Sunday 22 April 2018

Closure of charity will cost 12 jobs and leave a raft of debt

Paul Kelly Picture: Robbie Reynolds
Paul Kelly Picture: Robbie Reynolds
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The disgraced charity Console will leave a massive trail of debt as it is shut down, costing the jobs of its 12 staff, who are owed €86,000.

The decision to wind up the charity - set up in 2002 to provide counselling to people bereaved by suicide - was taken at a high level meeting between interim chief executive David Hall and the HSE yesterday.

It comes after two tumultuous weeks of ongoing revelations about the squandering of charity funds by its founder Paul Kelly.

A court application to liquidate the charity is to be made in the next week.

Read More: 'To be taking advantage of the generosity of people who fundraise on cold, dark nights is just so wrong'

People who are currently undergoing counselling at its centres in Dublin and around the country are to be offered a transfer to another charity, such as Pieta House.

The HSE said it will bankroll the transfer of the service to another counselling agency at a cost of around €100,000 a month.

It pledged to continue to support the 24/7 suicide helpline, the suicide bereavement liaison service and counselling under new providers.

"All parties at the meeting reiterated that the over-riding priority is the continuation of services to clients who are currently availing of them."

The hope is that Console counsellors, who were mostly employed by the hour, will continue to provide the service under the new arrangement and ensure the transition is as seamless as possible for their clients at such a vulnerable point in their lives.

A full trawl of the charity's financial liabilities is still under way but many creditors, including staff, are unlikely to ever be fully paid.

Hundreds of thousands of euro are believed due to suppliers and some €70,000 is owed to the Revenue Commissioners.

The two cars owned by the Kellys, a Mercedes and Audi will be auctioned off and a property on the Navan Rd in Dublin, and a mortgage of over €500,000 will also be sold.

Paul Kelly channelled hundreds of thousands of euro through credit cards which meant that even though bank accounts were frozen by the High Court there was little cash left.

Ballyfermot-born Kelly, who is now receiving treatment in a psychiatric hospital, helped to bleed the charity financially dry with lavish spending on salaries, cars and foreign travel.

The charity regulator in the UK has frozen two bank accounts which were linked to Console. The money was transferred from Console in Ireland to the London centre, where Paul Kelly's son Tim was director of services; £43,700 was found in one account and the other was empty.

Commenting on the potential fallout of the Console scandal for other charities, Dominic Leyden, head of the depression support agency AWARE said it is likely to have widespread repercussions.

"What happened in Console is a million miles away from us and how we operate.

"For the vast majority of charities there is a fundamental decency. But there are rogues in all walks of life.

"When it happens in the business world it is just fraud but in the charity world it just spreads .

"It has the potential to affect the users of charity services because they will lose confidence in charities.

"It will damage the trust of their relatives and impact on fund raising.

"The unfortunate knock-on effect is that this, in turn, affects the ability of charities to deliver essential services."

Console's financial activities are currently the subject of a range of investigations, including criminal probes by the gardaí and the Office of Corporate Enforcement.

The HSE has defended its decision to continue to fund Console, even though it had carried out a damning audit, and an 'RTE Investigates' programme uncovered for the public the full extent of the scandal.

It insisted it was essential the helpline and counselling continue.

Between 2012 and 2014 the Kellys spent €736,000 on credit cards.

The HSE grant-aided Console with €252,114 in 2012 and it soared to €855,227 in 2014, with much of it unaccounted for.

Irish Independent

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