Sunday, January 10, 2010

Irish Red Cross Floods Appeal raises One Million Euro-So why the continued delays in disbursement to those in need?

It was announced on national radio over the weekend of 10th January that the Irish Red Cross has successfully raised €1 million for its Floods Appeal. This is a significant achievement particularly in the current economic climate. Genuine congratulations should go to Robert Astick, Head of Fundraising and his committed team in Merrion Square. Many members will be sad to hear that Robert has decided to move on from the Irish Red Cross and his absence from HQ will be sorely felt. Members throughout the country have regularly commented on his professionalism, fund raising knowledge and enthusiasm. It can only be hoped that those who make decisions for the Irish Red Cross, namely the Vice Chairman and one or two other Board members, insist on a replacement that matches Robert's calibre, skill and experience. It is nevertheless feared that Robert's departure will be seen as another opportunity to further diminish the professional staffing capacity of head quarters by recruiting a much less qualified and junior person into the position (see previous article on this blog for detailed views on how the Board is using such a strategy to retain its control and power).

Despite the obvious success of the Fundraising Department in raising over €1 million Euros for the Flood Appeal this blog understands that not a penny has been disbursed to those who suffered as a result of the flooding, nearly two months after the crisis. Nobody whom I have spoken to can adequately explain to me why this is so. One source however, a Central Council and Executive Committee member was very frank in their assessment: 'the Irish Red Cross Executive Committee is dominated by members whose only interest is First Aid training and competitions and the purchase of new ambulances. As a result we have lost sight of all other aspects of what a national Red Cross Society is supposed to do. No investment has taken place in national emergency response and sadly this has been evident for all to see during the recent floods and snow crises'. It would appear the Irish Red Cross was ill prepared to respond quickly and effectively to the Floods crises. The same applies to the snow crisis. As a result people desparately in need have continued to suffer while over €1 million Euro languishes in an Irish Red Cross bank account in Dublin and possibly in a number of local Red Cross branch bank accounts around the country. Sources indicate that senior officials in the organisation are begining to panic over these delays as more and more questions are being asked of Board members who control the disbursement. The fear is that the expenditure process will mirror the initial emergency response and be woefully insufficient and questionable. Thankfully for the Society these delays have not been reported in local or national media. Given all the damaging media coverage on the Irish Red Cross in 2009 it can only be hoped that the media have grown bored of the organisation. Reform from within is what is required and no benefit can accrue to anyone by having the affairs of the Irish Red Cross play out in the full glare of the media. Continued failure to address the deep seated problems of the Society, however, will inevitably lead to the problems spilling over into the public domain.

This blog has also been informed that despite the urgent need to disburse flood funds in time for Christmas the head quarters shut down for the Christmas holidays and all staff departed for their break on the 23rd/24th December and did not return until 4th January. The question has to be asked why those staff responsible for the floods response were not asked to return to work on the 27th December. The same would apply to the Acting Secretary General who missed a vital opportunity to demonstrate that things would change under his stewardship.

It would seem few lessons were learned from the floods response as a similar trend has emerged with the Irish Red Cross response to the snow. Every night on the RTE and TV3 news organisations responding to the situation are covered and interviewed. Well known and highly respected organisations such as St. Vincent de Paul, Age Action, the Civil Defence, Simon and even the ISPCA are clearly in action up and down the country. The absence of the Irish Red Cross on these news bulletins is striking and questions must be asked why this is so. The reality is it reflects the organisation's minimal presence and overall general absence on the ground.

This blog intends to raise serious questions about the ability and competence of the Irish Red Cross' senior managers and its Board to respond to major national emergencies as well as steer the organisation successfully into the new decade. It does not intend to denigrate in any way the many selfless, dedicated and altruistic members who have worked tirelessly night and day throughout the floods and snow crises assisting those most in need. It is precisely for these members that this blog exists. These members have been disgracefully served by the organisation's leadership and governance for two decades. It is for these members that personnel change at the top of the Irish Red Cross is long overdue.

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