Scouting Ireland's commissioned report on past cases of sexual abuse, while strong in its recommendations, confines its detail to a very small number of actual abuse cases.

The report, which comes after a two-and-a-half-year review by independent child abuse expert Ian Elliott, highlights just four case studies of abuse out of up to 1,000 case files of alleged abuse from the 1950s to the present.

The review identified 275 alleged perpetrators from both predecessors the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and Scouting Association of Ireland.

There have also been 37 alleged sexual offences, which occurred between 2004 and 2020, reported to current organisation Scouting Ireland.

Mr Elliott’s report does, however, confirm that abuse occurred at the highest levels of Scouting Ireland over decades, and was covered up by a culture of secrecy to protect Scouting Ireland’s reputation.

The report states that "credible allegations have been made against many national officers of the legacy scouting organisations that if the individuals were alive today, would have resulted in active investigations of alleged crime".

There was a culture of cover-up and secrecy.

"These people were able to avoid any accountability as they were protected by others in their group and by the power of the positions they held," it stated.

The reports states how abuse was known about and "tolerated" through a practice of cronyism.

"Individuals who held senior positions who were thought to be sex abusers, supported others who held a similar sexual interest in children. This is how scouting functioned for an extended period through the 80s and 90s."

The motive for cover-up was explained by a "culture of self-interest" and "obtaining and retaining power. Those who have it, act to keep it at all costs. The abuse of a child becomes secondary and is accepted so that power may be retained".

It was also to protect the organisation’s reputation.

"Some people, who were not themselves offenders, were complicit in the cover-up of credible allegations of abuse, with the intention of protecting the scouting movement."

It is reported that "national officers against whom there are now allegations of sexual abuse … were able to avoid any accountability as they were protected by others in their group and by the power of the positions they held".

Mr Elliott, summarising his view in relation to the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, stated: "It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the scouting body involved was a seriously dysfunctional organisation with sex offenders dominating the leadership, for decades."

In this, Mr Elliott confirmed the findings of an RTÉ Investigates programme "Scouts Dishonour", which was broadcast in November 2019.


Watch RTÉ Investigates - Scouts Dishonour on the RTÉ Player here


Case studies

The case studies that are highlighted provide grim reading.

For example, the report highlights how in one case a survivor gave a credible account of abuse.

It stated: "The abuse that he described was shocking and involved the use of force and was associated with alcohol.

"He described how he was given alcohol when attending camps before being raped by his scout leader, Subject B, who was named to us.

"This person was a senior volunteer in scouting and rose to be a member of the Board of Directors in one of the legacy scouting bodies."

In another case, the close connection with the Catholic Church and its culture of secrecy was highlighted.

The abuser targeted young teenage boys.

"They described his sexual assaults on them, most of which took place at Scouting camps.

"The letter from Subject C’s superior, who was also a priest, appears to have been held outside of any official filing system when it was received. There is no record of it being filed."

Another case study highlights how convicted abusers could freely enter Scouting organisations, as there were no vetting procedures or any attempt to check past records.

In relation to one Scouting volunteer, who was investigated and referred to gardaí for alleged abuse, the report states that before entering the Scouts, the volunteer had a prior criminal record of abuse.

"It emerged that Subject D had been previously convicted of two charges of sexual assaults on young people.

"He was prosecuted for the offences he committed on the young boys in scouting.

"It was revealed in the court proceedings that he had 32 victims, four of which were from within the scout group."

Limitations of the review

The report acknowledges that it is not a comprehensive overview of all cases of abuse.

After two-and-a-half years of work, Mr Elliott states that a fully comprehensive review is an even bigger task.

"This is not a summary of all the case studies that were alarming or that contained bad practice. Quite simply, to do this would involve more time and more resources than are available."

He also states that there is not specific motive in the report to hold individuals or organisations to account.

"The intention is not to allocate blame to specific individual" but to "draw a learning from mistakes that were made".

In this respect, the report clearly disappoints many survivors who want to see accountability for the cover-up.

Paul O’Toole, a survivor of former Scout leader Dave O’Brien, who abused children from the 1970s to early 1980s, questions how any institution can learn from anything if there is no accountability.

"They are calling it a learning process which it is not," he said. "The report is a waste of paper in my view, a total whitewash.

"There is detail in the report of criminal behaviour. We need a clear indication that there will be legal ramifications from this. Yet there isn’t.

"We need people brought into a police stations and required to give statements under oath."

Paul O’Toole asked: "Why is there so little detail? "All the things we want to know: who knew what when?

"Even though many Scouting leaders have been convicted all we have in this report is references to subject A, B or C.

"We need names of Scout troops, dates, times, locations of abuse. None of this is in this report."

The report itself acknowledges its own limitations, precisely because cases are being referred to gardaí.

"Currently, gardaí are involved in active investigations of alleged abuse involving present or past members of scouting.

"Consequently, and to ensure that this review does not interfere with those investigations in any way, care was taken to exclude all case histories of incidents of abuse were the alleged offender is still alive and may be subject to that investigation."

The report also acknowledges the opportunities missed down the years to address the issue of past abuse mainly through the culture of secrecy, but also because of the informal and casual way in which files of abuse complaints were held within the organisations.

"The practice of holding documentation within the homes of senior volunteers was widespread in both scouting bodies.

"This led to a build-up of important documents being stored inappropriately in garages, attics, and sheds across the country."

Discipline within organisations

While Scouting Ireland has overhauled its entire Child Protection and Safeguarding Codes in recent times, and Mr Elliott provides a list of recommendations in the report, it is acknowledged that in the past a culture of cronyism protected individuals.

One volunteer reported their experiences of trying to report a senior volunteer who was a known offender, and they were told that this person was "too important a volunteer to be challenged".

They persisted and eventually managed to get the offender to leave scouting.

They report that it emerged in the process that the sex offender had asked to be allowed to resign from Scouting on previous occasions as they had been unable to control their sexual urges towards young people.

Ian Elliott’s report is silent on the issue of a statutory inquiry, something sought by Paul O’Toole and many other survivors of abuse.

However, today, the Director of Scouting Ireland, Adrian Tennant, stated that organisation is not opposed to this.

Mr Elliott’s report concludes with a watchword about complacency about abuse in the current organisation.

He said: "It is important that those who lead Scouting Ireland do not allow themselves to be lulled into thinking that all the problems that have been considered in this Learning Review are historic. They are not.

"The potential for cronyism to rise again and to gain a foothold remains and must be guarded against.

"Those that have been shown to have behaved badly, should be held accountable in a robust, fair, and timely way."

Today, in a statement issued by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Government deferred any decision to have a statutory inquiry.

It stated: "The Government had previously undertaken to give careful consideration to the question of an appropriate statutory investigation following the RTÉ Investigates programme "Scouts Dishonour".

"It was appropriate for Government to await the reports from Ms Brigid McManus and Mr Ian Elliott to inform this consideration.

"In this regard, it is noted that Mr Elliott's report suggests that a statutory inquiry may face the same limitations as his Learning Review. Mr Elliott has also emphasised the cooperation of Scouting Ireland in relation to his review.

"As such, there is consideration to be given as to whether a statutory inquiry would uncover new information. This is something which will need to be considered further before any decisions are taken."