Sunday, April 25, 2010

Six TD's, Three Political Parties and One Minister debate and discuss crisis ridden Irish Red Cross in Dail Eireann

On 21st April 2010 four TD’s tabled questions to the Minister of Defence, Tony Killeen, concerning the problem afflicted Irish Red Cross. The Minister responded in a verbal exchange with two additional TDs. Those elected representatives involved were as follows:

• Deputy Michael Noonan-Fine Gael
• Deputy John O’Mahony-Fine Gael
• Deputy Tom Sheahan-Fine Gael
• Deputy Thomas Broughan-Labour
• Deputy Jimmy Deenihan-Fine Gael Spokesperson on Defence
• Deputy Brian O’ Shea-Labour Spokesperson on Defence
• Minister Tony Killeen-Fianna Fail, Minister for Defence

See below link to the transcript from the debate:

This Blog has lost track of the number of Parliamentary Questions raised in recent times about the Irish Red Cross, there has been that many. It is not a new phenomenon, however, as parliamentary questions have been raised on a regular basis about misgovernance and mismanagement at the Irish Red Cross for the last twenty years. What is interesting in 2010 is the number of times actual verbal exchanges on the Irish Red Cross have taken place in the Dail whereby the Minister has been forced to orally respond to and engage with opposition politicians. This is reflective of the deteriorating situation since December 2009 when the former Chairman, David Andrews and former Secretary General, John Roycroft, both resigned at the same time. Mr. Andrews and Mr. Roycroft were strong advocates of governance reform and both recognised the need for personnel change on the Executive Board and the ending of the invidious influence of two or three long serving members. Their efforts were ferociously resisted as were those of the previous five Secretary Generals, all of whom were fired. Mr. Andrews resigned only nine months into his new three year term and Mr. Roycroft resigned fifteen months early on his contract. These actions alone should have sent off alarm bells at government levels.

The failure to appoint a suitably qualified and experienced Chairperson by the government to replace Mr. Andrews has exacerbated the problem and the Irish Red Cross remains dangerously adrift. It is in many ways becoming a laughing stock within the Irish charity sector as well as within the International Red Cross Movement. The current Acting Chairman (normally Vice Chairman) has been in his position for twenty years and despite calls for his resignation, particularly in light of his failure to declare a bank account which he had signatory control over that had over €150,000 in it collected for victims of the Asian Tsunami in early 2005 and only discovered in an internal audit in late 2008, he refuses to contemplate stepping down and continues to dominate and control all activities of the organisation. The information around the ‘bank account’ is widely known throughout the Irish Red Cross but equally worryingly it is known by the Irish Government and internationally. The reputation of the Irish Red Cross is therefore suffering greatly, even on this issue alone. As one member said in discussions with this Blog ‘the credibility of the Irish Red Cross is suffering on a number of fronts. We have two or three people on our Board who have controlled the organisation for twenty years, and who, despite best governance practice, refuse to step aside. Many members throughout the country are ashamed that the Irish Red Cross is now chaired by someone who failed to declare an organisational bank account for four years until it was discovered during an internal audit. On top of all that we have an Acting Secretary General that was appointed without any recruitment process, with no vacancy advertisement and no interview. He was anointed into the position by the Executive Board’s ruling elite, put there to protect their power base. The Acting Secretary General is a Business Consultant who continues to run and operate his Business Consultancy firm in addition to running and operating a number of family retail businesses in Dublin city. It distresses so many of us that the Irish Red Cross has been reduced to this level and something must be done and done soon to reverse it’.

In the Dail parliamentary debate on 21st April 2010 the Minister stated he could not intervene directly in the affairs of the Irish Red Cross. As has been pointed out to the previous Minister this position is factually incorrect as under the Act that established the Irish Red Cross the Minister is entitled to intervene should he or she deem it necessary. The 1938 Act specifically states:

The Government may by the establishment order make provision in relation to all or any of the following matters, that is to say:-

a) The powers of the Society
b) The organisation of the Society
c) The management and administration of the affairs of the Society by a governing body
d) The finances and accounts of the Society
e) Any other matters in relation to the Society in respect of which it appears to the Government desirable and proper that provision should be made

This Blog is strongly of the view that the Minister must use his powers, as invested in him under the 1938 Act, to intervene directly in the affairs of the Irish Red Cross. This Blog would also like to advise the Minister of the following:

1. The ‘so-called’ Governance Reform Proposals submitted to his Department by the Irish Red Cross Working Group (which was in effect controlled by the current Acting Chairman) are designed in their entirety to ensure the current and discredited ruling elite remain in power for years to come. The Minister must not fall into the trap of accepting these proposals as anything other than an unashamed grab for permanent power. Should the proposals be passed in their current format the Minister and his colleagues will be dealing with a crisis ridden Irish Red Cross for at least another decade.
2. An Independent Investigation into the affairs and running of the Irish Red Cross is now a matter of urgency. It is a national organisation with both a national and international role and the present situation cannot be allowed continue. In addition there is the matter of nearly €1 million of tax payers money that goes into the Irish Red Cross every year.
3. The Minister must be made aware that externally the delay in appointing a credible and reputable Chairperson is generally put down to nobody being interested in taking on the position in such a severely dysfunctional organisation. The longer the delay in appointing the Chair the more reinforced this view becomes and the more the perception that the Irish Red Cross is unsalvageable takes root.
4. Real change will only take place when the two or three Board members who control the organisation with an iron fist are removed from office and when a sufficiently experienced and respected Secretary General is appointed.
5. When the Minister finally appoints the new Chair, and this Blog encourages him to do so immediately, one of the first priorities must be the open advertisement and recruitment of a new Secretary General. As previously written in this Blog the current staffing/industrial relations situation is potentially explosive with a very threatening atmosphere prevailing at Irish Red Cross headquarters.
6. The Minister must not allow the current governance reform proposals proceed. To the untrained eye they may appear a step forward but in reality they will guarantee many more years of the status quo which we all know means crisis, confusion, mismanagement and misgovernance. It is critical that any governance proposals brought forward must include a provision that clearly states all those with more than 12 years on the Executive Board step down immediately and not put themselves forward for the Executive Board again. This Blog understands this would only impact three individuals (who have all served nearly twenty years each) and as such would not in any shape or form impact on continuity or institutional knowledge.

This Blog wishes Minister Killeen success in his new role but it also calls on him to act decisively and with vision in playing his part in rectifying the crisis at the Irish Red Cross

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rumours of serious industrial relations unrest at Irish Red Cross intensify

In our article of 2nd April 2010 this Blog made reference to rumblings within the organisation of a serious destabilisation of staff/management relations at head quarters. The article reported that problems began before Christmas with the disgraceful treatment and eventual redundancy of the former and highly respected Community Services Officer. The situation has deteriorated ever since with one member telling this blog 'its hard to get exact information but what seems certain is that since December there is an atmosphere of fear and deep mistrust between staff and the Acting Secretary General. This is a matter of serious concern so I just hope members on the Executive Committee are fully aware of what is going on and plan to do something about it before serious and long lasting damage is caused'.

Members with whom this Blog speaks all say that more and more rumours are circulating about a very serious and potentially explosive industrial relations situation brewing at head office. While specific details are hard to come by this Blog understands that the organisation is attempting to make unnecessary and severe reductions in the pension and salary benefits of staff. While not able to confirm, we have reason to believe the matter has been twice referred to the Labour Court with little or no progress made. It would appear that staff are questioning the financial need for the proposed changes and argue that the organisation has mismanaged its finances and staff should not be the ones to pay for this incompetence. They also point out that in 2008 over €300,000 was paid in Consultant/Professional Fees and in 2009 another €300,000 was again paid in Consultant/Professional Fees. In particular it is known that one specific consultant was paid over €150,000 in 2008 and over €160,000 in 2009. Figures for Consultancy fees for 2010 are obviously not yet known but what is known is that somewhere between five and seven consultants are currently engaged by the organisation, all receiving very handsome daily rates. One member reported to this Blog 'I do not understand why staff would be treated so badly and I am very concerned about the situation. I want to know if members of the Executive Committee are making these decisions as a group or whether one or two individuals are driving an agenda that others are kept in the dark about. My own experience of head office staff is that they are a very loyal, committed and hard working bunch of people but the ruling elite seem determined to punish them because of their constant calls for reform of the organisation. This is not acceptable and what is very worrying is how very very afraid everybody seems. Something must be done about this before we are once again the subject of more damaging media publicity but more importantly before the problem gets out of hand'

This Blog is very concerned that an atmosphere of fear and mistrust pervades our head quarters. We as members can only imagine how difficult such a working environment must be. We as members must therefore ensure we are fully informed as to what is really going on. We must contact our Executive Committee members to ascertain the facts and their plans to rectify the matter. We must not be afraid for we have responsibilities to ourselves, the organisation and the staff who so admiringly serve the organisation. As a wise proverb says 'Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is' so we must show courage. Courage of course is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it. We have to recognise there is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of what is happening.

We will conclude this Blog article with a quote which we hope will provide encouragement to members around the country who wish to see change in the Irish Red Cross and to head office staff who seem to be going through a most difficult and frightening time.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. Dont be afraid to go out on a limb. That is where the fruit is.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Irish Red Cross frozen in permanent state of crisis

The Irish Red Cross is in danger of becoming a backward and dated organisation that refuses to change. As a national society it is made up of the most remarkable members, volunteers and staff who dedicate themselves and their spare time to saving lives and helping those less well off, whether in Ireland or overseas. Their contribution to society and humanity is without doubt extraordinary. These people are served, however, by an inept leadership at Executive Committee level and at senior management. The ineptitude amongst certain, and only certain it must be said, Executive Committee members has existed for nearly two decades. It has had a corrosive, damaging and long lasting impact on the welfare of the organisation. Over the years there has been, and even today there continues to be, highly capable and committed people serving on the Executive Committee but they have been silenced and rendered powerless by the very few who comprise the ruling elite. Since the departure of the former Chairman, David Andrews and the previous Secretary General, John Roycroft, the situation has deteriorated rapidly. The sudden exit of these two admirable men before last Christmas allowed the ruling elite, for the first time in many years, achieve a long sought after aim, namely the installation of a Secretary General (albeit Acting) whose sole purpose is to protect them and ensure their continued survival. So long as this secret pact to retain power at all costs remains the primary focus of the ruling elite the Irish Red Cross will never change and will never progress. The fact that the Department of Defence perpetuates the problem by delaying the appointment of a suitably qualified, determined and reforming Chairperson is frustrating and disappointing. The Government must act on this immediately.

This Blog has constantly advocated for change within the Irish Red Cross. As one member recently stated 'We need a change in leadership like we need a good summer...desperately'. The following quote is therefore of relevance and one for Irish Red Cross members to consider 'Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better'.

Irish Red Cross members must not be fearful of change, they must embrace it. We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we decay. Members are the ones responsible for deciding whether the Irish Red Cross changes or not.

Despite the fact that the ruling elite unilaterally decided to cancel the scheduled February Central Council meeting the upcoming one in May/June will go ahead despite the ruling elite's wishes that it did not. It is likely that a number of blunt questions will be asked regarding the undeclared Tipperary Bank account and the Acting Chairman's failure to hand over more than €150,000 of Tsunami money for nearly four years until the undeclared bank account was discovered during an internal audit. If Central Council members carry out their governance duties responsibly they will ask many more questions on a wide range of matters, all of which have been covered extensively in various articles on this blog. Regardless of questions asked though Central Council members will have the legitimate opportunity to effect real and permanent change by voting in a new Vice Chairman as elections for this post (as well as for the full Executive membership) must take place at the May/June Central Council meeting. This Blog would implore the membership to speak with their Central Council representatives as well as engage with the government appointed Central Council representatives and impress upon them the absolute need for change in the make up of the Executive Committee, in particular the replacement of all those on Executive with more than twelve years service (three persons). This Blog believes there are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or accept responsibility for changing them. Central Council members have a moral and legal duty and responsibility to govern and protect the Irish Red Cross. To do this they must not only embrace change but effect change.

The Irish Red Cross is facing one of the most difficult periods in its seventy year history. Not only do we have an internal crisis but we face real and highly professional competition externally. As Charles Darwin stated 'it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change'. As it presently stands the Irish Red Cross is refusing to change and if this is prolonged we will continue to weaken as a national organisation to the point of irrelevance.

Members, and particularly our elected representatives on Central Council and those appointed to Central Council by the Government, need to be courageous. Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And those of us members familiar with the Irish Red Cross know only too well that change has its enemies. People make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. This is the situation within the Irish Red Cross. Progress only occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better. The 6,000 Irish Red Cross members and staff crying out for change can only hope that sooner rather than later skillful leaders either emerge, are elected or are appointed.

On a separate matter:

Authors of this Blog noted with collective bemusement the comment posted after the 11th March article. It read as follows 'Perhaps you could find the tallest bridge in Ireland and jump off it, little bit of advice. Try the M50 that crosses over the Liffey'. The comment was posted anonymously and given the intellectual standard of the posting this is not altogether a surprise.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Calls for new Minister of Defence to intervene immediately in Irish Red Cross crisis

Minister Kileen, Brian Cowen's new man in the Department of Defence, has so far remained silent on the crisis he is expected to deal with at the Irish Red Cross. At this early stage it can only be hoped that the silence is due to the Minister familiarising himself with the extent of the problems and working out an effective and decisive course of action. If, however, the Minister does not indicate in the near future his intentions it can only be assumed that he plans to follow the example of his predecessor and put his head firmly and deeply in the sand. The former Minister of Defence, Willie O' Dea, not only refused to do anything to address the problems in an organisation his Department contributes nearly €1 million to annually, he actually exacerbated them by re-appointing members to the Irish Red Cross Board who were and continue to be at the heart of the organisation's problems.

We are now in the fourth month without a Chairperson of the Irish Red Cross, since the departure of former Chairman, ex Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. David Andrews, at the end of 2009. The reasons for the Government's delay in appointing his successor remain a mystery. The leadership vacuum created by this inaction on the part of the Government and the Department of Defence in particular only serves to intensify the crisis within the Irish Red Cross. Currently the organisation has a temporary Acting Chairperson and a temporary Acting Secretary General. Not only does this send a very bad signal externally it has a very destabilising impact internally. This Blog understands that both the Acting Chairperson and Acting Secretary General will be replaced with a permanent Chairperson and a permanent Secretary General, both of whom will not be the current incumbents. The longer the delays in finalising both posts the longer the delay in any semblance of recovery at the Irish Red Cross.

All Irish Red Cross members up and down the country now know that 2009 was a disastrous year for the organisation both financially and with the nation's media. This Blog has written that while the economic environment contributed to the organisation's woes, the root cause is catastrophic governance and mismanagement as well as a scandalous waste of resources on exorbitant consultancy fees. Information this Blog has obtained would indicate that 2010 is shaping up to follow a similar pattern. This is understandable as those responsible for the 2009 calamity now hold even more senior positions than in 2010. Therefore it cannot be expected that those who put the organisation into its current crisis will be in any position to extricate the organisation from it.

While it has been difficult to get exact information it is the view of this Blog that the industrial relations environment at head office has deteriorated rapidly since the start of the year. This should be of major concern to all members around the country as the extremely negative and tense atmosphere at head office is beginning to impact the organisation's ability to function effectively. One member explained 'I understand that following the shocking treatment prior to Christmas of the highly regarded and well respected former Community Services Officer, Lydia O' Halloran, the relationship between nearly all staff and the Acting Secretary General has nose dived month on month since. There are also rumours beginning to circulate of a serious dispute over pensions, salary benefits and excessive working hours at every level but details are sketchy as staff seem too terrified to speak to anyone apart from their trade union, SIPTU'. As members we can only hope at this stage that the situation can be contained. If it continues to cause problems then as members we have a duty to instruct our Central Council representatives to demand action and more importantly to demand the necessary change. We as members must never forget that it is us and only us who can demand and insist on the long overdue change and reforms. The bottom line is if we do not make it happen it will not happen. One long serving member summed it up well ' I know many members say they want change and recognise the organisation has totally lost its way. Most are seriously ashamed that the current Acting Chairperson failed to declare an organisational bank account to head office and failed to hand over more than €150,000 of Tsunami related money for four years until the account was discovered during an internal audit. At the same time members seem to be at a loss as to what to do next. It’s actually quite simple though. Members need to assert themselves and demand the changes as otherwise the organisation they love and dedicate their lives to is in danger of becoming a national embarrassment’.

What is now required is for Minister Kileen to:

1. Immediately appoint a suitably qualified and experienced individual to the position of Chairperson of the Irish Red Cross

2. Instruct the newly appointed Chairperson to launch an immediate internal investigation into the issue of the Tipperary Bank Account and the actions of the current Acting Chairman concerning this matter

3. Instruct the newly appointed Chairperson to open the position for a permanent and properly qualified Secretary General and hire a recognised recruitment firm to oversee the screening and selection process

4. Advise the newly appointed Chairperson to hold as soon as possible an emergency General Assembly of all members as per previous Blog article.

Before concluding it is important for this Blog to state categorically that full responsibility for all of the above should not, however, rest on the shoulders of the Minister. We as members need to hold ourselves accountable for the current state of play at the organisation. We must now mobilise ourselves from our long slumber and finally take decisive action.