The resignation recently of Aisling Kelly from the board of Scouting Ireland after just three months in the role is a blow, but it need not be a catastrophic one.
That Ms Kelly is stepping down for career reasons and due to the potential risk of a conflict of interest which a new professional role could conceivably bring, reveals a level of integrity that stands out rather more than it should at the higher echelons of an association supposedly shaped on the values of Scouting.
Ms Kelly’s untimely exit perhaps also illustrates the intensity of the workload on the shoulders of the new board of directors, all of whom are volunteers, giving their time free of charge. Presumably this workload is all the heavier in the context of assertions in the Van Turnhout report that suggest a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship between senior staff and volunteers.
In general, the Board of Scouting Ireland under Ms Kelly’s stewardship has set a new tone in professionalism, balance and openness. The announcement of her departure, reaching members as it did first via ‘The Irish Times’ was thus very unfortunate and has caused understandable frustration among members when announced earlier this month.
The board know that there is a leak and have known this since before Christmas. Whether the post-Christmas discharge emulates from the same fissure is perhaps not known. The board should nonetheless take action against such proven instances of leaking. It will be difficult to maintain the confidence of members for long if journalists and others continue to gain privileged access to information.
These leaks illustrate a level of contempt for members by one and possibly more than one board member, for the people who elected them. It is extraordinary behaviour at a time of such crisis for Scouting in Ireland and it signals potential conflicts of interest that should be fully declared.
Members are already thin on patience. Several unilateral decisions by the board and/or the NMC during January, related to the next meeting of National Council look to be acting as a conduit for what could soon become the final straw.
Implausibly tight timeframes for submission of motions to the next AGM and confusion around who is in-charge (NMC or Board) and which constitution will govern the meeting (and who will chair it) are creating fudge and blurring lines that were supposed to be well defined by now. There is even confusion about precisely what meeting will be taking place and of what entity; association or company.
Adrian Tennant, as the new Chair of the board has a job on his hands. One key item in his in-tray must surely be the winding up of the now defunct National Management Committee. It is hard not to wonder at this stage whether the dregs of the NMC are simply more interested in desperately trying retain the trappings of power even if the power itself has ebbed away, rather than expediting the wind up for which they are ostensibly still in position.
The apparent hiving off of the Lynch report outcome to the NMC, if this is in fact happening is a very bad move indeed. There are conflicts of interest that should rule this out immediately, quite apart from member incredulity that the NMC seems to remain in situ as a decision-making body.
The perceived duality of control is not only causing confusion. It is undermining the new board of directors, It is also costing the association scarce funds. A fixed time period should be agreed for the definitive winding up of the NMC. This deadline should be published, so members are aware.
2019 has the potential to be a year of recovery for Scouting in Ireland. A disturbing backlog of abuse cases initially numbering 100+, growing in number in the closing weeks of 2018 and stretching back several decades needs to be confronted, acknowledged and addressed as the board are doing.
Victims of abuse need to be listened to, supported and offered compensation. Historic cases from predecessor associations are our responsibility to address, in addition to any more recent cases.
Improved processes around safeguarding will roll out and resources are required to make these workable and permanent. Scouts take responsibility, they do not shirk it. Thus the steps taken to date by the board are the right steps.
Separately and also important are the major gaps in good governance at national level in Scouting Ireland, stretching back over half a decade.
Management of staff is poor according to the Van Turnhout report. Salary costs at Scouting Ireland exceed €1.3m annually. Poor management is costing members and taxpayers but it is also not helping employees, the majority of whom are hard-working professionals.
Credit card accounts exist in Scouting Ireland and nobody seems to know who has them, who oversees them or why so many are needed. Who signed these off? Who oversees the expenditure? What is the purpose of having these credit lines? Can members of Scouting Ireland see the statements of account?
Foreign travel, funded by the association (the members and taxpayers) seems to be monopolised lately by senior staff and the same small group of NMC/recently resigned NMC members. Family members have been turning up at these overseas events with implausible regularity too, whilst actual youth members and younger adults are nowhere to be seen.
The strong personal friendships and other connections between the people who who have been selected for these trips recently are no doubt entirely coincidental. Nonetheless it is not clear what selection/approval processes are in place here.
Some of these trips actually took place whilst the government funding suspension was in force, illustrating a lack of situational awareness if viewed charitably and frankly astonishing chutzpah if viewed with even mild cynicism. Most employees of Scouting Ireland (but interestingly not all) were on protective notice at the time. The optics here are really poor.
The board need to proactively dig into these and many other governance issues. Any attempt to gloss over or brush these concerns under the carpet will merely store up another bout of media interest and government intervention – and it wont be long before that happens.
Members are no doubt demoralised and saddened at the extraordinary revelations that punctuated 2018. The anti-volunteer narrative painting us as incompetent and in need of ‘professional’ supervision and ‘discipline’, did not help. Let’s keep in mind that Scouting Ireland would not survive, without volunteers.
The new board offer hope that leadership might now be in place. Aisling Kelly along with her colleagues, managed to steady the ship and set a tone of openness and integrity. Adrian Tennant is another fine scouter on a pretty high-calibre board and there is every reason to believe that things will continue on an upward trajectory.
The membership and other stakeholders should support the board in their efforts to tackle serious issues at hand and in due (and fairly rapid) course root out rot, fix structures, improve management standards and set us on the road to recovery.
Theirishscouter wishes the board well in its work and extends new year wishes (albeit slightly belatedly) to everyone in Scouting Ireland.