Saturday 21 April 2018

Troubled suicide charity Console is to be wound down

Paul Kelly and (inset) his wife Patricia
Paul Kelly and (inset) his wife Patricia

Eilish O’Regan and Meadhbh McGrath

The troubled suicide bereavement charity Console is to be wound down.

The charity's services, which included counselling and a helpline, are expected to be transferred to other support organisations.

In a statement today the HSE said that on the request of Minister Simon Harris, a very constructive meeting took place this morning involving David Hall, the Charities Regulator, representatives from the Charities sector, the HSE and Department of Health officials.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the ongoing issues regarding Console and how services currently being provided by Console and funded by the HSE can be continued. These services are the 24/7 Suicide Helpline, the Suicide Bereavement Liaison Service, and the Suicide Bereavement Counselling Service.

All parties at the meeting reiterated that the over-riding priority is the continuation of services to clients who are currently availing of them.

The HSE has been considering arrangements for a transition of the three services in the past number of weeks. A major part of today's meeting was to discuss with David Hall a specific proposal for the continuation of the three services.

These discussions will continue today. It would be inappropriate to the discussions and unhelpful to the vulnerable users of the three services to make any further comment at this time.

David Hall was installed last week to try to rescue the charity.

David Hall: outlined spending to the High Court Picture: Collins Courts
David Hall: outlined spending to the High Court Picture: Collins Courts

He had warned Console would have to close its doors shortly if it did not get additional funding by the HSE.

He said it was costing €100,000 a month to run Console and the HSE funding amounts to just €70,000.

Some €70,000 is owed to the Revenue Commisioners and there are also unknown legacy debts.

He has found no secret stash of funds which would help bail out the charity.

Former chief executive Paul Kelly, who is in a psychiatric hospital, spent lavish amounts of donations and HSE funding on his salary, cars and travel.

Console enjoyed an income of over €5m in recent years. But much of the cash was squandered using credit cards. Around €53,000 which was deposited by the HSE is all that was left in the bank account.

Another £100,000 is in the Console account in the UK.

The government has pledged to ensure the continued delivery of Console's services.

During Leaders’ Questions at the Dáil on Thursday, Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath asked Education Minister Richard Bruton for a guarantee that Console’s staff and services would be protected.

“Minister, can you give a commitment that the essential services Console has been providing, and continues to provide under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, will be protected and will continue to be provided?” he said.

In response, Mr Bruton said that progress had been made to ensure the protection of those services.

“I can assure you that there has been a meeting with Console, the primary motivation behind that meeting is to protect those services as the deputy said and to make sure that the workers in this service continued to be treated properly and that the service continues to be delivered.”

He added that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald had signed a commencement order for Part Four of the Charities Act (2009) to give the charity regulator additional investigative powers and the staffing necessary to carry out a thorough investigation.

When asked whether the troubled charity has a future, Mr Bruton said: “There isn’t a member of the house who hasn’t been touched by some family who has suffered a suicide and the dramatic impact that has on all around them.

"The support services of organisations like Console are absolutely central.

“As to whether the services will be protected within Console or within some other organisation, I think that is really the subject of discussion that I can’t give an authoritative answer on. But the core commitment and objective is to ensure that the services are protected.”

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