Thursday 14 December 2017

Rental income used by St John of God charity for €2m secret top-ups

Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Under-fire charity St John of God has said that "rental income" was used to give secret "buy-outs" to senior management.

However, an expert in the field has warned that no charity can consider its money private and charities must be open in all of their dealings.

The charity will now be subject to a HSE probe after it emerged that, following strict new pay caps imposed on charities who are largely State-funded in 2013, a €2m payment was given to 14 senior managers in the organisation.

No record of the payments was made in any publicly-filed document, however. The HSE has said it was unaware of any such payments.

A spokesman for St John of God said the payments did not come from State funding - which accounts for about €125m of its €150m budget - and that it was also not drawn from charitable donations.

He said the money came from rental income, but was unable to clarify what rental income the charity receives or from which properties.

However, Ivan Cooper of The Wheel said charities must consider all money public money and publish every transaction on their website in order to court public trust.

"Trust is the most important asset that a charity has," he said. "All funds under the control of the charity should be regarded as public funds, irrespective of where they come from. No funds can be regarded as private funds if they are held by a charitable entity."

"Charities must be open about what they spend all of their funds on. All should publish their accounts on their website."

Members of the public should not be dissuaded from donating to compliant, well-run charities which make up the vast majority of Ireland's charitable sector, Mr Cooper said.

As a so-called 'Section 28' charity, St John of God is subject to the same pay-caps as a public-sector body. The charity is required to sign an annual service-level agreement with the HSE, which it has done since 2013.

This agreement states that the agencies "shall not pay nor subsidise salaries, expenses or other prerequisites which exceed those normally paid within the public sector".

The latest revelations about the running of St John of God, as revealed in the 'Mail on Sunday', come just weeks after the charity was forced to roll back on cuts to services in a south Dublin school for students with special needs. Following ministerial intervention, planned cuts to some services attached to St Augustine's School in Blackrock were reversed.

However, the charity has said that none of its services, which include services to people with disabilities and mental health problems, suffered as a result of the buy-outs.

"The payments did not impact in any manner or at any time, on the provision of services and supports," the St John of God spokesman told the Irish Independent last night.

"While the order believes it is in compliance with public pay policy, it welcomes any review by the HSE into this matter. The order is keen to fully co-operate with such a process, as soon as it is initiated. It has already shared with the HSE the independent professional advice it received in 2013," he added.

The payments are the latest scandal to erupt in the charitable sector, as evidence of serious mis-spending at suicide prevention charity Console continues to cause concern.

At Government level, minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Finian McGrath, has pledged to clean up the sector and described the top-ups as "unacceptable".

"I will be demanding action," he told 'RTÉ Radio One'.

Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee has said it will call representatives of the HSE to answer questions about how public money is being used in voluntary organisations.

Irish Independent

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