Scout Honours

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Adult awards as a concept may seem counter-intuitive in an association where volunteers seek only to serve the interests of their scout group, the community it is in and the members of it. Yet, an awards system is also arguably a valid and welcome method in which to recognize in a small way, the efforts that adult scouters go to in their spare time, to bring Scouting to the nation’s youth.

It’s an open secret however in Scouting Ireland for some time that the adult awards system is in need of review. It is secretive, unaccountable and the way it is currently calibrated, by and large favours only politically connected (and/or politically savvy) Scout Groups.

The selection criteria have never been published and it remains a mystery how some very deserving people get overlooked, whilst others with similar profile get the nod. The paperwork required is deceptively complex (the citations in particular) and too open to subjective assessment. The committee arguably meets too infrequently to adequately consider all applications fairly.

Widely held perceptions that cronyism is at work on the committee are probably inaccurate, but its impossible to judge the extent of political interference in the process, given the lack of transparency.

Certainly, there have been some very obvious and deserving candidates, with long, proven and profound records of service to Scouting who have perhaps been the wrong gender, from the wrong part of the country or not on good terms with the right people to merit consideration.

Given the complexity associated with securing an award of any type, it was interesting to note that the association’s highest award was bestowed upon the Chief Commissioner of the UK Scout Association (Wayne Bulpitt), to mark his recent visit to Ireland for National Council 2014.

Mr. Bulpitt is a former Island Commissioner of Guernsey and a fine and capable representative of his association. His visit to Ireland in this official capacity is a welcome one. Close working relationships between the Scout Association and Scouting Ireland are also very welcome, given the many common cultural links between the two nations, not to mention the shared interests of both associations in helping Scouting to reach new heights on a part of the island where the two associations work side by side.

The timing was perhaps all the more appropriate, given the State visit to the United Kingdom by President Higgins, this week.

However, does it undermine the credentials of the Order of Cu chulainn, Scouting Ireland’s supposed ‘highest honour’, awarded for “profound and long service to Scouting”, if it is to be handed out, in the same way one might receive a ‘goody bag’ at an exhibition, to visiting dignitaries?

Mr. Bulpitt, in his blog/diary on scouts.co.uk seemed to be honoured by the award but also somewhat bemused to receive it. He is clearly aware of its significance and perhaps felt a little surprised at what was a strangely over-the-top gesture to make to a visiting scouter.

Surely Scouting Ireland as a WOSM member in its own right and a proud association with a heritage of democracy and unity (albeit two features of the association declining fast in recent years), does not need to sink to such excruciating levels of obsequiousness?

Ireland does not have an honour’s system for citizens like the UK does, but the scenario in Cork was surely comparable to a senior government minister from Ireland visiting the House of Commons and being appointed a Lord for his trouble. Disproportionate, unexpected, unnecessary and unprecedented.

Given the shameless self-promotion that passes for leadership in some circles at the higher levels of Scouting Ireland today, one must assume that the ill-judged awarding of the association’s highest honour to a visitor (albeit a welcome and highly-respected visitor) was a crass attempt to curry favour in the hope that a ‘quid pro quo’ will be forthcoming from the UK association in due course.

I hope Mr. Bulpitt was not embarrassed to have been used as a political pawn in this manner. He comes across as a decent scout with a degree of humility that perhaps some of his Irish brethren should be seeking to emulate.

Meanwhile, if trinkets of this nature can be rustled up every time a foreign dignitary comes to town, perhaps the Awards Committee can also find time to make adult awards more accessible and recognize more of our own members for efforts made out in the community?

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