Scouting Ireland and BREXIT?

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Voters across the United Kingdom will go to the polls tomorrow to cast a ballot in the referendum that will decide the future involvement of our nearest neighbour in the European Union.

The treaty that indoctrinated the rump of a once Global Empire into the great European project were signed in 1973, the same year that Ireland also joined what was then known as the EEC (European Economic Community).

Ever-closer union and perceived intrusive regulations by bureaucrats in Brussels have been a growing source of resentment to the British public since the early days. Lately, immigration has become one of the central topics as the UK grapples with high levels of people from across the EU wishing to work and live, mostly in England (also the heartland of the most strident opponents to continued membership of the EU).

But what has all this to do with Scouting Ireland?

Scouting is non-party political, but as an entity that operates in society, we are far from immune from the ebbs and flows of politics, legislation and public opinion. Of course there are a lot of people in Scouting Ireland who do seem to think that we operate in a vacuum, untouched and uninfluenced by wider society. Clunky attempts to network with external stakeholders and cringe-inducing media appearances provide ample evidence of this inward-looking culture that some key figures in the association are working hard to help us shake off.

Scouting Ireland is unique in the world in that it is the only member of WOSM that operates within the jurisdiction of another WOSM member (unless somebody knows better), given the historical precedence of legacy association the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland having had a strong presence in Northern Ireland for many decades.

There are (for example) several BSA Scout Groups operating in various Middle Eastern Countries and a couple of Scout Association groups dotted around Germany, but these are stand alone groups, supported by their NSO’s, so quite different to the scenario in Ireland where the greater part of an entire Scout Province is in another country.

If the British electorate votes to exit the EU tomorrow, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny is quoted as saying that border controls may need to be reinstated between NI and ROI. As the various treaties are gradually unpicked between the United Kingdom and the European Union, what impact is this likely to have on cross-border trade, grants for youth groups, cross-border cooperation and even simple access for members of Scouting Ireland into one or other jurisdiction for events and other activities.

Given that WOSM is not the EU, the Scout Association in the UK will presumably continue within the current structures at Regional level, with no notice being taken of what political bloc (or none) that a given member country belongs to.

As the involvement of CBSI in Northern Ireland pre-dates the entry of the UK (and Ireland) into the EEC, it is also reasonable to assume that there will be no major implications in the short term, although as legislation, guidelines and other regulatory frameworks in both jurisdictions begins to differ increasingly over time, wildly different standards in a whole range of areas may begin to apply, creating yet more administrative headaches for local scouters.

Perhaps the biggest question will be how Britain and Ireland will be able to continue with the Common travel area post a UK exit from the EU. The agreement, which in various forms stretches back to 1923 provides for minimal constraints to the movement of people within the group of islands that includes Ireland, Britain, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

If Ireland were to join the Schengen zone (a mainland Europe common travel area), would this make travel for summer camps to Britain and NI just more hassle versus a hop to France or Belgium?

It is fairly safe to assume that nobody in Scouting Ireland has given this a great deal of thought. Until last week, the prospect of Brexit looked remote at best. As things currently stand in the opinion polls, it is too close to call.

The implications for Ireland as a nation are very significant if Brexit goes ahead. It will open up several opportunities, but it will also present several challenges and Scouting will not be left immune.

The irish scouter has a view on Brexit (most people do). But in a departure from the constant sanctimonious bleating by charity industry executives and self absorbed millennials on social media, the view at this desk is that it is up to the citizens and voting residents of the United Kingdom (not the rest of us) to make a decision. The patronizing commentary, I am sure they can do without.

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