Sunday 22 April 2018

The very survival of much-needed CRC is now in jeopardy

The latest revelations about pensions raise issues about how charity sector is run, writes Daniel McConnell

Hazel Whelan with her son Leon at their home in Stratford on Slaney, Co.Wicklow Photo: Michael Kelly
Hazel Whelan with her son Leon at their home in Stratford on Slaney, Co.Wicklow Photo: Michael Kelly
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

THE Public Accounts Committee heard allegations of a grand "deception" perpetrated by former members of the Central Remedial Clinic board with regard to the secret €742,000 pension pot of former CEO Paul Kiely.

"Pure dynamite," was how PAC vice-chairman Kieran O'Donnell described it.

Members of the committee concluded that a deception took place at board level to allow Mr Kiely's vast pension pot to be paid to him. But what exactly emerged at the committee?

Last month, Mr Kiely told the PAC that his pension benefits included a €200,000 tax-free lump-sum, plus an annual pension of more than €90,000.

Yesterday, the committee was informed that the testimony put forward by Mr Kiely in December was incomplete and it had been severely misled.

It turned out that Mr Kiely's package was substantially higher than what he disclosed last month, and had been paid out of public donations from the fundraising arm of the CRC.

To place it in context, the €742,000 total pension package paid to him represents half of what the Friends and Supporters of CRC collects in donations every year.

Worse still, it was made clear that the pension pay out to Mr Kiely was only possible because the money came from the Friends and Supporters' Fund.

What can be done now? Well, the HSE, in conjunction with its senior counsel legal adviser, must determine if the payments to Mr Kiely are in breach of company law. If they are, then it will become a garda matter.

But the PAC, in conjunction with the HSE, must now explore if any of the monies paid to Mr Kiely are recoverable.

Brian Conlan replaced Mr Kiely as CEO in July 2013, and was a board member for eight years, but insisted he knew nothing of Mr Kiely's pension package.

He expressed his shock at the revelations, but his testimony was rubbished by committee members. Initially he said he was unaware of Mr Kiely's intended departure in March of last year, only to be contradicted by minutes of a board meeting from the time, which showed he played an active part in the process of finding a replacement for Mr Kiely.

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr Conlan of telling "down right lies" and branded him a "hostile, uncooperative witness".

Under privilege, Fine Gael's John Deasy accused the CRC board of "falsifying" its accounts, saying they were "deliberately misleading". Dr Geraldine Smith, of the HSE's audit unit, agreed the accounts were "misleading".

The scandal again raises issues about how Ireland's charity sector is run and some have said the situation is so serious that all state funding to the CRC should be stopped until the investigations are concluded.

Given the scale of payments to Mr Kiely, the HSE's Barry O'Brien said "it may be necessary to seek the assistance of An Garda Siochana".

It has emerged that the HSE has engaged a senior counsel to determine if the payments are in breach of company law, and, if that is the case, then the gardai will be contacted. While PAC chairman John McGuinness called on the gardai and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement to examine the scandal, a garda spokesman said it would only act if a complaint is made.

Ultimately, the reputation of the once highly respected CRC now lies in tatters. No CEO, no board and drained of public confidence, the actions of a few at the top of CRC have placed its very survival in jeopardy.

The taxpayer, the patients and the staff of the CRC deserve nothing short of full accountability if it is to have any future at all.

Irish Independent

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