Sunday, February 28, 2010

Scathing Sunday Independent article on the Irish Red Cross

On Sunday 28th February 2010 the Sunday Independent wrote a scathing article on the Irish Red Cross (page 2) titled 'Red Cross hasn't given a cent to flood victims yet' with a sub headline 'Mounting concerns over leadership vacuum within the crisis-ridden charity as €1.4 million that was donated by public remains untouched'

Daniel McConnell, the Sunday Independent's Chief Reporter, reported on the floods money which continue to sit in a Dublin bank account and have yet to be distributed to the affected victims. He also noted that the Labour Party has now called on Taoiseach Brian Cowen 'to make sorting out the Irish Red Cross a major priority'. This follows hot on the heels of Fine Gael asking the Taoiseach on Wednesday 24th February to launch an independent investigation into the affairs of the Irish Red Cross. It can only be a testament to the scale of the problems within the Irish Red Cross that despite the endless problems facing the country the two main opposition parties would call on the Taoiseach to intervene directly.

McConnell went on to state in his report that 'there is mounting disquiet within the Society over the delay in appointing a new permanent head of the organisation, as well as growing concerns over staff morale and working conditions'.

Once again it is very demoralising for all hard working Irish Red Cross volunteers, members and staff to see the organisation's problems all over the nation's media. Ultimately though if members wish the crisis to be resolved they themselves must address it. The vast majority of members recognise that the solution, while difficult to realise due to the power of certain individuals, is also notable for its simplicity, the removal of certain long serving Executive Commitee members who are responsible for the decades long crises and the appointment of a permanent high calibre experienced Secretary General. Members should not be waiting for the Taoiseach of the country to intervene and make such decisions for us. It is time for volunteers, Council and Executive members and staff to stand up and be counted and make these decisions ourselves.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Opposition politicians once again question Government Minister in Dail Eireann on crisis ridden Irish Red Cross

On 24th February 2010 opposition politicians, for the second time in a number of weeks, questioned a government minister on the ongoing governance and financial problems at the Irish Red Cross. Politicians from both Fine Gael and Labour raised a number of issues during question time. Minister Pat Carey answered the questions on behalf of the Taoiseach who has taken over the Ministry of Defence since the former Minister Wille O' Dea, resigned two weeks ago.

This blog has mixed views on the situation. Relief that the decades long governance crisis which has severely damaged the Irish Red Cross is finally being addressed at the highest levels, mixed with deep embarrassment that the organisation's endemic problems are now on the desk of the country's Prime Minister. The extent of the organisation's crisis is reflected in the fact that in the last week or so the Taoiseach's representative, Minister Carey, has had to answer questions on the Irish Red Cross, politicians from the country's two main opposition parties continue to express their concern about the welfare of the Irish Red Cross, Fine Gael issued a press release calling for an independent government enquiry into the Irish Red Cross and RTE News covered all events on its bulletins.

In his questioning Deputy Deenihan explained that existing legislation governing the Irish Red Cross allows the government to intervene directly in the organisation's affairs when there is an obvious need to do so. If ever there was a time for direct intervention now is it. Deputy Deenihan went on to say '...Does the Minister not consider it a cause for concern that in the past six months three Government appointees and one Government employee have resigned from the Irish Red Cross Society? They are distinguished people: Mr. David Andrews, Judge Rory McCabe, barrister Ms Jenny Bulbulia and a highly respected civil servant whom all Members have encountered in the course of his work, Mr. John Roycroft. This is surely worthy of investigation. I call on the Taoiseach, who is now acting Minister of Defence, to initiate such an investigation immediately. It could be conducted by a high ranking official of his Department or of the Department of Defence, but it must be done' .

Deputy Brian O'Shea, Labour Party Spokesperson on Defence asked the Minister why the delay in appointing a new Chairperson to the Irish Red Cross following the resignation of David Andrews at the end of 2009. Deputy O'Shea stated '....My concern is that there is a need for a Chairperson who can do the job and grasp the issues which have to be addressed in the Society. No matter how good the person is, unless the governance framework is in place this cannot happen. It seems to me that what the Minister of State outlined, namely, the number of consultations which are taking place, that this process will go on forever. This is not good enough. This matter needs to be urgently addressed'.

This blog has been informed by long serving members that a 'governance reform' process has been underway since 1999. Any true reform has been and continues to be blocked by vested interests on the Executive Committee, who, if effective reform is introduced, will be required to immediately step down. Management over the years, despite many valiant efforts by former Secretary Generals, most of whom were eventually fired for their efforts, have been unable to reform the organisation at the highest levels. In relation to the current senior management team one well placed Central Council member stated 'the incumbent senior managers appear paralysed with fear and have failed to openly and on record seek reform and change. While such inaction is hardly admirable given the organisation's record of firing those who speak out it is probably understandable'.

This blog is now asking for the genuine assistance of Minister Carey and the Taoiseach's office. Minister Carey has a reputation for being a fair and committed politician. The Irish Red Cross needs his active intervention in order to arrest the continuing decline of the organisation.

On a separate matter:

This blog has been asked to comment on the firing of the Community Services Officer, which took place in January. It took some time to gather the necessary information but from speaking with members who are familiar with the Community Services activities of the Irish Red Cross it seems the general consensus reported to the blog is that the Community Services Officer was fired because she has a history of speaking out and requesting reform. Also it appears the highly regarded Community Services activities were seen as a threat to First Aid training activities and as has happened before to the Youth Department when its activities began to develop and expand, the Community Services Department was shut down. Members this blog spoke to described the Community Services Officer as one of the most pleasant, committed and passionate head office staff members, a true asset to the organisation. One member stated 'we are still shocked and upset with this decision, it makes no sense but we know it was an act of vindictiveness and we will be looking to have a full explanation on the decision through the appropriate channels'. We have also been told that the Community Services Officer was treated in a disgraceful manner by the Acting Secretary General just two days before Christmas, something which caused fury amongst head office staff and members alike. According to one member 'this matter is far from closed as no Red Cross person, whether volunteer, member or staff will be treated like this. In time it will be addressed'

Friday, February 26, 2010

Main opposition party, Fine Gael, issues press statement calling for Government investigation into the Irish Red Cross

On Wednesday 24th February 2010, the Fine Gael opposition spokesperson on Defence, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, issued a press release calling for an independent government investigation into the Irish Red Cross. The press release was issued following lengthy questioning of Minister Pat Carey (who is representing the Taoiseach who has taken over the Department of Defence following the resignation of former Minister, Willie O' Dea) by Deputy Deenihan and Deputy Brian O' Shea, Labour Party spokesperson on Defence. This is the second time in weeks that a government minister has been extensively questioned in Dail Eireann on the never ending problems at the Irish Red Cross (see previous article on this blog).

In the Fine Gael press release Deputy Deenihan stated 'The Government's refusal to intervene in the ongoing difficulties in the Irish Red Cross, especially in light of high profile resignations and an internal governance rating that is the second lowest on the International Red Cross scale, means they are effectively washing their hands of the Society's difficulties'. Deputy Deenihan went on to say 'the temporary working group tasked with looking at the workings of the IRC is an internal body and does not have the independence needed to effect real change. If the issues revolve around internal governance, it makes no sense to have the existing management assess itself..... The Red Cross is Government funded to the tune of almost €1 million annually. It is a worldwide organisation that depends heavily on its international reputation in carrying on its invaluable work. That reputation has been undermined in the IRC and the Minister must act to restore it'

Deputy Deenihan's full press release is available on the Fine Gael website.

RTE News also reported on the story with the headline 'Questions over accounts at Irish Red Cross'. The full report can be found at:

This blog is of the view, as are many dedicated Irish Red Cross members including current governance members who this blog is in contact with, that both Deputy Deenihan and Deputy O'Shea have done and continue to do a great service to the Irish Red Cross. The endemic problems that afflict the organisation have existed for twenty years and it is now time to have them addressed once and for all. It is heartening to know that two highly regarded and respected public representatives feel the same.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Independent Investigation into Irish Red Cross Urgently Required

Following extensive discussions and consultations with volunteers, Central Council members and certain Executive Committee members this blog is firmly of the view that a full scale comprehensive independent investigation into the governance and management of the Irish Red Cross is urgently required. The misgovernance, cronyism and mismanagement has gone on for twenty years. The organisation is at its lowest ebb in its history. Both governance and management must be held to account for their actions and inaction's.

This blog is therefore calling on the Irish Government, in particular the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs, to immediately establish a small expert team of organisational investigators, specialising in key areas such as Governance, Finance (a forensic auditor), Management and Industrial Relations. This blog is of the view that while the Department of Defence has not caused the problems within the Irish Red Cross it has contributed substantially to them by continually re-appointing certain Central Council members who are clearly unqualified and unsuitable to hold such office. The Department of Defence has insisted on washing its hands of all responsibility for the Irish Red Cross and its endemic problems despite the fact that it gives the Irish Red Cross nearly €1 million per annum and appoints one third of its Central Council. As such any independent investigation needs to include the Department of Foreign Affairs as all confidence in the Department of Defence's interest in reforming the Irish Red Cross vanished many years ago.

The details of this blog's recommendations for an independent investigation into the Irish Red Cross are as follows:

1. A panel immediately convene to recruit an Independent Investigation Team (IIT). This panel should include one senior official from the Department of Foreign Affairs, one senior official from the Department of Defence, one senior official from SIPTU, one senior official from IMPACT and one senior recruitment specialist.

2. This panel should then set about recruiting the IIT. The IIT should comprise a Corporate/Organisational Governance Specialist, a Forensic Financial Auditor, a Management Specialist and an Industrial Relations Expert.

3. Once recruited the IIT should commence an extensive and exhaustive investigation into all aspects of the Irish Red Cross including confidential individual meetings with Central Council Members, Executive Committee Members, Volunteers, Branch Secretaries, all current staff, former staff and ex Central Council and Executive Committee members. Relevant senior officials of the IFRC and ICRC in Geneva should also be widely consulted and interviewed. The IIT should be given three full months for interviews, research, analysis, investigation and consultation and one full month to draft the report and its recommendations.

4. The Board and management of the Irish Red Cross be formally instructed by the Irish Government to fully cooperate with the IIT and to make all documents and records available as requested.

5. A formal report with recommendations from the IIT be submitted to the Panel as per 1 above.

6. A full general assembly of the Irish Red Cross membership be convened in order that the Panel and IIT present the report and its findings. It is important to bring to readers attention the last time the Irish Red Cross held a general assembly of all its members was in October 2005. The Irish Red Cross is required to hold a general assembly every two years and it is therefore indicative of a deep malaise that it is nearly five years since the last one was held with no known plans to hold another one. The General Assembly that is convened to discuss the IIT report should also include all staff as equal participants.

The next few paragraphs are designed to give readers a flavour of life within the Irish Red Cross over recent years.

It is to be recalled that in November 1999 Irish Red Cross staff went on RTE Television and called for an independent investigation into the running of the Society. This brave and courageous act was widely covered on RTE news and in the media at the time. It also triggered a series of parliamentary questions supporting the call. No investigation took place and promised reform failed to materialise. All the problems that existed in 1999 and that led to committed and loyal staff calling for an independent investigation live on RTE News still remain today, eleven years later. The reason is simple. The Board members responsible for creating the problems in 1999 still serve on the Board in 2010. If they remain in power the problems will exist in 2020. The RTE News report from November 23rd 1999 can be viewed at:

It is interesting that the 1999 RTE News report states 'in the last two years, the organisation has lost almost half of its senior staff, including its Secretary General, the public relations officer, a youth director and a fund raiser and a clerical officer. In October of this year (1999) the sacking of the financial controller led to calls for his reinstatement from the majority of staff. A case is now being taken against the charity for unfair dismissal. Staff also claim that deep divisions have emerged between the permanent staff and the executive over the running of the organisation'.

Eleven years later and nothing has changed apart from maybe getting much worse. Between December 2009 and January 2010 the Irish Red Cross saw its Chairman and Secretary General resign suddenly and unexpectedly. In addition the Head of Communications, Head of Services and Training and the Community Services Manager were all made redundant and the Head of Fundraising departed after only twelve months in the post due to plain and simple disillusionment. In 2008 the previous Head of Fundraising departed due to plain and simple disillusionment. In 2005 the then Head of Fundraising departed due to plain and simple disillusionment. Three Head's of Fundraising departing within four years must be a sign in itself of something seriously wrong within the Irish Red Cross. In 2007 the then Secretary General was forced to resign and treated disgracefully by certain members of the Executive, all of whom continue to serve on the Board. There is now an Acting Secretary General in place and recruitment for his replacement is scheduled to commence later this year. One can only imagine the damage to the organisation's reputation as a result of such turmoil at the top. Also in 2007 the former Regional and Commercial Manager was fired for no good reason other than upsetting a senior Executive Committee member. Since then there has been two different people in the post. According to well placed Executive Committee members the Finance Department has a very high turnover of staff with one member saying 'its impossible to keep track with the changing names and faces and I never quite know who is in charge of that Department. It cant be a good sign that those in authority seem incapable of stabilising the situation'. Not a whole lot is known by members this blog talked to about the situation on staffing in the Overseas Department with one member noting 'we never actually see, hear or interact with them but we presume they are there but then again given the human resource chaos in Merrion Square who actually knows..'

Sunday, February 14, 2010

After nearly 20 years its time for Irish Red Cross Board Members to step down

Over the course of the last few months this blog has talked with many people deeply concerned with the ongoing crisis within the Irish Red Cross. Hard working volunteers and genuinely dedicated Central Council and Executive Committee members remain saddened by the constant stream of negative media articles and parliamentary questions in Dail Eireann, all of which most people accept accurately reflect the reality within the Society.

At the end of 2009 the former Chairman, David Andrews, decided to retire his position after ten years selfless service. In his retirement statement he remarked that he felt it was important to hand over the reins to new blood and that while his contribution was ongoing it was time for others to lead the organisation forward. Mr. Andrews dedicated his whole life to public service and clearly he learned a valuable lesson during his impressive career: there is a time to make one's contribution and a time to hand over to the next generation. Mr. Andrews is to be highly commended for applying this principle to his Chairmanship of the Irish Red Cross and it speaks volumes of the man that he would step down from a job he thoroughly enjoyed doing so as to facilitate the next generation of leadership.

Unfortunately for the Irish Red Cross other Executive Committee Board members are far less selfless and despite having ruled and dominated the Society for nearly twenty years refuse to step aside. This has the effect of preventing the next generation of leadership from developing and flourishing. In order to address the deep rooted crisis within the Irish Red Cross this blog, following its regular conversations with Central Council members, certain Executive Committee members and volunteers around the country is recommending the following:

1. Any Executive Committee member who has served on Executive for twelve years or more step down at the end of their current term in May 2010 and not put themselves forward for re-election. This blog understands this would imply three Executive Committee members would step aside. As the recommendation would affect no more than three members there would be no serious loss or break in continuity of Board knowledge, experience and understanding.

2. Further to 1 above, Executive Committee members, once they have stood down because of service of twelve years or more, agree not to be a member of the Executive Committee for a minimum of six years (until 2017).

3. Any Executive Committee member who has held an Honorary Officer position for more than twelve years step down in May 2010 from both the Officer position and the Executive Committee and as with point 2 above agree not to be a member of the Executive Committee again until 2017 the earlist. Any exisiting Executive Committee member who currently or has in the past held an Honorary Officer position for more than twelve years agree never to again hold any Honorary Officer position.

4. The proposed position of National Director of Units not be granted 'ex officio' Central Council and/or Executive Committee membership. Everyone this blog has spoken to has stated that they believe the current governance proposal to grant 'ex officio' Board membership to the proposed National Director of Units is designed to ensure the current Vice Chairman of the Society remains an Executive Committee member indefinitely. Everone spoken to accepts the National Director of Units position, should it go ahead, has been created for the current Vice Chairman.

5. The Government needs to immediately appoint a strong, dynamic and modernising Chairperson. Its failure to do so is exacerbating existing tensions and problems.

6. The Society needs to, as soon as possible, openly advertise for and fill the permanent Secretary General position. The current arrangement and incumbent is clearly unsatisfactory for many Executive Committee and Central Council members. Rumours abound that relations between headquarters staff and the current Acting Secretary General are, after only two months in the position, already very strained and soured. The atmosphere in Merrion Square is expected to continue to worsen over the coming weeks. A Secretary General with extensive senior management experience and well honed inter personal and representational skills is required. The person must be able to commit full time to the post, not be distracted with extensive business interests and other consultancy clients as well as have a proven track record and obvious ability to do the job.

Change within the Irish Red Cross is now in the hands of its membership. This blog encourages all to grasp the opportunity.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Irish Red Cross spends hundreds of thousands of Euros on consultancy fees

The Irish Red Cross has a long and chequered history of paying vast sums of money on consultancy fees. In 2007 staff at the headquaters formally wrote to the Chairman at the time and the Central Council documenting their concerns at such unnecessary waste and questioning the process by which consultants were appointed and paid. It seems these concerns fell on deaf ears as a number of members of the Executive Committee of the Irish Red Cross have reported to this blog that the recently appointed Acting Secretary General, Declan O' Sullivan, who worked as a finance consultant for the Irish Red Cross during 2008 and 2009 was paid over €320,000 in consultancy fees during this twenty four month period or approximately €160,000 in each of the two years. One Executive member even went so far as saying 'it may in fact be much more'. It should be pointed out that in 2009 the Irish Red Cross ran up a large deficit of over €700,000 euros. It would appear consultancy fees contributed considerably to this deficit.

Another Executive Committee member speaking in confidence to this blog stated 'it is hard to even begin to justify such expenditure on consultancy fees at any time, never mind during a time of recession and economic crisis. In most organisations the recruitment of consultants and paying of consultancy fees are the first expenditures cut back during a financial crisis. It seems the Irish Red Cross was the exact opposite and saw its consultancy fees rocket during 2008 and 2009, the primary beneficiary being Mr. O' Sullivan. Given that the organisation ran up a deficit of €700,000 in 2009 it is also hard to see what benefit accrued to the Irish Red Cross by keeping an expensive finance consultant on its books. It would appear Mr. O' Sullivan's 'expertise' failed to prevent the financial implosion that occured so at the very least questions must be asked as to the benefit of his services'.

In December 2009 Mr. O' Sullivan was appointed Acting Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross for a period of eighteen months, a matter this blog has previously written about. The organisation has stated that his replacement and the recruitment of a permanent long term Secretary General will commence in the second half of 2010 with an appointment expected in mid 2011. It seems nobody this blog has spoken to knows exactly why this process cannot begin immediately and why there is a need to wait until 2011.

On a separate but related issue this blog has recently heard rumours that four ex senior managers, three of whom were made redundant (and received redundancy packages) during January 2010 and one who left the organisation voluntarily, have all been hired back on consultancy contracts. Mr. O' Sullivan apparently signed four consultancy contracts very recently. It must be said this rumour is as yet unconfirmed but we are presently contacting certain Central Council and Executive Committee members for clarification. This blog will also attempt to speak with the four ex staff in question although it must be said they may not wish to comment.