Saturday, June 26, 2010

Irish Red Cross staff in stunning vote of rejection

Staff of the Irish Red Cross have issued a stunning rejection to the organisation. In a vote which was on a variety of proposals related to terms and conditions staff voted 19 Against the proposals and Zero for.

A unanimous vote by staff sends a strong and unequivocal message to the Board of the Irish Red Cross that there is a major crisis at the head office, one that needs urgent addressing before there are dire consequences for the whole Society.

The vote of 19-0 is an overwhelming rejection of the organisation's proposals and questions must be asked why staff voted so. Staff of the Irish Red Cross head office are all highly educated, well qualified and experienced professionals who are not prepared to accept certain types of treatment and behaviour. They are also highly committed and dedicated to the Irish Red Cross and work very long hours and regularly work weekends. They despair that the organisation they are passionate about is slowly unravelling. Trust between staff and the organisation has irretrievably broken down and cannot be recovered. This Blog has for seven months warned of such problems. This Blog has in numerous articles outlined examples of the atmosphere that now exists at head office. This Blog also has alot more information but for a variety of reasons is not in a position to publish it at this juncture.

In numerous articles written the Blog authors have advised the urgent need to recruit a Secretary General who both understands but also equally importantly is interested in the work of the Irish Red Cross. The current temporary arrangement is highly unusal and alot of questions are being asked. The process of recruitment needs to commence immediately and must be conducted transparently and handled by a professional recruitment firm. Statements issued by the Irish Red Cross to the media in December 2009 clearly stated that a permanent Secretary General would be recruited in the latter half of 2010. This process must therefore be initated in order to have someone in place before the end of the year.

Failure to address the deteriorating situation at head office will eventually see the rapidly rising tensions spill over in to the public domain and possibly into the Courts.

Surely members of the Executive will recognise the 19-0 vote as a desperate cry for help by staff and once and for all act decisively. Failure to do so will leave staff no option but to defend themselves as best they see fit. And this they are perfectly entitled to do if the Executive Committee abandons them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some positives from Irish Red Cross Central Council meeting but should have been more

The Irish Red Cross held its mid year Central Council meeting on Saturday 12th June 2010. This meeting presented an opportunity to fundamentally reform the organisation. In particular it should have been an occasion that saw the current Vice Chairman tender his resignation for keeping a secret bank account for four years in the name of the Irish Red Cross with over €150,000 collected from the Irish public for the Tsunami in early 2005 and never declaring it to head office until an internal audit discovered it in late 2008 forcing him to admit its existence and return the money to head office. The Vice Chairman has to date got away scot free with this and as a result the reputation of the Irish Red Cross continues to be damaged as he is currently holds the position of Acting Chairman pending the Government's appointment of a replacement for Mr. David Andrews, who resigned in December 2009. It would seem from reports emanating from the Central Council meeting that once again Central Council members feared questioning the Vice Chairman, Tony Lawlor, on this matter. In addition no-one has ever answered the question 'what would have happened to this money and the secret bank account if the internal audit had not discovered it?' It has become ever more difficult for Irish Red Cross volunteers, members, staff and Central Council/Executive officials to explain externally to the Irish Government and the International Red Cross in Geneva why no action has been taken in this regard.

Despite the fact, however, that fundamental reform was not initiated last Saturday progress was nevertheless made in slowly changing the make up of the ruling elite on Executive Committee.

Mr. Des Kavanagh, who has served on the Executive Committee for nearly twenty years decided not to go forward this year. This Blog would like to wish Mr. Kavanagh best wishes for the future and notes his twenty years service to the organisation. Mr Kavanagh was replaced by Ms. Ann Murphy, a government nominee to Central Council. This Blog views Ms. Murphy's election to Executive as extremely significant and very positive. Ms. Murphy, since her appointment to the Central Council twelve months ago, has clearly demonstrated that she is an independent minded woman not afraid to ask difficult questions. Ms. Murphy is known to be a very formidable woman and therefore her presence on Executive for the next twelve months is a very positive step forward for the reform agenda. Ms. Murphy is not the sort of woman to be intimidated by the bullying tactics the ruling elite are now notorious for. Congratulations therefore go to Ms. Murphy and to all those who ensured her election. There is one other new Executive Committee member, Cliona Lehane, but at this stage little is known by the Blog authors and supporters about her but a number of people have indicated that they understand she is close to the Vice Chairman but this may or may not be true.

Otherwise the meeting finalised the various Working Group Chairpersons. Nothing noteworthy here apart from the resurrection of the Overseas Working Group which had ceased to exist after the resignation of its former Chair, Judge Rory Mac Cabe, from Central Council last year. Judge Mac Cabe was a huge supporter of the overseas work of the Irish Red Cross and his presence has been sorely missed. Ms. Sheila Callan is the new Chair of the Overseas Working Group, having previously served in this position for a number of years in the past. This Blog welcomes the restoration of the Overseas Working Group as the Overseas Department has been transformed over the last five years and has and continues to carry out remarkable work all over the world. As one member put it 'the Overseas Department has grown dramatically in the last few years and has earned a very strong reputation with the Irish Government and the International Red Cross in Geneva. Everyone in the Irish Red Cross is very proud of its achievements. Despite this we hear constant rumours that the agenda of the ruling elite on Executive, aided and abetted by the temporary Acting Secretary General, is to shut the Overseas Department down because its seen as troublesome to the power base of those who dominate and control the Irish Red Cross. The Overseas Department therefore needs a strong Overseas Working Group to protect it from this disgraceful agenda and no better woman to fight its corner than Sheila Callan'. This Blog wishes Ms Callan every success in her new role.

In summary then this Blog views the recent Central Council meeting with mixed emotions. Disappointment that unacceptable and questionable standards and behavior continue to be condoned but optimistic that progress, no matter how small, has been made in slowly replacing the ruling elite on Executive. Minister of Defence, Tony Killeen, must now immediately appoint a new Chairperson and thereafter the post of Secretary General must be advertised and a suitable candidate recruited in a transparent and open manner. The current Acting Secretary General, Declan O'Sullivan, is only in the role on a temporary basis. This Blog understands he is to be replaced in late 2010 as per press releases issued by the Irish Red Cross in December 2009 following the resignation of both the organisation's Chairman and Secretary General.

On a separate matter:

This Blog can only hope that the first two comments which followed the previous Blog article were not written by anyone holding a leadership position within the Irish Red Cross as the contents clearly indicate an author with well below average intelligence and a level of pettiness and immaturity unbecoming of a leader. The Blog, on the other hand, hopes that the author of comment three does hold a position of influence in the organisation as clearly the person is articulate, perceptive and capable of expressing a view in an intelligent and appropriate manner.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Questions Irish Red Cross Board members need to ask and seek answers to at June 12th Central Council Meeting

On June 12th 2010 the Irish Red Cross will hold the first of its twice yearly Central Council meetings. The mid-year meeting is particularly important as its sees the annual election of the Executive Committee, the sub-committee of the Central Council which meets on a monthly basis and oversees the Secretary General and staff. Twice a year the Central Council meets. The Executive Committee reports back to the Board on the previous six months. Unfortunately, however, over the last twenty years the Central Council has lost virtually all its power and influence as control of the Irish Red Cross is now firmly in the iron grip of one or two Executive Committee members. Central Council has been disenfranchised completely in recent years. One member familiar with all the players summed it up ‘over a period of twelve to fifteen years Central Council has become less and less influential as one or two individuals on Executive gained more and more power and over time nullified all opposition. These individuals now run the Irish Red Cross as if it was their own personal empire. Central Council members need to urgently reassert themselves and regain control of the organisation and in particular the Executive. I hope Central Council members will once and for all face up to this responsibility and drive through both reform and personnel change. Failure to do so would be remiss’.

The Blog authors and its numerous contributors have put together the following list of questions that we believe require immediate answers. We would ask that Central Council members seek answers to these questions and that they begin this process by asking each and every one of these questions at the Central Council meeting on June 12th and putting them to Mr. Tony (Anthony) Lawlor, Acting Vice Chairman and Mr. Declan O'Sullivan, Acting Secretary General. Questions as follows:

1. In late 2008, following an internal audit conducted secretly, it was discovered that the Vice Chairman of the Irish Red Cross had an undeclared bank account in the name of the Irish Red Cross with over €150,000 in it. Following the discovery of this account it transpired that the money had been collected from the Irish public in early 2005 for the victims of the Tsunami. This money was not transferred to head office in Dublin, as it should have been as per Irish Red Cross policy, where it would have been spent on its intended purpose. This money was never declared to head office and for nearly four years it sat in a bank account in Tipperary. The Vice Chairman needs to be asked to explain his actions to Central Council and to state why he believes his actions did not warrant his immediate resignation in late 2008 when the money was discovered. Central Council must have this matter independently investigated. Following an investigation and its findings/recommendations Central Council, and only Central Council, must decide on an appropriate course of action. The failure to address this matter openly and transparently has been very damaging to the reputation of the Irish Red Cross externally as well as destroying morale internally.
2. Regarding the above, Central Council must ask why no investigation has taken place to date and why the information was never made known to Central Council and Executive members at the time? The information only became public knowledge when reported on by the Irish media.
3. Why do Executive Committee members who have served more than twelve years (and three have served nearly twenty years) feel they should continue in office when globally accepted good governance practice recommends that two terms in office of approximately 3/4 years each should be the maximum? These ‘ruling elite’ members should take the opportunity to step aside and allow fresh blood and new ideas take the Irish Red Cross forward.
4. The Governance Reform proposals sent to the Irish Government contain no provisions for including the back dating of service meaning that Executive members who have already served up to twenty years will be allowed continue in office for at least another six years and then only have to step down for one year before being eligible to serve again for another six years. These so called ‘governance reform proposals’ are derisory and are designed to see the ruling elite retain power indefinitely. Central Council should demand the recalling from Government of the ‘proposals’ while an independent expert on governance reform is hired to oversee an entirely new and objective process.
5. Why has there been no General Assembly of all members since 2005? A General Assembly is supposed to be held by the Irish Red Cross every two years but one was not held in 2007 or in 2009. Central Council should decide on a date in 2010 for a General Assembly and instruct Executive and the Acting Secretary General to begin preparations to hold it.
6. Why was the specially planned Central Council meeting scheduled for February 2010 cancelled? The November 2009 Central Council meeting decided to hold a special Council meeting in February 2010 but certain Executive members unilaterally decided to cancel it. These members to not have the authority to over ride a Central Council decision and this they must be urgently reminded of.
7. Central Council should instruct Executive to immediately open the post for a permanent Secretary General. An independent and specialised recruitment firm should be hired to oversee the process. Price WaterHouse Coopers (PWC) has been used in the past and provided a top level professional service. The Irish Red Cross has not had a permanent Secretary General since the departure of Carmel Dunne in mid 2007. The constant flux and uncertainty around the top staffing position has been very unhelpful on many levels. John Roycroft, a consummate professional, was nevertheless a temporary ‘on loan’ appointment from the Department of Justice and the current Acting Secretary General is due to be replaced in the latter half of 2010 (as per Irish Red Cross press releases last December, at the time of the two resignations of the then Chairman, David Andrews and Secretary General, John Roycroft).
8. How much money has the Irish Red Cross spent on external consultants in the last decade? How many consultants is the Irish Red Cross currently paying? At the very least there are three, in the shape of a Communications Consultant, a Web Consultant and a Human Resource/Industrial Relations Consultant (who it is understood is used on a near daily basis by the Acting Secretary General as he scrambles to fire fight the chaotic industrial relations environment that has been created over the last six months). In addition to these three consultants this Blog has been informed that all four staff made redundant in January 2010 were all re-hired immediately on consultancy contracts. This despite receiving generous redundancy packages.
9. Regarding consultants it is very important the Central Council ask who authorised the payment of over €300,000 between 2008 and 2009 to the then Consultant Acting Head of Finance (now Acting Secretary General).
10. Central Council members may or may not be aware that the Irish Red Cross owns numerous properties around the country. These properties have accumulated over the years and have mostly come into the possession of the Irish Red Cross from wills. These properties have never been recorded in the accounts of the Irish Red Cross. This is contrary to accounting practice and the Irish Red Cross has been regularly reprimanded by its auditors for failing to adhere to proper practice on this. Property bequeathed in wills must be treated as income in financial accounts. The Irish Red Cross has failed to do this. Central Council members need to get a list outlining every single property owned by the Irish Red Cross as well as each property’s address, specifications, current use and present market value. It is understood that there are in excess of eighteen/nineteen properties currently owned by the Society but not properly accounted for in the organisation’s financial accounts.
11. Regarding the above, Central Council needs to demand a detailed plan for these properties be prepared including an outline of who is managing this extensive property portfolio, is the Irish Red Cross ensuring it is earning and investing income as a result of these properties, why were these properties not sold during the housing boom and the funds re-invested in the activities of the organisation at home and overseas, how will the properties be used in the future, are all the properties adequately insured and why has this property portfolio been kept a secret for so many years. Central Council should direct Executive to immediately hire a firm of property management specialists to professionally and competently handle this matter on behalf of the Irish Red Cross.
12. For twenty five years staff and members have regularly expressed serious concern that when there are large Appeals for disasters not all funds raised go to that appeal and that a significant portion of the monies raised goes into the general accounts of the Irish Red Cross and so the wishes of the donors/public are ignored. There are newspaper articles going back as far as the mid 80’s and the 90’s raising serious questions on this matter (Irish Times 15th April 1985, Irish Times 1st May 1985, Irish Times 2nd May 1985, Irish Times 26th May 1993, Irish Times 28th February 1998, Irish Times 24th November 1999 as but examples). These concerns are as valid today as they were back then and it is the view of this Blog that any independent analysis of Irish Red Cross allocation of funds policy would reveal this practice is alive and well in addition to exposing the organisation to incalculable reputational damage. The practice, therefore, must be ended immediately.
13. Central Council should write and sign a letter to the Minister for Defence, Tony Killeen, requesting that he appoint a suitably qualified and experienced Chairperson to the Irish Red Cross immediately. The absence of a strong and respected Chair for the last six months has only served to deepen the governance and leadership crisis at the Society.
14. Central Council should support the numerous calls by Fine Gael and Labour for a full, comprehensive and detailed Independent Investigation into the affairs of the Irish Red Cross. This must be the starting point for the organisation’s recovery.
15. Central Council must demand explanations for the dramatic deterioration in relations between staff and the Acting Secretary General resulting in three appearances before the Labour Court in six months, constant meetings with trade unions on numerous issues that would previously have been handled without creating a crisis and the near permanent recruitment by the Acting Secretary General of an expensive HR/Industrial Relations Consultant to advise him on the ever deepening mess. Central Council must address the worrying atmosphere of fear that exists amongst staff at head office. Management by fear is a sure sign of failure and inability.
16. Central Council must insist on the development of an overall Irish Red Cross three or five year strategy. It is a damning indictment on the Irish Red Cross that it does not have a three or five year strategic plan but instead operates in a vacuum of ad hoc and reactive decision making lacking vision and foresight. For three years Central Council has been told the development of a strategic plan ‘is in process’ but despite the passage of time one never appears. An organisational long term strategy must be one of the top priorities for the permanent Secretary General upon his/her recruitment later this year.

This Blog wishes the Central Council members well for their meeting and deliberations on June 12th.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Minister of Defence, Tony Killeen and Labour discuss ongoing Irish Red Cross problems in Dail Eireann

On June 2nd 2010 the Irish Red Cross and its endless misgovernance and mismanagement was once again discussed in Dail Eireann. Minister of Defence, Tony Killeen, was questioned on a number of important matters pertaining to the Society. The debate can be read on the Oireachtas Debates website. The exact address is:

If this does not work simply log on to and click on Dail Debates and then click on 2nd June 2010 and scroll down to Irish Red Cross.

What is depressing for all staff and members committed to the Irish Red Cross is that the situation at the Society continues to deteriorate. The organisation is now paralysed in a state of chaos with morale and energy at an all time low. While the situation worsened dramatically during the latter half of 2009 the first half of 2010has seen the organisation reach a new low with the return of rampant staff bullying and harassment at head office and the targeting of certain members around the country.

Minister Killeen stated in the Dail that on 18th May 2010 he met the Vice Chairman and Acting Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross. This Blog presumes that by now the Minister is well briefed on the real situation at the Society. We therefore assume he understands that the Vice Chairman is the very person that kept an undeclared bank account in Tipperary with over €150,000 in it for four years and only returned the money to head office when his undeclared account was discovered in an internal audit. This money was donated by the Irish public for the Tsunami and for four years it sat in a secret bank account in Tipperary town. This is without doubt at a minimum a resigning offence but the matter was buried and only became public when the Village Magazine publicised it in late 2009. The Minister will also be aware that the current Acting Secretary General was appointed in a manner shrouded in secrecy and one devoid of any transparency. It is understood he is to be replaced in late 2010 as per previous press releases in 2009 following the resignation of the organisation's then Chairman and Secretary General. Minister Killeen is an honest and experienced politician so this Blog can only hope that he takes the views of these two men with a pinch of salt. Both men have the most to lose from even the slightest reform of the Irish Red Cross. One member this Blog spoke with said it well 'I just cringe with shame and embarrassment when I think these two individuals represented the Irish Red Cross in meetings with a Minister in the country's national parliament'

This Blog has stated on a number of occasions that the current governance proposals put forward are designed to ensure the ruling elite retain power indefinitely. The Minister must not accept them. The proposals need radical reform otherwise the problems that beset the Irish Red Cross will continue for years to come.

On a separate matter:

The Blog authors noted with all too familiarity the threatening tone of the comment posted after the previous article. It is behaviour such as this that must be resisted and removed from the Irish Red Cross once and for all. Let there be no illusions though that those determined to reform the organisation will always be targeted, bullied, harassed and threatened. This is the way it has always been. This Blog can state categorically however that the reformists will not be intimidated, they are not afraid and they will never give up.