uncharted waters


Following a series of unprecedented events, Scouting Ireland finds itself without a Chief Scout. This despite two strong candidates being on hand to take the job up to 24 hours before the meeting of National Council commenced.

The circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of one candidate from the race for Chief Scout and the firm rejection of the other by a majority of delegates at Scouting Ireland’s National Council at the weekend in Dublin’s RDS is something that many members are still trying to fully take in.

Kiernan Gildea, the odds on favourite for the election withdrew from the race with less than 24 hours to go, due to illness.

Rumours early in the day at the conference in Dublin’s RDS suggesting something untoward, were far off the mark, but the very fact that they were being openly discussed and clearly influencing people’s voting patterns demonstrated that trust in Scouting’s national leadership (and the shadowy figures who lurk behind the scenes pulling the strings) has never been lower.

In fairness, this message of a divide between the National Leadership/National Office and the volunteer members on the ground has been coming back loud and clear from across the Provinces and at the various husting’s that candidates for all roles attended.

Kiernan Gildea had built a campaign around tackling these issues and Sean Farrell’s campaign team belatedly also came up with a strategy, when it presumably became clear just how fed up members are with the current cultures of corporatism and cronyism, prevalent in some quarters of Scouting and that this was going to become, what politicians call ‘an election issue’.

Many candidates (for all NMC roles) specifically talked about ‘change’ in their manifestos. The association, strangled with pointless administration, kept in the dark on key decisions and milked for more and more fee’s from national office as staff and admin costs spiral out of control has been ready for a significant step change for some time now.

Members, fed up with cronyism (perceived or otherwise) at the higher levels of scouting and resentful of being airbrushed out of the democratic process by more corporatization, appear to have spoken very decisively. This was always going to factor in the record of current office holders seeking new roles and the Chief Scout role was no different.

Younger members had a strong voice at National Council. Many looked at one candidate and saw not the man (decent, kind, honourable), but the shadowy figures behind him. They wondered (not unreasonably) about the potential for undue influence by non-elected figures who appear to oppose equality, transparency and want to keep Scouting focused on the past.

The comments voiced loudly and publicly in recent days that blame young people for the outcome of a democratic election – or worse – suggest that young people were ‘influenced’ or ‘coerced’ into expressing their view and exercising their democratic right, are being incredibly disingenuous to younger people.

Theirishscouter remembers his days as a Cub Scout Leader well. Pitching an idea to a group of sixers was far tougher than presenting to the board of a company.

To suggest that younger people (of any age) could be or would be led astray is deeply patronizing and in some ways it merely underlines the reason why desire for significant change at the top tier in Scouting was so desperately sought, not just by young people, but also by those older scouters who are tired of tolerating a national leadership with too many who simply do not believe in young people.

There is no clarity as yet on what brought on the illness of one candidate. Dirty tricks have been played before in Scouting elections and this candidate knew only too well what it felt like to be on the receiving end of such tricks. It may simply have been (and most probably was) just really unfortunate timing.

The other candidate lost out, not because of any dearth of personal qualities himself (far from it), but because of some of the people around him and the lingering perception that things would continue just as before.

Both candidates are genuinely decent. Both would fill the role of Chief Scout and discharge the job well. Both had/have the potential to unite a deeply divided association. Circumstances and a democratic process have conspired to leave Scouting Ireland without either of these good men. That is a great pity, but perhaps no more a pity than the outcome of other elections in the past. Elections can be brutal. For every winning candidate, there will usually be at least one loosing candidate too.

With a new committee now in place and some top-tier leadership with both the desire and ability to effect a range of, what in themselves will be small, but positive changes, the NMC will first need to quickly unite and then set about getting Scouting Ireland back on course.

Appointment of an interim or temporary Chief Scout should, in the view of the irishscouter, be avoided at almost all costs. A temporary Chief would become the incumbent in an election that followed, even if only in office for a couple of months. Incumbents (as theirishscouter knows rather well) are very (VERY) difficult to unseat.

This outcome would provide an unfair advantage to the NMC appointed candidate and in doing so would in effect give the NMC a disproportionate input into the outcome of the election. Given the calibre and integrity of people now on the NMC, particularly in key roles – this is not something they will want.

The only circumstances in which an interim Chief could be appointed would be if this individual made it clear he/she sought only to be the interim candidate and gave an undertaking not to seek election. This outcome could work as it would give the association time to find suitable candidates and allow said candidates to set out their vision for uniting the association and getting it back on track with the vision as set out when we started this journey over ten years ago.

Whatever happens, all eyes will now be on the National Management Committee. In the midst of a very dissatisfactory outcome to the Chief Scout election campaign, the NMC can heed the words of Winston Churchill and ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’

2 thoughts on “uncharted waters”

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