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.