From top: Interim CEO of Tusla Pat Smyth; Labour TD Sean Sherlock; Ian Elliott, interim Safeguarding Manager at Scouting Ireland; Katherine Zappone
On February 27 last, the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone published a four-page letter which had been sent from Tusla to Scouting Ireland on February 18.
It followed Ms Zappone announcing last December that Scouting Ireland had identified 212 alleged abusers and 317 alleged victims of abuse and this figure was likely to rise.
Tusla’s partially redacted letter referred to three lives cases, saying:
Gaps arose in three situations. In one case on cub camp, a child exposed himself and sexually assaulted children in the tent.
In another report, a child was exposing himself and behaving in a sexually in-appropriate way in front of his camp mates and in a third case, at cub camp a child was acting out a forceful sex act on other children in the tent who were afraid to sleep for fear of being assaulted themselves.
These live case examples highlight a number of areas of poor practice and have left children exposed to risk of harm.
In addition the practice by SI personnel, redacted, as Head of Safeguarding to interview children in the circumstances described above is very concerning.
The letter also criticised that a helpline set up for people to receive allegations in relation to Scouting Ireland was being manned by Scouting Ireland personnel.
It also made eight child protection recommendations to Scouting Ireland – including that Scouting Ireland should consider “the viability of continuing with overnight trips given the concerns outlined”.
Further to this…
Members of Tusla and Scouting Ireland answered questions at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs this morning and this afternoon.
This morning, interim CEO of Tusla Pat Smyth told the committee that the letter was never meant to be made public.
In addition, Labour TD Sean Sherlock asked Ian Elliott, interim Safeguarding Manager at Scouting Ireland, about an inter-agency meeting which took place two days before Ms Zappone made this letter public – on February 25.
Mr Elliott said the meeting had been initiated by Scouting Ireland in November and it was an attempt to bring An Garda Siochana, Tusla and Scouting Ireland together – so Scouting Ireland could “actively review” the practice, co-operation and collaboration of the agencies and to give them a chance to request any further information from Scouting Ireland.
Mr Elliott said Tusla’s letter, which Scouting Ireland received on Friday, February 22, was discussed at the meeting of the February 25.
“I raised it by means of two questions which were then answered by the two agencies and in their answers, Tusla’s representatives, made reference to the letter. I actually knew that the two senior managers who were there had been copied into the letter.
“I didn’t permit too much discussion about the content of the letter…An Garda was there and I didn’t feel it was appropriate for that to happen.”
“It shocked me because I thought, well, you know, on one hand, we were receiving this letter, and on the other hand, well, I’m talking to people directly and individuals copied into this letter – they’re saying ‘no, everything’s fine, we have no concerns, we have no problems, no difficulties with what you’re doing and how you’re doing it’.”
Mr Sherlock put it to Mr Elliott that when Ms Zappone published the letter two days after this meeting, on February 27, “the bombshell was dropped” publicly – despite the issues apparently having been “addressed” at the meeting of February 25.
Mr Elliott agreed and said “that’s why the meeting was set up”.
He also said that he spoke with members of An Garda Siochana “at a very senior level” to ask if they were “absolutely satisfied” with how Scouting Ireland was operating and the “quality of information” that was going to the gardai.
Mr Elliott said: “I was assured that was the case.”
He added: “I don’t understand what has happened. If I could mention this. I think it’s important. If you’re going to criticise the practice of an individual in relation to safeguarding, then you need to have solid evidence.
“You need to actually examine either the case record or talk to the individuals involved in the practice… but none of that happened.”
Mr Elliott went on to tell Mr Sherlock that no case record has been examined by Tusla and no staff member of Scouting Ireland has been interviewed by Tusla.
Mr Sherlock said Mr Elliott’s comments have “thrown up a whole new can of worms”.
The TD said: “We had Tusla earlier on and we had a version of events, we have Scouting Ireland’s interpretation of events now and I just think it throws up a whole set of new questions…And there are now questions to be asked of department officials and the minister I think in respect of the matter arising out of the evidence we’ve just heard here.”
Watch the committee’s proceedings live here