A box ticking exercise?

Red tick in box

The statement, issued by Scouting Ireland, following the recent exclusive interview on this website, was in some ways the perfect encapsulation of all that is wrong with national scouting presently.

It was anonymous. It featured little warmth, just mechanical platitudes. The condemnation of bullying came across as lukewarm. It almost seemed to be designed primarily to shift blame away from Scouting Ireland.

To be clear, it is hard to see ANYONE blaming Scouting Ireland the entity for the unpleasant events in April – it was the action of an individual (or individuals) who, whilst members of Scouting Ireland, certainly did not represent the association in their actions.

The new National Secretary Jimmy Cunningham, a man of integrity, intelligence and great personal warmth subsequently changed the document after publication by adding his name to it and in doing so took responsibility for its content, despite it being clear that much of it was written by or at the very least prepared by somebody else. This is a measure of the man, one of the few true leaders at national level in scouting currently.

It’s an encouraging sign that accountability and ‘stepping up’ could be returning as a feature of national scouting, especially if our most senior leaders follow the approach set by the national secretary and ‘lead by example’.

Scouting Ireland’s mechanisms to deal with instances of bullying or disputes generally are largely unfit for purpose. Thankfully, bullying among youth members is rare and is generally managed locally, where volunteer leaders do so with sensitivity and common sense.

Disputes between adults (again, not everyday but far more common than disputes between youth members) rely on a system that usually results in unfair outcomes, presided over by people who often lack the diplomatic and mediation skills or emotional intelligence to find the right solution. The entity always seems to come first, not the people involved.

In this context, a hand wringing press release about bullying sounds rather hollow, like a box being ticked, rather than a genuine desire to DO anything positive.

To give the National Secretary his due, he is barely in office four months at this stage and has one of the biggest and most difficult jobs in Scouting Ireland. On top of that, he is shouldering a significant additional weight of responsibility, given no Chief Scout was elected in April. If there is a better way to resolve disputes, Jimmy Cunningham is likely to find it, but even he cannot do everything overnight.

Our inaction on developing an effective and fair disputes system is however just one example of Scouting Ireland’s inability to move with the times.

We remain hopelessly behind societal trends in several areas. For example, our failure for too long to do or say anything meaningful on the tragedy of youth suicide. Our reluctance to challenge homophobic commentary even when uttered from the lectern at National Council. Our inability to connect with teenagers and the consequent contraction of this age range’s membership in Scouting. No desire to facilitate young people aged 18+ who study away from home (we refuse to operate Rover Scouts in universities, and in doing so utilize a different model to that which we employ for most other programme sections, because we lack the vision and imagination to do anything ‘outside the box’).

Our clunky attempts at PR are frequently hi-jacked by ‘gentlemen of a certain age’ who fall over themselves to grandstand for the good news stories, yet when an opportunity to take a positive stand against something like bullying presents itself, the grand standers are curiously nowhere to be seen.

Some leadership strategy!

This approach needs to change. Leaders of calibre in Scouting Ireland (and there are several, including the National Secretary) need to usher in a new era of transparency, honesty and humility. Place the bureaucrats on the sidelines. These cautious types are not interested in members, only in the organization as an entity. There is a limited role for this line of thinking, but on matters of judgement, we need a scout making the decision, not a pen pusher.

Advisors are helpful, but if they substitute for leaders, we end up with the dull, rudderless leadership vacuum that Scouting Ireland at national level has been for several years.

Surely we all, including our elected leaders, deserve more than that?

4 thoughts on “A box ticking exercise?”

  1. Another finely crafted and insightful article from theirishscouter. Having spent 5 years sitting at the NMC table trying to do my best along with 19 other Scouts to manage (yes, manage) the affairs of our association I can vouch that so did each and everyone of those other Scouts at that table. Try their best, I mean. As an association of Scouts it’s what we do, try our best. There is no measure of it, this best, it is our greatest strength and our achilles heel. We can only stand in judgement of one person when comes to “doing my best”, ourselves.

    It is impossible, even in the professional world of mediation, conciliation and arbitration, to please all sides. Rarely, if ever, is there a win-win more often than not it’s a lose-lose. As both County Commissioner for Carlow-Kilkenny and Provincial Commissioner for the South East Province I had to attempt to deal with adult disputes and complaints. Naively, some might say arrogantly, (there’s judgemental for you) I tried my best to provide resolutions with my colleagues but, seemingly, inevitably, someone always got the dirty end of the stick, often both parties and the damage it did to both the adversaries and to me and some of my colleagues was never taken into account by anyone other than ourselves with each other. Duty of care? “You took the job on….”

    If we are truly an association of Scouts, and I do mean Scouts from 6 years of age to whenever, we will continue to do our best and learn to both lead and follow by example (our own and others) but, far more significantly, we need to take RESPONSIBILITY not just for ourselves but COLLECTIVELY for each other. If not will we just keep on repeating the same mistakes, learn nothing from history and constantly search out for someone to pay the price of our own lack of foresight and care?

    So, wherefore leadership? I can site true leaders all over Scouting Ireland from 6 years of age (yes, really) to whatever you’re having yourself and I’m certain all of you reading this can identify folk around your own locale and beyond too. But there’s the point – they are everywhere – leaders. Even if it’s only for a short and simple task. Jimmy Cunningham​ is a very good friend in fact we are possibly better friends now than before the election last April, why? Because we didn’t take it personally, we didn’t view each other as adversaries, we were and are on the same team, it’s called Scouting Ireland​.

    We can either pull together as the extraordinary Sea Scouts from Malahide 1st Port of Dublin Sea Scouts – Ringsend​ did at the weekend rowing across the Irish Sea – if you need an example of leadership and teamwork, that’s it right there! Or, we can let petty squabbles, jealousies and then the far worse hate crimes such as visited on Kiernan Gildea​ recently destroy him, us and everything we and Scouting in Ireland stands for. So when September 12th comes around go to vote with the clear intention that this is not about what or who was right or wrong last April, that’s for another day which may or may not come. It’s not some sort of divine right or act of retribution it’s way more significant than that. Be in that skiff out on the open sea, out of sight of land, reliant only on the strength of your own character to “do your best” to see out the voyage as the team players and leaders we can all be. Scouts. It’s forever, not just for now!

  2. A really truthful article which, unfortunately, will probably fall on deaf ears. Agreed there are a few Scouters who are brave and honest enough to attempt to change things but regrettably they will be “put out to pasture” before they can make the much needed changes. I feel that the “Sweep it under the carpet and it will go away” strategy will continue. Hopefully, I will be proved wrong but i somehow doubt it.

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