A full review of historical cases of allegations of abuse in Scouting Ireland has found evidence of 71 alleged abusers and 108 victims between the 1960s and 80s, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone told the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs that the discovery was made during a review carried out by child protection expert Ian Elliott.
"Mr Ian Elliott has been examining the historical records. He has found evidence of 71 alleged abusers and 108 alleged victims. This is based on his work to date and the numbers may change," the minister told the committee.
She said that most of the cases occurred in the 1960s and 1980s, but there may be one prior to that period.
The committee was told that none of the alleged abusers were still working with Scouting Ireland and reports have been made to Tusla and gardaí in respect of the alleged abusers still alive.
Ms Zappone said she wanted to reassure parents that all the actions she is taking stem from bad governance and are in no way connected to the fantastic work that is being carried out by groups and volunteers around the country.
She also said she had been assured that Scouting Ireland is committed to compliance with the highest possible level of safeguarding standards.
The minister said this was a very difficult time for the organisation, and she would be discussing the matter with members of the new board as a matter of urgency.
Mr Elliott, who is engaged by Scouting Ireland to examine past child protection files, told the committee that 14 of the alleged perpetrators had multiple victims.
A serious perpetrator has been discovered, he said, and there was no awareness in the organisation that this person was a perpetrator.
The committee was told that there was no file for this person.
Mr Elliott told the committee that he did not think the figure of 108 alleged victims would be the final figure.
He also said that an increasing number of alleged victims were coming forward and talking to them and had confidence in the process.
Mr Elliott told members to think of the figure of 108 in human terms rather than numerical terms.
"That is 108 people who have suffered, who are suffering today as a result of situations they should never have been exposed to, which they were exposed to," Mr Elliott said.
"Very significant human suffering has taken place here," he said.
The committee heard that the majority of perpetrators are deceased.
Mr Elliott said in relation to those that are alive, the allegations have been reported to the appropriate authorities in the jurisdictions that they are in.
He said the cases are not contained in the Republic of Ireland, some are in Northern Ireland and overseas.
"Although some of the perpetrators may be dead, most of the victims are alive," Mr Elliott said.
"While they don't know what those who are alive are doing, they do know that they are not in scouting."
Mr Elliott added that the numbers have changed very recently and he chose today as the appropriate medium to introduce this information into the public domain.
Dr John Lawlor, CEO of Scouting Ireland, said that its staff are very good people and are very human in their response.
He said that "we desperately need to put additional supports into this space".
"It is a terrible thing that people have carried this burden without being able to reveal it for many years," he added.
A new board was elected for Scouting Ireland on 6 October this year, with the former board resigning from that time.
Mr Elliot said that the new board had impressed on him their absolute commitment to responding to those individuals with compassion and concern and helping them in every way they could.
The new chair of Scouting Ireland, Aisling Kelly, repeated an apology to victims of abuse for the hurt caused.
Speaking at the committee, she said: "Some of this occurred many years ago but the effects are still causing distress today.
"I want to reiterate that apology and add to it our sincere regret for what has happened and our absolute determination to learn from those mistakes and make Scouting Ireland today as safe an environment for all our members."
She said that the organisation had undergone "radical governance change" following the appointment of a new board last-minute.
She said safeguarding of children and adults is their "number one priority", and that the reorganisation would herald a new era of openness, integrity, transparency and accountability.
Ms Kelly also said they were committed to meeting this situation with integrity, compassion and dedication.
Ms Zappone said the organisation is fully aware of the implications of this, and have had, in the past, practices in place to know what will need to change in terms of ensuring that they have the capacity for supporting, listening and hearing the people who will step forward.
Committee chairman, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said today’s revelations were "deeply disturbing and underscore the urgent need for reform within the voluntary organisation".
In a statement, An Garda Síochána said that it met with the review team "on several occasions during the review process and this liaison will continue for as long as required".
It also said that any allegations reported will be fully investigated.
The abuse survivors support group, One in Four said the number of alleged sex offenders identified so far in the review of child protection practices at Scouting Ireland was astonishing.
Executive Director Maeve Lewis said: "While most of the allegations relate to the period between the 1960s and 1980s, there are certainly more recent incidents as well.
"It is very distressing to think that such a high number of sex offenders were able to gain access to children through an organisation that had been trusted by generations of parents."
Ms Lewis said today’s revelations highlighted the need for rigorous child safeguarding practices and garda vetting to be put in place in every environment where children congregate.
Former chief executive of the Childrens Rights Alliance, Jillian van Turnhout, has said that even though Scouting Ireland said the 71 alleged abusers were not involved with the organisation, the public deserves to know if they are involved in any other youth organisation.
On RTÉ's Six One News, she urged anyone with information to come forward to Tusla or the gardaí.