Monday 20 May 2019

Garda probe in to Positive Action spending underway

Thinkstock Images
Thinkstock Images

Eilish O’Regan

Gardai have confirmed an investigation is underway into allegations involving Positive Action, the Hepatitis C support group at the centre of a damning financial audit.

The probe began at the end of last year and no arrests have been made, a garda spokesman confirmed.

The disclosure follows a recent audit by the which found the group used public funding on dog kennels, alcohol, expensive restaurant meals, beauty therapy and groceries.

Positive Action, which was set up in 1994 to support women who received the contaminated blood product Anti-D in maternity hospitals, failed to manage all of the €2.3m it received in funding from the HSE between 2009 and 2013.

The HSE audit found there were non-existent controls and significant extravagance as well as irregularities. It was difficult to find out where all of the money went because of reluctance to give full information.

Around 1,000 women were infected with Hepatitis C after receiving the blood product which was negligently contaminated by the former Blood Transfusion Service Board. The virus attacks the liver and can cause death.

The organisation had its funding stopped by the HSE earlier this year and has since wound up with debts of around €107,000, much of which it owes to the HSE.

The audit revealed how the group paid out €250,000 in travel expenses. Restaurant dining in the United States included $66 filet mignon, $234 for four lobster meals, $463 on alcohol, $1,700 on tips, $135 on excess luggage, $235 on laptop cases, and $300 on taxis.

Travel costs over four years amounted to €104,000, according to the audit report obtained by RTE News. Most of the conferences were held for medical experts rather than  non-medics.

In some cases the spouses of the directors accompanied them on the trips and stayed on in the locations for some time afterwards. The audit did any evidence of the costs of spouses being repaid.

Other costs involved  €19,540 on supermarket bills, gifts of €2,223, a courier to transport dry cleaning cost €202 and dog kennels cost €185.It found that €86,781 was spent on dining and purchases of groceries.

It also paid for relaxation weekends for some of its members. Around €100,000 was spent on complementary therapies, including angel healing, angel card readings, crystal healing, thought field therapy, spiritual healing and aromatherapy.

They also funded a wide range of massage and beauty therapies, including facials, manicures and pedicures .One member claimed €550 to attend a course called “Dancing the Spiral”.

A high volume mail machine and a projector, were purchased and never used. The audit said full accounts were not kept and expenses claims not correctly vouched.

On corporate governance, the internal audit found that proper accounts had not been maintained, and that expenses claims were not properly vouched.

The external auditor of Positive Action had prepared the accounts without visiting the organisation’s offices or seeing supporting documentation.

Positive Action was wound up in May after an extraordinary general meeting and placed in liquidation.

Efforts to contact a number of directors were unsuccessful last night. One director told the audit they were being scapgoated and others said it wrongly focused on trival spending. Others said they raised concerns but were not listened to.

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