he will address that in his report.

I am asking the CEO to answer this question.

Dr. John Lawlor

I will answer the question if I am allowed. It is my belief as CEO that our staff have behaved in an exemplary fashion in carrying out their duties. I am confident the record will show that. The responsibility of Scouting Ireland as an organisation was to report these matters to statutory agencies and it did so. It is not the case that disclosures were taken and placed in a filing cabinet and that nothing was done. That is simply not the truth. The truth is that when a disclosure was made it was reported to statutory agencies. The record is clear and consistent through the whole history of Scouting Ireland. Children First was mentioned and 14 years before mandatory reporting was introduced in 2017, Scouting Ireland was reporting to statutory agencies on a regular basis. Those files from 2003 and from before the review the Deputy referenced in 2012 were made available to An Garda Síochána and were utilised by it in the context of its investigations of criminal cases. These are the facts. It is important to note that before the late 1990s, these matters were strictly handled by volunteers in the legacy organisations. That is what happened and that is the truth. That was not a satisfactory situation but I should leave it to the work of Mr. Elliott to help us understand that. He is open to bringing those matters to this committee when he concludes his work.

On the staff, it is important to say they have behaved in an exemplary fashion. I will ask Mr. Begley to comment on this but they behaved heroically last year in their work on the helpline in how they empathetically dealt with victims who came on board. The numbers say so and the data say so. As I said here in March, the truth was evidenced by that work. It was an uncomfortable truth for Scouting Ireland. For those of us who love Scouting Ireland and have loved Scouting Ireland since the time we were children, we have to live with that truth but it is correct we brought that to the fore. This was brought to the fore by Scouting Ireland, by our staff and by my staff heroically spending hours on helplines under the direction of Mr. Elliott, taking the stories from survivors, dealing with them empathetically, offering them counselling and making sure what they said was recorded properly and was reported to statutory agencies. That is what happened. Mr. Begley might be able to assist us in telling us how exactly the helpline worked because he has done some work on this.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I want to be clear because it was not mentioned earlier on but there are three people involved in the safeguarding department. None of them had a role in the legacy organisations in receiving-----

I thank Mr. Begley. That clarifies that matter.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I can say more about the helpline if members wish.

Mr. Tennant has a number of outstanding questions to answer from the Deputy's first round.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

Can the Deputy put the questions to me again?

Please talk about the 2012 review because I am trying to clarify in my mind what the status of that review is. Correct me if I am wrong but my interpretation of that was Scouting Ireland failed to carry out a scoping exercise to see if further work was required on the files of complaint. My understanding is that was never done, that an undertaking was given to carry out such work and that there are minutes to that effect. What was pertinent there was that Scouting Ireland would carry out the scoping exercise, it would have a statistical analysis for all child protection cases, especially for the files in Mount Melleray. We are being told it is ongoing process and I am confused why that is so because we are now in 2019.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I will pass most of this onto the then CEO, Dr. Lawlor but I will try to address a few pieces of it in a preamble. On the 2012 review, there were two key points of focus. First, due to an incident that happened a year before it was identified that somebody who had been removed from one of the legacy organisations who had been mentioned in one of the files had found their way back into the organisation and that was dealt with straight away. Second, a review was carried out on 332 files, none of which was in Mount Melleray. I do not know where the reference to Mount Melleray comes from but none of these files was ever there, they were always in Larch Hill. Those files were examined to see if anybody else was a member of the organisation that was named in those files and to see that if there had been a reportable offence, that it had been reported to the statutory authorities. That review mentioned the traffic light system. The majority of the files were deemed to be green and so they were fine. They were up-to-date, reporting had been done and the people concerned were not involved in Scouting Ireland. There were five files where it could not be determined whether people had been reported by that date to the statutory authorities. Those cases were reported immediately. That was the purpose of the review. From that date in 2012, all the files that were there at that point in time had been cleared to ensure that none of those people was a member of Scouting Ireland and that all those cases had been reported to statutory agencies. That was a watershed moment in 2012. I will pass the second part of the question onto the CEO, Dr. Lawlor.

Dr. John Lawlor

I took office in March 2012 and I actioned the 2012 review in July 2012. I did so because I was deeply concerned at the emergence of a situation where somebody who had been removed from a legacy organisation in 1972 had gained access to Scouting Ireland. That happened as a result of the change from a paper-based system to databases. Once we had that information the person was immediately removed but I had a concern there may be other such situations. It was prudent and correct to investigate that and so it was not just a scoping exercise. As Mr. Tennant said, the primary consideration was to find out if we had anybody in this organisation who should not have been there. Deputy Funchion rightly pointed to that concern. We had to convince ourselves there was nobody in the organisation who should not have been there. We also wanted to make sure we were up to date with reporting on these issues. I know Deputy Sherlock has referenced minutes and I do not know what fragment of correspondence he has but there is extensive correspondence between the safeguarding team of the time and the statutory agencies about the work that was done and about what needed to be done. The follow-on work was done, the reporting was done and subsequent to 2012, the files were made available to and accessed again by both agencies, particularly An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in relation to criminal prosecutions. The cataloguing that was done was important because it made it easier for those agencies to access the information. What might have caused the confusion with the reference to Mount Melleray is that the only files we had there were census records so where we had a question on whether an individual was in the scouts in 1972, for example, we would have to go and check the old census records. However, as Mr. Tennant said, the safeguarding files were always maintained in Larch Hill and from the inception of Scouting Ireland they were always made available to the statutory agencies for their investigations.

I have a question about the traffic light system. Mr. Tennant said in his opening statement: "Scouting Ireland has always reported any reportable offences". What is the threshold for a reportable offence?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I am quite happy for us to answer that. I will pass the Deputy on to Mr. Begley, who is our subject matter expert on that.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

In this jurisdiction the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 covers that. There is a Schedule to that Act which says if a disclosure on those particular offences is received, there is an obligation to report it to the State agency, namely An Garda Síochána in this jurisdiction. There are offences that lie outside the Act and there are occasions when we get a disclosure which amounts to a criminal offence and which we report to An Garda Síochána that is not under the Schedule to the Act because we think it is appropriate to do so. Our function in Scouting Ireland is not to investigate and make decisions on such matters. There could be a situation where there is a disclosure about a child.

I understand the current framework. We would be well versed in Children First, Signs of Safety and all of that but I want to know about happened historically because that is what is pertinent to this hearing.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

From December 2017, there was a legal requirement to report. Prior to that it was not a legal requirement.

A lot of matters have already been covered but I want to talk to the witnesses about the helpline. They are telling us the helpline remains open. To date, how many calls have been received?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Up to today, 200 calls have been received.

That is just-----

Mr. Gearóid Begley

That is just to the helpline.

There is no indication of numbers to the Tusla helpline.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

No, I could not comment on that.

Was there an increase in the number of calls after the airing of the "Prime Time" programme? Can Mr. Begley provide that data-----

Which "Prime Time" programme is the Deputy referring to? Is it the recent one?

The most recent one.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

There were calls made which were prompted by the programme, and the callers indicated that. The previous figures-----

Can Mr. Begley tell me how many calls were-----

Mr. Gearóid Begley

That could be attributed to-----

Mr. Gearóid Begley

In the region of three or four. There were not a huge number of additional calls.

Okay. There were three or four extra calls.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I would not even call them extra calls. They were the calls we received.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I cannot lay my hand on the figures for when the report was released, but there have been approximately eight or ten calls in the past couple of months. A total of three or four calls following the programme would not have been out of the norm, but the callers indicated that the calls came about as a result of the television programme. In some of those instances, matters had already been reported to State agencies.

That is what I wanted to ask. I want the witnesses to explain what training the staff who man the phoneline have. Are they trained to deal with people who may have been victims of sexual abuse? Are the calls recorded? Are the calls reported to Tusla?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Three staff in Scouting Ireland received calls from the helpline. I was one of those people. All of the people manning the helpline have been trained as dedicated liaison persons. When the helpline was commenced in November 2018, they were given a briefing by Mr. Elliot as to how they should take the calls. The briefing is outlined in some detail in the report on the helpline. Deputy Mitchell asked whether telephone calls were recorded. I presume she means electronically recorded.

Mr. Gearóid 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?

Yes. I thank Mr. Begley. He spoke about counselling services.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Yes.

Does the organisation offer them? What is the uptake?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

We offer them to everybody. It is a confidential service and is set up in such a way that we do not know if the person ever avails of it. We pay the bill. We have an agreement with an independent counselling service.

That is what I wanted to know.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

It is independent. It is set up in such a way that we provide the information to the person who makes the call. We give the person the contact details and he or she gets a PIN which identifies to the service provider that the person has been referred by Scouting Ireland. He or she may avail of counselling. We do not know who avails of it as the bill is paid en bloc to the service provider. We do not know whether a person attended once or 20 times. It is important that such confidentiality exists.

Deputy Denise Mitchell: What is the estimated cost for counselling services?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I will ask the CEO to answer that.

Mr. John Lawlor

It is a tough question. The cost is substantial. Many thousands of euro a year are spent on counselling. In general, our approach to counselling has been that whoever contacts us is offered counselling through the professional service with which we have a contract. Arising from the "Prime Time" programme, an individual contacted us who had never been in the scouts but was affected by the programme and some of what was revealed in it. The person received an unsatisfactory response elsewhere and came to Scouting Ireland which provided the person with information on our counselling service. I was very appreciative of the fact that at the last meeting Deputy Anne Rabbitte and Senator Joan Freeman referred to a survivor who had contacted them and gave some evidence of the response the person had received from Scouting Ireland. That has characterised how we work on the line. People who make calls are offered a hearing, an empathetic response and counselling. Reporting takes place where required.

Would Scouting Ireland be able to provide us with figures on costs?

Mr. John Lawlor

Absolutely. There is no difficulty with that.

The information can be provided through the secretariat. I thank Deputy Mitchell. I have a few questions. Deputy Neville may come in then. Mr. Tennant's opening statement included several remarks about published reports. I have already dealt with the clarity I sought on that.

That was appreciated. I understand the volume of work required. I have spoken to enough of the delegates, individuals among our audience and members, publicly and privately, for several years, and I can safely say, on behalf of the committee, that the only other group we deal with more is Tusla. Committee members have put a great deal of thought and energy into Scouting Ireland. I acknowledge the delegates have also done so or they would not be here. It is important, however, for me to state the need for a sense of immediacy in the production of reports has not really been met in this instance. Dr. Geoffrey Shannon was referred to earlier by Deputy Rabbitte in this regard. We are still without a report on historic cases. Given the nature of the report, a significant period will have to be allocated for anonymising and sanitising the document so it can be made public. That also presents a difficulty because there are thresholds that have to be met from a legal perspective. I understand that but I wanted to put it on the record because it is worthy of being said. It has been said to me enough by members of the scouting movement, locally and nationally.

I have some technical questions on the operation of Scouting Ireland. What are the approximate legal costs or what is the percentage of the annual budget allocated for meeting legal costs? Dr. Lawlor might have a very specific answer but I would be happy with a ballpark figure.

Dr. John Lawlor

It probably falls into two categories. One concerns the engagement of legal advice and the other concerns contingent liability.

There are two separate questions. I was coming to the issue of contingent liability.

Dr. John Lawlor

Close to 10% of our membership fees would certainly be between €150,000 and €200,000.

What is the breakdown for medical and associated costs, including in respect of first aid, paramedics, the initial response if somebody breaks a leg, which I am sure happens, counselling and related services?

Dr. John Lawlor

Insurance is a major issue for us because if somebody has an accident, there is liability.

Of course.

Dr. John Lawlor

Our insurance cost is close to €500,000 this year.

Does that cover part of the medical aspect?

Dr. John Lawlor

It would.

What about counselling?

Dr. John Lawlor

I would like to come back to the Chairman with the figure. I do not want to guess it. It is quite substantial and has grown over the years. I will be very happy to provide information to the committee.

It would be appreciated if it could be provided through the clerk.

I do not want to know how much Mr. Elliott is being paid. Perhaps Dr. Lawlor will outline the position on the two roles. Is there a separate fund? Will it be reported on for Scouting Ireland's membership?

Dr. John Lawlor

It will appear in our accounts under consultancy services.

I assume Mr. Elliott is not the only consultant used.

Dr. John Lawlor

No, he is not.

I do not want to dwell on the public perception, or otherwise, of independence because I believe it is a matter for the beholder. The view of Deputy Sherlock is somewhat different from mine. My observation is that Mr. Elliott was an interim safeguarding manager of the organisation while simultaneously carrying out the historic review. In my mind, he was an employee. Therefore, he is not an independent person. I get that being an interim safeguarding manager is separate from having the role of looking back, which Mr. Elliott is perfectly capable of doing, but I am not convinced that the obligation regarding independence, which others have commented on in recent months, particularly Dr. Shannon, was fulfilled. That is a comment more than a question. I am not questioning Mr. Elliott's professionalism, legacy or what he may do in the future but I feel my comment is worth making because many feel what I feel.

Others have touched on the number of individuals who are currently in Scouting Ireland who have had allegations made against them. Perhaps Mr. Begley might be aware of whether there had been formal suspensions, gardening leave or such arrangements. Have the witnesses come across such arrangements over the past few years, specifically since this process began? Perhaps that question is for Dr. Lawlor given that the other delegates are not as long in their current positions.

Dr. John Lawlor

When I took office, and up to the time of Mr. Elliott's work, the process when a disclosure was made against an individual was to ask him or her to abstain voluntarily. That was in our code of conduct for volunteers. Mr. Elliott recommended that the arrangement should be strengthened to a procedure of suspension without prejudice.

Has anybody been suspended without prejudice?

Dr. John Lawlor

Yes. There are a number of adults who are currently suspended without prejudice. A number are subject to criminal investigations.

Has anybody stood down informally at any level of the organisation?

Dr. John Lawlor

Under the old process?

Under either process.

Dr. John Lawlor

There are a number of people who voluntarily stood aside.

Informally?

Dr. John Lawlor

It is not informal. They have stood aside voluntarily. It is quite formal. It would have predated the move to-----

There is a formal process in which a decision is made and a person is stood down. Then there is an informal process whereby the person stands down voluntarily. There is a distinct difference. Are there individuals who have been stood down by the organisation?

Dr. John Lawlor

Yes.

Are there individuals who stood down themselves voluntarily?

Dr. John Lawlor

We have both.

Under heavy recommendation, it is still not a formal process.

Dr. John Lawlor

We have both. In the past, before the suspension-without-prejudice approach, when individuals were asked to abstain voluntarily and did not do so, they were suspended. Suspension at that stage was a power reserved for the board - the old board before 6 October last year. The power was strengthened. In the past, if somebody was asked to abstain and did not do so, he or she was suspended by the board. There is a record of that happening in a number of cases.

My final question goes back to the Lynch report. Ms Lorna Lynch produced a body of work on behalf of Scouting Ireland as an independent barrister. We have spoken about this with the delegates directly in the past. It has been referred to on many occasions and it is important in terms of the credibility of the hierarchy of the organisation. It is a matter of concern among the membership. The delegates speak with them; I do not but I have been contacted by enough of them to know it is a matter of concern for them. Notwithstanding what Mr. Tennant has said, I would like him to make a comment on that and on what his membership can expect.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I appreciate the opportunity. The Chairman is quite right that we, in speaking on behalf of our membership, have heard what he referred to a lot. What he is saying reflects exactly the mood of the organisation. Owing to the nature of the inquiry and the level of the people involved, the organisation has received very clear legal advice regarding the rights of those subject to the inquiry and on organisational needs. The national management committee and the sub-committee have worked painstakingly on ensuring these rights have been observed and on ensuring a fair process. Doing that ensures the integrity of the process. That takes time. It is quite frustrating for ordinary members, those directly involved and us, as those charged with leading the organisation, that it is taking so much time but, because of its very nature, the painstaking approach of ensuring the integrity of the process is sacrosanct has taken time. It is progressing.

Could Mr. Tennant guess when it will come to a conclusion?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I get asked this a lot, as the Chairman will appreciate.

I am sure he does.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

It is one of the outstanding items that we have discussed with the Minister as well as Mr. Ian Elliott's outstanding report. They are the two final pieces in relation to the work we are doing with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I cannot comment on an exact date, but I would hope that both of them would happen at the same time if not one before the other.

I appreciate those responses. I call Deputy Rabbitte.

I think it should be Deputy Neville.

Sorry, Deputy Neville.

Given what happened in March, how would Mr. Tennant describe his relationship with Tusla? Can Mr. Tennant outline how he communicates with Tusla? Is it by electronic means? Is there systems integration? Could Mr. Tennant clarify that?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

That is a very good question, Deputy Neville. I will pass Deputy Neville over to our safeguarding manager.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

The first part is the relationship with Tusla. As Deputy Neville is aware, I took up this post in April and I work very closely with the staff in Tusla. In my view, we have a very good working relationship. That covers a broad spectrum, because obviously we are dealing with different branches of the organisation throughout the jurisdiction. On a weekly basis, we would have contact with staff in Tusla discussing individual cases, if not once or twice, maybe three times a week. In my view, we have a good working relationship with the staff in Tusla. It is extremely important that we have that. In addition, we have tripartite meetings between An Garda Síochána and Tusla and Scouting Ireland. Since March of this year, we have had three of those meetings. The purpose of those meetings is to ensure that any issues that arise are addressed. We deal with more strategic issues in those meetings, but the day-to-day contact would generally be with case officers who are dealing with cases that either have been referred to Tusla directly or we have made disclosures and they are doing their assessment based on the information we have. From our perspective, we do everything to try to assist the people in Tusla in doing their work. From my perspective, it is a very important relationship that needs to be built on and at the moment I think it is an absolutely excellent working relationship and I look forward to continuing that.

On the second part about our communications, the vast majority of our communications are done by telephone contact or meetings. If I am correct here, is Deputy Neville examining how we communicate our disclosures to Tusla?

Yes. I asked this question about how Tusla interacts with the Gardaí based on what has happened. I do not want to learn in 12 or 14 months or years that files have gone missing or this or that has been lost. What is the communication process? Is it electronic and as tight as you possibly can make it so that files can be forensically kept?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Okay. Tusla has a portal whereby anybody can make a disclosure to it. If one were to decide to make a disclosure, he or she can do so on the portal. We have a facility, which is non-retrospective, also for making disclosures on the portal for current cases. If somebody contacts Scouting Ireland today and makes a disclosure to us that we believe reaches the threshold, either be it a mandated report or a cause for disclosure, that is made by way of the portal.

The portal. Okay.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Yes. When one does that one is given an automatic pin number-----

It is electronic.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

-----of one's report and one gets that back so he or she knows it has landed. Then one gets a follow-up from Tusla. Sometimes it depends on the particular office. One would either get a pre-prepared form saying we received it or one would get an individual letter from the case officer saying we have received his or her disclosure. On retrospective disclosures, we have a process in place for Tusla whereby they go to one particular person within Tusla. They are sent by email to the person and the document is encrypted.

From our perspective, as I mentioned earlier on, we keep a record of the information that we get. Some of them do not go any further than us offering advice to the person. As I said earlier on, if they are not happy with that and they feel that this matter should be reported, we say to them they are at liberty of course to make the report directly themselves.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

We document what we receive, so we keep a record of it. We keep a record of the action that we took. We keep a record-----

Is the document that Scouting Ireland writes electronically kept?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

It is kept both on paper and electronically, so we would scan it and we would have a paper copy because it is a contemporaneous note. Sometimes when one picks up the telephone it is not always easy to get onto a computer. It can be intrusive sometimes if one is doing that. It can vary, but generally it is a written note. We would have a copy of that. At the moment we do not have an electronic case management system, but we want to get to that. At the moment, it is a paper record we are working on. Does that-----

Yes, but the paper record is converted to an electronic record.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Yes, we can scan it.

Scouting Ireland scans it. Yes, that is what I meant. It is backed up.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Yes.

On the safeguarding of all of those files, and Scouting Ireland scans them so it has an electronic copy of them, is that all separate or are they kept in different sites? How does Scouting Ireland protect the data?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I am not exactly technologically gifted and I would not pretend to be an expert. My understanding of the system is the safeguarding team has a separate drive within Scouting Ireland which only the safeguarding staff can access. My understanding is that it is backed up off-site as well.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

To clarify, it is a separate server. All the data is protected, and also since our last meeting here we have developed a bespoke space for our safeguarding team to operate from which was not there before. That work is almost complete. I think it is moving in this month. Not only is the data secure and on a separate server, we also have a dedicated space for the safeguarding team physically to do their work in a confidential way.

I call Deputy Rabbitte for her second round.

Earlier on, Deputy Sherlock asked a question, and it is the same question that has gone around for the last number of months and years. From figures circulating in the media, we note that 321 alleged victims and 247 alleged perpetrators have been identified. I would have contacted Scouting Ireland myself back in October out of pure and utter frustration, because we were waiting to find a slot for it to come before us. There were "Prime Time" programmes airing and everything else. I asked a number of questions. Scouting Ireland has definitely gone very corporate. I will say that for nothing, because my response came from Dubheasa Kelly, the information and communications manager of Scouting Ireland, to a number of questions I would have asked. I am sure Mr. Tennant is aware of all these questions and he has probably had sight of the response.

An interesting part of the response that I got was something I had not been aware of. We have all talked around the 321 alleged victims and the 247 alleged perpetrators. The questions I posed were: Is it known how many files are in existence and if so, how many? Will Mr. Elliott investigate/include these files and, if not, when will these files be investigated? The response to this was that as of 29 March 2019, Scouting Ireland's safeguarding department held 999 files. All these files were catalogued as described above. Earlier, when Scouting Ireland was asked about how many files were in Larch Hill in 2012, the answer was 332. My question today is how did the number of files increase from 332 to 995, which is a multiple of three since 2012. How did this come about?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I will pass Deputy Rabbitte over to the CEO for that.

Dr. John Lawlor

As Deputy Rabbitte will know, we provided the numbers extensively to the committee and to her. The 995 figure is the number of files held up to March 2019. They are inclusive of all the old Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, CBSI, files; all the old Scout Association of Ireland, SAI, files; the Scouting Ireland files, so any file opened by Scouting Ireland from 2003 up to 29 March 2019; and, also what came in on the helpline. It is the totality of those files.

The files that were reviewed in 2012 were the CBSI and SIA files - the legacy files - and the files opened in the interim had to be added to that. In an organisation of the scale of Scouting Ireland, files will inevitably be opened and we need an extensive safeguarding team because of the concerns, issues and cases that arise. While they are different from what arose 30 or 40 years ago, they are no less worthy of a professional response. As I stated at a previous meeting of the committee, we open approximately 70 files per year, and they accumulate all the time. As Mr. Ian Elliott commented in one of his earlier reports, it is a sign of the health of the organisation when we receive more reports. One of the problems that have dogged the country is the lack of reporting. We encourage and want people to report, and see it as a healthy sign if we receive more reports.

The total number up to March was 995. Mr. Begley can speak to this year's work if it is helpful to the Deputy. The figure includes all the old files, that is, the 345 the Deputy mentioned, comprising CBSI and SAI, and the Scouting Ireland files and what we received from the helpline that opened in November last year.

Before I ask Mr. Begley to expand on that answer, I would like him to tease out something else first. We know the legacy figure since 2012 from the two other organisations. Of the 660 files received from 2012 to 2019, how many are still open? Our guests clearly stated in their opening statement what is reportable. How many of the files were reportable and not reportable?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

All the files may be opened, insofar as historical issues could arise in respect of any of them. Mr. Elliott will examine some of the files from before 2019. We will deal with the files we currently have and will keep them open. I am not in a position to give an exact figure as to how many of the 660 files will be live as opposed to open, which might be a better way of classifying them-----

That is the crux of the conversation with Scouting Ireland. What defines "historical" and "current"? Two different conversations are taking place. "Current" refers to people who are currently in the organisation or who have children, leaders or board members therein. That has been the definition of "current" since 2012, when Scouting Ireland started. It is not historical. I am well aware of the definitions of "current" and "historical".

I will restate the question and would like our guests to answer. We have always played with the number of 332 but that was the historical number, what Scouting Ireland inherited, and they were the organisation's words, not mine. The figure has exploded beyond the figure I received from 332 to 995 files. What proportions of the 660 files are open and closed, respectively? I know what has happened to the 332 files. It is a fair question.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

It is a fair question and I will provide some clarity. The Deputy stated there was an increase of approximately 600 files since 2012, but that is not the case. As the CEO explained, the 2012 review examined the 332 files from the legacy organisations. Between 2003 and 2012, however, there were nine years of operation and we had our own files from Scouting Ireland, from disclosures made to it since 2003. The 600 additional files to which the Deputy referred includes all the files from 2003 to date and all the files that have been opened as a result of the helpline.

I thank Mr. Tennant for that but he might help us tease it out further. Scouting Ireland was formed in 2003. How many files did it receive from 2003 to 2012?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

That is the higher number less the 332 files reviewed in 2012.

How many of the 995?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

Approximately 660.

Does Mr. Tennant mean that no file has been opened since 2012?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

No, the 600 additional files to which the Deputy referred have been open since 2003, and they are a combination of the 70 cases on average that are opened every year, as the CEO noted-----

How many are opened files that Scouting Ireland has deemed are not reportable?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I will first clarify the total number and pass the question of the reportable number to the subject matter expert. The 600 files are a combination of two categories, namely, all of Scouting Ireland's files since 2003, not since 2012, and the high influx of numbers received through the helpline. The figure has not exploded from 332 in 2012 to approximately 990 in 2019. It is a combination. The larger figure is an aggregate of three numbers.

Why did Scouting Ireland never discuss the figure when it appeared before the committee previously? I have always discussed historical cases.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

The figure for the number of historical cases is 332.

Dr. John Lawlor

It is important that we have clarity on the matter. At previous appearances before the committee, I made clear that the order and scale of files being opened every year was approximately 70, and I think it is approximately 86 this year to date. We are pleased that more people are reporting. The numbers will always be incremental. It is important to us that we maintain our reporting record. I will await Mr. Elliott's work in order to be definitive, but my observation is that since Scouting Ireland started and professional staff were engaged, the reporting record has been strong. Fourteen years before management reporting was introduced, the reporting record was in place.

I will address the issue of reportable files, on which Mr. Begley might comment further. The threshold for not reporting is low and the vast majority of disclosures to us are reported. In fact, it works the other way. Often, Tusla will revert to us and state that a case does not meet its threshold. Scouting Ireland always errs on the side of caution in reporting. That was my responsibility as mandated person until that changed with the introduction of the safeguarding manager. The reporting record is good and, in the majority of cases, we err on the side of caution and report. We will then be advised by Tusla as to how we will proceed. Mr. Begley might wish to comment further.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

When we report the disclosure to the State agencies, they conduct the investigation. It is their determination as to whether they have closed their assessment or investigation. A file we have could be reopened, depending on the State agency's investigation assessment. It is difficult to say a case will be fully closed.

Of the 995 files, how many are still open cases, pending investigation? I refer to cases with Scouting Ireland, Tusla or An Garda Síochána.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

From a Scouting Ireland perspective, they are all open until the State agencies that have conducted their assessments revert to tell us they have been closed-----

Of the 995 files, how many have gone to Tusla?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I cannot give a figure for that.

How many of the files have gone to An Garda Síochána?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I cannot currently give a figure for that.

They are all open files.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

Yes, from our perspective, because issues may arise from them.

Mr. Begley, as the new safeguarding manager in Scouting Ireland, cannot tell me how many files that are open on his desk are with the State authorities.

Mr. Gearóid Begley

They are all open, from my perspective.

How many have gone to An Garda Síochána and to Tusla?

Mr. Gearóid Begley

I cannot currently give a figure.

Perhaps Mr. Tennant can give me the figure.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

Looking for a number, which we will establish, is not the issue. The issue is whether we have reported everything we should have. I might sound like a broken record but it is important to make the point that since 2003, and in some cases before that, every reportable issue has been reported by Scouting Ireland.

The committee does not need to take our word on that. In the Republic we have the confidence of Tusla and An Garda Síochána regarding our reporting, our historical reporting and the analysis of the files they need for investigations, etc. It is very important when we say we keep our files open; we never close a file.

Of course, it is because behind every file is a child.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

Exactly.

However, behind every child is also a parent who wants to know if the matter has been dealt with by the right authority. I asked the question to allow Mr. Tennant to give me comfort and confidence that he knows how many files have gone where, but he clearly cannot give me those figures.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

I assure the Deputy and anyone listening today that every reportable issue has been reported.

I ask Mr. Tennant to give me the number.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

We can find the number.

Perhaps in due course Scouting Ireland can provide that information through the clerk.

I wish to distil this matter down to the "RTÉ Investigates" programme and extrapolate what Deputy Rabbitte has mentioned about the reporting mechanism. If we accept absolutely the bona fides of those who bore witness on that programme and accept them as genuine witnesses, it is arguable that there was a failure of reporting in that instance. That bridges the divide between the historical and the current. If the complaints go back to 1987 and 1996 and people in 2019 are saying there did not appear to be a process in respect of their individual stories, one would have to contend that there is a failure of reporting.

Irrespective of the processes Scouting Ireland engaged in in 2012, the distinction it makes between the CBSI, SAI and the creation of Scouting Ireland in 2004, the start of the process, the Children First guidelines and the so-called review in 2012, all of those processes map across the narrative of the individuals who bore witnesses on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. Having watched that programme, at a human level I would say there was a failure of reporting and a failure to deal properly within whatever protocols Scouting Ireland had designed post 2012 to deal with the trauma suffered by those people.

Does Mr. Tennant agree that is the case and that we are still dealing with failures of reporting? We all acknowledge what Scouting Ireland is trying to do with its new governance procedures. We all acknowledge the involvement of those 14,000 families. We represent them also; they live among us in our communities. We are very much aware of the good work that goes on in Scouting Ireland right down to troop level. At the same time, we need to be satisfied beyond any doubt that the system is robust. It is hard to be convinced that it is robust in light of the "RTÉ Investigates" programme.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

It is very important for us to acknowledge the level of hurt and the bravery shown by the people who spoke on that programme. We cannot say that enough. Those who spoke on the programme spoke well. They spoke of horrific times in their lives. However hard we think it is to listen to that, we can only imagine what it was like to live through that. We acknowledge that.

Their stories relate to the legacy issues. They gave examples of how they reported. Obviously, we cannot talk about the individual cases so I am talking about in general. I am sure the Deputy will accept that.

Mr. Adrian Tennant

They spoke about how in some cases they tried to bring the matters further or up the line. Either they were not listened to or there was some veil of secrecy or whatever. None of that is deniable by us. That will be forthcoming in the work that Ian Elliot in particular is doing.

This is very important for those 14,000 volunteers the Deputy mentioned, who are working in our communities, and for the parents. I gave the figures earlier for the level of trust they have in Scouting Ireland.

Since the formation of Scouting Ireland, we have reported. There has been a strong history of reporting since 2003, well before we needed to. However, did that reporting take place at the same level in the former organisations? At the moment, that evidently does not appears to be the case. To speak fully on it, we await Mr. Elliot's report, but the evidence to date does not suggest the matter was handled correctly by the former organisations.

That is acknowledged, but I am talking about the present day. I am very conscious that certain matters are before the courts or potentially may be, but the stories are in the public domain. What reasonably-----

We are still precluded from discussing individuals, regardless of whether their stories are in the public domain.

I appreciate that, but it is fair to ask this question. Can the representatives of Scouting Ireland state categorically that the process failed then and does so right up to the present day?

I ask for a general response as opposed to a response on an individual case.

Dr. John Lawlor

I will try to assist. I understand the Deputy's pursuit of this which is worthy when dealing with people who have been deeply hurt. The "RTÉ Investigates" programme made searing watching for all of us. On foot of it, we checked to see if we had done our job here. I know I am on the record here. Yes, we did our job in these cases. We are very conscious of not causing further pain for survivors. We are open to hearing from them. Have I gone too far, a Chathaoirligh?

I think you may have.

Dr. John Lawlor

I hope that assists.

I am sure Deputy Sherlock appreciates where I am coming from. Are there any concluding remarks?

Mr. Adrian Tennant

We welcome the opportunity to come and speak to the committee as matters progress. We are happy to be able to share with the committee our governance journey to date, which we did earlier. Obviously, the issue of historical child sexual abuse will always be a major feature of these meetings. We expect nothing else and we are happy to discuss the issue. Our governance changes continue apace. Certain third level institutions are now using Scouting Ireland as a case study in governance.

I say to our members that the governance change had to be swift. We still have a job to do, as a board of directors through our sub-committees, in ensuring that the culture in Scouting Ireland is such that we bring people with us along that journey. I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for allowing us to outline that not just internally to our members, who are well used to hearing us talk about this stuff, but also to the wider public.

I made the point that, of the organisations over which the committee has jurisdiction, Scouting Ireland is second only to Tusla in terms of the number of times it appears before us. We all appreciate that representatives of Scouting Ireland have been forthcoming in attending these meetings and answering questions, etc. We wish the best to all in Scouting Ireland, particularly the volunteers and children.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.10 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 December 2019.