Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Times (1st August 2010) carries two detailed reports on Irish Red Cross crisis

The 1st August 2010 Sunday Times edition carried two separate articles on the dramatically deteriorating situation within the Irish Red Cross.

The first report appears on the front page and the second, and much bigger, article appears on page 8. The first report leads with the headline ‘Red Cross hit by new dispute’ and the report begins with ‘The Irish Red Cross (IRC) official explanation for the discovery of an undeclared bank account containing €162,000 in donations for victims of the Asian tsunami has been disputed by the head of its international department’. It would appear from reading the report that the Sunday Times has received a letter leaked to it which was sent last week by the head of the international department, Noel Wardick, to the Acting Secretary General, Declan O’ Sullivan, where he says according to the Sunday Times ‘I want to state categorically and clearly that this money has NOT been spent’. The Sunday Times does not reveal who gave them Mr. Wardick’s letter or how it came into their possession. The claim that the money was not spent is in connection with previous claims by Tony Lawlor, Acting Chairman of the Irish Red Cross, that the tsunami money that sat in a Tipperary account for nearly four years had been fully spent on tsunami projects. The Sunday Times goes on ‘Noel Wardick said claims that the money had now been spent were inaccurate and he has raised questions about whether the IRC’s Tipperary branch had told head office of the account’s existence’. Mr Lawlor was reported in the Tipperary Nationalist newspaper of 29th July of claiming that the Tipperary branch had informed head office of the monies existence prior to its discovery by an internal audit in 2008. The Sunday Times, reportedly quoting from Mr. Wardick’s letter, writes ‘Wardick said the Tipperary money “may not be spent until the second half of 2011 so it is important that the organisation does not make statements that do not reflect this reality”. Regarding whether the Tipperary branch ever informed head office the Sunday Times says ‘He (Wardick) also queried whether the Tipperary branch had informed the IRC’s head office of the account’s existence as claimed last week. “If this was the case then the bank account would have surely appeared in the organisation’s accounts as well as the annual Tipperary branch account submissions to Dublin in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and it would have been clear that a large balance existed in a Tipperary Red Cross bank account”.

Interestingly the figure involved in the undeclared Tipperary bank account would appear to have increased from the previously reported €150,000 to €162,000. The paper noted ‘in a statement the IRC confirmed the total in the Tipperary account was €162,000’. If this is correct then this Blog would like to ask Mr. Tony Lawlor and Mr. Declan O’Sullivan, Acting Secretary General, why previous officially sanctioned press releases and statements have referred to €150,000. Why are they now issuing statements that the figure has increased by €12,000. Is this down to another one of their ‘administrative errors’? Can we expect more bad news and an even higher figure or new ‘undeclared’ bank accounts in coming days?

This whole episode is shameful and humiliating for all those involved with the Irish Red Cross, volunteers, members and staff alike. A full scale independent investigation is urgently required. Given the fact the IRC has confirmed the figure involved is now €162,000 and not €150,000 as first stated by the Irish Red Cross in official statements perhaps the GardaĆ­ need to be asked to take a look at the matter.

The second report carried by the Sunday Times in its 1st August 2010 edition appears on page 8 where the full page is given over to the crisis at the Irish Red Cross. The article is headed by a very dramatic picture of a war zone with a blown up photo of a military medic with Red Cross insignia on his arm and helmet running across a scene of explosions and battle. The large bold print headline reads ‘IN THE WARS-The Irish Red Cross is under attack from several directions. Can its reputation survive’. The caption under the photo reads ‘Ireland’s Red Cross society, with its 6,500 volunteers, faces a barrage of fire from critics’.

This Blog encourages all our readers to read both Sunday Times articles. The second one is detailed, comprehensive and outlines concisely the level and depth of the crisis within the Irish Red Cross. Limited examples of sections from this article are contained below in bold:

‘The undeclared account was discovered by the charity’s head office only in late 2008 during an internal audit. The emergence of the money after so many years alarmed some board members and staff, who believed it was an unacceptable breach of donor’s trust. That the account was based in its Tipperary branch, the home of Tony Lawlor, then the IRC board’s vice chairman, made the revelation more startling’.

‘Lawlor, a volunteer with more than 20 years service on the board is a powerful figure in the charity, but he is a controversial one’.

‘One of those who clashed with Lawlor was Jenny Bulbulia, a lawyer and government appointed board member. Bulbulia resigned in protest last year at what she believed was an absence of financial transparency in how the board was spending money. ‘A board that is unwilling or unable to accept criticism, let alone respond to it, is not a functioning board’ she wrote in a letter to the Minister for Defence’.

Staff believed that these two high profile resignations (former Chairman, David Andrews and former Secretary General, John Roycroft) were another sign of what insiders refer to as a hostile work atmsophere’.

‘After Andrew’s departure, Lawlor was appointed acting Chairman. ‘The buffer that Andrews provided between the staff and Lawlor is gone’ said one IRC source. ‘Its a very tense workplace now’.

In relation to the High Court case the Irish Red Cross is taking against Google the Sunday Times states about this Blog the following ‘...an anonymous internet poster who is using a blog to make informed and critical comments about the charity’. It goes on to say ‘But given the evidence of internal strife and irregularities that have already damaged public confidence in the charity, is it possible for the IRC to carry on without corrective surgery?’.

‘Last week’s story in the Sunday Times about €150,000 that lay unused in a Red Cross bank account came as no surprise to Gerard Moyne, a former board member of the IRC. ‘In the early 1990s I was asking questions about money raised for the Armenian earthquake that was still sitting in our accounts years after it should have been spent’ said Moyne. ‘Staff felt that volunteer board members were mistreating them’.

‘The Society had a series of high-profile resignations amid allegations of bullying throughout the 1990s. This period of unrest culminated with nine IRC staff issuing a joint statement to RTE (national TV broadcaster), calling for an independent inquiry into the management of the society’.

“This is a pattern that repeats itself over and over and staff are nervous of standing up for themselves”. In recent years, staff complained to central council and Andrews about a culture of intimidation and bullying “which has its roots in the executive council”.

‘In the past two years €585,000 was spent on external consultants. Declan O’ Sullivan, who is now the Acting secretary general was paid €160,000 a year in 2008 and 2009 for financial management services. He is being paid a similar sum in his current role’. This Blog views such wanton waste of very scarce resources as a scandal and has written numerous articles on this issue. It is to be borne in mind that the Irish Red Cross ran a financial deficit in 2008 and 2009 and consultants fees contributed significantly to the loss in both years.

Said an IRC source “Staff feel stressed out by the attitude and behaviour of senior board members. Internationally, our reputation is in tatters with other Red Cross societies. Not every former staff member will go to court or the newspapers when they leave, but there are staff who have left the building crying hysterically”.

‘The IRC’s case against Google has drawn attention from around the world, not least from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It has issued to members a briefing note which warns that the IRC’s legal action seeking disclosure against Google may lead to awkward questions being asked of other societies. Member organisations have been advised to be cautious about commenting on the Irish court case because Google is a key corporate partner and donor.’

‘Lawlor (Acting Chairman) said he eagerly awaited the appointment of a new chairman. It was “hard to say” if he would be putting himself forward to work on a new board, he said “I am open to standing back”. This Blog would go a step forward and urges Mr. Lawlor to immediately step down. Other members of the IRC board must pursue Mr. Lawlor’s statement and see how genuine he really is or is his position simply ‘media management’. Readers should know the Irish Red Cross media consultant is doing a roaring trade because of this self inflicted crisis. As with other Irish Red Cross consultancy and legal fees its media consultant expenses are soaring. On the basis that the media management has thus far failed miserably one has to seriously question throwing good money after bad.

‘Staff are worried that the interim arrangements (of Acting Chairperson and Acting Secretary General) may cause lasting damage’.

‘Last year, the IRC recorded a deficit of more than €250,000. Despite Lawlor’s public assurances about the importance of the society’s international department, the Sunday Times has learnt that it is due to undergo restructuring that may mean redundancies’

‘Bulbulia (the board member who resigned in 2008 over her concerns around financial irregularities) is insistent that immediate intervention is needed to save what is, for many, a beloved organisation. “Sadly the society appears to be in some sort of free-fall at the moment” she said. “Significant decisions that may well shape the direction and affect the reputation of the Irish Red Cross are being made by people who are in acting positions of chairperson and secretary general-care takers as it were. I would like to see the minister for defence appoint a new chairperson to get things back on track” stated Bulbulia.

This Blog would like to thank Mark Tighe, the Sunday Times journalist who very quickly it seems got a handle on the extent of the problems within the Irish Red Cross and reported accordingly. He has done a great service in highlighting the problems and given a glimmer of hope to those who love and dedicate their lives to the Irish Red Cross that change may be forced on the organisation. It certainly will not come from within which is why the current regime has prospered and survived so long. This Blog initially hoped it's articles would act as an internal catalyst for change and reform but unfortunately that did not happen as the ruling elite control and dominate every single aspect of the organisation.

This Blog calls on Tony (Anthony) Lawlor, Acting Chairman and Declan O’ Sullivan, Acting Secretary General, to accept that they are short term temporary caretakers and in such roles one needs to behave in a proper fashion. Taking fundamental and significant decisions that will impact on the well being and reputation of the Irish Red Cross for years to come must be prevented from happening.

It is the view of the Blog authors that an immediate emergency general assembly of all members and staff needs to be convened. The last one took place in 2005 and despite the fact that one should have occurred in 2007 and 2009 neither took place (in a blatant attempt to quell disquiet and reform). This Blog would recommend the emergency general assembly be chaired by a neutral intermediary such as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) or the International Committee of the Red Cross. Irish Red Cross members and staff need to assert their authority and demand change. Failure to do so will consign the Irish Red Cross to the scrapheap where it is unfortunately heading very rapidly.

I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Fear is choosing the safe course: most of us feel we have 'rational' reasons to avoid taking risks. The brave one is not the one without fear, but the one who does what he must despite being afraid. To succeed you must be willing to risk total failure, you must learn this. Then you will succeed-George Bernard Shaw

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:12 PM

    Dear Sirs, i am not a former memeber of the Red Cross I am a life member and a proud one depsite my experiences of being harrased by particular individuals within the organisaion. I was a member of the International Committee who accused the Society of adjusting minutes to suit the needs rather than the business that actually took place. The Executive Committee at the time stood the committee down to investigate alegations made by myself and others into finanacial irregularities and minute rigging, needless to say no such investiagation I believe ever took place and Following sending a letter to every memeber of council at the time I was then threatened by a member of the then Executive with High Court action. So what's new, probably nothing. Open this organisation to the FOI and the can will truly be open. I was sent to Coventry, but I am much bigger than the fools who purport to follow in the steps of Henry Dunant. Henry also to be bullied by his piers. I remain faithful to the ideals but have not given a single penny to the Irish Red Cross in 10 years. My experiences suggest it is not a good place, with power hungry people who care little. I however respect beyond words many of the staff. They are wonderful people and work hard !

    Also there are so many brilliant volunteers who work depspite the failures of the Irish Red Cross.
    Good on this Blog !

    Donegal

    ReplyDelete
  2. Check the organisations constitution and determine how many people/signatures you need to seek an Emergency General Assembly (EGA). Failing that you can always go to the High Court and force the Central Council and Executive Committee to proceed with an EGA. By the way make that a cross application for the upcoming Google case. Regards AGB

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous4:08 AM

    Thats the way, make them accountable to the membership! Call the EGM! Thats who they are responsible to. Its about time this business is sorted out once and for all!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous1:50 PM

    I wish to congratulate you on your standing - you should feel supported by every Irish man, woman and child in the stance and credance that you have brought to this matter.

    ReplyDelete