Tuesday 20 August 2019

'Elizabeth would have hated any big memorial' - Charities reveal plans for €30m donation from Laois woman

Elizabeth O'Kelly Photo: Alf Harvey.
Elizabeth O'Kelly Photo: Alf Harvey.
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

The Irish Kidney Association said that they suggested plans to thank Elizabeth O’Kelly for her €6 million donation - but were told she would have “hated it”.

The charity were one of five that received a €6 million donation from the late Mrs O’Kelly last year, and they have only spent a small fraction of the money so far.

Mark Murphy, chief executive of the Irish Kidney Association (IKA), told the Irish Independent that they spent some of the money to purchase a house for patients in Cork who are having treatment at nearby Cork University Hospital. 

He explained that the house cost approximately €400,000 and that they are expecting to pay a further €200,000 to transform the house so it is suitable for patients.

Mr Murphy added that they are in negotiations with the HSE to complete a dialysis unit in Tramore, next to their holiday complex. It is understood that the charity also donated some of the money to renal medical research.

“It’s already made a huge impact. This is 25 times more than we’ve ever got [in donations],” he told the Irish Independent.

Mr Murphy said that when the money was received, they suggested to the executor that the five charities hold some sort of memorial in appreciation of Ms O’Kelly, but that the idea was shut down quickly.

“We’re dying to thank her, and it was an idea to name something after her, but the executor said she would have hated it.

“When we suggested it, he said absolutely not, that’s not the type of woman she was. We would like a way to thank her in a way that the executor would accept, as they knew her for 40-odd years.”

Mr Murphy said Ms O’Kelly did not have any direct connection with the charity, and why she chose them is a mystery.

However, she was a good friend of the late archaeologist and kidney transplant recipient Martin Doody who was chairman of the association in 2012 before his death from kidney disease at the age of 56, he said.

The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) said they have set up a specialist working group to examine how best the windfall can be spent as part of their strategic plan.

“With the number of cancer patients at an all-time high, we are experiencing unprecedented requests for help from cancer patients and their families. Prioritising day-to-day services has enabled our nurses and volunteers to be there for many people as possible," a spokesperson said.

“However, there is so much more we need to do to prevent people getting cancer in the first place and ensure patients get the best possible care. While Ireland’s cancer services have improved significantly in recent years, we still lag behind other countries in many areas.

"Too many lives are being lost due to late diagnoses and delayed access to new treatments that patients in other countries are benefiting from. Cancer survivors also need greater support to help them live as well as possible after treatment.

“Mrs O’Kelly’s very generous legacy gives us a unique opportunity to improve cancer care in Ireland through investment in high impact projects we simply couldn’t fund otherwise. A special working group is currently evaluating how best to invest her gift to make the greatest difference as part of our new Strategic Plan.

"We are incredibly grateful to Mrs O’Kelly for making this possible. Her kindness and generosity will ensure more people win their battle with cancer, just as she did."

Meanwhile, the Irish Heart Foundation confirmed that they have “ringfenced” the €6 million they received from Ms O’Kelly and that it will be specifically spent on a new initiative to tackle childhood obesity.

A spokesperson told the Irish Independent that the charity has spent the past few months formulating the initiative with their board of directors and external partners, with the intention of publishing the details early next year in their 2019-2021 strategy.

The spokesperson added that Ms O’Kelly wasn’t a prior donor and that the large sum was the first they had heard about her when the executor contacted them.

Tim Collins, CEO of the Irish Heart Foundation said they are “committed” to reducing childhood obesity in Ireland and praised Ms O’Kelly for her donation in making it happen. 

“Mrs O’Kelly was a remarkable woman who with her will has gifted five Irish charities a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in and transform Irish society,” he said in a statement today.

“We are extremely grateful to her for her kindness and generosity in choosing to remember the Irish Heart Foundation and our crucial work to protect and improve the cardiovascular health of the nation.”

The RNLI said that Ms O’Kelly was a “long-standing” supporter of the RNLI who regularly volunteered with the service at the RDS in Dublin.

According to the charity, six out of every ten of their lifeboats are paid for by donations.

An RNLI spokesperson said that the due to the large value of the sum, the charity have yet to decide on how to spend it.

“As this is such a large legacy, the RNLI will be carefully considering all options to ensure the funds are used where they are needed most and with a view to how they can be spent to fittingly reflect Mrs O’Kelly’s support for the charity,” they said.

The spokesperson added that directors will likely be meeting to finalise the expenditure, but no other details were available at this time. 

The Irish Society for Autism has pledged to use the funds for general awareness, education and research purposes.

In a statement today, a spokesperson for the charity said the donation was the largest single donation they had ever received, similar to the other charities.

“This work includes training those in contact with people with autism, particularly in education, providing support services to families, and sharing knowledge with legislators to encourage understanding and appropriate responses to the needs of those living with autism

"The Irish Society for Autism are currently completing their five year strategic plan and due consideration is being given on how best to use the late Elizabeth O'Kelly's bequest effectively.

"With this new projects will emerge over the coming year fulfilling the organisation's ethos to promote awareness of autism, drive research and to provide training for those in contact with people with autism. A current project ISA are working on with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) is Autism Awareness Training for Coaches. The society will endeavour to run other such programmes with similar sporting organisations amongst other projects."

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