Christy Mc Cann is a former Provincial Commissioner of the North East Province and has recently concluded a successful period as International Commissioner. He has been an active Scouter all his life, working at every level in the Group and beyond. In 2008, he ran Jamboree 2008, a significant event to celebrate Scouting’s centenary and one of the largest events of its kind in Ireland.
He is a candidate for the role of Chief Scout and theirishscouter caught up with him recently to ask him some questions…
IS: What makes you think you have what it takes to be Chief Scout?
CMC: What it takes to be a Chief Scout is not about who you are but about what you are. Being a Scout first and foremost is the essential ingredient. A Chief Scout needs to have earned the trust and loyalty of others. Honesty and integrity are the corner stones of being a good role model for young people. I believe I have lived these values throughout my scouting life.
IS: Scouting Ireland has become a deeply divided association in recent years. What are you planning to do in order to unite the association?
CMC: Divisions in my mind are evident in any organization, stemming from people having a different vision. Indeed the divisions in Scouting Ireland in my view are created by a small minority. There are no issues with the youth members themselves. Many or most of the adults in Scouting Ireland today have been involved for a few short years and it is through combining our resources and working with all of the enthusiastic and dedicated members of Scouting Ireland that we can harvest the good within our organization and encourage a positive atmosphere in all we do.
IS: Are groups overrun with bureaucracy from National Office – is this necessary?
CMC: Do Scout Groups have to deal with bureaucracy? Yes – Some paperwork is necessary. The recent enactment into law of the Charities Act has had an effect. As groups are handling money and assets in particular, the rules have changed and compliance is important, to protect everyone’s interests, not least the members who manage this money and these assets. In other areas of administration in Scouting a simpler system is required but overall, perhaps a greater shared responsibility can be sought to assist Groups with dealing with these issues.
IS: Some motions (subsequently withdrawn) at National Council this year alluded to tensions between some professional staff and volunteers. Have the lines of demarcation become blurred?
CMC: Yes. Over the last few years we have had no strategy or vision. This led to blurred lines and a lack of any key performance indicators. The net result is that staff may decide what is important on the ground and the volunteers may have other priorities. Clear and defined demarcation lines will enhance productivity and a shared mutual respect.
IS: Why does an NMC resolution, approved by the NMC you sat on, on the topic of staff/volunteer disputes, appear to suggest that (1) volunteers are always the aggressor (2) disputes are always at the most serious end of the spectrum? Is it time for more nuanced resolutions on this sort of topic, especially in a volunteer-led association?
CMC: Disputes on any topic between any sectors be they volunteer to volunteer or staff to volunteer are always a delicate matter. We are talking about human beings who are passionate about their livelihood or their hobby or both. Whatever the dispute it must be dealt with confidentially and adhere to natural justice. We as members of Scouting being an example to our Youth Members must consider the human factor in all our deliberations in this area.
IS: What programme section is the most important?
CMC: Now that’s a tricky one….. All Programme sections are important the Beaver and Cub Sections being the foundation stone of learning with the older sections building on these foundations. However, arguably, the greatest benefit of Scouting to a young person is in the 14+ age range. From this age the personal journey and personal growth has the greatest impact as their future development and their ability to cope with life skills may depend on it.
IS: The Provincial structure works really well in some parts of the country (including the North East), yet seems to fail other parts (like Dublin). Is there a better structure and does it have to be ‘one size fits all’?
CMC: The Provincial structure in some provinces works very well and this is down to good management and the inclusiveness of every county. Dublin has a unique inherent challenge in its North and South side divide and concentration of so many groups in such a small area. The Provincial structure, reviewed carefully in the areas where it meets challenges, can operate successfully. As with every structure it must be considered, measured and consistently reviewed in order to be successful
IS: When did you last run a programme section?
CMC: I was a full time scouter for 19 years and moved on in 2001 to take on management roles within Scouting. As most of the family and extended family are so involved it is hard not to get sucked back in to help out as required attending annual camps, weekend activities with the scout and venture section and lending a hand within the Group as required. As another scouter once said to me ‘if you have a tow bar you can never leave’!!
IS: Scouting Ireland will run the World Rover Moot in 2021. Is this a vanity project gone wild or does Scouting Ireland have the skill set, links with external stakeholders and overall capability to successfully run such a mammoth project?
CMC: It is not a vanity project and it will do no harm for the morale of Scouting Ireland.
It is a mammoth task but well within our capabilities if planned and managed well. The forging of external links with sponsors and governmental agencies is the first task and the developing of the event management skills within our young people will enable Scouting Ireland deliver on this World event. Consider how the young venture and rover scouts of today are successfully managing and running the Camp 1-5 series… these are the young people who will be on hand to deliver the Moot in 2021.
IS: You headed up a large team that ran a jamboree in Ireland in 2008. It was the last one. Have we lost the ability and the courage to do activities on this scale? CMC: Punchestown 2008 was an event to celebrate the first 100 years of scouting in Ireland. A large team was formed and this event was delivered. An evaluation of the Jamboree was undertaken and a report was made available. Amongst the recommendations was the “capacity building” for similar such events. Unless we address this capacity building issue, such events are likely to struggle.
IS: The dated uniform worn by Scouts, Venture Scouts and Rover Scouts in particular is a significant barrier to entry to Scouting for a fairly large number of teenagers. Is it time for more variety in uniform options, to suit everyone? CMC: The time has come to review the uniform. A climate specific uniform was created for the recent World Scout Jamboree in Japan. It proved successful and the contingent looked smart, uniformed, comfortable and proud to wear it. Our uniform should make us feel proud and it should be fit for purpose.
IS: Do you think young people should have a vote on a new uniform?
CMC: Definitely, all members should have a say and if this means having a variety of uniforms based on age or activity so be it. The neckerchief will become the common denominator.
IS: Whose job is it to run Scouting Ireland?
CMC: Volunteer (management) led and supported by the staff. The organization has two strands, the business and the game. The business, which primarily happens during working hours and the game, that primarily happens at evenings and weekends. Scouting Ireland the company or Scouting Ireland the association!
Either way it needs to be a partnership of volunteers and office/ground staff.
IS: The reputation of the National Management Committee and the trust placed in it by the membership has been at an all-time low of late. What needs to happen to fix the NMC and restore its credibility?
CMC: The NMC need a good team lead (Chief Scout) and needs to be forward thinking, visionary and have a strong understanding of what is happening at local level. The conduit for information is two-way with members of the NMC discussing and debating to arrive at a united decision and delivering a clear, transparent message.
I would want the NMC to lead by example and earn the respect it deserves.
IS: Scouting has become very centralized in terms of decision-making. Do you approve of this?
CMC: No, The decisions that affect a local group should be made locally. This should include boundaries, disputes, finances, appointments, sanctions etc. With a strong County support this is possible. This may prove challenging for some Groups and Counties but with time and nurturing this will come.
IS: Does Dublin, as the largest single population center on the island have different needs from the rest of the country when it comes to Scouting?
CMC: Yes, Urban and rural scouting have their own specific needs and challenges. Location, access, population and local economics play a major factor and will determine the resources and opportunities available. Dublin as a large metropolitan area has greater possibilities and could afford to grow Scouting through its many parishes, colleges and minority communities.
IS: In terms of membership, Rover Scouts has failed – is there any point in continuing?
CMC: Yes we must continue with this section. The Rovers who are involved, have a dynamic culture and a willingness to develop and grow the section. A different approach to recruiting is needed and we can see the new benefits with the societies in colleges. The potential is there already. We just have to harness it and accept the challenge to work smarter and faster.
IS: Why is Scouting hemorrhaging teenagers in your view?
CMC: In my view we still have an image problem. While much has been done to change the public perception, lots more is needed. At teenage years there are lots of choices and the option to be in a structured organization with a dated uniform ‘doing good deeds all year round’ (as one non-Scouting teen put it to me once) may not be tempting. Yet those who remain with Scouting enjoy the reality of the many adventures and opportunities that do exist. These adventures and challenges are what are keeping our teenagers involved.
IS: Does Scouting have a coolness deficit?
CMC: Unfortunately yes, it is more apparent at the older end of the age range where the uniform presents some issues, together with that perception that our primary function in Scouting is to ‘help old ladies across the road’. Most of the cool stuff is not seen on the street but up on the hills and forests. Scouting is not for everybody but our best people to sell Scouting to potential members are the Scouts who are planning and implementing exciting and adventurous programmes for themselves.
IS: As the owner of a successful business, what is your thinking around Scouting’s relationship with business generally, but also with politicians, government departments, academia, etc. What do you think needs to happen in this area?
CMC: My thoughts are that Scouting is a great network of businesses and we should support each other where possible. I am aware that this may be perceived as a conflict of interest in some quarters but if the correct processes are in place these conflicts can be overcome. Scouting’s relationship with Government Departments and Business Networks and Academia should primarily be to ensure we get the credit and respect for the hours of work that volunteers do at no cost to the exchequer. The efforts, time and personal expense should be acknowledged. On the positive side our Scouting skills and achievements should read well on our CV’s and be seen as a major plus when seeking employment or promotion. Greater, more effective links and partnerships should be established to ensure these goals and exploration of other areas of partnership should be undertaken.
IS: Why does Scouting Ireland continue to have a deficit and why, with all the managers employed are we not better at controlling costs and exploring new revenue streams?
CMC: Whist we are not a profit making organization we are bound to control costs and live within our means. Our dependency on government grants is not ideal. We should set out a revenue-generation strategy to help us become more self-sufficient, although support from government is of course welcome. In recent times a greater effort in fundraising and growth to increase revenue stream has been positive and the contributions from the Outdoor Adventure Store/Scout shop (a company owned by Scouting Ireland) has helped us narrow the deficit. Much effort has been placed on keeping the membership fees down. To reduce the deficit some tough decisions may need to be made and areas of expenditure may need to be addressed and justified. There is always the potential for unforeseen costs and Scouting should plan for these. As you (theirishscouter) say, with the number of very capable managers we have employed I am sure they are focused on achieving this.
IS: What will you do in your first three months in the job?
CMC: I would start team building and engaging with the all the departments that contribute to the workings of the National Management Committee.
I would contact every Group to assess where they are at and where we as an organization can support and help with development..
I would share and show the value in what we are doing and drive a vision that will unite youth and adult members in order that they can collaborate together to build a sustainable and vibrant Scouting Ireland.
IS: Name a person you greatly admire in Scouting.
CMC: There are many and some have moved to the great campsite in the sky. I have come to admire Kiernan Gildea who has proved beyond doubt that the Scouting light will take a lot to be extinguished.
IS: You are just back from the World Jamboree in Japan. Why do you think fewer and fewer scouts are camping or indeed participating in any sort of summer camp?
CMC: An annual camp is to me the end result of a year of preparation, planning and plotting. The highlight of the Scouting year. A few barriers exist in some Scout Groups to ensuring a successful summer camp and we need to address these in some form. Scouters lack of available time e.g. having to spend time away from families and work: Cost of running a programmed filled camp: Lack of hard skills to cope with our climate: Cost of proper equipment: transport to and from camp: suitable campsites: Scouters not vetted or not having relevant training.
These challenges coupled with competing for the Scouts time during their summer holidays as they are involved with sports, clubs, summer work, the Gaeltacht etc., and the additional challenge of scouts not being included in the planning process and sourcing of locations etc. which limits their ownership of the activity and commitment to the ideal.
IS: Would you consider yourself to be an insider or an outsider?
CMC: I have worked within Scouting for many years but have the capacity to see things also from the outside. The many roles have brought me close to the heart of Scouting be it around young people or the so-called boardroom. By getting actively involved and respecting other people the feeling of either being on the inside or outside becomes a moot point.
IS: What do you do when you are not involved in Scouting?
CMC: My business keeps me occupied and finances my Scouting.
I get out of doors a lot, mostly to cycle the coastline or walk the dogs.
I enjoy being able to travel and visit a few places of sanctuary that I am fortunate to have.
Whatever time is left I use for sleeping!
Christy Mc Cann was in conversation with Garrett Flynn