Wednesday 17 January 2018

Pieta House to take over services of scandal-hit Console following HSE agreement

Tim Healy

THE High Court has appointed a provisional liquidator to the charity Console after hearing it is €294,000 in debt and is unable to ensure maintenance of its service to people affected by suicide.

Its services are being taken over by Pieta House charity which works in the same area and there will be an almost seamless transition with a phone counselling service to be out for no more than an hour, the court heard.  Clients of the service can continue with Pieta House or opt out.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan appointed Tom Murray, of Friel Stafford, as provisional liquidator after hearing an agreement was being worked out between Console's main funder, the HSE, and Pieta House to take over the services.

Freezing orders have been obtained over the assets of three of Console's directors including its founder Paul Kelly and his wife Patricia.   The court heard the other directors were not even aware they were directors, never attended board meetings and had no information about what went on at the charity.

Rossa Fanning BL, for the HSE, said the agreement between the HSE and Pieta House covered the next ten days and during that time a more complete agreement for the longterm would be worked out.   The court would be update on that in two weeks time.

Details of the agreement were provided to the court but were not being revealed publicly because the the commercially sensitive nature of some of the information, counsel said.

Earlier, Martin Hayden SC (with Keith Farry BL) made the application seeking the appointment of the provisional liquidator.

In an affidavit David Hall, interim CEO of Console, said the charity had roughly 10,000 phone calls and 10,000 text messages to its helpline along with 5,000 counselling sessions in 2015.

There is an average of 29 calls per day to its helpline, it assists around 6,000 individuals on a annual basis with 314 currently receiving one-to-one counselling.  It employs 12 people full time and has 60 contracted counsellors around the country.

Mr Hall reviewed the accounts and learned the charity had been loss making for several years although, he said, the accounts perhaps showed otherwise.

Accounts for year ended 2014  showed an operating surplus of €17,490 - but it was balance sheet insolvent with a deficit of €105,739, he said.

Console operated by virtue of grants and donations but the only reason it has survived over the last number of years was support from the HSE, which gives it €53,000 per month, he said.

As a result of the fallout from current revelations, grants and donations had fallen to a trickle.

Mr Hall believes the charity requires a monthly income of €105,000.  It appeared that up until now it operated a monthly deficit and, following largefundraising events, some but not all these debts were cleared.

The €294,808 debt is made up of €77,500 due to Revenue, €74,421 due in wages for staff who are due to be paid on July 20, and €90,860 due to suppliers.

It also operates a number of rented premises around the country and has not been in a position to pay the rent on some of these. 

Even if the HSE support continued, it could not meet its obligations, primarily outreach services, face-to-face counselling and phone counselling. 

The board of directors resolved on Wednesday (July 13) to put the Console company into liquidation.  Mr Hall also met with the Minister for Health Simon Harris on Wednesday in relation to his concerns over its future.  There was also significant engagement with the HSE about continuation of the service by an alternative provider.

Mr Justice Gilligan was satisfied Console appeared to be hopelessly insolvent and not in a positon to meet its liabilities. 

Additional powers he granted to the liquidator were to provide the HSE, or the new provider, with any data relating to the files of people who are receiving counselling but this would only be with the consent of those clients.

The court also approved an order sought by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, and agreed with the HSE, that corporate files of the charity, and not personal data of the service users, would be handed over to the director for a possible criminal investigation into the affairs of Console.

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