Saturday, January 2, 2010

Appointment of Irish Red Cross Acting Secretary General raises more questions than it answers

The appointment of an Acting Secretary General, following the resignations of the Irish Red Cross Chairman, David Andrews and the Secretary General, John Roycroft, in November 2009, lacked, as with so many aspects of Irish Red Cross governannce, any degree of transparency, openness or debate. The position became vacant after the sudden but in reality expected resignation of John Roycroft. In line with standard good practise it would have been expected that such a senior post would be advertised openly. It would also have been wise to hire a specialist management recruitment firm to assist the organisation recruit a suitably qualified and experienced candidate. Unfortunately though the Irish Red Cross has a long standing aversion to good practice. Instead a rushed decision was taken to appointment Declan O' Sullivan as Acting Secretary General for eighteeen months 'in order to ensure continuity'. Mr. O' Sullivan has provided services at the Irish Red Cross as a part time business/finance consultant for the past two years and was tasked with assisting the then Secretary General reorganise the Finance Department. His original recruitment, as with his appoitment to Acting Secretary General, was sudden and unexpected. At the time there was no recruitment process, no advertisement of vacancy and a complete lack of transparency. O'Sullivan was basically parachuted into the organisation. Over the period of his consultancy at the Irish Red Cross it is reported Mr. O' Sullivan has benefited very handsomely by way of fees charged, something which has been a constant source of disquiet amongst certain Board members, senior volunteers as well as staff.

Not much is known about Mr. O' Sullivan, his background or his connections. It has never been clear if he was originally appointed through relationships with individual Irish Red Cross board members or a former connection with John Roycroft. It is said that Mr. O' Sullivan continues to run his business consultancy with a number of different clients as well as operating the family business which consists of two O'Brien sandwich stores in Dublin's city centre. Questions have already been raised, albeit only murmerings and whisperings at this early stage, about possible conflicts of interest between these business interests and his eighteen month role as Acting Secretary General. As for the requisite experience to take over the running of the Irish Red Cross for eighteen months it is not immediately obvious to this Blog that Mr. O' Sullivan possesses it but perhaps over time this will become more apparent. It is also of note that Mr. O' Sullivan was at the helm of the Irish Red Cross Finance Department during the period the organisation ran up a deficit in 2009 of over €400,000. Mr. O' Sullivan was during this time chief adviser to the Secretary General. The organisation failed to react until it was much too late and the Irish Red Cross plunged into a financial and managerial crisis. While John Roycroft resigned to return to his long held position at the Department of Justice Mr. O' Sullivan was promoted to the top post.

Why someone with Mr. O' Sullivan's credentials and ongoing business interests would be appointed to the organisation's top position is something that is exercising the minds of those within the Irish Red Cross. Many people believe a deal has been struck between Mr. O' Sullivan and the person who in reality runs and controls the Irish Red Cross, its Vice Chairman, Tony Lawlor. Rumours doing the rounds have indicated Mr. O' Sullivan has been put in place to protect Tony Lawlor from the ever strengthening forces aligned against him. In particular it is alleged Mr. O' Sullivan's primary job is to substantially weaken the professional staffing capacity of the Irish Red Cross head office, a place perceived by Mr. Lawlor as a hotbed of dissent and resistance to his twenty year rule. Already a number of key staff, some of whom strongly advocated for internal governance reform, have been made redundant and sources close to Tony Lawlor have indicated one or two senior managers who remain are now firmly in the sights of Mr. O' Sullivan. A number of Board members spoken to, however, were of the view that any further targetting of staff would trigger an explosive situation that could in fact back fire dramatically on Mr. Lawlor and Mr. O' Sullivan. These more moderate Board members indicated a preference for a period of calm, rebuilding and reform. They also expressed a desire to appoint a long term permanent and suitably qualified Secretary General and stated that the process of recruitment would begin in the second half of 2010.

Whether a deal between Mr. Lawlor and Mr. O' Sullivan has been struck or not what can be said with 100% certainty is that Mr. O' Sullivan would not have been installed if he posed even the remotest threat to Tony Lawlor. At the very least Mr. O' Sullivan will be compliant and do as instructed by the organisation's powerful and domineering Board members. And therein lies the problem.

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