The State's child protection agency Tusla has said a letter that it sent to Scouting Ireland last month strongly criticising the youth organisation's child safety standards was not a "knee-jerk reaction."

Chief Operations Officer, Jim Gibson, said it was not the intention that the letter would be public and Tusla was "never setting out to deconstruct a really good organisation that has a lot to offer children and young people across the country."

Mr Gibson told the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs that Scouting Ireland, which has 40,000 juvenile members, is "an essential organisation within the fabric of Irish society." 

Members of Tusla came under strong criticism at the Committee over a letter sent on 18 February to Scouting Ireland chief executive Dr John Lawlor.

The letter made a series of urgent recommendations over existing safeguarding failings at the organisation. 

The letter was subsequently put in to the public domain by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone, in response to Dáil questions.

But Mr Gibson said the correspondence was intended for the CEO of Scouting Ireland about concerns that Tusla did not see as insurmountable, and that "where we got to within the public and political arena ... it was never the intention of Tusla to go there."

Tusla Chief Executive Pat Smith said: "It wasn't our intention that the letter would have made its way into the public domain. It is something we would have expected would have been worked through in the normal course of business. The detail that was in the letter was specifically for Scouting Ireland's benefit."

Fine Gael Senator, Catherine Noone, asked whether suggestions made about supervision during overnight trips, which Tusla made in response to incidents where children had been subject to sexual assault by other juvenile members, were appropriate.
"It goes without saying that all of us want children to be safe. But I think it is important to bring in to the debate the balance that needs to be struck," Senator Noone said. "In the vast majority of cases children have had very positive experiences on these trips and I think a knee jerk reaction to stop all of it is probably a step too far."

Mr Gibson said: "In the correspondence in February the recommendations were set out. That was not a knee jerk reaction. The knee-jerk reaction might have been somewhere else." 

The Labour Party TD, Sean Sherlock, said the letter caused  "hurt and shock" to thousands of volunteers and parents around the country "who have gone through garda vetting, who have gone through child protection training and would see themselves as being absolutely protective and compliant in every way."

He asked Tusla representatives: "Did you have any sense of the sheer hurt and the magnitude of that statement to the effect possibly of closing down the organisation in one fell swoop?"

"It was devastating to the thousands of innocent and decent people who give hours and hours of their time dedicated to this lifestyle and do so for the common good and for the purpose of bringing benefits to society," Mr Sherlock said. 

Mr Smith said Scouting Ireland do an "immense amount of work on behalf of society." He said the role of Tusla is to ensure safety standards are met across all organisations.