Time for change

miller-john-one-rotten-apple-amongst-other-green-apples

Another National Council looms and with it, another concerted effort to subvert the democratic process is underway.

As usual, it is coordinated by the same group of self-appointees, who mask blatant self interest under the guise of being the real ‘guardians’ of Scouting.

The last time this group tried to damage a Chief Scout candidate, they did so in spectacular fashion in 2015 and ended up damaging not just their intended target, but the other candidate too.

This time around the focus is the current Chief Scout. The vehicle is a review into safeguarding that has highlighted some apparent glaring gaps in how the association manages such issues. The purpose behind these antics can merely be the subject of conjecture, though the damage inflicted on the entire association has left their 2015 project very much in the shade and simultaneously undermined their entire ‘raison d’être’ – or at least the one they state when pressed.

That Scouting Ireland’s national association is suffering from a severe deficit of management on a day-to-day basis is not news to members. But it is perhaps news to wider society, now getting a glimpse into just how dysfunctional our management structure is. Alas, it won’t end with the current series of revelations either.

One faction in Scouting’s ongoing culture war has cynically and ruthlessly exploited a very serious case in a most poisonous fashion, ostensibly in order to undermine another.

Some senior volunteers in the association may have questions to answer and soul searching to undertake. However the narrative being pedaled by friends of the association’s senior employees that professional staff were somehow hoodwinked or given the runaround by ‘scheming volunteers’ simply doesn’t hold up to even cursory levels of analysis.

The unedifying sideshow of backward social conservatives squabbling with forward thinking liberals around the direction Scouting Ireland should take will add colour to the usual dullness of the nowadays sanitized and dumbed down national council event. But this is a distraction to the wider strategic question that recent revelations pose.

Scouting Ireland has slid into a rut of bad management over the past half decade. The slide has been gradual and several factors have driven it. The casual disregard for the associations Constitution & Rules, the relations between volunteer scouters and professional staff – at an historic all-time low, the botched ‘Vision 2020’ initiative, the astonishing inaction around the introduction of the Charities Act and an increasingly weakened Board of Directors unable to nip any of this in the bud, have all played a part in getting us to the present predicament.

Strong personalities and massive egos have played a part too, spurred on by weak resistance and encouraged by cronies as competent board members left in frustration, to be replaced increasingly (albeit thankfully not exclusively) by seat warmers and ‘yes’ men (and women).

The national association contrasts markedly with the local groups of Scouting Ireland, thriving in communities in all corners of the country. There have been more than a few wry remarks in recent days about how heavy-handed staff and pontificating senior volunteers would be very quick to condemn a local scout group for any sign of bad behavior, yet all seem to be running for cover in the face of a scandal on their own piece of Scouting turf.

The Chief Scout, a fundamentally decent individual and probably too honest for his own good, has been caught in the crossfire of a mess that was not of his making. He has stepped in to try and steady the ship, whilst those who’s actual job it is to do so have spent their time fabricating meetings with their chums and trying to cover their own asses.

There will likely be senior volunteer casualties from this debacle. There may be senior management casualties too. The public is now aware of what the membership have known for years. More revelations are coming.

Senior, elected volunteers in Scouting Ireland increasingly lack the calibre to undertake the complex and arduous task of being a director of a board. There is more to it than the ability to wear a neckerchief and get misty-eyed at the sight of a flag.

Major briefs such as the Chief Commissioner roles and that of National Secretary are simply too large and unwieldy to be undertaken by a single person, regardless of calibre. Any management restructure needs to take account of this and ensure volunteer roles fit volunteer bandwidth.

The board needs a comprehensive restructure where, notwithstanding the need for a youth presence and some element of regional representation, the candidates should meet certain minimum requirements in terms of qualifications and corporate or similar experience.

Board members recruited from outside Scouting or at the very least from among the ranks of qualified persons, who have not served at national level for five or more years (or ever), should make up 25% of the board.

Board members should be there to uphold the law, the constitution and the rules. They should advocate for the membership in general. They should challenge office holders and those responsible for specific portfolios. They should have far stronger oversight of key staff and set KPI’s for the Chief Executive Officer.

Scouting Ireland’s senior professional staff also needs to be reviewed and in some instances replaced. The present CEO’s term ends in early 2019. The next CEO should be an external candidate with a long and proven track record in management, not scouting. The present occupant has a track record at the latter, but has proven to be simply out of his depth at the former, in this writers view.

A new CEO should guide the implementation of all policy. Volunteers and staff alike should report to her (or him). The CEO should be accountable – truly accountable – to the board.

The present structure where staff and volunteers are locked in a constant turf war has resulted from factors set out in a previous irishscouter article. The people who should be mitigating this are presently exacerbating it. It needs to stop.

A CEO with the right sort of experience and gravitas will quickly earn the respect of and thus the right to lead volunteers and staff together. This will greatly streamline workflows, it will streamline accountabilities and it will neutralize this tit for tat squabbling that presently absorbs inordinate amounts of time of both staff and volunteers.

 

A significant leap forward in transparency is needed in Scouting Ireland. The national association is the servant of the membership in local groups. This ethos has been completely lost in recent years. Present management and a good number of the current leadership; simply don’t see things this way.

The membership for their part now needs to demand it and demand the removal of those who resist or put roadblocks in place to avoid it.

The spectacle of unelected individuals unilaterally binning properly submitted motions to 2018 National Council, that don’t meet with their personal approval is a timely example (and one of many) of the utter contempt in which local members are held by some occupants of national office*.

*These antics have happened previously too and have been verified by a source.

The national association has no function outside serving the interests of members. It needs to get better at articulating what it does and the value it generates, but it also needs to deliver more, deliver it better and deliver it in a transparent manner.

Salaries of senior staff, membership of committees, participants in foreign junkets, issuance of awards and the people involved in deciding on them are just a few examples of where more information must be shared with members.

Scouting Ireland national office is not a missile base (despite the incendiary revelations from this week in the press). It is a youth organization funded by member registration fees and taxpayers. There should be few secrets. Questions and critique should be welcomed. Directors with the appropriate qualifications and experience will understand this and ensure it is delivered upon.

 

This is a bad week indeed for Scouting. But from every crisis comes opportunity.

Humility and honest leadership will be needed to navigate our great association through a tricky series of soul-searching questions, a frank and honest acceptance that mistakes – serious mistakes have been made – and on to an ambitious restructure that gets us back – truly back – to the aspirations we all signed up to when the association was established in 2004.

The Chief Scout, Christy Mc Cann is decent, honorable and a competent leader. He is not a manager, nor an administrator, nor a PR or legal expert. But we did not elect him for any of these things.

We need a leader with integrity to get us back on the right road after what has been a torrid few weeks. The current Chief Scout embodies much of what is good about Scouting Ireland. We should support him and equally signal with clarity our expectations for demonstrably better governance to manifest itself within weeks, if not days of Saturday’s meeting.

 

It takes years, decades to build reputations. They can be severely tarnished, if not destroyed in a matter of minutes. What Scouting Ireland does next will be watched by many outside the organization.

Let’s hope we take the right steps.

38 thoughts on “Time for change”

  1. Garrett most of us grow up ..You should try it. The article is as ale serving as I have seen in a few days. post is such a gross distortion and full of inaccuracies that I hope you will apologise for it one day. You were part if NMC. You quit.Get over it.

  2. Frank, thanks indeed for your comment. The scouters are not in this tent – they are in their scout groups. They just pay for the tent, they don’t get to enter. And if the tent is on fire Frank, you are looking in the wrong place for the matches.

    It is the culture of secrecy and reluctance to stand up and express viewpoints that has us where we are today. This is not CBSI and its not SAI. Its increasingly not Scouting Ireland either. Urgent change of course needed.

    Dermot, your reference to serving ale is particularly unkind, given I am about eight hours drive from the nearest pint.

  3. Ultimately, and regretably, our Chief Scout made a serious error of judgement in privately meeting the alleged rapist and then compounded that error by failing to both keep records and disclose the meeting to their own consultant.

    The ‘withholding of funding’ is a clear message from Government ministers that resignations are expected.

    Sadly, I am forced to agree.

    1. And you think you’re part of some ‘inner circle’ that knows more?

      Is any part of the statement I made above in regards to the Chief Scout’s actions untrue?

      Is the failure to re-vet an adult member, when advised to do so by Gardai untrue?

      Is the former National Secretary’s undocumented meeting with an alleged rapist untrue?

      Is the threat to withhold government funding untrue?

      Put your money where your mouth is and tell us what facts are missing?

      1. Hello Eleanor.

        No, I can categorically assure you I am not part of any inner circle. I am just a member of Scouting Ireland who is tired of poor management and paying through the nose for it.

        It is not for me to definitively state what happened and what did not in a highly sensitive case. There is a full internal investigation underway. I think the investigation should be allowed to conclude. Most people would accept that press coverage (even Irish Times press coverage) can contain an incomplete story, inaccuracies and blatant untruths.

        Notwitstanding the Times coverage is largely factual, there are errors and it does not reflect the full picture.

        What I am seeking to do in this article is to look past one issue and examine the wider landscape in which this issue has come to the fore, the reasons for the deterioration of standards in how our association is run and what we (the membership and the leadership) need to do about it in my view.

        I believe there is more to our management deficit than just safeguarding. Important though this highlighted case is and important though it is that those who made errors of judgement or failed to do their job be held accountable, it is also an opportune time to set out other management failings.

        One cock up looks like a mistake. A couple look like incompetence. A litany begins to look like structural change is needed.

      2. Did I miss the part where we find out how that “advice” from the Gardai was presented and recorded? I only saw that reference in the IT…and I thought vetting was the responsibility of the staff, not the Chief.

    2. Sorry Dermot for the delayed response – family first.

      If ‘self serving’ as you put it, means advocating for better transparency in our association and calling out substandard work, then yes I am happy with that label. I’m not entirely sure what other context you could be using it in (do tell).

      Was that you I saw on the six one news? (election coming up, is there?)

      Hope you are well.

  4. Wow, I go to live in Africa for a couple of years and the Association falls apart. What is really going on. Time for an audit by Deloitte or PCW similar to that they carry out on NGOs in the aid sector.

  5. Garret – my apologies, I should have been clearer, my remarks were addressed to Dermot who appeared to suggest that you didn’t have all the facts.

    I have no doubt this is true, however facts we do have are a damning indictment of our leadership.

    The IRFU have shown more courage and leadership in recent days than Scouting Ireland did yesterday.

  6. Eleanor sorry for only replying now just saw your post. All my comments were based on facts in the public domain. Garrett has been playing same time for years. He doesn’t like some staff. All the public evidence is that staff behaved impeccably on this while Senior Volunteers whom Garrett is championing didn’t.

  7. Unfortunately the boys on the hill have fu … messed up. Their internal politics, wrapped in purple neckos has given way to one of their own handing a reporter a report, in my eyes this was a deliberate action to rock the NMC. It has rocked the association.
    The groups we will pay the price.

  8. In this instance i dont understand your comment. Garrett has been engaged from a distance in a constant knocking exercise.Dermot

  9. Dermot,

    I’m sure you understand the expression!

    I don’t agree with Garretts point of view. Neither do I agree with name-calling and the like.

    Let’s debate the issues and not the personalities.

    There is no other open forum available for debate on this issue, and so I thank Garret for doing that.

    I can’t comment in regards to paid staff either good or bad. I don’t feel it’s reasonable to do so, particularly when they are unable to respond. Managing my own staff is enough without worry about someone else’s team.

    However, elected volunteers can and should be held to be accountable.

    It rather sticks in the craw that groups are getting communications warning us of dire consequences if we don’t pin up Safeguarding statements and risk assessments in our Dens, when those we expect to show leadership don’t understand the basics of procedure.

    You spoke well on Prime Time, though in truth SI got an easy time of it.

  10. Dermot,

    To paraphrase your (in no way self-serving) appearance on national TV last night ‘if people in Scouting make decisions, then they need to take responsibility and/or be held accountable’. I agree.

    Where we seem to disagree is that you believe this should be confined to volunteers.

    My article is not about the revelations in the national press, but rather a clear decline in management standards in our association in recent years (I detail what I mean by this in the article) and what to do about it.

    On the topic of the revelations in the national press, I will await the conclusion of due process – I know this is a little out of fashion at present. The details in the public domain may not reflect the full story.

    Living outside the state is a bit of a red herring I would argue. I’m not the only member who lives outside the state.

    1. I actually said when people hold elected positions they need to be accountable. It should apply to all. All should have a right to defend themselves. That is not available to the staff that you consistently attack. The fact is the NMC has displayed NO leadership on this matter with ONLY the National Secretary and Treasurer addressing the matter at all. I am not continuing this with you as I genuinely find your attacks on staff offensive, disingenuous and very damaging to them and Scouting Ireland. I am beginning to believe that you simply don’t care.

      1. Hi Dermot – I find this post very rich coming from you. I remember reading a tweet of yours recently where you described how awful Tusla were – something to do with their arrogance I think you said.

        Can you explain why you are allowed to be ‘offensive’ to the people of Tusla but Garrett can’t raise any questions about Scouting Ireland?

        At least Garrett has gone to some effort to substantiate his claims.

        I haven’t really had the opportunity to read your social media commentary at any great length but I am often surprised by the tone of some of the pieces that I do read. They often don’t have the tone, or content, that I would associate with a Scout. And that is without reference to your constant barrage against Garrett on this website.

  11. Dermot, I have avoided highlighting in public the blatant conflict of interest you have when it comes to defending senior management and their close personal friends on the NMC. But your relentless one-sided cheerleading is starting to get embarrassing.

    Members are entitled to question how our association funds are spent and are entitled to question the service levels received from the national entity.

    The vast majority of professional staff in national office do their job in many instances above and beyond the call of duty and you are absolutely correct (as is Eleanor), should be left to do it.

    Those in very senior roles however, who stray into policy making as has been the trend in recent years, need to be prepared to take the critique that comes with the power.

    1. What is the “blatant conflict of interest you (Dermot) have when it comes to defending senior management”. Considering Dermot went on Prine Time to talk on the issue, any such blatent conflicts of interest should be made public.

      1. What Garrett is getting at is that I have been friends of John Lawlor for 30+ years and that my wife works for Scouting Ireland. She worked for CBSI when I met her nearly 30 years ago. It never stopped me speaking the truth then and it doesn’t now. I have bern friendly with the Chief and CcAr for about 20 years.

      2. What Garrett is getting at is that I have been friends of John Lawlor for 30+ years and that my wife works for Scouting Ireland. She worked for CBSI when I met her nearly 30 years ago. It never stopped me speaking the truth then and it doesn’t now. I have bern friendly with the Chief and CcAr for about 20 years.

  12. I think SI is right to attend the Oireachtas Committee and I wish the delegation well. The truth is tho we need to recognize the serious mistakes made and I hope National Council will face up to the issues. I know some have criticised me ( mainly behind my back) but I stand over raising the matter at National Council in April and then dealing with issue on Prime Time.

  13. Congratulations to the 4 person delegation from Scouting Ireland at today’s Oireachtas Committee. They did a great job and truly helped in my opinion. John Lawlor, Ian Elliot, Martin Burbridge and Kieran McCann. Real leaders.

  14. I hope you will forgive an outside voice for getting involved here — out of care and love for the Scout Movment in general and also for Scouting Ireland in particular.

    As for the merits, or lack thereof, of volunteers and staff in Scouting Ireland, I will not join the discussion — my own experiences have invariably been positive, both when visiting campsites in Ireland (well, only Larch Hill, actually), speaking to visitors from Scouting Ireland to Denmark, or meeting with SI volunteers and staff at international Scouting events. As for the current situation in SI, I do not even have all the facts that have been made public, so any comment (beyond a strong support to both SI and its volunteers) would be presumptuous.

    There is, however, one point where I feel I may add a perspective from the outside Scout Movement. You write that
    “The national association is the servant of the membership in local groups.”
    and
    “The national association has no function outside serving the interests of members.”

    I have heard similar expressions in my own National Scouting Association (NSA), where the people expressing them tend to forget that, while undoubtedly true, these statements are not unconditionally true. One very important role in which the national association serves the interests of the members is in allowing them access to the very concept of Scouting. It is only through membership of a national association that you can be a part of the Movement because the international organisations of our movement (WAGGGS and/or WOSM — my own NSA is a member of both) only accept as members the national associations that will promise to do Scouting (or Guiding) by the fundamentals (the purpose, the principles and the Scout Method).

    This, however, obliges the national association to uphold the fundamentals of the movement, even if the members do not perceive or recognise this to be in their interest — though in my own experience the latter is usually only when members do not understand the connection.

    This, as I said, does not make your statements invalid, but it does qualify them: there is an obligation to the Movement that is above and beyond the obligation to the members, as long as the association decides to remain in the Movement (the membership may, of course, decide to withdraw from the Movement, at which point the national association is no longer bound by the membership). As long as the membership decides to remain in the Scout Movement, it must be assumed that meeting the obligations to the Scout Movement is in the best interest of the members.

    Warm regards,
    Troels Forchhammer,
    Denmark

    1. … all of this may, of course, be just me misreading your statements because of a discussion that it particular to Denmark. In that case, please accept my apologies and tell me off 🙂

    2. Good Morning Troels and many thanks for your comments.

      I of course agree with your assertion that in actual fact any local group is dependent on the existence of an NSA (National Scout Association) to enable or facilitate wider membership of WOSM (World Organisation of the Scout Movement) and of course this is no different in Ireland than it is in any other country or territory.

      Nonetheless, I would assert that whilst the local scout group needs an NSA for this (and many other) purpose(s), without local scout groups and the contributions they provide, an NSA has no real function, nor would it credibly be able to attract any exchequer /government funding to support its work.

      So in this instance I would propose we are both correct in our respective assertions. The local group needs the NSA but the NSA cannot survive and indeed has no real purpose without the local group. In this regard, the sole purpose of the NSA is to serve (sometimes indirectly), the interests of the local scout group.

      Best wishes

      Garrett

      1. Hi Garret,

        I quite agree. I may not have been so clear about it, but my intention was certainly not to contradict your position, but rather to point out that the other perspective is also important.

        The NSA certainly is there to serve the local Scouting, but in a more complex way (and here I cannot know about the discussion in Ireland, but in my own NSA I have met many who do not seem to understand the complexity of this).

  15. I have a very limited experience of SI but what little I have has saddened me greatly. I am not sufficiently well versed to debate the issues under discussion here (which I find very helpful nonetheless) so I will refer to my own limited but direct experiences only … and some conclusions and requests as a result.
    I was a teenage scout for about 5 years in the late 60s so when an opportunity arose some years ago to co-found a new SG in my local village I was delighted at the opportunity to repay my debt to the scouting ideal and to the excellent leaders of my formative years, both of which helped inform and set the ethos and guiding principles for my entire military and business careers which followed.
    When I went through Scouter Foundation Training I was relieved to discover that that same ethos pertained and I put my complete energy and considerable experience from a wide range of executive appointments, adventure sports qualifications and worldwide adventure voyaging at the disposal of my local SG in a minor but supportive role with which I was very happy.
    It all went pear-shaped very quickly when my appointment as a Programme Scouter was withdrawn in 2016 on foot of false accusations by my GL. On a disgracefully false pretext and without any advance notice of those accusations or any evidence being sought or presented, my CC, at the same time as informing me of the accusations against me, gave me his pre-typed decision, thus denying me my rights under the Irish Constitution and European law.
    My immediate, written complaint to Nat Sec, suppling this evidence resulted only in a very limited appeal process. Since then, despite SI’s excellent Whistle Blower policy, I have been subjected to a shameless campaign of retaliation, merely for daring to complain officially … rather than fading into obscurity and the appeal process which I had believed would correct the injustice without delay was suspended after 15 months because of “time constraints”.
    Last Feb I was offered a new appeal process … BUT, since most figures in authority in SI with whom I have interacted over the past two years display scant regard for the laws of this state, not to mention SI’s own Constitution (Fundamental # 9, for instance), I doubt that the new DRAP process I have been offered will be allowed report on the abuse of this … or any Scouter who dares to hold them to account for the abuse they permit, perpetrate or collude in.
    Whether through fear or collusion, I’m prohibited from serving with any SG in my Province, a policy reserved for someone accused of abuse. Too many of those in authority trot out platitudes (Animal Farm-like) about “due process, Natural Justice and innocence until proven guilty” as if they knew or adhered to what they are implying, yet they ignore the elephant in the room. I could not even get a delegate ticket from any of my own Provincial SGs, so as to speak at NC on the new uniform proposals. I had to resort to and was relieved to get one at the eleventh hour from a SP at the far end of the country. I also had to resort to spending €1,500 in solicitors’ fees, for several solicitors’ letters (because my own protestations, appeals and requests were ignored) so as to obtain from National Office a definitive letter, which states that I am “not, nor have I even been, the subject of any safeguarding concern.”
    To date I have submitted 71 written appeals and complaints (14,000 words) to appointees and professional staff at County, Provincial and National level, including 13 to the Chief Scout alone… but these have been suppressed or ignored. This has cost me my health, my livelihood … and a further €2000 in solicitors’ letters, just to have my membership reinstated, which had been illegally terminated during the first appeal process.
    I am relieved to see some form of debate on this forum because no-one I know in SI will tell me what’s actually going on so I have come to the conclusion that bullying of adults by adults is so endemic in SI that most Scouters from whom I have sought advice or assistance seem powerless to act responsibly or with any hint of scout-like moral courage or leadership.
    As a result of my limited and sad experience, I accuse of abuse, any of these same people who shamelessly stand before us and declare on their honour, of which they have none … and promise to live by the Scout Law, yet continue their cowardly collusion, abuse or neglect, despite SI’s Constitution and Irish civil law.
    In my opinion and my limited experience of SI, I find parallels with the Sgt Maurice McCabe case indisputable and scary in the extreme because it appears that despite 34 Tribunal of Enquiry and countless High Court cases which the Irish taxpayer has had to pay for so far, it only serves to prove that I live in a county where, as the elderly lady in the movie Secret Scriptures said … “There’s a sickness in the people that makes them incapable of seeing the truth”. I fear it’s even worse for us if we are passing this sickness onto the future generations.
    I call upon all good Scouters, for the sake of the youth we serve and our wonderful Constitution within which I see such beauty and noble aspirations … to be morally courageous; to stand up for truth and justice and put an end to this hypocrisy.
    If I might borrow what I feel is an appropriate, in the circumstances, phrase from Dietrich Bonhoeffer …. “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

  16. Stephen Synott I have just seen your post so apologies for any delay in responding. it is true that I have little time for Tusla or the approach it adopts. I say that from experience not just as a youth leader and a Public Representative but as someone active in the area of Fostering. However I do believe that Child safeguarding policies are of paramount importance and need to be upheld. As for my posts on social media. I am a robust Public Rep who defends my positions – maybe you prefer those who hedge their bets and are on all sides. I don’t believe that Garret has substantiated Any of his claims. He just throws out comments as if they are facts. I am always willing to engage and discuss but I will defend Scouting and its future irrespective of any personal friendships because that is more important for young people in this country.

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