Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Emergency General Assembly urgently required at Irish Red Cross

This Blog is calling for the convening of an urgent emergency General Assembly of the Irish Red Cross in order to discuss the damaging and ongoing crisis within the Society. The status quo cannot remain and those responsible for the status quo must consider their positions.

The last time the Irish Red Cross held a General Assembly (GA) of all members was in October 2005, nearly five years ago. For members not familiar with the rules and regulations of the Irish Red Cross the Society is supposed to hold a General Assembly of all members every two years. Therefore a General Assembly was scheduled for 2007 and 2009, neither of which took place. The one in 2007 was provisionally arranged but following the disgraceful dismissal of the then Secretary General the ruling elite on the Executive decided to cancel it. No plans were ever put in place to re-arrange the 2007 GA or convene one in 2009. This is without question a failure of governance and is purposely done to consolidate power and prevent open and transparent debate. This Blog has previously reported that the Central Council meeting planned for February 2010 did not take place, once again because the ruling elite fear and know they will be rigorously challenged and will be asked to account for many of their questionable actions. Not least of these is the Vice Chairman's (currently Acting Chairman) failure to declare a bank account to head office until it was discovered in 2008 following an internal audit and which contained over €150,000 collected in 2005 for victims of the Tsunami. Surely the failure to hold two General Assemblies and one Central Council meeting over the last few years is indicative of a governance culture that is damaged to its core?

Once convened an emergency General Assembly, in the view of this Blog which has consulted with numerous members around the country, should have on its agenda the following priority issues:

1. The undeclared Tipperary Bank Account issue referred to above and written extensively about in this Blog (see article dated January 2nd 2010). The Vice Chairman/Acting Chairman must be asked to account for his actions. He must be asked to explain to members why he failed to A. Declare the account and money contained therein to Head Office for nearly four years. He only transferred the money to head office in late 2008 (the money was collected from the public in early 2005) following the bank account's discovery during an internal audit and B. Why he feels his actions/inaction do not amount to at a minimum a resigning offence.

2. Further to the above the emergency GA should consider the actions of those who became aware of the undeclared bank account and what action they took or did not take once it was discovered. The three people who knew about the account and decided no investigation should take place and who also decided NOT to inform the Executive Committee at the time were the former Chairman, former Secretary General and former Acting Head of Finance/Consultant who is now temporarily Acting Secretary General. The former two have subsequently resigned from the organisation (December 2009) while the latter remains employed. It would appear to this Blog that not only was there a massive failure on the part of a senior Board member in neglecting to declare or hand over such a large amount of public funding there was also a secondary failure on the part of those who discovered the undeclared bank account. At the very least the Acting Secretary General needs to account for and explain his role in decisions that were taken as he is currently serving in the most senior staffing capacity of the organisation.

3. Continuing with the above questions must be asked of the Finance Department and what has been their role in this affair. Admittedly the current Acting Secretary General was Acting Head of Finance/Consultant at the time so the current Head of Finance cannot be tarnished unduly by this matter. Nevertheless one must ask is the Finance Department now asking for an internal investigation into the matter and if not why not? A similar question needs to be asked of the Head of the Overseas Department. The money collected from the Tipperary public was destined for his Department as it was in response to the 2005 Tsunami Appeal. While no doubt the Overseas Department was relieved to recover such a large some of money did the Head of the Department question why the money sat in an undeclared bank in Tipperary for four years? Again if not why not? It is unacceptable to this Blog if senior managers within the Irish Red Cross feel they can put their heads in the sand on matters of such importance and just hope they will go away.

4. Another key issue for discussion at the emergency GA is the organisational deficit, its size and who is responsible for causing it. Blaming the recession and economic crisis is, in the view of this Blog, a convenient smokescreen, for massive incompetence and neglect. In 2008 and 2009 certain individuals were paid vast sums of monies in consultancy fees and salaries and still they managed to oversee the biggest organisational financial crisis the Irish Red Cross has faced in its seventy year history.

5. Consultancy Fees: as reported on a number of occasions in this Blog the Irish Red Cross has an enormous propensity for spending huge sums of money on consultancy fees. This has been going on for years. The General Assembly must insist on a detailed breakdown of monies spent on consultancy fees over the last ten/twenty years as well as a detailed explanation from the Executive why they have authorised such outrageous waste.

6. The whole issue of Governance needs to be discussed and debated openly and without fear of consequence or threat. As per previous article on this Blog Executive members who have served for more than twelve years should be asked to step down at the end of their current term (May 2010) and not present themselves for re-election again. This would allow for the desperately needed rejuvenation of the Society. As written in this Blog in a previous article there are only three members of Executive who have served between twelve and twenty years so their departure would in no way negatively affect continuity or institutional knowledge.

7. The appointment of a permanent and properly qualified Secretary General. As one member put it to this Blog 'no-one knows why the current situation is allowed prevail. It is unhelpful to continue with this lengthy delay in appointing a sufficiently experienced person to the crucial post of Secretary General. Most people I speak to feel the current impasse on appointing a new permanent Secretary General is designed solely to protect the ruling elite on the Executive who all know the first task of any incoming Secretary General will be to tackle once and for all their unacceptable power base'

8. This Blog would support the following motion being put to the emergency General Assembly: "The members of the Irish Red Cross fully support recent calls for a full independent investigation into the affairs of the organisation over the last two decades and wish to see such an investigation commence as soon as possible"

9. The emergency GA should also call on the Irish Government to immediately and without further delay appoint a credible and reputable Chairperson to the Irish Red Cross. The current leadership vacuum is proving very destablising.

This Blog and all those members of the Irish Red Cross who are determined to correct and address the ills of the organisation hope that members and volunteers around the country will demand the holding of an emergency General Assembly which will then hopefully be the catalyst for much need reform. Calls for change must come from the members and volunteers themselves. No-one else can do it for them. The ruling elite have much to fear from an independent investigation and more worryingly they have alot to hide. It is for this reason they refuse to countenance it.

On a separate matter:

This Blog has read the comment posted on the Flood Cheques Taxation article. To clarify: this Blog did not receive any queries from those people who received the cheques. The Blog, however, did receive queries from certain members asking the question about the tax liability status of the cheques. Many members, who must remain a tight circle of people, are committed to changing and reforming the organisation, are in touch regularly on all these matters with the Blog authors. As far as this Blog has learned those in receipt of the flood cheques are in fact liable to pay tax on them. Another monumental error by the Irish Red Cross in failing to obtain tax expemption status from the Revenue Authorities in advance.

Monday, March 15, 2010

High consultancy costs at Irish Red Cross cause major concern

The Vice Chairman of the Irish Red Cross stated on the Pat Kenny radio show (on 2nd March 2010) that the Irish Red Cross was not squandering its resources on consultancy fees, despite constant reports to the contrary in numerous national media publications and questions raised on the matter by Fine Gael and Labour in Dail Eireann. This Blog knows for a fact that the Irish Red Cross has and is squandering valuable resources on consultancy fees. This Blog is fully confident that any independent analysis of consultancy fees paid by the Irish Red Cross over the last 5 or even the last ten years would cause an absolute outrage.

This Blog has reported in detail the many deep rooted problems that afflict the Irish Red Cross. It is because of these problems and the never ending misgovernance and mismanagement that consultants are brought in. They charge their exorbitant fees, write their reports and the Executive Committee of the Irish Red Cross invariably consign the recommendations to the dust bin never to be discussed or seen again. We have written about consultancy fees in a number of articles but below is a summary of the current consultancy situation at the Irish Red Cross:

1. A consultant specialising in Industrial Relations and Human Resources has worked for the organisation for over two years. Given the worsening industrial relations climate at the Irish Red Cross one assumes this consultant is kept very busy. No information could be ascertained as to his name or company.

2. A consultant specialising in Communications/PR has worked for the organisation for many years. His services are required because of a lack of capacity in communications and PR within the head office staff. Given the seemingly never ending negative publicity in the media and Dail Eireann one has to ask exactly what PR he is doing and what are the benefits of his services.

3. A consultant specialising in web design has worked on the organisation's website for a number of years. His services are also required because of a lack of staffing capacity at head office.

4. This Blog previously reported that four of the senior staff who left the organisation in January 2010 (three made redundant and one left voluntarily) have all been hired back on various consultancy contracts. They are all now charging consultancy rates which this Blog understands are substantially in excess of their daily salary rates when they were employed.

5. Because of the endemic problems within the Irish Red Cross it is understood the fees paid to the firm of solicitors that represent the Irish Red Cross are enormous every year.

It can be seen from above that despite the Vice Chairman's claims that the Irish Red Cross is not wasting its money on consultancy fees the reality would appear to indicate otherwise. Seven different consultants and a firm of solicitors seems ludicrous for a voluntary not-for-profit organisation such as the Irish Red Cross. Large corporates would have difficulty competing with the Irish Red Cross on this front. This Blog has been informed by one member that this is not a recent phenomenon, stating 'we have spent hundreds of thousands of Euros on consultancy fees over the years. In particular the amount spent over the last two and a half years is impossible to justify but still the money gets spent and the cheques get signed'.

Perhaps the Vice Chairman and the Acting Secretary General (who has been a major beneficiary of the Irish Red Cross' willingness to pay vast sums to consultants) could address this issue in detail at the next Central Council meeting?

Interestingly though it is to be recalled that a Central Council meeting was agreed to take place in February but we understand no such meeting took place and no date has been set for the meeting. This is a very worrying development as this Blog understands a number of awkward questions were asked of Executive members at the last Central Council meeting in November 2009. It would appear certain Executive members are refusing to follow the clear direction from the last Central Council meeting which agreed to hold another one in February 2010. As one member put it 'the ruling elite on the Executive are not used to being questioned and they realise the tide is turning and they think they can stop it by minimising interaction with members. But we all know no one cant stop the tide turning and for all our sakes lets hope its a high tide'.

On a separate matter:

During his interview on the Pat Kenny radio show the Vice Chairman responded to a question about the Irish Red Cross deficit by comparing the Irish Red Cross to AIB, who that day had announced a huge deficit. His basic argument was along the lines 'sure everyone has a deficit'. This Blog finds it telling that the Vice Chairman would compare the Irish Red Cross to the AIB, an organisation now synonymous with outright incompetence, greed, near bankruptcy, cronyism, misgovernance and mismanagement. Perhaps our Vice Chairman chose his comparison well.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Irish Red Cross Flood Cheques to be taxed by Revenue Authorities??

During the last week this Blog has received numerous calls asking whether the 400 or so Irish Red Cross Flood cheques issued in early March 2010 will be liable to income tax. This is obviously an extremely important question; one this Blog does not have a confirmed or definitive answer to, despite numerous attempts made to get the information. One can only hope that the Irish Red Cross senior management and Board members considered this many months ago and that a specific written tax exemption on floods relief money was sought by the Irish Red Cross and received from the Revenue Authorities. Failure to have done so would presumably amount to outright negligence and incompetence. The last ten days have been a torrid time for the Irish Red Cross. A hammering in the nation’s media has taken place over the unacceptable delays (nearly four months) in issuing the floods money. The Sunday Independent (28/02/10), the Pat Kenny RTE 1 Radio Show (02/03/10) and the Village Magazine (March Edition) have all been scathing in their criticism of the Irish Red Cross, not only on the Floods Relief delays but also on governance, management and exorbitant consultancy expenditures. This all comes on top of recent calls by Fine Gael and Labour for an independent investigation into the affairs of the organisation. The Irish Red Cross can ill afford any further damaging publicity or mistakes.

In the event that the Irish Red Cross has not received written tax exemption on the flood relief cheques and should the Revenue Authorities view the flood relief money as like any other income then those victims receiving Irish Red Cross cheques will be liable to pay income tax at their marginal rate, either 20% or 41%. In this scenario it would be possible that of the €1.2 million generously donated to the Irish Red Cross by the Irish public, somewhere between €240,000 and €492,000 could end up, not in the hands of flood victims but rather in the coffers of the Minister for Finance. If this were to be the case one could assume the Irish public would be furious to discover that because of a failure by the Irish Red Cross to secure tax exemption between 20% and 41% of their donations would in fact not assist victims of the floods but instead go straight to the Government as tax. It would be reasonable to assume the Irish public would never forgive the Irish Red Cross for such an oversight, if such an oversight has occurred. Moreover if a tax exemption has not been granted this Blog wonders could the Irish Red Cross be obligated under law to actually inform the Revenue Authorities who the cheques have been issued to and for how much? Obviously the Irish Red, if obligated to do so must do so, but again having public donations for a specific appeal end up in the Government purse and flood victim’s relief funds reduced substantially because of tax liabilities would be disastrous on a number of fronts.

This Blog does not wish to be alarmist on this issue and if a tax exemption has been granted for the floods relief money then there is no issue. If, however, a tax exemption was not sought in writing from the Revenue then those responsible for such negligence would have to be held accountable.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Response to Comments on Blog Articles

This blog would like to respond to some very valid and understandable comments made on this blog particularly the one that questions why the anonymity and why the blog does not go through the 'proper' channels for debate etc.

This blog welcomes such comments and the question asked is valid. The reason the people involved in this blog will not go public is because of fear of the consequences, plain and simple. Those involved in this blog are long serving members of the Irish Red Cross who believe in the organisation but like the commentator are very saddened by where the organisation is at. The blog members are unfortunately fully aware of what happens to those in the Irish Red Cross who speak out publicly whether they are members, volunteers, Board members or staff. Staff inevitably get fired and for members they are generally subjected to smear campaigns until they eventually depart the scene broken and upset. This blog apologises for the anonymity but we believe it is necessary to ensure views are heard and expressed without damaging consequences to the individuals involved.

This blog would also like to clarify that the criticisms contained in articles are directed at only a very few Board members and certain management. This blog has the greatest admiration and respect for all the members up and down the country who selflessly give of their time to the Irish Red Cross. It is because these wonderful people are so badly served by a domineering and vision less group of Executive members that this blog has been developed. Most Irish Red Cross members are blissfully unaware of the damage done to the organisation over the years and how the organisation is governed and managed. There are serious questions to be raised (as a prime example see blog article on undeclared Tipperary Bank Account). Members and staff have been ruthlessly silenced over the years. Thankfully technology has now made it virtually impossible to silence those interested in reform and those of us determined to succeed this time around.

This blog apologises to any hard working Irish Red Cross member, volunteer or staff who may be offended or upset by the articles. This is certainly not the intention.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Website Addresses of interest re Irish Red Cross crisis

Members this blog has spoken to have asked for the website addresses of various news stories and parliamentary questions. See below a sample:

1. RTE News Report on 24th February 2010: http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/0224/redcross.html

2. Exchange between Minister Carey and Opposition Politicians, 24th February 2010

3. RTE News Report, 23rd November 1999 (Call for Independent Investigation into Irish Red Cross)

4. Exchange in Dail Eireann between Opposition Politicians and Minister re 3 above, 24th November 1999

The similarity between the crisis in 1999 and the one in 2010 is remarkable. Nothing changed in between, reform did not take place and those responsible for the problems and damage in 1999 are the same persons reponsible for the crisis in 2010.