Saturday 22 October 2016

Question marks remain over grants paid to autism charity

Luke Byrne and Nicola Anderson

Published 06/08/2016 | 02:30

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

Under-fire charity Irish Autism Action (IAA) suddenly stopped applying for a generous Government grant in 2014 - and misled its members about the reasoning behind the decision.

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The directors of the charity incorrectly reported a scheme it had claimed more than €600,000 from since 2008 "ended" in 2013.

In fact the scheme is still active, but the charity decided not to continue to apply for funding - despite warnings in its annual reports about shortfalls and cutbacks.

The grant, known as Scheme to Support National Organisations (SSNO), is administered by the Department of the Environment.

It comes after chief executive Brian Murnane was forced to admit the charity had received over €600,000 in Government funding - despite previous claims that it received no State aid.

The Irish Independent has discovered discrepancies in the charity's accounts regarding the grant funding in the years before it decided not to reapply for the money.

These related to how much the IAA received under the grant from the State, and when the money was received.

For example, the Department of the Environment said it provided €37,303 to the IAA in 2014 under the SSNO. It said funding under the scheme to the charity stopped on June 30 of that year.

But the income section of the charity's accounts for the year ending December 2014 left the 'Government grant' column empty.

The department provided the IAA with €84,780 in funding in the year 2013. But a note on the charity's accounts for that year said it only received €77,083 - some €7,697 less.

The Irish Independent put several queries to Mr Murnane regarding the discrepancies in the accounts filed - including the €7,697 shortfall in the grant funding specified in 2013.

However, Mr Murnane said he was unable to provide answers at this time.

"I am afraid I cannot answer all of your questions, as all of this pre-dates my time as CEO.

"I will confer with my team, some of whom are on leave, to provide the answers for you," he replied in an email.

Mr Murnane took up his €78,000-a-year post in recent weeks after the resignation of predecessor Kevin Whelan.

Last night, the Department of the Environment told the Irish Independent that the charity applied for a grant under the SSNO scheme for this year but the application was rejected.

"In a robust and very competitive process, IAA's application for funding was unsuccessful following assessment," he said.

The Department did not reveal the grounds on which the application had been rejected.

Irish Independent

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