Scandal-hit Console will be wound up as application to liquidate charity likely to be made in coming week
Published 14/07/2016 | 02:30
Console, the suicide bereavement agency which has become engulfed in financial scandal, is to be wound up.
The decision to shut down the crisis-hit agency was being discussed at a meeting of the board last night following tumultuous weeks of alarming revelations about the spending of charity funds by its founder Paul Kelly.
An application is likely to be made to the High Court in the coming week to have it liquidated, bringing a sad final chapter to the organisation which started in 2002 in response to the tragic suicide of Mr Kelly's sister Sharon five years earlier.
Around 300 people who are currently receiving bereavement counselling will be offered alternative services to be provided by Pieta House.
The HSE has pledged that it will provide the additional funding to ensure an orderly transition for people undergoing counselling following the death of a relative or friend from suicide. It will also ensure that the helpline operated by Console will continue.
Interim chief executive David Hall presented a report to the board last night setting out its financial difficulties, including substantial sums due to counsellors, suppliers, the Revenue Commissioners and its 12 staff who will now be out of a job.
Mr Kelly, who submitted a list of assets to the High Court, including his plush home in Clane, Co Kildare, as well as the charity's headquarters in Celbridge, has been discharged from the psychiatric hospital where he spent a short time after the scandal broke.
A number of investigations into the finances of Console are underway by a range of agencies including the Gardaí, Revenue Commissioners and the Office of Corporate Enforcement.
Tony O'Brien, director general of the HSE, which continued to pay Console €622,204 last year as financial irregularities in its accounts were emerging in a HSE audit, yesterday defended its decision to continue funding the charity.
He said the HSE does not have regulatory powers over charities. "We are satisfied the funding we provided was good value and produced the services we required," he told RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' radio show. He said: "By all accounts the services were of high value to clients."
Asked why the Department of Health did not take action in 2011 when an official, acting on a tip-off, quizzed Mr Kelly about his impersonation of a doctor in the 1980s, Mr O'Brien said the Probation Act had been applied in that case.
Former Health Minister James Reilly, who was informed about the allegation by a parliamentary assistant Tommy Morris, passed on the information.
But in September 2011 he approved €50,000 in lottery funding for Console.
Mr O'Brien said there was no allegation at that stage in 2011 about "what we now know about the financial irregularities at the charity".
However, Freedom of Information documents yesterday continued to raise questions about why strong signals that Console was not being properly run were not followed up.
It emerged that an official in the HSE's National Office of Suicide Prevention wrote a memo in 2009 highlighting important deficiencies in Console's governance and accounting.
He said the expenditure account in 2004 did not "add up".
The 2006 accounts had wrong membership of the Console board and the 2007 accounts were not signed off by the chairman. He also queried the €145,000 in professional fees charged over two years.
However the same unit in the HSE in 2011 stated that Console had "strong governance structures". At one point the HSE threatened to suspend funding to Console because it did not have a functioning board, the material released to 'RTÉ Investigates' shows.
It said the funding was conditional on Console providing minutes of its board meetings.
They also wanted evidence of lodgements to accounts to show the agency was sustainable.
It has since emerged that Console never had a functioning board.