Ollie Kehoe is the newly appointed Interim National Secretary, having taken office in October, succeeding Jimmy Cunningham.
The role of National Secretary will come up for election at the next meeting of National Council in April next year. One assumes that Mr. Kehoe will be running as a candidate.
Ollie Kehoe is an accomplished scouter with a wealth of experience at various levels in the association, including current NMC experience, where he is an ordinary member. He is also the former holder of a key Provincial role in the powerhouse South East Province. Theirishscouter recalls bumping into him at Jamboree 2008, where he appeared to be heavily involved in the organization of this large and successful event.
Kehoe is an impressive individual by any measure, with some personal challenges overcome with stamina and stoicism in recent times. He comes across as a strong personality and someone with clarity of thought and determination to succeed.
He will need such qualities in the role of National Secretary.
The secretary role in Scouting Ireland is unglamorous, labour intensive and mostly thankless. Much of the work is difficult and yet largely invisible to the average scouter. The workload is immense. New ‘Deputy National Secretary’ roles have been agreed by the NMC (as yet to be ratified by National Council). These additions to the team will help spread a gargantuan list of tasks, although as yet there is little evidence of prospective candidates beating a path to head up dull areas like ‘Corporate Governance’ or poison chalices such as ‘Disputes Resolution’.
National representatives and in particular those in the key portfolio roles such as Secretary, Treasurer and the Chief Commissioners, sometimes have a tendency to ‘go native’, being successfully house-trained by the permanent bureaucracy that in reality controls the national association (the NMC have been largely irrelevant to decision-making in scouting for some time. Increasingly in recent years, even the National Officers don’t always have the full picture as to what is going on).
It takes a strong personality indeed to resist the dull hand of the bureaucrats (who to be fair have endless time, and plenty of resources to hand to drive their agenda). Not every candidate is able to pursue a manifesto that truly serves the interests of the members when up against this challenge, not to mention the constraints of a fixed term and limited hours per week in which to focus on Scouting.
The elections in 2015 and 2016 gave hope to many in the association that things were finally starting to look up, after a prolonged period of centralization, intense politics and Machiavellian skullduggery at national level that demeaned the role of volunteers, eroded the status of the Scout Group as the centre of scouting and left a lot of members feeling disillusioned.
The distinctive whiff of nepotism and the rather more difficult to ignore stenches of misogyny and indeed homophobia that have pervaded in recent years were a rather too common feature in an association that seemed to be loosing its way nationally, despite a vibrant local network of volunteer-led groups across the country.
Whilst the tone has most definitely changed for the better and new leadership figures have heralded in a new era of promised transparency, fairness and general decency (let’s call it ‘scout like behaviour’ – remember that?), the fact is that the positive storyline has yet to trickle into some of the darker recesses of our national machinery.
The National Secretary will play a critical role in shaking up some of the structures and altering some of the practices that have fuelled a deep mistrust of and skepticism towards the National Management Committee and other national structures, including National Office.
Tensions between volunteers and professional staff – once virtually unheard of – have become rife in a national apparatus that nobody seems to be managing with any degree of strategic intent or indeed any obvious signs of competency.
The new National Secretary is not on record as yet in setting out his vision for the role and his term in it. This is a regrettable consequence of a mid-term changing of the guard and thus the elevation of a new secretary became a decision for the NMC and not the electorate at National Council.
The association has tended to have more seat-warmers in the National Secretary role to date than actual doers. In part, this is down to the extraordinary levels of difficulty around building consensus on key issues and getting things done in an environment where inertia is the default position. Necessary projects like a root and branch review into how we manage professional resources, with a view to ascertaining the true measurable value this big ticket expense delivers, will encounter fierce resistance for the simple reason that there are big wins in savings and resource allocation to be had, not to mention significant gaps in terms of delivery. It’s not in everyone’s interest to deliver change (or savings) in this area.
Disputes resolution, as a future article from theirishscouter will outline, is another area that is broken and needs a substantial overhaul by pragmatic scouters who understand how the association works on the ground. Ollie Kehoe combines strong management experience with a firm grounding in local scouting, so it will be interesting to see what plans unfold in this area.
Our new secretary was not available to speak with theirishscouter (one is given to understand that he is er, not a huge fan), so it may be closer to election time before a clearer picture is available that will help members understand where he sees the priorities in what is one of the more powerful jobs in the association.
In any event, theirishscouter wishes him well in the role. It is a difficult job and like any new entrant to a senior position, the Secretary deserves all of our support as he gets to grips with a full desk of issues.