Saturday 20 January 2018

State shows how helpless it is in face of charity scandals

Tales of squandered monies and a dereliction of trust have engulfed Console’s Paul Kelly
Tales of squandered monies and a dereliction of trust have engulfed Console’s Paul Kelly
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

The revelations about suicide prevention charity Console bears all the hallmarks of a Hollywood blockbuster. A horror one. As tales of squandered monies and trust engulfed Console founder Paul Kelly, the High Court heard that the treasurer and accountant of a state-funded charity providing education and support for teenagers misappropriated up to €161,000 of its funds for his own benefit.

Separately, the St John of God Group was forced to deny that it hid a payment of €1.64m from its order to 14 executives from the HSE.

St John of God, one of the country's best- loved charities, says the additional funds to its executives were undisclosed in its public accounts as they came from the order.

It also said the top-ups were paid to discharge pension and employment liabilities.

But the HSE, which obliges so-called Section 38 agencies to abide by public sector pay rules (Section 38 employees are regarded as public servants) has now sent in a team of internal auditors to do the math.

The infamous charity 'top-up' was the beast that slayed confidence in the Central Remedial Clinic, which has just confirmed that it will not pursue its ex-chief Paul Kiely over a €741,000 severance package that he received.

Owing to a complex history - which saw the Catholic Church monopolise the provision of education, health and social services - the State has sub-contracted much of its duties to charities with questionable levels of supervision or scrutiny by bodies such as the HSE, which provide taxpayers' funds to support them.

The betrayal of vulnerable families who have lost loved ones to suicide and countless others who accessed Console's national helpline at a time of deep personal crisis is unforgiveable.

What is equally unforgivable is the learned helplessness of the State in the face of a sustained series of charity scandals.

Prompted by an RTE Prime Time expose, a belated maelstrom of State inquiries, civil and criminal, have been unleashed in the wake of the Console revelations. And our charity regulator, set up two years ago (despite being on the statute books since 2009) was finally granted investigative and enforcement powers last week.

The real question that must be asked is why the HSE, which conducted an onsite examination of Console in June of last year - paying it €70,000 a month towards its helpline - did not intervene sooner?

It is not just charities who receive public monies and private donations that need strong oversight and regulation.

The ability of the State to follow the money and audit use of taxpayers' funds it extends to charities that are effectively state contractors, is also in need of serious review.

I'm less than optimistic about those prospects.

Because even where controversies do fall for public scrutiny, the role of the supervisory bodies is often open to question. And the response by occasionally over-zealous politicians is a cure that is often worse than the disease.

In this latter regard, the forthcoming legal action by former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins, who resigned from the disability charity group two years ago following scrutiny of executive pay levels, will be instructive.

Charity begins at home and the State has to get its house in order if it is to have any credibility in charity regulation.

Still dragging stilettos on female board posts

Britain's next Prime Minister will be a woman, America is poised to elect its first female President and Angela Merkel is holding Europe together.

Queen Bey (Beyonce) is rocking Croke Park and the Irish Defence Forces has just promoted a woman to the rank of Colonel for the first time.

So it was disappointing to see that of the four new non-executive appointments to the board of Ervia by Taoiseach-in-waiting Simon Coveney, there wasn't one woman amongst them.

Not one.

It's true that Ervia, the parent of Irish Water, once boasted a female chairperson and currently has two women on its board.

And no woman wants to be that dreaded token chick.

But we can and must do better.

Only 14pc of Irish CEOs and 10.5pc of publicly listed company board members are female and our gender pay gap is widening as other jurisdictions decrease.

Female UK FTSE board appointments have hit a five-year low, but the UK is still in better shape than Ireland which has less female women in senior management than Turkey.

It's frustrating as the business and economic case for gender diversity in the workplace has not just been met - it's beyond dispute.

Advancing women's equality can add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025 according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

But Ireland is still dragging its stilettos (sorry, ladies) when it comes to board appointments.

A lot done, more to do, as the resurgent if gender diversity challenged Fianna Fail might say.

British Ambassador has last laugh before he goes

IN the unlikely event that the heat of Brexit proves too much for Dominick Chilcott, a career in stand-up comedy may beckon.

Britain's outgoing Ambassador to Ireland was honoured last Thursday night at a gala dinner hosted by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and PwC.

Ambassador Chilcott exudes all the charm, reserve and restraint that one might expect of a representative of Her Majesty's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

But he also revealed a capacity for perfectly timed, bawdy comedy that had luminaries such as AIB chairman Richard Pym, US Ambassador Kevin O'Malley, Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and eir Chairman Padraig Mac Manus in stitches.

Chilcott began his speech by thanking BICC President Eamonn Egan for "the generous and sensibly proportioned gifts". The Snag? The Ambassador hadn't received any.

Egan, country manager for Lloyds and an amateur jockey, did pony up with a first edition of the Dublin Book of Irish Verse 1728-1909 and an Hermes tie for the guest of honour.

But not before Chilcott regaled the audience with fond dispatches from Ireland and by telling a series of risque jokes including one about two monarchs and a farting horse.

Chilcott returns to the FCO at the end of the month before he and his diplomatic fraternity are sent back out into the world to bat for Britain.

Brand Britain won't be an easy sell post-Brexit. But if all else fails, Chilcott can always laugh Blighty's critics into submission.

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