Thursday, 28 March 2019

Questions (8)

Seán Sherlock


8. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied that safeguarding matters in an organisation (details supplied) are in keeping with appropriate legislation and guidelines. [14491/19]

View answer

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Children)

I wish Mr. Donal Hickey a pleasant retirement and acknowledge he is a gentleman, even though he may be a Ciarraíoch. We will all miss him around the Houses. I wish him well in his retirement.

That might not be in order but it is very appropriate.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and appreciate his latitude.

We all endorse the Deputy's kind wishes.

There has always been hearty banter between Donal and me, my being a Corkman and his being a Ciarraíoch. It has always been in good jest.

What is the status of safeguarding in Scouting Ireland based on the Minister's current understanding?

The safety and welfare of children and young people are at the heart of all decisions made by me and my Department. I involved myself directly in recent matters relating to safeguarding and child protection when they arose in Scouting Ireland because I was made aware of concerns expressed to the organisation by Tusla. I am not a safeguarding expert but I believe that when issues raised by the State’s experts are brought to my attention, I have a duty to respond. I believe this is the right thing to do.

Scouting Ireland, in common with all organisations dealing with children and young people, has legislative obligations under the Children First Act. These include the obligation to report any safeguarding matters to Tusla. Tusla can advise any entity on its safeguarding policies and procedures as well as on its child safeguarding statement.

As the Deputy is aware, my Department received a copy of a letter, dated 18 February 2019, written by Tusla to the CEO of Scouting Ireland raising certain concerns. I am aware that a meeting was held between Tusla and Scouting Ireland on 7 March, the outcome of which was an agreed action plan to address the concerns raised by Tusla. Scouting Ireland had already engaged child safeguarding expert Mr. Ian Elliott to advise on its safeguarding policies and procedures some time ago and he is still engaged on a consultancy basis.

Scouting Ireland has assured me that it will continue to engage fully with Tusla to ensure the safeguarding of young people. On general governance requirements, Scouting Ireland has been working since last year to bring its governance up to a high standard. This has followed from the governance review carried out by Ms Jillian van Turnhout and the recommendations contained within that review.

I welcome the fact that one of the key recommendations in Ms van Turnhout’s review, on the appointment of a full-time safeguarding manager, has recently been implemented.

I will keep the situation under careful review. Any decision on continuation of funding is contingent on the receipt of a report confirming its compliance with all the recommendations in the van Turnhout report. I am expecting the report from Scouting Ireland this week. I will require a commitment from Scouting Ireland to ongoing engagement with Tusla that will demonstrate the implementation of its recently agreed action plan.

What exactly is the Minister expecting from Scouting Ireland this week? What report is it? Is it Mr. Elliott's review? I wanted to seek clarification on that very point.

As I said, what I am expecting this week is the report on the implementation of the van Turnhout recommendations.

My question does not deal with the van Turnhout recommendations but with-----

I understand that.

My questions do not deal with governance but with safeguarding.

The Minister came into the House recently and made a very strong statement on overnight trips for scouts. Some of the issues are now being worked through, and we hope we have reached a more positive space with regard to Tusla's interaction with Scouting Ireland.

All Members wish for some comfort to be given to the thousands of families with children and members of which are volunteers that Scouting Ireland is a safe place to be. All Members believe it to be a safe place, but there are some inherent risks.

However, definitive answers from the Minister regarding the Tusla review of supervision of children are required. She has given no indication so far today in that regard. She discussed governance and the review by Ms Jillian van Turnhout. However, I wish to know where we are in regard to the safeguarding piece. Mr. Ian Elliot has been investigating historical cases. Is he to report directly to the Department? Where are we in terms of the quality of the engagement or actions arising from the engagement between Tusla and Scouting Ireland?

The six-point action plan that has been agreed with Tusla and Scouting Ireland focuses on the issues raised by the Deputy in terms of where are the safeguarding issues. My expectation and understanding is that Tusla will continue to support Scouting Ireland in order to ensure that those actions are implemented. The first step is that Tusla makes a presentation on Children First legislation and safeguarding to the board of directors at its next scheduled board meeting. I assume that will be done or has already been done. A safeguarding manager has been recruited, as recommended in the action plan.

On some of the Deputy's other questions, Scouting Ireland will review its safeguarding risk assessment relevant procedures, particularly its code in respect of overnight trips and jamborees, in collaboration with Tusla. It is doing so and that will continue. I hope and expect that it will indicate to me that that has been done to the satisfaction of both parties. Tusla has requested that Scouting Ireland agree to an independent evaluation of its helpline. It will draw learning from that and apply it to its current and future policies, procedures and practice relevant to the helpline.