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Killeen refuses to intervene in Red Cross row

Defence Minister Tony Killeen is likely to come under fire over his refusal to intervene after the Irish Red Cross (IRC) cancelled an independent inquiry into financial controls at the charity.

The IRC, which has been dogged in recent months by high turnover of senior staff, allegations of improper governance, financial mismanagement and operating in a "toxic culture", has abandoned its independent inquiry into how €162,000 in donations languished in a Tipperary bank account controlled by a former acting chairman for three years.

This weekend, a spokesman for the IRC confirmed the axing of the independent inquiry, on costs grounds.

Last month, in the midst of intense media controversy, the IRC said it had appointed an independent accountancy firm to investigate how the funds, which were raised for the victims of the Asian tsunami in 2004, languished in the account, controlled by Tony Lawlor, for so long. The account only came to light after an audit was performed by head office in late 2008.

This weekend, a Red Cross spokesman said the investigation had been handed over to an internal committee, a move which has been heavily criticised by Fine Gael TD Jimmy Deenihan, who said an internal investigation simply "won't be credible".

"The Red Cross needs investigating from top to bottom by an independent person who is beyond reproach. This will not now happen and this internal investigation into the Tipperary account is simply not credible, given the damage that has been done to the emblem of the IRC in recent times," Mr Deenihan said.

In a statement, the IRC said: "The Irish Red Cross wishes to confirm that it has put an internal committee in place of an accountancy firm, to carry out the review in question. This decision has been made in order to avoid unnecessary expenditure."

Despite the IRC receiving almost €1m from the taxpayer every year, Mr Killeen said yesterday he would not intervene in this issue.

His spokeswoman said: "The Red Cross is an independent charitable body. The minister has no role in the day-to-day activities or internal decisions of the society or its executive council."

Last week it emerged that the IRC manager who revealed himself to be the author of an anonymous blog that criticised the charity had been found guilty of gross misconduct by an internal disciplinary committee.

Noel Wardick, the IRC's head of the international department, will probably be dismissed unless he can overturn the decision on appeal.

Mr Wardick revealed he had written the blog after IRC took Google, the blog's host, and UPC, the internet service provider, to the High Court in a bid to unmask the author.

After an order for discovery was granted against UPC, it agreed to pass on Mr Wardick's details. This information identified him as the likely author of an anonymous email sent to alert the IRC's members to the blog. He then revealed he was the author. Despite Mr Wardick's admission, the IRC is still pursuing Google at a cost of "many tens of thousands of euro".

Sunday Independent