Laura O’Connor On Promising, Speech Making and Constitution Bending

As I write this on a dreary Monday in the middle of November, I am trying to withhold my jubilation from some Very Big News that I have received. The motion that was passed by National Council on the 12th September 2015 – to add a third, secular Scout Promise to our Constitution – has been approved by the Constitutions Committee of the World Organisation of the Scouting Movement. In layman’s terms, scouting’s United Nations have rubber stamped our application to let atheists into the movement here in Ireland.

 

It’s a time of celebration, to be sure, and the end of a year-long road for yours truly. You see, I’ve been involved in trying to raise this issue from the beginning. Plotting and planning with my good friend Richard, together we set up a Facebook page to generate some solidarity. Hours of phone conversations were exchanged with Sean Donlan, a Law lecturer in UL, who generated a pretty comprehensive document containing suggestions to send to the National Management Committee, on all three of our behalves. After that document was sent in, I worked in the background, ensuring that the notion of a secular Promise was at least breached at all three National Youth Fora – one of the few bodies that can submit Motions to a National Council. I wrote blog posts about it, ranted about it, and tried my damn best to make sure everyone was aware of it.

When the motion from the Venture Forum came forward regarding a secular Promise, I openly questioned Chief Scout candidates, spoke at National Council, and messaged countless young people in order to encourage them to speak with me, to stand up and make their voices count.

After the Promise Variation Review Committee was formed, I took a seat on it, and became its secretary. I met the National Management Committee, spoke to many, many people, and finally saw it pass through National Council for a second time.

 

When I write it all down like that, it’s clear to see why people started referring to the motion as “my” motion coming towards the end. I really did pour my heart into it – to the extent that I cried both times the votes came through in our favour. If it didn’t pass, I genuinely don’t know what I would have done with myself. At the very least, I would have left scouting. It would have broken my heart into pieces.

 

The most frequent question I get asked about it these days is, in one word, “Why?” And being honest, I sometimes forget the answer to that myself. Oftentimes when you’re involved in campaigns like these, you lose sight of the reasons behind starting it all in the first place, and question why you bother at all. But then, I walk into my own scout hall and see why.

I see the kids who think the current two Promises were a load of tripe; I see the kids who are frustrated at the Catholic Boy Scout mentality that so many people in this organisation still maintain. I see the parents who are afraid that their children are being exposed to a strictly religious organisation, and I see secular leaders themselves, afraid to say that they want change. Just seeing that, I know that by campaigning for a secular Promise, I did the right thing.

 

Sure, I could have been told sit down, to stop talking, that I’m only a 19 year old atheist who doesn’t know what she’s shouting about. I could have taken that. At the absolute worst, I could have been told to leave scouting. I could have taken that, too. All I know is that by putting myself out there, and by being successful, I have made my own and many other people’s scouting experience a little bit better. And that’s more than enough for me.

It’s been a long and harsh road, friends, I’m not going to lie. Am I proud of myself? Quite frankly, I’m not sure if I deserve to feel pride. Has it been worth the hassle? Almost definitely; I can now wear a neckerchief and know that I have a right to wear it, just like anyone else, and know that I’ve helped to guarantee that right for many others up and down the country.

When all is said and done, though, one thing is for certain; I am keeping well away from politics in scouting for a long time. That, I can promise you.

 

Laura O’Connor,

43rd Cork

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