Friday 24 November 2017

Bereaved find a counselling haven after the Console fiasco

Pieta House chief executive Brian Higgins Photo: Mary Browne
Pieta House chief executive Brian Higgins Photo: Mary Browne
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Staff in the former Console charity are now working for Pieta House - two weeks after it took over the vital suicide bereavement counselling service.

Pieta House chief executive Brian Higgins said the 11 full-time Console staff, who faced losing their jobs, have been offered contracts - and all but one have accepted.

They had a variety of roles including managing centres and overseeing counselling.

Also, around 60 former bereavement counsellors have been offered three-month contracts and, so far, up to 40 have signed up.

The transition followed weeks of turmoil in the wake of revelations that Console founder Paul Kelly squandered huge sums of charity donations on his personal lifestyle.

It led to Console being liquidated with debts of nearly €300,000. Mr Kelly is now applying for social welfare.

Pieta House had been solely involved in helping the suicidal and people who self-harm. They range in age from seven to 80 years of age. When it took over the task of suicide bereavement counselling from Console, on the request of the HSE, it was reliant on the former counsellors who had the necessary expertise in this area.

The number of Console clients who were in bereavement counselling has remained steady at around 314.

Pieta House is anxious to promote the service and advise anyone who needs bereavement counselling to contact them.

"We are anxious to tell people the service is still there - it's just governed by another organisation," Mr Higgins said.

The Pieta House helpline, staffed by counsellors, has been receiving around 30 calls a day.

These include people who are suicidal and also those who require bereavement counselling.

The bereavement counselling service is being funded by the HSE at an undisclosed sum, which is believed to be around €1.5m a year.

Interim Console chief David Hall discovered that several of the counselling centres operated by that company were in private houses and had not received the proper planning permission for the service.

Mr Higgins said he has now made planning applications and has secured existing premises from several landlords, even though they were due rent arrears running into several thousand euro from Console.

The organisation is still hugely dependent on fundraising, donations and corporate sponsors to keep its services going.

He said he was anxious to connect with members of the public who had been involved in fundraising for Console but who deserted the charity after the scandal broke.

"The people who fundraise and donate are the people who have built the services," Mr Higgins said.

"They are the ones that talk about suicide in the community. They are biggest players."

Irish Independent

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