Scouting for a backbone? Scouting for a Yes and a Yes!


James Carroll

I’ll be voting Yes and Yes in the forthcoming Irish referendum on same sex marriage and the age of eligibility for President. I think Scouting Ireland should have said they are too and this is why..

In all arguments Scoutings foundations are well a well-trodden path. Having a founder who wrote at length on any number of topics always guarantees each side ample quotes to channel his will in defence of any argument. So before I haunt you all with the ghost of Baden Powell and a weight of quotations let me first say: The majority of members of Scouting Ireland were born into a country which had decriminalised homosexuality, introduced divorce, had long since allowed girls into the ranks of Scout Groups (although disappointingly not all groups), most joined Scouting Ireland not one of the previous associations and most were born after Roy Keane had started the second civil war in Saipan.

So when I, in my mid 30’s, talk to young people about these, and other, topics I do so with a weight of history that they simply never lived through. While we need history to understand where we are and how we got here we must not let it stifle our youth or young voices.

Scouting prides itself on many fine attributes. Non-political is one of these. But it is impossible to understand Scoutings non-political outlook without knowing where it came from and what it truly means. As a popular and somewhat pure youth movement Scouting has at times during its 100 year plus existence been consumed into State-sponsored ideology, it has been hijacked to corrupt the minds of the young rather than develop them. In its earlier years local organisations rallied people into joining up the armed forces in WW1 (which led the founder to directly re-think his stance on political engagement), in the darker moments of the last century the whole movement in some countries fell under the control of dictatorships and indeed even today some remain that way. It is to ward against these very fears that we consider ourselves non-political and the below quote from the World Movement outlines what we mean as non-political.

“As an educational Movement, Scouting is non-political, in the sense that it is not involved in the struggle for power which is the subject-matter of politics and which is usually reflected in the system of political parties. This non-political character is constitutionally required from all national associations and is a basic characteristic of the Movement. This does not, however, mean that Scouting is completely divorced from political realities within a given country. In the first place, it is a Movement whose aim is to develop responsible citizenship; this civic education cannot be accomplished without an awareness of political realities with a country. In the second place, it is a Movement which is based upon a number of principles – fundamentals laws and beliefs – which condition the political opinions of members of the Movement.”
Fundamental Principles – The basic ideas underlying the Scout Movement – World Organization of the Scout Movement, 1992

So it is clear we should never support a party, we should never support an ideology but we can and indeed must support a position if it is in keeping with our beliefs. So with that in mind I note with disappointment that the governing committee of Scouting Ireland (the National Management Committee in Scouting parlance) has declined to take a position on the forthcoming referendums. It is made all the stranger as we have in the recent past made political comments on Junior Cert reforms, Forests and the Children’s Rights Referendum.
So what do we stand for? Our constitution says:

Scouting Ireland is a voluntary, uniformed, non-formal educational movement for young people. It is independent, non-political, open to all without distinction of origin, race, creed or gender, in accordance with the purpose, principles and method conceived by the Founder, Robert Baden-Powell and as stated by the World Organisation of the Scout Movement.

Scouting Ireland Constitution article 2

And what our founder had to say on citizenship (he said a lot this is a snippet):

“We must each one of us take our place as we find it in this world and make the best of it, and pull together with the others around us.

We are very much like bricks in a wall, we each have our place, though it may seem a small one in so big a wall. But if one brick crumbles or slips out of place, it begins to throw an undue strain on others, cracks appear, and the wall totters.”

Scouting for Boys – Chapter IX – (read it all he says a lot more)

I don’t for one minute believe Baden-Powell had Gay Marriage in mind when he wrote the above. Given how far some people are from the idea today I can’t fathom how alien the concept would have been to the man himself. But from those beginnings came the movement and the movement has taken those ideals of equality, active citizenship, community unity and inclusivity to its heart. In the modern context it seems only right that Scouting votes in solidarity and unity with our LGBT members past, present and future. It is in keeping with our constitution, it is in keeping with our published beliefs and it is in keeping with the belief of the majority of our members (if opinion polls are to be believed that is).


So now to the age of our president. As an organisation that believes in youth empowerment, believes in youth development and believes that young people should be encouraged and given leadership roles it is strange that we are not backing the Presidential Age Referendum. If this isn’t dear to our hearts I’m not really sure what is. We should be at the heart of proving that young people can and do make a valuable contribution to public life in Ireland. We know it to be true we see it in our group’s week in week out so why not speak out and say it clearly?

Lastly, my time as a youth member was a long time ago, my time to lead the organisation is behind me, my belief is that we must encourage and debate with our young people but never brain wash so whatever way you vote do so with your conscience and with all the facts you can handle. While I believe in all I have said and I could drone on much longer I do want to finish with one more quote and one more message. It is Baden-Powells advice on voting for political parties so while not directly relevant it is certainly pertinent.

“The thing is to listen to them all, and don’t be persuaded by any particular one. And then be a man, make up your mind and decide for yourself which you think is best for the whole country – not for some little local question – and vote for that one so long as it works the right way, namely, for the good of the country.”
Scouting for Boys – Chapter IX – (read it all he says a lot more)

James Carroll is Group Leader of 137th Balally Scout Group in Dublin and One of the Founding members of Scouting Irelands LGBT Fellowship.

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