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Monday 24 October 2016

HSE only started to become concerned about Console after it increased its funding in 2013 - HSE chief

Published 15/07/2016 | 10:57

Paul Kelly, the founder of crisis-hit suicide bereavement service Console Photo: Robbie Reynolds
Paul Kelly, the founder of crisis-hit suicide bereavement service Console Photo: Robbie Reynolds

THE HSE only started to become concerned about the Console charity after it increased its funding in 2013 and put it under increased scrutiny, HSE chief Tony O’Brien said today.

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Console chief Paul Kelly was refusing to attend meetings about funding of its helpline and answer queries on its annual accounts.

“Funding to Console remained relatively static between 2006 and 2013 when it increased from €252,000 in 2012 to €599,000 in 2013.

“HSE funding increased at this time to prevent the collapse of a National Suicide Helpline previously funded by another organisation”, he said.

Mr O’ Brien was before the Public Accounts Committee to be quizzed on why the HSE did not intervene earlier to prevent Console chief executive from flagrantly spending charity funds.

Mr O Brien told the committee the increase in funding to Console at the time was predicated on the charity agreeing to a greater level of scrutiny and enhanced governance by the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP).

“It was this increased level of scrutiny by National office for Suicide Prevention that gave rise to a number of concerns including Console’s continued failure to respond to requests for information, delivery on commitments to commission independent reviews of its service and failure to attend significant meetings (particularly relating to the helpline) and to their annual Accounts.

“Arising from these concerns in late 2014, NOSP approached HSE’s Internal Audit Division and requested that Console be included in their Audit Work Plan for 2015”

He said that in n April 2015 the Internal Audit division wrote to Console advising that the Audit would commence on the 27th April 2015.

“Following a request from Console the Audit start was deferred and commenced on the 19th May 2015. This audit should have taken approximately 12 weeks to complete. However, the audit was particularly complex and challenging and the auditors met with considerable resistance from the then CEO.

“The audit was completed in April 2016. At all times the auditors were careful to follow fair procedures and due process”

Referring to the controversy over payments made to  14 senior executives at the St John of God disability service in late 2013 order in late 2013 he said a review is now underway.

He said :”It is important to point out to the Committee that in September 2013 the HSE sought written confirmation from all Section 38 Agencies – including St. John of Gods - that :

- All remuneration paid to employees was in accordance with DOH consolidated pay scales.

- Non- exchequer sources of funding were not being used to supplement employee remuneration to give rise to rates of individual remuneration that exceed DOH consolidated pay scales.

-  If unsanctioned payments were previously paid, all such payments had ceased and the recoupment of any overpayments would be pursued as expeditiously as possible;

An important element of the declarations sought at that time was full disclosure in relation to these matters.

St John of Gods has declared itself as non-compliant with public sector pay policy. This declaration and other recent revelations regarding the payments to the 14staff members are a matter of very grave concern for me and the HSE.

“Consequently, I have asked HSE’s internal audit Division to conduct a Review of these matters as a matter of urgency. In this regard, St John of Gods was written to by HSE’s Internal Audit on July 8th 2016 and asked to provide information and points of clarity by July 20th. The HSE received a solicitor’s letter in response to the Audit process. The HSE intends to pursue its internal audit process notwithstanding.

“This concludes my opening statement and together with my colleagues we will endeavour to answer any questions you may have”.                                   

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