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Monday 20 November 2017

Charity 'used funds for flights to Australia and New Zealand'

Console founder Paul Kelly resigned on Thursday. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Console founder Paul Kelly resigned on Thursday. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Aeroplane tickets to Australia and New Zealand were paid for out of charity income to the suicide bereavement organisation Console, an unpublished HSE audit has found.

The HSE is seeking a full response from Console on funds totalling around €500,000 which were used for a range of items, including the flights and other expenses which appear not to be directly relevant to the charity's work.

The charity, which received €855,227 from the health service in 2014, will continue to be funded and keep on with its bereavement counselling work pending the outcome of a probe into its finances by the HSE and the gardaí.

Founder Paul Kelly resigned as chief executive on Thursday night. His wife Patricia, also a director, resigned as well. An 'RTE Investigates' programme revealed a range of irregularities, including payments of €215,000 to its directors from 2010-2012. As a tax-exempted charity, directors are not entitled to payments.

Mr Kelly, who was paid around €90,000 in consultancy fees, has denied any wrongdoing.

The board has asked accountant Tom Murray and David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Association to conduct an external review of the charity, which began yesterday.

The charities regulator, John Farrelly, said yesterday: "Where a member of the public has a concern about non-compliance with the Charities Act, we actively encourage them to pass this information onto us.

"If we believe that any charitable organisation is in breach of legislation, it is our policy to require a meeting with their trustees to seek assurances that they are in compliance with the law."

However, Ivan Cooper of The Wheel, a national organisation representing 1,350 Irish charities, warned the regulator, whose office was set up to oversee the industry in 2014, is still without key investigative powers.

The regulator still cannot take action against a charity based on information brought by a third party, he said.

"More than 50,000 people act as trustees or voluntary directors of charities in Ireland, and together these individuals control more than €7bn of spending on services delivered by more than 11,000 organisations. It is the responsibility of trustees to ensure that any and all statements, claims and funding applications they make to support their work are true and accurate."

The HSE said that a copy of its internal audit has been sent to its mental health division.

In a statement, it said: "The National Director for Mental Health has considered the findings and recommendations and has engaged with Console and has asked it for any comments it may have. Once this engagement process is complete, a decision will be taken regarding future arrangements with Console."

It alleged Console also named people as board members who had no association with the charity and were unaware they were being listed. They included former senator Jillian van Turnhout.

Console breached Revenue Commissioners rules which state there should be a minimum of three officers, trustees or directors who are not related.

The board produced a number of different accounts in the one year and on several occasions failed to disclose the directors' pay.

Console received €150,000 in funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs to run its London centre.

Former RTE chief reporter Charlie Bird, who pledged the proceeds of his book 'A Day in May: Real Lives, True Stories' to Console, is reviewing the decision.

Irish Independent

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