Saturday 20 January 2018

Accountants hired to probe Irish Red Cross donations


THE Irish Red Cross (IRC) has appointed an independent accounting firm to investigate how €162,000 of donations to victims of the Asian Tsunami went untouched for over three years in a Tipperary bank account -- saying it has "nothing to hide".

The society, which has been dogged by controversy in recent weeks over an alleged lack of governance and financial mismanagement, has this weekend sent a memo to staff outlining the "hurt and damage" suffered because of negative media coverage.

The letter was not sent out by national vice-chairman Tony Lawlor, whose IRC branch controlled the account in which the money was found, as would normally be the case.

Acting chairman Ted Noonan sent it. He is filling in for Mr Lawlor who is on leave "for a few weeks", a society spokesman said yesterday

The move by the IRC to appoint independent accountants comes despite it knowing about the "administrative error" for over two years, and has occurred only since it has been the subject of intense media scrutiny.

Mr Noonan's memo to staff on Friday said that to have "communities we serve question our integrity and motives is an insult to everyone in the Irish Red Cross who have given so much of themselves to help others".

He continued that the questions in the media have "caused real hurt and embarrassment" to IRC members but he did admit that the response to such questions "has been slow and, in some cases, silent".

He confirmed that an independent firm of accountants would investigate the Tipperary bank account mystery but the name of the firm was not disclosed.

The society has been without a chairman since last November or a full-time secretary general for several months.

Declan O'Sullivan is acting secretary general following on from a period in which he acted as a financial consultant to the IRC -- at a cost of €320,000 over two years.

"It should be pointed out that in 2009 the Irish Red Cross ran up a large deficit of over €700,000.

"It would appear consultancy fees contributed considerably to this deficit," was how IRC whistleblower Noel Wardick put it on his controversial blog.

Mr Wardick, the IRC's head of international development, recently revealed himself as the man behind the severely critical blog and is currently suspended pending an investigation into his conduct.

The letter to staff this weekend refers to Mr Wardick, confirming his suspension. "I can confirm that he is currently suspended pending an investigation. I cannot comment any further at this time due to legal advice."

The memo also sought to address deep criticisms of Sheila Callan, a senior volunteer who appeared on a recent RTE Primetime Investigates programme about the IRC.

"Some of you expressed concerns that Sheila was not prepared for the interview. This is completely incorrect and apologies have already been made to Sheila for any such unintentional inference," Mr Noonan said.

He concluded by saying that management at the IRC is "working on a range of issues that will hopefully eliminate many of the negative elements we have been criticised for".

Sunday Independent

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