The much awaited Lynch Report, a redacted version of which is now available under the Freedom of Information act seems to raise a lot more questions than it does answers.
The report focuses on a complaint made by one adult scouter about another involving an allegation of sexual assault. The report specifically looks at alleged involvement of four senior volunteers in seeking to influence the management of the complaint by putting pressure on professional staff.
The report exonerates three of the four respondents from the key charge and the reports primary focus, that they sought to inappropriately contact professional staff involved in managing the complaint and seeking in doing so to exert influence in favour of the subject of the complaint.
The fourth respondent, Mr Ollie Kehoe directed professional staff to reinstate a person against whom a complaint had been made (following a DPP decision not to proceed with a case), to the associations database. As such in the context of the circumstances set out in the report, this was deemed by Ms Lynch to be inappropriate.
Mr Kehoe contends, as National Secretary and thus the ‘owner’ of the database (at the time), his actions were entirely appropriate. It is not clear why the person against whom a complaint was made was removed during an investigation in this instance, but not in others.
Context is important when it comes to the report.
Testimony within the report possibly inadvertently, helps provide that context even if the terms of reference appear designed to do the opposite.
To a greater or lesser extent, there is some criticism of each individual on issues beyond the main charge levelled. Affording the four named respondents an open and fair opportunity to set out their version of events would help. To date, barring an RTE interview, that opportunity has not been afforded.
Mr Elliot, the external consultant hired by the association at the insistence of senior volunteers (including at least one named in the report) to review safeguarding policies in Scouting Ireland is correct in his various assertions that the correct processes are not in place presently to provide adequate protection to youth members or indeed adults. That in part explains the course of events that led to the Lynch report being commissioned, even if it does not excuse them.
The dysfunctional nature of how Scouting operates nationally even now (with the new Board admittedly trying to get on top of the problem), as set out in the Van Turnhout report, was clearly a factor in the failings around the case under review. It is a concern that the findings of the Van Turnhout report appear to have been largely ignored by Scouting Ireland to date. It is failures highlighted in the Van Turnhout report that in some ways created the environment in which subsequent issues arose.
The Lynch report does however provide some useful clarity around lines of responsibility in Scouting Ireland. It is clear for instance that the ‘management’ of this complaint from the very beginning was fully and totally in the hands of professional staff, according to the report. Equally, it is clear that files to ALL safeguarding cases in Scouting Ireland are under the jurisdiction of professional staff and this has been the practice for some time – volunteers have no access to these files.
The Lynch report is also quite informative in terms of what it does not say. The considerable testimony included in the report, from all manner of individuals in the association go a long way towards filling in some of the gaps. This testimony comes from professional staff and volunteers.
A bone of contention from the outset with the report has been that the terms of reference were narrow, indeed so narrow as to arguably limit Ms Lynch from seeking to investigate the full story behind the management of the complaint made that triggered the report. Various respondents in the case raised their concerns on this prior to the terms being finalised, but were ignored. Some board members at the time the report was commissioned did likewise and again there is no evidence to indicate that any of these recommendations were acted upon.
The identity of the person (or persons) who set the terms of reference and briefed Scouting Ireland’s legal advisors accordingly would help clarify whether a potential conflict of interest was a factor in such narrow terms being set.
Even a cursory analysis of the report’s contents signals fairly clearly that others, beyond the four original respondents, have an account to give of themselves and questions to answer if this is to be seen as a fair investigation. The Board risks undermining the entire process by assigning arbitration of the report to the moribund National Management Committee.
The NMC lost its electoral mandate in October 2018 and thus no longer acts as a democratically recognised decision-making body. Its sole function in remaining in existence is to wind up the old structures. It no longer has any executive function.
More importantly, at least three of the six remaining members of the NMC have a potential conflict of interest that if declared, would almost certainly preclude them from presiding over any decisions associated with this report, or the respondents within. These conflicts relate in some instances to the case itself or the report arising. In other instances they relate to close connections with persons named in the report and/or persons who may have an interest in the deliberations of the NMC on this topic.
Proceeding along this route will merely confirm the belief of many scouters that the report, notwithstanding Ms Lynch’s impeccable credentials and integrity, is being used as a tool to cover up far bigger issues of concern in Scouting Ireland. The astonishing statement by the Minister for Children in Dail Eireann yesterday and the disclosure of a letter to Scouting Ireland from Tulsa the Child and Family Agency containing some extraordinary assertions, frankly do little to offer reassurance to the contrary.
The Board of Directors needs to think very carefully about how it proceeds.
There is more to this case and the management of the case than was evident from the terms of reference. The board should get to the bottom of who specifically pushed for the setting up of the investigation and why it was set up in the way it was.
There is no question that errors were made and lack of judgement was on display in some aspects of the case under review in the Lynch report. However if the terms of reference have been calibrated to focus on some of these in part to deliberately conceal other lapses, the Board and the Minister (not to mention the members) need to know the full facts.
A second, wider investigation should be commissioned, to probe into some key areas where the Lynch report could not go.