Thursday 17 August 2017

Disability Minister blasts St John of God's over secret payments to staff

Disability Minister Finian McGrath Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Disability Minister Finian McGrath Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Disability Minister Finian McGrath has severely criticised the St John of God's chartiy after it emerged the order's funds were used to pay out more than €6.2m in secret payments to senior staff.

Mr McGrath has not spoken publicly on the controversy, however, in a letter seen by the Sunday Independent, the minister said he was "absolutely outraged" about the controversy which caused "tremendous anxiety" for users of the charity.

The disability charity, which received €138m in grants this year, has been badly damaged after an internal audit revealed millions of euros was spent on payments to senior executives.

St John of God's (SJOG) has insisted the payments were made in good faith following independent legal advice received by the order. The charity said it did not intend to mislead the Health Service Executive (HSE) or cover up the payments to staff.

However, Mr McGrath is demanding answers from the order regarding the payments, which he believes are in breach of public sector pay rules. The minister is due to meet St John of God's provincial Brother Donatus Forkan this week to discuss the fallout from the controversy.

In a strongly-worded letter written to Brother Donatus ahead of the meeting, Mr McGrath said public sector pay protocols were "blatantly ignored" by the charity over many years.

He said this has resulted in a "fundamental distrust" between the charity and the HSE, which provides the organisation with hundreds of millions of euros of State funding.

"I want to be quite frank with you Brother Donatus, I am absolutely outraged that funds which could have been better used for the provision of disability and mental health services have been used to make substantial payments to staff in non-compliance with public sector pay rules," he said.

The minister said he was "angered" by the internal audit's findings, especially the suggestion that the charity showed a "lack of candour" on the issue when it first arose in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Mr McGrath also said he acknowledged "all the good work" done by the charity for people with disabilities.

"However, these totally unacceptable practices as revealed have caused tremendous anxiety for service users and their families, not to mention the damage done to the reputation of both SJOG Community Services and the St John of God order itself," he added.

He said the taxpayer has been "short changed" by the charity and he expects the money to be repaid.

The minister is also seeking to establish how much money the charity paid to financial advisers who devised the payment scheme which benefited senior executives.

Mr McGrath also told Brother Donatus he expects the charity to fully cooperate with any further investigations by the HSE into the payments.

Sunday Independent

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