Reputation Matters

A good reputation is far more valuable than money.

Theirishscouter cannot have been the only person to have been dismayed by an article in the Irish Times over the summer, containing allegations by the legal representatives of abuse survivors that Scouting Ireland Services CLG, (the corporate entity that presently in effect controls Scouting Ireland and sets the rules by which it operates) was seeking to avoid its responsibilities to said victims through the use of a legal ‘technicality’.

To quote the Irish Times “Solicitors for alleged victims criticise organisation for fighting cases ‘tooth and nail’ “. This allegation seems a long way from the Board of Directors statement to members of Scouting Ireland (issued somewhat inexplicably hours after the recent AGM), in which assurances are given that “We recognise the bravery of those who came forward and we believe their stories, and how they were failed in Scouting”

So which is it? Does the organisation that is collectively owned by every Scout Group in the country and is thus seen to be doing things in the name of each member, wish to fight ‘tooth and nail’ to rebuff the victims of abuse, or does it ‘believe their stories’?

The issue it seems, is money and specifically the lack of it. The board of Scouting Ireland Services CLG is presumably worried that if offers of compensation are made to all alleged victims of abuse of the legacy associations (the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scout Association of Ireland), it will leave nothing with which to run the organisation for present day members.

One can see the logic to an extent; does anyone (victims of abuse included) want to see the permanent destruction of Scouting in Ireland and the loss of this community service to countless youngsters today? Almost certainly not.

Would the sudden absence of a national Scouting entity result in the cessation of the provision of Scouting in communities around Ireland? Greatly reduced services during COVID-19 and a recent period of further reduced services during a three day week at national office don’t appear to have caused much of an impact locally, however most people would accept that some sort of national structure is necessary in the longer term.

The board of Scouting Ireland Services (CLG) are hopeful that insurance policies will cover the cost of compensation and in doing so allow commitments to victims to be met, without having to cease operations that include supporting today’s members. To this end, an arbitration process is underway involving insurance providers and it is this process that the post AGM statement from the board seeks to explain.

There are over 350 historic abuse cases and presently 40 individual victims of alleged abuse are pursuing actions against Scouting Ireland. A report by the safeguarding expert Ian Elliott in 2018 alleged widespread covering up of abuse at senior levels in Scouting from as early as the 1940’s. A separate 2018 report by the former Senator Gillian Van Turnhout found a culture of ‘blind loyalty’ among cliques at National level in Scouting Ireland and deep-rooted mistrust bordering on animosity between board directors (of the National Management Committee, the predecessor of the current Board of Directors) and senior staff.

The RTE documentary ‘Scouts Dishonour’ which aired in 2019 highlighted some of the harrowing instances of abuse perpetrated by various named former scouters, sometimes over decades. The naming of some of the perpetrators (alleged and/or confirmed) caused shock waves across the Scouting community.

It is a fine line to walk, on the one hand seeking to ‘do right’ by those affected by the callous actions of those who should never have been scouters in the first instance and on the other hand seeking to ensure that the future of the Scouting concept in Ireland as a single national entity is protected.

The board (as theirishscouter understands it) has no legal experts sitting upon it, hence is reliant on the advice in this regard offered by the company lawyers. It is worth considering that sometimes, legal moves that might seem pejorative are merely necessary steps towards finding a resolution. The legal system in Ireland is after all, quite adversarial in nature.

However, if one pulls up for (what a former boss used to call) ‘the 50,000ft view’, all of these manoeuvres, (carried out as they have been in the full glare of the nation’s media and coming on top of chapter upon chapter of catastrophic revelations about Scouting Ireland), surely serve to further postpone any possibility of a recovery of Scouting’s reputation in the nation’s eyes and with it a return to the solid and unimpeachable credentials necessary to build and grow for the future.

Theirishscouter knows a little bit about corporate culture and brand building as a result of his day job. When strategists talk about a ‘brand’, for the most successful entities, this is in fact another word for ‘culture’. When all the logos, PR agency fees, reports and photo shoots are stripped away, a brand is at its core after all, a statement of values and a promise to uphold them. A logo (think of Shell, Apple, Facebook, Adidas and the respective logo probably springs to mind) is merely the visual representation of what is usually a far more complex framework.

As the strategist Simon Sinek opines in a short piece (linked to theirishscouter facebook page), ‘Culture’ stems from values + behaviour. For this reason, entities that talk about doing something, but fail to carry it through into how they behave, end up with a dysfunctional culture.

The damage inflicted upon the Scouting brand as a result of over four years of negative publicity, organisational chaos and internal strife would likely finish most other brands. One does not need to look too far in Ireland to see evidence of similar entities (and far larger ones) that have suffered irreparable damage to reputation and decline in influence (and membership) as a result of mis- handling similar issues.

Indeed, one could argue that when a line can finally be drawn under everything that has happened, the most prudent move might well be to start again from scratch. Part of the challenge for Scouting is that the ‘company’ and organisation are inextricably linked with the concept and the ‘movement’ in the minds of most.

Whilst Scouting Ireland Services CLG, the entity that members own, operates in a multi-faceted society with regulations, legal frameworks, insurance policies, safeguarding rules, corporate law and many other complexities, the citizen on the street often only sees only a name and possesses only a perception.

Amidst the pandemonium nationally, many citizens have seen the continued good work of Scouting in their community and this has helped maintain a more realistic perception of the actual work undertaken by scouting volunteers.

For many others however, who lack a local frame of reference, the newsfeed in the national press will alas inform their thinking. Reputations are hard won. They can take decades to build, yet only minutes to permanently destroy.

There is a strong argument here for some real engagement with victims of abuse AND with members of Scout groups (has anybody asked what THEY think?), in order to reach some sort of equitable and amicable accommodation. Legal advice is precisely that. Advice, to be taken or left. There will be little point in winning a battle involving money if it permanently compromises or damages the reputation of the organisation. Money in this context suddenly looks unimportant. In any event, with the right conditions, money can always be raised later. Any entity with a compelling story and a valuable contribution to make will easily raise funds.

Drawing a line on a traumatic past in an equitable manner that settles (insofar as one can settle) abuse claims and allows the Scouting movement in Ireland to go forward with the blessing of those who had their childhood stolen by predators masquerading as scouters, but who have no wish to prevent other kids from benefiting from Scouting (and the contribution of the overwhelming majority of volunteers who have nothing but the best of intentions and these days are exhaustively screened and trained), will open the door to building a new chapter.

Scouting should be reaching out to corporate Ireland, political parties, government entities, not for profits, to tell a new story, rooted in century old tenets but fully engaged with 21st century Ireland and its youth. It should be leveraging talent from within to publicise all that is great about what it does. The doors need to be thrown open once again to volunteers with skills and talent to drive big events, build media profile and begin presenting a new chapter.

Scouting in Ireland collectively made appalling mistakes. These mistakes were made over several decades. Some people became members who should never have been allowed to do so. Some people did not speak up when they knew they should have done so. Some looked the other way. Some even colluded to cover things up. Many of these people are dead and, depending on the belief system one subscribes to, may have quite a bit of explaining to do wherever they are now. Those who remain must live with their actions or inaction.

We all have a responsibility however to recognise that what happened was wrong. Many of today’s members were young kids when these events were happening. Many more were not even born at the time. No matter. We take responsibility. We do the right thing to fix it insofar as it can be fixed. Then we move on. If we do it correctly, those former youth members who had their childhoods stolen may be able to move on too, or at least find some sort of closure.

In the legal haze of today, it’s important to think strategically and not just tactically. What will history say about what happened to Scouting Ireland in the period 2018-2022. More importantly, what will history say about how we handled it?

Money really isn’t everything. It would be a shame to find that out when it is too late.


2 thoughts on “Reputation Matters”

  1. Sadly history has shown us that institutions and large organisations behave in the same way. We need only look at the Catholic Church in Ireland, or America, or France or the Boy Scours of America, or the Church of England. I could go on. Their first reaction was to protect the institution by hiding, then denial, then fighting those harmed and in some cases attacking those harmed. Indeed I myself had a phone call at one point from an ex-senior person in SI, during which they said I should remember that those abused who were most vocal were from SAI. I queried the relevance of such a comment. Needless ho say there was not a coherent answer.

    In all cases, not properly acknowledging harm. taking steps to fix it, and genuinely changing culture did more harm than good.

    As with many bad circumstances the window of opportunity for fixing (if it ever can be) such appalling harm to those abused and saving an already poor reputation is small and closing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s