Thursday 29 September 2016

Mothers now seek probe of charity after services cut

Fundraisers for Irish Autism Action delay release of proceeds pending explanation

Wayne O'Connor and Maeve Sheehan

Published 07/08/2016 | 02:30

Brian Murnane. Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography
Brian Murnane. Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

Irish Autism Action could lose many thousands of euro in donations pledged from upcoming fundraising events after it was plunged into controversy over cutting services to its members.

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The charity, once fronted by former Boyzone singer Keith Duffy, caused uproar among parents of children with autism after it cut its outreach services and decided to focus on national advocacy and awareness campaigns.

Numerous fundraising events around the country are being promoted on the charity's Facebook page, but parents are questioning how those funds are to be spent. Meanwhile, a group of mothers of children with autism - Irish Autism Mammys - has asked members to email the Charity Regulator to request an investigation of the charity.

Separately, an organisation that has previously raised hundreds of thousands for Irish Autism Action announced last week that it will not release the proceeds of this year's fundraising event until it is satisfied about how the money will be spent.

Early Childhood Ireland raised €300,000 during its annual National Pyjama Day event this year.

The money is ring-fenced for Access Autism, an awareness and training programme for teachers involved in early childhood educations. It also funds a Step Ahead programme that provides direct intervention and parent training for families.

The organisation met the charity's new CEO Brian Murnane to seek assurances that it can deliver on the agreement between the two organisations before any money is relayed, and said it is continuing to monitor the situation closely.

Parents with the group Irish Autism Mammys also met with Mr Murnane last week to discuss their concerns about how membership fees and funds were being spent.

This weekend, Jacqueline Moran and Yvonne O'Toole, administrators of the group, said they were not satisfied that their concerns had been addressed.

"There are still questions to answer. We are glad it is being highlighted and hope a proper investigation is held into Irish Autism Action," said Ms Moran.

In 2014, the charity provided more than 400 outreach services and support for children with autism. However, at the start of this year the charity was providing 17 different families with the service. The cutback means it is now currently assisting only two families.

At the meeting last week, Mr Murnane revealed that the charity has no written budget for 2016. He said the charity was working on a cashflow basis because the charity was at the mercy of irregular fundraised income.

Income at the charity dropped from €1.7m in 2012 to €960,000 in 2014. It also ran up a deficit of €74,000 that year, according to the most recent accounts filed. They show the charity spent more than €1m that year and ran at a deficit of more than €40,000. Mr Murnane was also forced to row back on a suggestion that the charity received no state funding after it came to light that IAA was given €648,000 between 2008 and 2014.

Irish Autism Action said the outreach service was funded by the HSE but the funding was insufficient and the service had become too expensive to run.

The charity "chose to restructure" and to "focus exclusively on "national advocacy, information/advice and support and national awareness initiatives", a statement said.

The HSE said Irish Autism Action received €54,000 in grant aid between 2013 and 2016. It was paid €71,000 in total last year and this year.

Sunday Independent

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