A new chapter for Scouting in Ireland

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On September 12th, a venerable but directionless national entity, its very purpose called into question by its members and with many of its glories seemingly behind it, engaged in an election to choose a future leader. The rank outsider managed to secure victory in a bitterly contested four-candidate race. The future success of the organization now arguably hangs in the balance…..

Whilst the British Labour Party were engaged in THIS election campaign, Scouting Ireland was having one of their own. Although Scouting has seen division in recent years, the camaraderie and general atmosphere at the meeting of National Council, once again held in Dublin’s RDS, was by general consensus, warm and friendly, culminating in some electrifying scenes when the outcome of the election was announced.

The four candidates for the role of Chief Scout, each one different but each one a committed scouter of integrity, had travelled the country for several weeks and set out their respective stalls. In the final analysis, the membership could however only choose one and choose they did, electing Christy Mc Cann.

Division, or more to the point, a conscious decision to heal division was clearly front of mind when the new Chief Scout released a purple balloon into the packed auditorium and in doing so urged everyone to ‘let go’ of problems, divisions and entrenched disagreements that have plagued Scouting Ireland for more than half a decade. It was a powerful statement and a magnanimous one.

An early comment from Sean Farrell, one of the other three candidates, displayed equal magnanimity, when he urged every member to unite behind the new Chief Scout. A measure of the man, but also a deep insight into the soul of Scouting Ireland.

It can be difficult to remember, in the midst of those strategic and political squabbles we seem to enjoy so much, that we in Scouting have far, far more in common with each other than we have differences. At some level we all realize this, but our new Chief Scout seems determined from day one to gently remind us all of this regularly and by implication, the opportunities that working together (REALLY working together) presents for some quantum leaps in how we do things in the coming years..

Theirishcouter has spoken at length with many scouters who are the ideological polar opposites to each other, only to discover when a couple of extra questions are asked, that they in fact have very little dividing them.

Taking our massive collective energy and turning it towards collaboration, shared visions and a focus on what we all agree (and we agree on about 98% of things, most of the time), will unleash a vast wave of passion and positive outcomes, that will achieve more for Scouting (and more positivity generally), than some of the time-consuming and ultimately fruitless arguments and debates we tend to tie ourselves up in.

To paraphrase the US Vice President Joe Biden, when commenting on America’s potential as a nation ‘if we just got out of our own way more often, we would be able to achieve so much more’.

There are of course cultural differences in Scouting. The way a Scout Group in suburban Dublin operates differs in some ways to how a Pipe Band Group in Waterford works – many of these differences are part of the cultural tapestry that makes Scouting Ireland such a great organization. Some differences like the uniforms and equipment inventories of an inner city group versus a Sea Scout group in a coastal town, differ as of necessity.

Some groups prefer traditional ways with ridge tents, excellence in camp craft and campfires, other groups favour dome tents, lightweight cooking equipment and movie night via an ipad on the side of a mountain, miles from anywhere.

Some scouts are proud of their uniform and wear it whenever they can. For other scouts, a hoodie with their group name printed on it, worn to school and out in the community, is how they express their pride at being part of Ireland’s biggest and greatest youth organization.

There should be a place for everyone in Scouting. No style of or type of Scouting is better than others. No scouter’s commitment trumps that of his or her colleagues. No ideas or viewpoints should be off-limits, if the genuine intent is to make things better. One group’s desire to have things their way, should not preclude another group from also achieving this goal.

The ability to make all of this happen rests with every member. But the tone and approach that tends to be set at national level, can have a hugely positive impact in inspiring scouts and scouters everywhere.

A leader in Scouting needs integrity but also energy. Our new Chief Scout has both. In working in the coming months to help facilitate a vision for our great association, the Chief Scout, along with the other members of the National Management Committee and indeed other leaders across the association, will need to formulate some broad viewpoints in terms of direction of travel around this vision, without being prescriptive or pre-determining the route (the detail will need input from all members, if the vision is to gain not just widespread support, but if it is to be widely and effectively implemented). A good-natured disposition, willingness to be open and a sense of humour, will also greatly help set the tone for a new chapter in Scouting Ireland.

If we can all figure out how to work together, unite behind our new Chief Scout and be prepared to recognize and accommodate the views of others, when it comes to how scouting works, looks, sounds and appears, we could all be in for a very exciting and very productive time in the coming years.

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