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children failed How sex abuser David Barry had the 'perfect cover' for his crimes in Ireland's scouting movement

Barry's jailing for five years came after the 50,000-strong membership of Ireland's scout movement was already struggling to deal with a tsunami of controversies.


David Barry

David Barry

David Barry

Ireland's scouting movement is reeling from the jailing of one of its highest profile former leaders for a concerted campaign of abuse targeting young boys over the span of almost three decades.

Cork photographer David Barry (72) was not just a long-serving scout master with first the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) and then its successor organisation, Scouting Ireland.

He reached the rank of Regional Cork Commissioner - effectively overseeing the work of other scout masters in the south - and also became one of the leading lights on the national Scout Leader magazine.

For years, he even contributed to a scouting column on a local Cork newspaper and was a peace commissioner. He was also intricately involved in one of the most popular Santa's grottos in Cork.

On Leeside, for more than four decades he was regarded as 'Mister Scouting'.

This was despite the fact that, among some, he was also known as 'Dainty Dave'.

The sheer scale of the abuse he admitted before Cork Circuit Criminal Court was breathtaking, with Barry - who turns 73 next week - pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a total of 10 boys over a 22-year period.

The court was told his scout work and rank was "the perfect cover" to ensure children were entrusted to his care.

His jailing for five years came after the 50,000-strong membership of Ireland's scout movement was already struggling to deal with a tsunami of controversies over legacy scandals.

In 2018, former children's minister Katherine Zappone dramatically suspended State funding to Scouting Ireland amid concern over how it was dealing with oversight issues.

It then emerged that investigations were ongoing by a Garda team that specialised in historical sexual abuse cases.

From the referrals generated across dedicated phone lines, 110 criminal investigations were identified.

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Of these, 65 were triggered as a result of new allegations.

Forty-five investigations were already under way.

The investigation which resulted in Barry being jailed was already under way at that point, following a direct complaint from one of the victims to gardaí in 2018.

Gardaí confirmed that every individual they could identify as a potential victim was contacted by officers from the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB).

The Garda response followed a damning review of how the CBSI, Scouting Association of Ireland (SAI) and latterly the SI, handled allegations of abuse over the years.

Conducted by respected child protection expert Ian Elliott, who worked extensively on highlighting instances of abuse within the Catholic Church, the report found there were at least 275 alleged perpetrators of historical abuse within the scouting movement involving both defunct organisations, the CBSI and SAI.

His report was published last year - just months after a hard-hitting RTÉ Investigates programme entitled Scouts Dishonour caused national outrage.

The actions of the 275 alleged abusers involved at least 356 victims, dating from the 1960s to the late 1990s.

Many of the alleged abusers are now dead.

The bulk of the look-back review focused on the CBSI and the SAI, which merged to form the current Scouting Ireland movement 17 years ago.


David Barry at Cork Court Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts

David Barry at Cork Court Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts

David Barry at Cork Court Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts

Mr Elliott's reference to the now defunct CBSI was particularly scathing.

"It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the scouting body involved was a seriously dysfunctional organisation," the report said.

It outlined allegations of how young boys were plied with alcohol on scout camps and indecently assaulted or even raped.

In the case of Barry, he showed German porn films to teens in his home to groom them for abuse.

It would strike most observers as almost beyond belief but there was no screening system within the CBSI to ensure convicted sex offenders would be prevented from becoming involved in scout groups.

Some offenders switched between the organisations to evade detection - and managed to continue to gain access to children.

The most damning conclusion of the Elliott report, which took two-and-a-half years to compile, was that scout leaders put the reputation of the movement ahead of the obligation to protect children.

Incredibly, it warned that allegations of abuse against some senior leaders were covered up to protect the scouting movement - with a system of cronyism and cliques protecting alleged abusers from scrutiny in the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s.

It said a culture of secrecy and cover-up emerged as a result.

"Individuals who were suspected or known to be sex offenders gained positions of power and became largely impregnable," it said.

The report said allegations of abuse were levelled against some senior leaders - but were either ignored or covered up.

The true scale of the abuse may never be known as many records were either lost or destroyed.

"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," the report said.

"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."

"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 1980s and 1990s."

In a damning finding, the report said those who secured power within the scout movement were determined to hang on to it - even if that meant treating the abuse of a vulnerable child as a secondary issue to protecting the reputation of the movement which was likely to be damaged by the scandal.

"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," the report said.

"National officers against whom there are now allegations of sexual abuse… were able to avoid any accountability as they were protected."

It also emerged that, between 2004 and 2020, Scouting Ireland was notified of 37 alleged instances of sexual offences.

On May 14, 2020, Scouting Ireland issued an apology to the young people who had been failed by the organisation over the years.

"On behalf of Scouting Ireland, we unreservedly apologise to the victims and survivors of abuse in scouting who were failed," it said.

"We are sorry that adults in scouting harmed you. We are sorry that you were not protected. We are sorry that you were not listened to or were unable to tell your story at that time.

"We are sorry for the hurt caused to you and the legacy of that hurt, which many of you still live with today.

"We know we cannot take away that hurt. But we do want you to know that you have been heard. We want you to know that you are believed. We want you to know that we will support you.

"We are determined that there is no place in scouting for anyone who, by design or by omission, harms a child, as you were.

"Cronyism, looking away and covering up are not victimless crimes. They are enabling actions."

Scouting Ireland vowed to implement the full recommendations of the Elliott report.

"It is a light pointing into a very dark corner but it is also a beacon for the standards, culture and structures we must have, and which must be resourced to ensure that scouting is a safe place for young people," it said.

"You, by your bravery in speaking out, have helped to uncover the truth.

"Your legacy now is to have helped to make Scouting Ireland a safer place for young people; to have reminded us of why we exist - to support and cherish our young people through their scouting experience."

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