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Red Cross 'needs year to shake off bad press'

THE chairman of the embattled Irish Red Cross, which was dogged by financial and governance failings last year, has said it will be at least another year before it can be fully cleansed of "negative press".

In a detailed half yearly report to the charity's central council seen by the Sunday Independent, David O'Callaghan said that 2011 saw a sizeable drop in the number of negative stories about the ongoing "turmoil" at the Irish Red Cross.

Mr O'Callaghan said that a small number of current and former volunteers, as well as former staff members, had been conducting a "campaign against the society", which he described as "deeply unhelpful".

"The ongoing campaign against the society by former staff, supported by a number of current and former volunteers, is deeply unhelpful. Certain sections of politics and the media remain cynical towards the IRC. It will be another year at least before clear light and distance is put between the society and the negative press of 2010," he wrote.

Mr O'Callaghan's report detailed a host of new financial and governance practices which have been introduced since reports of a lack of proper financial control first emerged in early 2010.

"The first challenge was the requirement to strengthen our governance and supervisory processes at every level to a standard that meets best practice for the charity sector. This is the only way in which we will conclusively put the turmoil of recent years behind us," he said.

Given significant drops in its revenue, from €1.48m in October, 2010, to €800,000 this year, Mr O'Callaghan detailed a cost reduction programme across the society, but also highlighted that many deficiencies in the handling of monies within the society remained.

He said that while compliance on financial returns from local branches had improved substantially since 2010, "we still have a lot of work to do".

"Some of the issues that have arisen are: lack of supporting information; expenses not vouched correctly; lodgements and cheque books not sequentially numbered; no quarterly returns; no receipt books used; branch committee forms not completed and aged debtors outstanding with head office."

All area secretaries and treasurers around the country have been sent a list of issues that remain outstanding and which Mr O'Callaghan said must be dealt with if the Irish Red Cross is to demonstrate its commitment to high standards and to establish the Irish Red Cross as a best practice organisation.

As a result of consistent weaknesses in documentation from local branches, Mr O'Callaghan said the organisation's financial officer is calling local treasurers on a daily basis to ensure full compliance.

"The financial control environment has changed for us all. We must meet higher and more demanding standards, and branch and area officers must respond appropriately," he added.

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The Irish Red Cross was heavily criticised back in the summer by Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who has statutory responsibility for the society, and appoints its chairman and members of its board.

In July, it emerged that Mr Shatter had written to the Irish Red Cross stating that he opposed long board service and had requested the Irish Red Cross to expeditiously address this problem.

The minister clearly stated in Dail Eireann on June 29, 2011, that he is opposed to any board member serving in the same position for more than six years and in a leadership role for a cumulative period of more than 12 years.

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