Friday 18 January 2019

Number of Ireland's leading charities dismiss staff over sexual misconduct allegations

The Haiti earthquake caused devastation on a huge scale in 2010 (AP)
The Haiti earthquake caused devastation on a huge scale in 2010 (AP) Newsdesk Newsdesk

A number of Ireland's leading charities have confirmed that they dismissed staff over sexual misconduct allegations in recent years.

GOAL, Concern, Trócaire and Oxfam Ireland have all dismissed staff members in recent years after they investigated a number of allegations of sexual misconduct.

The charities have confirmed the staff dismissals as it was revealed this week that aid workers at British charity Oxfam allegedly hired prostitutes in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. The sex scandal allegations led to the resignation of Oxfam deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence earlier this week.

A number of Irish overseas aid charities have now confirmed staff dismissals in recent years.

In a statement, the Executive Director of Trocaire Eamonn Meehan said the charity did have to take action against one staff member.

"In 2016 a junior member of staff in an ancillary role was accused of sexual exploitation," he wrote in the statement published on the charity's official website.

"We held an investigation which found that the individual had breached our code of conduct.

"He was dismissed immediately. There is now a criminal investigation into that incident and Trócaire is assisting the local authorities. This is the only such incident relating to staff members to have been reported to us."

He added; "Our team worked quickly, effectively and appropriately to deal with this incident. That is the standard which we expect and demand of ourselves. We cannot and will not tolerate instances of abuse or exploitation."

The statement also read; "The actions of some staff of a UK NGO in Haiti have been discussed widely over recent days. Staff at Trócaire have shared the horror felt by people all over Ireland, and indeed the world, at what has been revealed.

"The revelations from Haiti have led to questions being asked about what steps other NGOs are taking to ensure their work is free from exploitation and abuse.

"Trócaire has a zero tolerance approach." 

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for GOAL told that it had an average of between one and two incidents a year since 2010.

The company said that complaints were immediately investigated thoroughly and, where evidence was confirmed, disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, was taken.

The charity, with headquarters in Dublin, has worked across 24 countries and currently employs almost 2,000 people across 13 countries.

In a statement the company said it "complies with all requirements of all its institutional donors with regard the reporting of allegations of wrongdoing, including those relating to sexual misconduct".

The company said it operates a complaints response mechanism and staff must sign up to a code of conduct.

It also established an Investigations Unit, headed by a former member of An Garda Siochana.

Meanwhile, Concern has carried out internal investigations into claims of sexual misconduct made against more than a dozen staff members in the last 10 years. As a result, individuals were dismissed in three-quarters of the cases. The charity told that "in the less serious cases, other disciplinary action was taken".

They said; "The fact that three quarters of the cases resulted in dismissals, reflects how seriously Concern takes any incidents of reported inappropriate behaviour."

In a statement they continued; "Concern expects the highest standards of behaviour from its 3,900 staff worldwide. We have a zero tolerance approach to sexual misconduct, and we believe that our safeguarding reporting systems work effectively.

"A thorough analysis of our safeguarding reporting systems over the past 10 years has shown that throughout Concern’s home offices and 26 countries of operation we have received an average of one to two reports of sexual misconduct per year.

"All complaints were immediately investigated and, where they were substantiated, disciplinary action was taken. The cases resulted in a number of dismissals and in addition, where relevant, local authorities were notified.

"Our guidelines also clearly state that any prospective employers that contact us for references must be informed of the fact of any dismissal."

The charity said they are now appointing an internal taskforce to "review all of our safeguarding systems and procedures to ensure that they are as robust as possible and that they continue to be consistent with international best practice".

Meanwhile, it was also reported that Oxfam Ireland dismissed a staff member in 2004 after an investigation into an allegation of "gross misconduct".

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