Sunday 18 February 2018

How disgraced suicide charity paid for trips to sun spots Rome and Tenerife

Former console CEO Paul Kelly
Former console CEO Paul Kelly
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The cost of trips to holiday hotspots Tenerife and Cyprus were among the destinations charged to the suicide bereavement charity Console, according to a HSE audit.

Over the course of two years, Console clocked up a foreign travel bill of €71,460.

The final audit into the scandal-hit charity, which was at the centre of revelations of lavish spending by founder Paul Kelly, was released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The destinations also included Rome, Australia and Dubai - although no details were provided of who travelled there or the reasons why.

Console told the auditors that "all expenditure on travel was for Console purposes".

The HSE auditor's comment that travel was excessive should be viewed in context and the "benefit" that the charity got from the trips, the Console response added.

The charity was liquidated with debts of at least €300,000 last summer after it after disclosures about Mr Kelly's lavish spending of funds.

An internal HSE audit which began in 2015 revealed lavish spending of charity funds on foreign travel, cars and designer clothes.

Mr Kelly, his wife Patricia and their son Tim benefited by almost €500,000 in salaries and cars between 2012 and 2014 when it had an income of €5m from public fund raising and generous HSE grants.

In an update, the liquidators at Friel Stafford said 58 counsellors who were on contract at the charity at the time said they rank as an unsecured creditor.

This means they would only be paid after payments to fixed charge holders, the cost of liquidation, preferential creditors and floating charge holders were taken care off.

"It is too early to determine what dividend, if any is payable to any class of creditor as the realisation of the company's assets is ongoing," said liquidator Tom Murray.

Around nine permanent employees received statutory redundancy from the Department of Social Protection.

He said Pieta House, the suicide support charity which is now operating the former Console helpline, offered contracts to many of the former counsellors.

A number of investigations are continuing into Console, including a criminal probe by the Office of Corporate Enforcement.

The UK charity regulator is also examining Console's operation in London.

No action has been take against any person involved in the former charity almost a year since the shock revelations.

Mr Kelly who lives in a gated home in Alexandra Manor, Clane, Co Kildare has since applied to draw social welfare.

Meanwhile, Benefacts, the public database of civil society organisations in Ireland has found that disclosure standards by charities in 2015 have fallen.

It said 23pc of all charities are opting to file abridged financial statements, which provide no information about the sources of their income.

The Charity Regulator, John Farrelly, is bringing in new regulations to force all charities to produce full accounts detailing how they spend their money.

He secured the agreement of Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to amend the Charities Act to make charities fully financially transparent.

The accounts will have to detail the level of funding, how it is spent and the salaries of its employees.

Over 320 charities have now adopted the SORP (Statement of Recommended Practice) system where they have voluntarily put forward detailed financial information.

Around 3,458 charities are companies.

Irish Independent

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