Time for change


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 whole raison d’être.

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.

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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