Dublin. Capital City of Ireland. A vital hub, politically, logistically, academically, socially. A hotbed of best-practice and, in keeping with major cities everywhere, a liberal bell-weather full of the latest thinking and fresh ideas that regularly challenge the status quo.
Dublin is a city that is full of top-class scout groups. Some of the countries oldest groups are here, as are some of the youngest. The city boasts groups with amazing scout skills, worthy contenders at any Phoenix Competition. It is the home to the Scout Show and supplies a good deal of the talent that enters. It has scout groups that are less handy with knots, but are leadership incubators to rival the best business schools.
Like most parts of Ireland, it can count among its numbers groups who spend much of their time on the water and many others for whom the Dublin Mountains are a haven (indeed some groups are based in the foothills of this mountain range). There is a mix of urban, suburban, coastal and even some semi-rural groups.
Dublin as a city is a haven for scouts. The area includes several large parks, unrivalled amenities, the best public transport links in the country and a beautiful city, in part surrounded by mountains and looking out across a large bay.
Dublin also has within its borders Larch hill, Scouting Ireland’s national campsite, a superb facility and within it’s grounds, National Office, the well-resourced centre from where high-quality professional expertise is dispensed to support Scout Groups across the country.
Scouts in Dublin have many reasons to be the envy of their colleagues across the island. Yet Dublin has arguably been the poor relation of Scouting Ireland since the association’s inception.
In a country where rural policy-makers and legislators frequently bemoan the benefits that Dublin has/receives over other parts of Ireland, how is it that the Scouting picture in this regard differs so sharply from the rest of society?
This article looks at three reasons for this stark contrast; Organisation, Culture & Leadership.
‘Dublin’ is in fact a misnomer for the purposes of this article. In Scouting terms, there is no such thing as ‘Dublin’, but there is a ‘Scout Province’ called ‘Dublin Scout Province’. This bears only a partial resemblance to the city of the same name. The decision, taken back in 2003, to split Dublin in this way, has arguably played a central part in ensuring that Dublin and the Scouting population of Dublin, have been largely relegated to the sidelines.
The ‘Dublin Scout Province’ consists only of North inner-city Dublin and everything South of the liffey. The ‘Cluain Toirc’ Scout County, one of two that are on the North bank of the River Liffey, does extend North into the suburbs, but has its roots inside the Canal Ring.
The result is a ‘City Province’ that is missing a fairly large chunk of city, with virtually all the Northern suburbs and dormitory towns in Dublin ‘County’ (the real county – the one the government uses) located in another Scout Province.
The rationale for this is clear. Dublin, if all in one administrative area for Scouting purposes, would be a behemoth, with close to 40% of the associations membership. It would dominate politically, would potentially gobble up resources before they ever made it outside the Pale and to all intents and purposes, would be largely unmanageable as a single region.
Scouting Ireland is a fairly well spread out association in terms of its membership. It could be argued that a Dublin-centric structure would have inhibited this balance. However, the decision made to split the city has contributed in part to the Dublin Scout Province being a stillborn entity that has simply never gotten off the ground.
Most Scout Counties in Dublin bear little resemblance to anything that went before. The notable exception is Dublinia Scout County (and to a lesser extent, Montpelier & Cluain Toirc), largely unchanged from CBSI days. This has turned out to be fortuitous for the Scout County(ies) concerned as it has ensured some stability internally, in a largely rudderless Scout Province.
This continuity has facilitated the exercise of disproportionate political clout (relative to counties that were completely new), given the strength, depth and duration of relationships within. Many other counties in Dublin are still finding their feet, ten years after the foundation of Scouting Ireland.
Dublin Province is a strange place. It’s overwhelmingly a curious mix of Urban and what would have once been known as ‘working class’ areas (19th century up to 1940’s and 50’s built houses, including vast estates of former local authority properties, forming a significant part of these communities), where the Scout groups tend to be older, more well-established entities, founded in the 1920’s – 50’s. These well-established groups include those in Merchants Quay, Aughrim Street, Donore Avenue, Mount Argus.
Equally, there are younger, more suburban focused groups (and many of the older former SAI groups also fit this profile), who tend to be located in what might be described as ‘middle class’ areas (examples in Dublin would include Mount Merrion, Blackrock, Terenure College, Leeson Park, Dundrum).
The older groups favour tradition, camp craft, fairly strict adherence to uniform and a strong appreciation of heritage and the value of ceremony. They view the younger groups as being little more than glorified youth clubs and ‘not really scouts’ in the traditional sense of the term. (A scouter from one of these ‘older’ groups once labeled the group to which the Irish Scouter belongs, ‘not really scouts’, so this viewpoint is not entirely supposition)
The Scouters tend to be a broad cross-section of age ranges (from teens up to seventies), reflecting a high level of continuity over many years. Consequently, with so many ‘layers’ of scouters, youth participation tends not to be as high on the agenda (kids need to ‘wait their turn’ to make decisions). Equally, with so many established scouters, it is possible to engage heavily in National policy, with members on national teams and big attendances at National Council.
Scouters in these groups tend to over-index on public sector/semi-state and other heavily unionized jobs, ensuring more fixed working hours that favour volunteer work.
The younger groups, typically more suburban-based are less into ceremony, heritage (they have less of it, founded as most were in the 1960’s, 70’s and onwards). They tend to have a more flexible and informal approach, they worry that their scout skills are poor (they often are), and they place a stronger focus on fun and enjoyment (sometimes to the detriment of other aspects of the programme).
Their scouters use (to the disdain of the more traditional groups) Jeka for summer camps (a sort of package holiday company for scouts) and official uniform (where worn), is typically of a standard that would not pass muster a few stops away on an orbital bus route. Many of these groups lack a layered age range among scouters, with usually a higher concentration of younger (and thus more transient) scouters, and tend to lean more towards youth participation as a result. Interest in county activities (never mind National stuff) is low, because staffing levels are always stretched, but also because the county structures tend to be weak and few people have the time to ‘take the bull by the horns’ to address this deficiency.
As scouters get past their late 20’s in these groups, most drop out to focus on careers, often in the private sector and in management/professional roles that tend to be demanding on time (and generally less sympathetic to volunteering in the community).
The former are concentrated in the North inner city and the Western part of South Dublin. The latter are concentrated in the Eastern part of South Dublin.
These two classifications are of course arbitrary, but they go a long way towards explaining why the Dublin Province does not work. There are two very different cultures at play. What matters to one, is often on the face of it, largely irrelevant to the other.
There are exceptions to every rule. However, the broad classification does work and it greatly informs how Dublin works as a Scout Province (or does not work, to be more precise).
A further complication is a frequent generation gap between the Group and County level scouters from these two cultures. Put simply, ‘climbing the ranks’ over East is all too easy (because, generally speaking, nobody else wants to do the job). By contrast, it can take years of patience to achieve similar heights in a more tightly packed (with adults) group that has been around since Baden Powell’s time.
Exacerbating this cultural divide is the fact that Dublin has so far lacked a leader who has been capable of fusing the two cultures together or managing to highlight the (not inconsiderable) common ground.
This explains to a degree reason 3.
Widespread support is a difficult thing to achieve in Dublin. A Provincial Commissioner candidate inevitably originates from one culture or the other. Whichever one they come from will support them, but the other usually will not.
The former Provincial Commissioner was not only female but originated from an ‘East Coast’ county. She immediately upset the ‘other side’ by displaying a lack of interest in ceremony. She avoided formal events and tended to avoid wearing full uniform as much as possible. She made no secret of favouring younger people’s views over those of older scouters. It did not take long for the mutterings to start (indeed there was a concerted effort to prevent her from being elected in the first place).
By contrast, the outgoing incumbent comes from and has worked for much of his Scouting career in socially disadvantaged areas of the city. He is a hard-core and unapologetic traditionalist through and through. Upon election, he upset the genteel suburbanites by intimating that the County Commissioners ‘reported’ to him (and promptly lost the support or engagement of roughly half the province, much of it permanently).
One might reasonably ask how such a cultural divide can exist in such a modern city. Whilst Dublin as a major city, is far more liberal in many ways (as cities tend to be) than the Scouting model suggests, the Dublin Scout Province crucially does not include the North city suburbs. The more liberally-minded enclave down the east side of South Dublin is thus in a minority, given the more well-established groups clustered in the inner city and the older 19th century to 1950’s suburbs on the Western side of South Dublin, tend to be more traditional and conservative for the reasons outlined above.
This cultural split has also ensured that Dublin is under-represented nationally in key positions that require election (e.g.; NMC Ordinary Members). If a candidate is from one cultural background, they will usually not secure the support of the other. This is in stark contrast to every other Scout province, where (for example) a South Eastern candidate will usually enjoy full and largely unconditional support of most delegates from that province at National Council. This rather friendly and unity-orientated dynamic does not apply in Dublin.
SO WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN DUBLIN?
The position of Provincial Commissioner in Dublin is now vacant. It affords an opportunity for the incoming Interim Provincial Commissioner to provide Dublin with a solution that is specific to Dublin. Trying to apply the structure that admittedly works quite well for other parts of the country in a city environment has so far failed. Leadership is only one part of this. The Organisational construct plays a critical role.
This suggests that even a new leader, with broad support across the province, will still struggle to unlock the solution to get Dublin running to the same high standards as its immediate neighbours to the North and South.
In essence, many groups in Dublin seem to be fairly self-sufficient. Some have problems that could use some outside help of course, but perhaps part of the ‘self sufficiency’ mindset comes from the generally low level of interaction with the Provincial team.
The association (and specifically the incoming PMST, in consultation with key stakeholders in the Dublin Province) should give due consideration to piloting the ‘Scout Area’ idea in Dublin.
The existing Scout Province would divide up quite well into three Scout Area’s that would arguably be in a far better position to lend the sort of support to Scouting in Dublin than the current provincial arrangement.
In organization terms, this process would (1) test market the ‘Scout Area’s’ concept, with no risk to the provincial structure where it works, (2) would provide Dublin with the bespoke structure it clearly needs in order to support Scouting on the ground in a meaningful way.
In cultural terms, this arrangement would group broadly like-minded groups and counties together, unlocking the potential for unity within areas and, in time, stronger links between the various areas of Dublin as equals, each with their own support structure.
In leadership terms, Area Commissioners in Dublin could work with the Provincial Commissioner for a three-year period and could get on with the job of rolling up their sleeves in their areas. The Provincial Team would have less touch-points, so could deliver more concentrated support. The Provincial Commissioner would be able to work more directly with three Area Commissioners.
Accountability to the NMC would be via the Provincial Commissioner as with any other Province, but the structure would potentially work far more effectively in Dublin, unlocking some pent up passion and energy in the capital city’s Scouting network.
Dublin needs a radical solution. This in turn requires some innovative and courageous decision-making. Scouters in Dublin need to voice their views on what they think will work. After all, the current structure appears to be unfit for purpose, yet there is a real opportunity to deliver a winning formula, to take the city to new heights.