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

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