Cathal Cocoman will seek election at April’s National Council as an Ordinary Member of the National Management Committee. If he is successful, he will be one of, if not the youngest ever member of this committee. The Irish Scouter caught up with Cathal recently to ask him some questions….
IS: It’s an obvious question Cathal, but what has motivated you to seek election as a member of the National Management Committee?
CC: I believe it’s important that Scouting is led by a broad mix of people, including younger people. When the opportunity came for me to put my name forward, I thought I should be prepared to commit to something I believe in. I’m not a seasoned political scouter, having concentrated more on local Scouting to date. I hope that will allow me to offer some fresh perspective.
IS: If elected to the NMC this April, you stand to be one of, if not the youngest member of the committee ever. What do you say to people who might suggest a younger scouter should be out in the hills or on the water and not sitting in a committee room?
CC: I know plenty of more experienced scouters who would also run a mile from a committee, so this is not about age in my view. But a youth input is important into the decisions that, more often than not, tend to get made by committees in Scouting. I enjoy active scouting, but I’m also passionate about contributing to how the association works.
It’s also reasonable to make the case that people from different age ranges sometimes see things in a different way. So there is a role for a youth voice at every level of the association.
IS: It is often said that ‘power corrupts’. How do you intend trying to stay grounded and true to your beliefs in the sometimes heated world of Scouting Ireland politics?
CC: I think that it is important when going forward for any position of responsibility, to remember that it is about service and representation.
The entire idea of it being an office ‘of power’ is where some of the perceived problems with the NMC in the past have stemmed from. Our strongest NMC members have known this and contributed not just out of a desire to make a positive impact but also a belief that the skillset they bring to the table is one that is needed.
IS: We talk a lot in Scouting about ‘youth participation’, but are we really any good at it when all is said and done?
CC: Although some people may disagree with me here, I really think we’ve come a long way in terms of youth participation. If we reflect on the past few years there have been three major national events run almost completely by Venture Scouts and Rover Scouts as part of the ‘Patrols in Action’ series. Two of our youth commissioners are under 26, we have had three successful under 26 NMC members and now the new Equality, Inclusiveness and Diversity Facilitator is also under 26. When we look at large national events such as Phoenix and Jamoige there is always a large amount of Venture Scouts contributing towards marking and delivering bases. There is always room for improvement, but we are most certainly on the right track.
IS: Scouting suffers from an image problem with younger people, especially those of scout and venture scout age. Membership of both those sections nationally is relatively small. Do you see any solutions to these challenges?
CC: As someone who has only in the last year moved out of ventures, I don’t think that the lack of membership in this area is primarily due to an image problem.
Image is a factor and the communications team is working on this. But the real issue is many Venture Scouts start when they are in 4th Year in secondary school. In my local group for example, the majority of our Ventures will stay the full length of 4th year (it is a reasonably relaxed year compared to preceeding years). The problem arises in 5th and especially 6th year. Activities in Ventures usually require weekends away. For a Venture Scout hoping to do well in their Leaving Cert this just isn’t feasible.
Venture groups are, by age definition supposed to be led by 6th years, peopled by 5th years and joined by 4th years. However, due to the real pressures of life, the 4th years tend to be forced to do all of this, meaning a drop-off rate and (arguably) a lack of take up in Rovers. This is an issue that needs to be fixed, and an issue I (as a recent Rover and someone who knows a whole bunch of people affected by it) can hopefully focus on addressing.
IS: Research carried out by Scouting Ireland a few years ago seemed to clearly suggest that the uniform (admittedly the current design as opposed necessarily to the concept of a uniform) was presenting a barrier to entry for many young people. How do we overcome this in your view?
CC: From my experience of talking to youth members about the uniform, the uniform is trying to do too many things at once, and as a consequence is failing to do its main job which is to make us feel proud to be scouts.
I would propose the idea of a formal uniform which has the solid aim to make us feel proud to wear it and a separate uniform that is designed for the practicality of scouting. Wider selection is difficult due to price for parents and young people. We need to settle on one, or a formal and informal set at a compromise.
Would you advocate all youth members getting a vote on future uniform reviews?
Definitely, all members should be given a range of options to choose from before the design is finalised, but there is a need to make sure that we are not just following trends and that uniform is fit for purpose.
IS: There seems to be a very definite undercurrent of homophobia and sexism in certain circles in scouting. How can the association tackle this challenge in your view?
CC: Although I do believe the vast majority of scouts are moral and kind people I think some recent events have shown there is a minority of people who don’t see the same way, I think the NMC’s recent decision to appoint Lydia O’Connor as the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Facilitator is a step in the right direction but there needs to be a continued movement along this trajectory.
IS: Scout skills and programme quality generally appears to fluctuate across the country and across different groups. In a world where scouters are balancing work, family and other social commitments with their scouting, is there a way to enhance programme quality where this is needed?
CC: It is true that across the country leaders are busy. There are excellent resources available from all programme teams and from my experience some groups are perhaps not aware of these resources. This is a problem that could be easily addressed.
But more importantly there needs to be an incentive set up, such as the Credly initiative that has previously been discussed by the Communications Team to allow an online credit scheme that acts as an immediate reference for skills earned by leaders in Scouting Ireland.
I believe that as Scouting Ireland becomes more modernized this system is definitely something we should be looking towards. It is also necessary for support to reach groups that are struggling. There may be resources available that they didn’t know were there.
Scouting is not a corporation, so we do not want bland identikit groups. Every group is unique in its own way. But where help is needed, or required, Scouting needs to get better at sharing that support.
IS: What is your view on the Provincial Structure? Does it work? Is there room for improvement and if so in what way?
CC: The provincial system is a resource to Scouting Ireland. It’s not perfect, but it does perform a range of functions. The ‘Vision 2020’ idea to eliminate the provincial system was arguably rash and not representative of everyone’s view. I think that some of the decision making in Scouting Ireland has become too centralized. The key to improving these systems is to move some of the more local decisions back to the Provinces (PMST) and counties (CMT), but most importantly, to the groups themselves.
IS: Rover Scouts is a fantastic concept and it works really well in some countries. But in Ireland we’ve let it fall between stools and it’s little more than a sideshow exclusively for the elite (i.e.; scoutaholic) youth membership. Is this a fair assessment in your view?
CC: I don’t think that necessarily as an association we have let it “fall between stools” if we look at other associations and clubs the 18+ age range is always lacking compared to younger age ranges. Again I come back to the fact that a lot of Leaving Certificate students in the lead up to their Leaving Cert will have given up their hobbies and during the whole bustle of getting organized for college will have left the idea to side and that’s why we tend to get left with a group of very dedicated Rovers (or ‘scoutaholic’s’) because they are the ones that picked up the book again.
This is where the University Clubs and Society’s will really make a large impact in giving the option for Rovers to get re-involved. This is where I really believe we will begin to regain and retain more youth members that have moved on from Scouting.
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?
CC: I don’t believe this is a vanity project. It will strengthen the confidence of Scouting Ireland if correctly executed.
It is a mammoth task but well within our abilities if planned and managed as well as the recent ‘Patrol in Action’ camps have been run by the Ventures and Rovers who will be the scouters involved when this event takes place.
There will be the added challenge of corresponding with government officials and in some cases sponsors in order to deliver a first class world event. I think we will not only do it, we will do it in style.
IS: Whose job is it to run Scouting Ireland?
CC: To keep it short, Everyone’s. The great thing about scouts is right across the spectrum of age and experience everyone is given a chance to lead from Sixers, PL’s, Venture Executives, Rover Advisors and all the way up to a National level. This gives people the opportunity to take responsibility for the running of Scouting Ireland in a lot of different ways.
IS: Why does everyone seem to want to bash the NMC when it comes to National Council?
CC: I don’t believe that it’s a matter of bashing anyone. I think that holding those to account who we have elected to decision making roles is part and parcel of being involved in a democratic association such as Scouting Ireland. If the decisions taken are reasonable and based on sound rationale where the membership has been consulted when this is appropriate, then the NMC should have no difficulty standing over any decisions which they have made.
IS: What will you do in your first three months in the job?
CC: I’m not going to say I’ll be straight in making a difference. I’ll be one of 20 members a lot of whom have been there for years and have their own plans that they’re still working on.
I hope to evaluate firstly what is being worked on and to then ask lots of questions of members, give feedback to the committee on what the members I meet think of each project being worked on.
But I would like to see some work started on the identity of Adventure Skills outside of Scouts especially in terms of Rovers. I think it will be an incentive for Rovers to stay if they are able to use the skills learned in Scouts as actual credit in the work place. But mainly I want to provide feedback on the ongoing work of the NMC.
IS: Name a person you greatly admire in Scouting.
CC: In terms of scouting hands down I would have to say my group leader Jo Coy. I don’t even know how long Jo has been in the role but I know it’s as long as I’ve been around.
To be that committed and true to something is astonishing. Not only has she run the gigantic group that Naas is but she’s also given support to the many Ventures that have done Venture Challenge from our group and the Rover Scouts who have completed the Explorer Belt from our group.
Even Rovers doing the belt from Groups abroad! Finding her in the den one evening with the ingredients for an Irish stew and waiting for four Portuguese Rover Scouts to come along is something you’d only hear of from a scout. She is a big part of the reason I’m putting my name forward right now. If she can run that large a group for so many years, I think the least I can do is support the views of groups like this all over Ireland at the NMC.
IS: What do you do when you are not involved in Scouting?
CC: My study at the moment keeps me busy, but I am in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains and it is definitely somewhere I like to be when not working or studying.