Charity sector in 'total state of chaos', says Ireland Fund chair
A PROMINENT Irish-American philanthropist has spoken of her dismay after she cut a family holiday short and flew to Ireland at her own expense to hear Frank Flannery speak on a tax initiative to stimulate philanthropy – only to discover he was financially profiting from the drive.
Loretta Brennan Glucksman, who has helped to raise over $400m for Irish charities, also told of how disturbing revelations about the finances of Irish charities are having a "chilling effect" on the fund-raising sector.
Ms Glucksman was part of a group of charity bosses who attended a meeting at the Oireachtas last July to hear Mr Flannery speak about the proposal.
She was not aware at the time that the former Fine Gael strategist was paid €60,000 a year by a charity in a campaign to seek tax changes from the Government to boost philanthropic donations from Ireland's tax exiles.
"I had no idea. I never considered for a moment there would be a payment for anyone," Ms Glucksman told the Sunday Independent.
"The charity sector has taken such a battering and we were in a situation of disarray to begin with – that's what the whole discussion was for, to see how we could address that – and now it has been dealt another blow and it's very disconcerting."
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Describing her reaction this weekend, she added: "I feel confused with the tidal wave of information and I feel very sad. I think Frank is a good man, I think this is very atypical. There's been a lot of confusing information and I don't pretend to know the facts of the matter but I feel sad for him and his family.
"I want to believe it has resulted from a series of misunderstandings but the fact of the matter is that this sector that [my husband] and I have worked in for the last 30 years is in a total state of chaos and that is very concerning to me," said Ms Glucksman, who, along with her late husband, has personally contributed $27m to projects in Ireland, including the Glucksman Gallery in UCC and the libraries in universities in Limerick and Trinity. She also described as "dangerous" the wider string of revelations to come out of the charity sector, giving a stark warning for the future of fundraising for worthwhile causes:
Ms Glucksman warned: "This is going to have a chilling effect in the sector for years to come. It's going to take us so long to build back any sort of trust or confidence. It's a shame because so many really, really fine people have put so much work into it and now, with something like this, it makes people question everything. And there's no way to rebut that. You can't say we didn't do that because, who knows? There is such a climate of suspicion and that's anathema to the goodwill that you want to raise money for charity."
However, the philanthropist, who makes a point of personally covering all of her own expenses, is determined to carry on the work of the American Ireland Fund.
"We never ever allowed anything to go astray, even in the most innocuous way, and now everyone is looking at anyone in the sector with the same sort of question and suspicion."
The former chairman of the Worldwide Ireland Funds has worked tirelessly to promote Irish culture and to establish strong ties between America and the island of Ireland. Over the 18 years she led the Fund, it has raised close to $400m, $150m of this in the past five years alone through the Promising Ireland Campaign, benefiting hundreds of charities across the island of Ireland.
She was also presented with the Rehab International Person of the Year award last September but said "it was the only time I have ever had any dealings at all with Rehab except to read about them".
Asked if her view of the award has changed, she added: "I don't feel any different because I still don't know what happened, but I am not in the judgement business, so I won't make any decision until I have a lot more information."