Sunday, September 12, 2010

€1 million in donations to Irish Red Cross sat for years in bank, according to The Irish Mail on Sunday (September 12th 2010)

Extracts (in bold) from article in The Irish Mail on Sunday, 12th September 2010 (page 16), written by Valarie Hanley:

‘More than €1m donated to the Irish Red Cross remained untouched for years in bank accounts, the Irish Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Not all of the interest earned in these bank accounts holding these funds was passed on to the needy. Instead, critics say it was used to cover administration costs, even though the charity is heavily subsidised by Government grants.

Until now, it was believed that there had only been one case of monies remaining untouched in a bank account. This is the controversial account opened in Tipperary for the victims of the Asian tsunami, which holds €162,000. But now it has emerged that this practice has been going for the past 20 years.

Financial returns seen by the Mail on Sunday show that €1m was held in nine Irish Red Cross bank accounts in December 1990. There was so much money left untouched in these accounts that between January and December 1990 that the Irish Red Cross earned €29,558 in interest.

Gerry Moyne, an ex-Red Cross Donegal county secretary, said:”I have expressed huge concern over the retention of appeals money by the society over the past 20 years”.

The Irish Red Cross at first tried to dismiss the tsunami account as an ‘administrative error’.’

In addition to the above article the Sunday Times (12th September 2010, Page 7) also carried an article on the Irish Red Cross. Written by Mark Tighe, it opens with ‘The Minister for Defence has appointed a former secretary general of his department as chairman of the Irish Red Cross (IRC) to stem controversy surrounding the charity’.

Tighe went on to write ‘The IRC has been accused of improper practices by a former board member and current senior manager. This year the Sunday Times revealed that Tony Lawlor, IRC acting chairman, had been criticised internally for his role in maintaining an undeclared bank account in Tipperary which held €162,000 in donations for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami. The account was discovered in 2008 in an audit.......The charity last week said it will appoint an “independent” accountant to examine the Tipperary account. A charity spokesperson said terms of reference for the investigation would be agreed with accountants before O’ Callaghan (the new Chairman) takes up his position as chairman.’ This would seem an unusual and odd development but despite the new Chairman having no input into the investigation terms of reference it can only be hoped that the investigators formally report to him and to him alone. It can also only be hoped that the new Chairman will instruct the investigators to interview all appropriate current and former staff and board members as otherwise key information will not be available to the investigators. Later in the article Tighe wrote ‘The IRC has been criticised in a blog by Noel Wardick, its head of international development, for wasting money and questionable management practices.....Declan O’Sullivan (acting Secretary General) was brought into the society as a financial consultant and paid €160,000 for that work in 2008 and 2009. Wardick is suspended on full pay while the charity carries out a disciplinary investigation.’

Towards the end of his article Tighe stated ‘It (IRC) was not represented at an Irish Aid-hosted meeting of charities working on the Pakistan flood crisis.’

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Irish Government announces new Irish Red Cross Chairman

The Irish Government has, after a nine month impasse, appointed a new Chairperson to the Irish Red Cross. Mr. David J. O’Callaghan will officially take up his new role following the formal appointment by the Irish President, Mary Mc Aleese, expected to take place in the coming days.

Mr. O’ Callaghan is a former Secretary General of the Department of Defence (the Department with statutory responsibility for the Irish Red Cross), from 1995 to 2004. He has previously held the post of Personnel Manager in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. He is currently Chairman of the Management Board of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management and Chairman of the Integrated Ticketing Project Board. As Mr. O’ Callaghan has previously headed the Department with statutory responsibility for the Irish Red Cross for nine years he will have first hand familiarity with all the problems that have beset the organisation. As such it is hoped that this in depth experience and knowledge of the Irish Red Cross will be used to maximum advantage in order to reform the organisation and lead it through an urgently needed recovery.

This Blog has over the last nine months consistently and continually called on the Minister for Defence to appoint a well qualified and experienced individual to the post of Chairperson of the Irish Red Cross. The fact that the nine month impasse is now at an end is a welcome development but only the very first step on a very long road. Mr. O’ Callaghan has taken on an incredibly difficult, tough and challenging assignment, one that receives no remuneration whatsoever. For this he should be highly commended and this blog wishes Mr. O’ Callaghan every success in his new role.

In the Blog article of 25th August 2010 six key action points were outlined with a preferred timeframe of weeks. It might be helpful to recap on these and they are (additional comment in bold):

1. The Minister to appoint a highly qualified, skilled, reputable, experienced, determined and energetic chairperson with a very clear mandate to fundamentally reform the Irish Red Cross. The appointment has been outstanding for eight months. This Blog welcomes Minister Killeen’s statement as reported in the Sunday Independent on 22nd August 2010 that an appointment is expected in September. We can only hope its early September. The appointment of a Chairperson has now been confirmed by the Irish Government.

2. The new Chairperson needs to initiate an investigation into the ‘undeclared’ Tipperary Bank account where €162,000 raised for victims of the Asian Tsunami, sat for over three years until it was discovered during a secret internal audit of Irish Red Cross branch bank accounts. This matter alone has generated much media coverage and in and of itself has greatly damaged the reputation and credibility of the Irish Red Cross. People responsible for what happened must be held accountable for their actions. This blog would encourage readers to take a look at the first comment posted on blog article dated 6th September 2010. It provides an excellent analysis on the Irish Red Cross decision to appoint a firm of accountants to investigate the Tipperary bank account saga and raises many vital questions that need to be clarified.

3. The new Chairperson should be tasked with overseeing, in an open and transparent manner, along with a professional recruiting firm, the recruitment of a permanent Secretary General. The current caretaking scenario needs to conclude forthwith. The Sunday Independent reported on 22nd August 2010 that the post of Secretary General would be advertised in September. It remains to be seen if this will happen.

4. Following the appointment of a new Chairperson and the recruitment of a new Secretary General a special General Assembly of all Irish Red Cross members, volunteers and staff should be convened. The last general assembly took place in 2005. The two scheduled for 2007 and 2009 simply never took place. Such closure within any organisation is very unhealthy and the Irish Red Cross is proof of the damaging consequences. The calling of a special General Assembly of all members under the new Chairperson and new Secretary General would allow for a new start, a rebirth and a revitalisation of the whole national society.

5. This Blog has previously called for a full scale independent investigation into the affairs and operations of the Irish Red Cross. Fine Gael, in an official statement issued in February 2010, called for an Independent Investigation. Irish Red Cross staff went on RTE in 1999 and called for an Independent Investigation. Calls for an Independent Investigation have been continual for over a decade now. If the organisation is to move forward, eventually recover and leave its past behind then an open, all encompassing independent investigation must be the starting point. Fine Gael again called for an independent investigation on Prime Time on 26th August 2010. Representatives from the Labour Party have also called (September 2010) for an independent inquiry into the Irish Red Cross.

6. The governance/board reform proposals submitted by the Irish Red Cross to the government should be withdrawn and the process started afresh. The current proposals will not reform the organisation. Instead they will maintain the status quo, which is their intention disguised as reform. In any revised Irish Red Cross governance reform process consultations and discussions should, on this occasion unlike the last, be all inclusive and open, meaning volunteers, staff, central council members, executive committee members and relevant external partners should be engaged and consulted.

On a separate matter:

For those of you following the web discussion on the Irish Red Cross on the web forum there are now a total of 76 comments. The direct link is:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Independent accounting firm appointed to investigate Irish Red Cross donations according to Sunday Independent newspaper

Ireland's biggest selling Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Independent, has reported (in its 5th September 2010 edition) that 'an independent accounting firm has been appointed to investigate how €162,000 of donations to victims of the Asian Tsunami went untouched for over three years in a Tipperary bank account'. According to the newspaper report the Irish Red Cross has said "it has nothing to hide". The article, written by Sunday Independent Chief Reporter, Daniel McConnell, led with the headline 'Accountants hired to probe Irish Red Cross donations'.

McConnell went on to write 'The move by the Irish Red Cross to appoint independent accountants comes despite it knowing about the "administrative error" for over two years, and has occurred only since it has been the subject of intense media scrutiny'. Ted Noonan, who according to the Sunday Independent is now the Acting Chairperson of the Irish Red Cross in the absence Mr. Tony Lawlor (whose Irish Red Cross branch controlled the Tipperary tsunami account in which the money was found' and who is "on leave for a few weeks"), confirmed 'that an independent firm of accountants would investigate the Tipperary bank account mystery but the name of the firm was not disclosed'. The Sunday Independent did not indicate who would partake in the investigation and it is not yet clear whether current and former staff and board members will be invited for interview as part of the process.

The Sunday Independent also refers to an internal memo sent by the Acting Chairman, Ted Noonan, which according to the newspaper contains the following remarkable sentence "to have the communities we serve question our integrity and motives is an insult to everyone in the Irish Red Cross...".

Mr. Noonan continued 'that the questions in the media have "caused real hurt and embarrassment" to Irish Red Cross members but he did admit that the response to such questions "has been slow and in some cases silent".

McConnell then addressed the Chairman issue stating 'The Society has been without a chairman since last November or a full-time secretary general for several months. Declan O' Sullivan is acting secretary general following on from a period in which he acted as a financial consultant to the Irish Red Cross-at a cost of €320,000 over two years'.

The internal Irish Red Cross memo according to the Sunday Independent 'also sought to address deep criticisms of Sheila Callan, a senior volunteer who appeared on a recent RTE Prime Time Investigates program about the Irish Red Cross. "Some of you expressed concerns that Sheila was not prepared for the interview. This is completely incorrect and apologies have already been made to Sheila for any such unintentional inference", Mr. Noonan said'.

In addition to the above mentioned Sunday Independent article the Sunday Times (5th September 2010, page 11) also carried an article on the Irish Red Cross. This article is written below in full:

Charity has no defence against officialdom

Those calling for reform of the Irish Red Cross say it needs to assert its independence from the Department of Defence. An email from last April, released under the Freedom of Information act (bless it!), demonstrates just how heavy falls the hand of officialdom on the charity's shoulder.

In the email David Lawler, a principal officer in the department, gives instructions to the Red Cross's secretary about a press release planned by the charity. His suggestions include altering a quote by Tony Lawlor, the Red Cross's vice-chairman, and changing several references to the government. "It would be better to ask the minister for defence directly in a future meeting rather than through a press release", he advises in relation to one issue.

Of course, all the proposals are couched civilly, and Lawler accepts that the charity "can issue a press release of its own volition and content". Just so long as that content is to the Department of Defence's liking, it would appear. ENDS

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ireland's leading web based discussion forums highlight Irish Red Cross 'situation'

Ireland's two leading web discussion forums, and, have been alive with debate and discussion on the Irish Red Cross, since the RTE Prime Time TV program of 26th August 2010. has 55 comments posted and has 36 comments posted. Makes for very interesting reading. The exact links are below:

The Irish Red Cross has been quoted in the Irish Times (27th August 2010) saying that despite the author of this blog revealing his identity last week they intend to continue their legal action against Google International in the United States of America. Why they would do this is incomprehensible as previously the Irish Red Cross stated on record that the purpose of the legal action was to identify the blog author. One would have assumed that by revealing his identity the need to take legal proceedings against Google Inc. would be negated. Only Irish Red Cross, however, will know the reason for this very puzzling decision...

On a separate note:

Many thanks for all the supportive comments posted in recent days, much appreciated.