Friday, November 26, 2010

A call in Ireland's parliament for new Irish Red Cross Secretary General and an independent investigation into the organisation

On 24th November 2010 the ongoing situation at the Irish Red Cross was the subject of a debate in Ireland’s national parliament, Dail Eireann. Deputy Finian Mc Grath, TD (equivalent to MP) spoke at length about the problems. He called for an independent investigation into the whole organisation as well as the Tipperary bank account which the current Vice Chairman, Tony Lawlor, was a signatory on. Deputy McGrath also called for a new Secretary General. Declan O’Sullivan is the current Acting Secretary General who has been temporarily covering since John Roycroft resigned the post in December 2009.

Minister of Defence, Tony Killeen, responded to Deputy McGrath. Unfortunately the Minister simply read from a prepared script and repeated what he states in response to every parliamentary question he is asked on the Irish Red Cross. It is now clear that regardless of the actual question the Minister gives exactly the same response. The one comment of note, however, by the Minister was the following ‘I have also asked my officials to clarify with the Office of the Attorney General my role vis-a-vis the Irish Red Cross Society’. This statement is very significant as previously the Minister was certain in his refusal to get involved. As has been stated many times on this blog and elsewhere the 1939 Red Cross Act does in fact allow the Minister intervene directly if he deems it necessary. The involvement of the Attorney General in matters relating to the Irish Red Cross can only be welcomed and it is hoped his office will confirm to the Minister that he is NOT prohibited from intervening.

The Minister in his various responses over the last few months regularly refers to the fact that the International Red Cross has mandated that all national Red Cross Societies revise and reform their statutes and governance structures to bring them into line with best practice. This decision was taken in 2007 and Red Cross/Red Crescent societies around the world were given until 2010 to finalise this process. The Irish Red Cross has traditionally been very poorly rated within the Red Cross Movement vis a vis governance issues. It has regularly been assigned a grade of 4 on a scale where 1 represents the best governance structures and practice and 5 represents the worst. It is therefore extremely disappointing and embarrassing that despite having three years to address this matter the Irish Red Cross will have failed to reform its governance structures by the end of 2010.

With a general election likely early in the New Year and a new government in place within the first few months of 2011 it is unlikely Irish Red Cross governance reform will be top of their agenda. What is conveniently forgotten of course is that the Irish Red Cross Central Council has full authority to determine terms of office, rotation and when board members have to step down. They have full power to make these decisions. Changes to the Act are NOT necessary in this instance. Unfortunately the Central Council has failed to exercise this authority and members have allowed themselves be manipulated into believing that such matters can only be effected by legislative change.

The full text of the Dail debate is below:

Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle (Chair of the Irish Parliament) for the opportunity of raising this urgent matter regarding the management of the Irish Red Cross, particularly the dismissal case of Mr. Noel Wardick. Let us remember, before discussing the details of the case, that the Irish Red Cross is receiving over €1 million in taxpayers’ money. I have raised this urgent matter on a number of occasions with the Minister for Defence. I welcome the fact that the Minister is present to participate in the debate. It is a question of openness, transparency and justice for Mr. Wardick, whom I totally support in his quest for fair play and the protection of his human and legal rights.

I am strongly in favour of urgent reform of the Irish Red Cross. I call on the Ministers for Defence and Foreign Affairs to make this a priority in the Dáil. Some people at the senior level in the organisation have got to wake up and return to their own principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. The people and taxpayers of this country want their Red Cross to act in a caring and professional manner. This is not happening at present.

I have other concerns. The Minister should investigate the undeclared Tipperary bank account in respect of which €162,000 raised for flood victims was not spent. We need a new secretary general. Following these actions, we need a full general assembly of members, staff and volunteers. Then we need a full investigation into the affairs and operations of the Irish Red Cross. The status quo should end. Reform and change represent the only way forward for the Irish Red Cross.

I strongly support the case of Mr. Noel Wardick. He was formally dismissed from the Irish Red Cross on 10 November and removed from the payroll. He is still awaiting the result of the Irish Red Cross appeal and is unable to claim the jobseeker’s allowance and other social welfare benefits. The Irish Red Cross fired him before any appeal was heard, in breach of its own policies. The Irish Red Cross refused a third party appeal, as per Mr. Wardick’s entitlements under Irish Red Cross policy. The Irish Red Cross refused Mr. Wardick’s appeal to an authority higher than that which heard the original case.

The Irish Red Cross is granting Mr. Wardick an appeal, but only to more board members - two, to be precise. The investigation hearing resulted in a finding of gross misconduct. Two additional board members issued the sanction of dismissal and now appeal, bringing the total number of board members involved in the disciplinary process to six.

Most of Mr. Wardick’s accusations concern malpractice, negligence, cronyism, abuse of power and financial irregularities. As such, having board members investigate his case is in fundamental breach of the first principle of natural justice. The accused cannot investigate the accuser. I urge the Minister to heed this in the debate.

The Irish Red Cross has only allowed Mr. Wardick a written appeal to the two board members. There will be no oral questions or clarifications. Mr. Wardick submitted written appeal documents to the Irish Red Cross and awaits the outcome. The strong objections submitted by him regarding the process itself must be addressed. He will also apply for a hearing over employment dismissal. Mr. Wardick is currently unemployed as a result of his whistleblowing activities and because he lacks a P45, he is unable to claim benefits.

Transparency International Ireland, a global organisation that monitors corruption and abuse, calls for an independent investigation into the affairs and operations of the Irish Red Cross and asks that Mr. Wardick be reinstated immediately. Transparency International Ireland made this statement publicly in a formal letter to the chairman of the Irish Red Cross. The Minister should insist that the Irish Red Cross hold this independent investigation.

For 20 years the Irish Red Cross has been bedevilled with serious governance problems, industrial relations problems and financial irregularities. The common denominator during all this time has comprised the same two or three people.

The Minister appoints the chairman of Irish Red Cross, 16 members of the 40-member central council and has representation on the Irish Red Cross executive committee. He also gives the Irish Red Cross nearly €1 million annually. His claims that he cannot act and investigate are wrong. The 1939 Act establishing the Irish Red Cross specifically allows him to intervene in day-to-day affairs. Therefore, why is it that his official from the Department of Defence is the formal administrator in the disciplinary hearing into the activities of Mr. Wardick? There cannot be any more detailed day-to-day involvement than in the disciplinary process in question, bearing in mind the identity of those centrally involved in the dismissal of Noel Wardick, who in good faith has revealed matters of public interest and has been fired for his troubles. Why is an honest and genuine whistleblower not subject to the Government’s legislation to protect whistleblowers?
I urge common sense in the making of radical changes to the Irish Red Cross. I support totally Mr. Wardick. Support is the least this House can offer.

Deputy Tony Killeen, Minister of Defence: The Irish Red Cross Society was established on 1 July 1939, pursuant to the Red Cross Act 1938. It is an independent, statute-based charitable organisation with full powers to manage and administer its affairs through its governing body, the central council. The Government has a responsibility to preserve the independence of the society.

The society has a duty to manage its affairs with due care and it is incumbent on it to manage within its budget while minimising the effects on service provision. The Minister for Defence enacts any necessary legislation in respect of the society. However, he does not have a policy role in respect of its activities. The Minister has no function in the day-to-day administration of the Irish Red Cross Society and does not involve himself in the day-to-day running of its affairs.
Ireland, as a party to the Geneva Conventions, is a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. National societies carry out their humanitarian activities in conformity with their own statutes and national legislation. They must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able, at all times, to act in accordance with the principles of the International Red Cross movement. The principles under which the society achieves its objectives are humanity, universality, unity, impartiality, independence, neutrality and voluntary service. While being a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the society is legally separate and independent from this federation. The federation acts as a resource to the society rather than a monitoring body and does not have a policing role.

The central council of the Irish Red Cross Society consists of 30 members - one per local area - elected by the various society areas throughout the country and of members nominated by the Government who, in accordance with the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939, must comprise not less than one third of the total membership of the council. There are currently 16 members nominated by the Government to serve on the central council until 30 April 2012. The executive committee of the society is elected by central council from within its own ranks. It meets monthly and runs the day-to-day affairs of the society on behalf of the council. The central council elects the members of the executive committee, apart from the chairman, on an annual basis.

The Red Cross Act 1944 provides that the President of Ireland shall, by virtue of her office, be president of the society. The chairman of the central council is appointed by the President on the nomination of the Government. The society is supported by a grant-in-aid from the Department of Defence. This grant assists towards the running costs of the Society. The total amount of the grant for 2010 is €951,000. From this, the society pays the Government’s annual contribution - €131,000 - to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The latter amount has been contributed each year from 2002 to 2010.

The current governance proposals arise from a resolution passed in November 2007 by the council of delegates of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC, which urged all national societies, as requested by action 3 of the strategy of the movement, to examine and update their statutes - the rules of the national societies - and related legal texts by 2010 in accordance with the guidance for national society statutes and relevant international conference resolutions. This task is being undertaken by many Red Cross and Red Crescent societies throughout the world. The current proposals have the support of the IFRC.

A working group to propose changes in governance, including those recommended by the IFRC was established in 2008. The chairman of the temporary working group presented the findings to the central council of the Irish Red Cross Society at a meeting held in November 2009 and it was received in the Department of Defence in January of this year. In order to implement the recommendations, there will be a requirement for significant amendments to the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939. Representatives of the society and officials from the Department have had a number of meetings to discuss the specific changes required and work is ongoing in that regard. A draft of the amended order has been prepared for examination by the Office of the Attorney General and the society. I have also asked my officials to clarify with the Office of the Attorney General my role vis-à-vis the Irish Red Cross Society.

The proposed changes address issues relating to higher level areas of corporate governance such as organisational structures, electoral arrangements and membership. The main areas for consideration are: the appointment of the chair; appointments to the central council; proposed changes to the terms of office, rotation and election to the executive committee; clarification of the role of the president; and the establishment of an external and independent appeals mechanism, as well as an arbitration and membership committee composed of volunteers to decide on all membership removal and applications. When the consultative process is concluded, Government approval for the change in structure will be sought and a change in legislation will ultimately be required.

In accordance with article 9 of the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939, the chairman of the society must be a member of the Central Council. In nominating persons to central council, the Government considers that it is highly desirable that the society should have on its governing body people with a wide variety of knowledge and expertise gained through work experience in both the public and private sectors and-or volunteer experience.

The new chairman, Mr. David J. O’Callaghan, who has a great deal of experience in this area, was appointed recently. The post of secretary general of the society was advertised in recent months and applications are now being examined.

In respect of the matter of alleged irregularities in the handling of funds, it is my understanding that the issue of the bank account in question is being dealt with by the society. The society has put in place new and revised procedures so that such circumstances do not recur. The full report of the internal group appointed to inquire into the matter is due to be completed shortly.
A recent disciplinary matter involving a senior member of staff was dealt with by the executive committee of the society. This resulted in the person’s dismissal from the post. As this matter is under appeal, it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment.

The Dáil (Irish Parliament) adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 November 2010. ENDS

The link to the debate is below:

http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2010/11/24/00030.asp

In addition to the many comments on this blog, www.boards.ie continues to witness very active discussion on the Irish Red Cross. The link is below:

http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2056016355&highlight=Irish+Cross

17 comments:

  1. The Red Cross will no doubt be focused in responding to the recent correspondence sent to every single member of the Central Council. The representatives of areas will no doubt be bringing this correspondence to the attention of their areas for discussion. Will this happen and will I as one of the authors of this correspondence be given the courtesy of a response or indeed an opportunity to express my concerns through the so called processes that exist within the Irish Red Cross, something tells me it will be a cold day in hell before this happens.

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  2. Anonymous11:00 AM

    To the poster who asked who elects the Executive Committee and how, the answers is as follows:

    1. The highest governing authority of the Irish Red Cross is the Central Council. It has full powers to make all major and minor decisions including the length of terms of office for Executive Committee members, rotation and when existing members must step down and for how long they must remain off all governance related committees. The Central Council meets twice a year, May/June and November/December.

    2. The Central Council has 42 members. 26 are directly elected by Irish Red Cross members in 26 Areas, each equating approximately to a county (although not exactly 100% on a county geographic basis but close enough). The Government appoints 16 people to the Central Council bringing the total Central Council to 42 people.

    3. It is these 42 Central Council members who elect 12/13 people from among their ranks of 42 to make up the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is basically a sub-committee of the Central Council tasked by Central Council to oversee the policy and operations of the Irish RC on its behalf. The Executive Committee meets 10 times a year (every month except August and Dec). The Chairman of the Central Council (appointed by the Gov) is automatically the Chair of the Executive. The Dept. of Defence also has an offical sit permanently on the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee reports to the Central Council and is supervised by the Central Council. Central Council can instruct or mandate the Executive Committee to take various actions, hold certain events such as a General Assembly, bring in policies etc as it deems fit. Upon instruction by Central Council the Executive Committee must implement.

    I hope this answers your question.

    Noel Wardick

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  3. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Very interesting. I wonder how many of the Central Council members would be able to articulate the governance mechanisms of the Irish Red Cross. Either they do not understand their responsibilitie or they are simply negligent in carrying out their duties. What else can explain the blatant failure of corporate governance in the IRC?

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  4. Anonymous4:48 AM

    So surely it's central council that's at fault here not the executive?

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  5. Anonymous3:16 PM

    The central Council members are a group who meet twice a year, they meet for two hours and during that time they will discuss matters only which have been decided for them to discuss by the Executive. During the year the Central Council memebrs will get updates as and when the Executive decide. If a memebr writes to the Secretary General he will never let the Ectral Council see that correspondence even if it says on the letter that you wish it to be seen by all.

    It's a masonic order lets get down to the reality of how this system works. The Executive members make the desiions who lives and who dies simple as that. If your a Staff member like Noel Wardick and you lift yur head off that pillow they provide you with, you better grip your ass as you are going into solitary confinement. Next stop the dole.

    That's the way it works. So love it or hate it the Red Cross in Ireland is as bad as it gets.

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  6. Anonymous3:52 AM

    Dear CENTRAL COUNCIL MEMBER,

    An envelope with contents for your attention has been sent to 16 Merrion Square. It should arrive in Merrion Square on 29th November. Therefore you should each receive your individually addressed envelope on November 30th or 1st December the latest, as soon as Irish Red Cross posts on to your home addresses. If you do not receive the envelope by end of this week (3rd December) know that there is a letter for you sitting in Merrion Square.

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  7. Anonymous4:43 AM

    There is a little rumour doing the rounds that Minister Killeen has told Irish Red Cross their annual grant of €1 million is to be cut by alot in 2011. The reason is because the Irish Red Cross has refused to reform and certain people have refused to step down from their positions and the government has lost patience. The rumour says that the official reason to be given will be the IMF bailout and the government's need to cut expenditure everywhere. It would be sad if its true because any cut in the grant in aid will not hurt the board members it will only hurt the staff, some of who will lose their jobs. The workers paying for the actions of their leaders, never, not in Ireland!!!!

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  8. Anonymous11:21 AM

    For all those out there who intend to whistleblow on the Red Cross but need remain anonymous..
    There is hope for us all !

    Follow the link below and read !

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/innovation/2010/1126/1224283818619.html

    If your interested what the Central Council are doing about all the negative media the Society is getting you will be delighted to know that they are very worried and to prove this they are all staying indoors and taking sips of cold water..

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  9. Anonymous3:06 AM

    I am an Irish tax payer. I have followed the pathetic shenanigans at Irish Red Cross for the last year. The place is a disgrace. I think most of the staff and volunteers will be normal law abiding upstanding Irish citizens who are probably very ashamed of what their board of directors has done. As a tax payer I do not want one penny of my hard earned money going to Irish Red Cross so they can waste it like all the other useless quangos. I for one will be telling my local politicians that none of my tax money should be given to Irish Red Cross until it sorts itself out. Firing the Overseas Director is a disgusting act but as someone said on this blog it was done because the people at the top are scared to death of the guy. When Irish Red Cross changes I will be happy to see my hard earned taxes go back there again. It will be sad if Irish Red Cross staff lose their jobs but dont blame the government if it pulls your funding blame the people who got you into this mess. Get rid of your leaders and some of you may have jobs next year.

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  10. Anonymous5:53 AM

    Isn't is strange that nobody has ever come out in support of the Acting SG in the comments section of this blog yet every other accused individual or committee has been (unconvincingly)defended at some point?

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  11. Anonymous3:18 AM

    In life those that implement the sordid agendas of others are never respected or supported. They are seen as weak and cowardly.

    Two key agendas in the Irish Red Cross over the last twelve months have been:

    1. To fire Lydia O'Halloran, Irish Red Cross Community Services Manager and weaken the Community Services Department.

    2. To fire Noel Wardick, Head of International Department and weaken the International Department.

    These were very dishonorable agendas. They have been achieved. Lydia was made redundant in January 2010 and treated in a disgraceful manner in the process. Noel was fired in November 2010 and continues to be treated in a disgraceful manner.

    Why were Lydia and Noel removed against their will? Because both are very passionate, determined, committed and fearless individuals who challenged the rot within the Irish Red Cross. The leadership saw them as a threat. A number of posters of comments on this blog summed up the situation well. Irish Red Cross is very afraid of Noel Wardick and Irish Red Cross was very afraid of Lydia OHalloran. Both are brave people who fear no-body. Those that wanted them out are scared of them. Yes Lydia and Noel lost their jobs but they are respected unlike those who devised and those who implemented the agenda to remove them.

    More Lydias and Noels and the Irish Red Cross will have a bright future! Well done Lydia and Noel. The two of you have done so much good for the Irish Red Cross unlike those who have removed you.

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  12. Anonymous5:14 AM

    An interesting discussion has been started on the Irish Red Cross Facebook page (under the discussions page)

    http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=273347110351&topic=16113

    I wonder how long an open and healthy discussion like that wil be allowed by the IRC!?

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  13. Anonymous5:45 AM

    Central Council Members,

    There is an envelope with your name on it containing contents for your information sitting in Merrion Square for the last week. Each envelope has your name on it and is marked 'private and confidential'. For some reason this envelope has not been posted on to your personal addresses. If you are ok with this then that is your business but you should know the real reason. The leadership is suffering from extreme paranoia and is very fearful of what the envelope contains. They hate when they are not controlling the flow of information. They are also terrified about next weeks Central Council meeting and wish to keep information to a minimum to prevent difficult questions being asked. 16 Merrion Square has no right to withhold post personally addressed to you marked private and confidential. If you wish to receive your post before the Central Council then I suggest you contact Merrion Square and insist they post out the envelope to you immediately.

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  14. Anonymous4:55 AM

    Thanks to the poster for spilling the beans on the managers perks at the Irish Red Cross. Wiki leaks eat your heart out :-) Very interesting information. Will Central Council members and Executive Committee turn their usual blind eye? A disgraceful waste of Irish Red Cross money but no surprise given everything we know about the place. Hopefully the new Secretary General will stop these awful practices. Anyone know when the new Secretary General will start? He or she will have some job sorting the place out. First job will be to make sure the Vice Chairman's power base is smashed and never allowed recover. Where is the report on the internal investigation into the Tipperay bank account? I think we know the result when turkeys are asked to vote for Xmas. No Xmas!!

    Thanks again for the information on the perks. Its now in the system as they say!

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  15. Anonymous2:31 PM

    Maybe the person who mailed the package to Head Office should now trace the package to see when was it delivered so that an explanation can be deliverd to Central Council members as to why the letters were not sent out to them as requested.
    Probably a case of Secretary General along with particular Executive members making an executive decision to withold mail once again !

    If anyone has a copy of the letter maybe it could be posted on boards. !

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  16. Anonymous2:37 PM

    Does anyone know a reason why Declan O Sullivan the temporary Secretary General and the New Chairman are in Geneva. A wee birdie saw them at the airport !

    What's going on? Surely Geneva is not offering someone a job? Surely not! They couldn't afford the money already being paid !

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  17. Anonymous2:39 PM

    For some the REd Cross has been a life long PERK !

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