Thursday, December 16, 2010

Failures by Irish Red Cross Tipperary Branch over a number of years "a serious governance issue for the IRC" according to internal report

Before getting into the main purpose of this article readers should know that there was an extensive debate on the Irish Red Cross in Dail Eireann (Ireland’s national parliament) on 15th December 2010. It involved the Minister for Defence, Tony Killeen and the Defence Spokespersons from the two main opposition parties, David Stanton, Fine Gael and Brian O’Shea, Labour, both of who will likely be in government following the general election early next year. One notable development from the debate is that a clear signal has been given by the International Federation of Red Cross in Geneva that they now want a greater involvement in the Irish Red Cross reform process. This is to be welcomed. It would appear the International Red Cross has become increasingly concerned and the recent report into the Tipperary bank account will only serve to heighten those concerns. Weaknesses in the internal report into the Tipperary bank account, especially the fact that Noel Wardick (former Head of International until his sacking in Nov 2010), Carmel Dunne (former Secretary General until 2007), Jennifer Bulbulia (Board member who resigned in 2009 because IRC refused to investigate Tipperary bank account) and David Andrews (former Chairman between 1999 and 2009) were not interviewed as part of the investigation. The link to the debate
is:

http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2010/12/15/00011.asp

In addition to the oral debate involving the above three senior politicians numerous others had put down written questions on the Irish Red Cross which were replied in writing by the Minister (all available on the Oireachtas Debates website, 15th December 2010). The Minister unfortunately gave his standard 'non-answers' to these questions. The following are the politicians who had questions down for answer while the last two (7 and 8) made reference to Noel Wardick's dismissal in the Seanad (Senate, Upper House of Irish Parliament) during debates on Whistleblowing legislation:

1. Ciaran Lynch, Labour
2. Liz Mc Manus, Labour
3. Joe Costello, Labour
4. Brian O' Shea, Labour
5. Jim O' Keefe, Fine Gael
6. Kathleen Lynch, Labour
7. Senator David Norris, Independent
8. Senator Ronan Mullen, Independent

The purpose of this article is to formally respond to the Irish Red Cross internal investigation report into the Tipperary Branch:

The Irish Red Cross has now carried out an internal investigation into its Tipperary Branch following relentless pressure from the media, Dail Eireann (Ireland’s national parliament) and this Blog. For over two and a half years the Irish Red Cross steadfastly refused to investigate the discovery of an undeclared bank account within the Tipperary Branch containing €162,000, collected from the general public for victims of the 2004 Asian Tsunami. In the end, however, the Society had no option but to investigate following a barrage of continual and ever louder criticism. Irish Red Cross refused to carry out an independent investigation and instead opted for an internal one carried out by three members of its current governance structures. Despite serious weaknesses and fundamental flaws the report contains some damning findings not least of which is the total failure of certain officers of the Irish Red Cross Tipperary Branch, including Mr. Tony Lawlor, current organisational Vice Chairman, to adhere to Irish Red Cross financial and accounting rules and procedures. The full Irish Red Cross internal investigation report can be found on-line at:

http://www.redcross.ie/corporate_site/latest_news/publications/2010_publications

Below is this Blog’s formal response to that report:

A response to the Irish Red Cross Internal Investigation Report into the Tsunami Tipperary Bank Account

The Irish Red Cross has appointed an independent accounting firm to investigate how €162,000 of donations to victims of the Asian Tsunami went untouched for over three years in a Tipperary bank account-saying it has “nothing to hide”-5th September 2010, Sunday Independent

The Irish Red Cross, which has been dogged in recent months by high turnover of senior staff, allegations of improper governance, financial mismanagement and operating in a “toxic” culture, has abandoned its independent inquiry into how €162,000 in donations languished in a Tipperary bank account controlled by a former acting Chairman (Tony Lawlor) for three years-10th October 2010, Sunday Independent

This trawl (of Bank of Ireland accounts in the name of IRC) led to the uncovering of 49 unreported accounts amounting to €214,000 of which the Tipperary account of €162,960 was the most significant. Also of concern was that the IRC HQ did not receive any of the required returns from the Tipperary branch in 2005 and 2006 while the 2007 returns were not submitted until November 2008 even then they were incomplete i.e no bank statements or reconciliation. This is a clear breach of IRC rules and should have resulted in the branch being issued with a final warning, and if matters remained unresolved being closed down. A further concern was that when the 2007 return was submitted by the Tipperary Branch there was no mention of the Tsunami account, the existence of which was formally discovered by the IRC HQ in April 2008 when the Bank of Ireland report on all accounts held in the name of the IRC was examined in IRC HQ-Internal Irish Red Cross report, December 2010

Mr. Tony Lawlor remains Chairperson of the Tipperary Branch and Vice Chairman of the Irish Red Cross nationally.

Purpose

This blog has had the opportunity to read and review the internal Irish Red Cross report into the Tsunami Tipperary Bank Account and feels it is necessary and in the public interest to formally respond on record to correct a number of worrying and serious inaccuracies as well as omissions.

A number of the report’s findings are, however, a welcome and highly uncharacteristic admission of deep rooted failings and inadequacies. The release of a press statement openly admitting these failings is unprecedented in the Irish Red Cross which is normally characterised by secrecy, deceit, lack of transparency and an entrenched reluctance to communicate openly. So despite significant shortcomings in the internal report, a number of the findings are important and help shed light on a highly dysfunctional organisation. The report’s authors should be commended for some very strong statements made in the report and the new Irish Red Cross Chairman is to be acknowledged for making the report available to the media and general public.

It is noted that the investigation was an internal one and not independent. Much criticism has been levied at the Irish Red Cross over its decision to cancel a previously announced independent investigation and instead opt for an internal one. The result of this decision is obvious. The report is seriously compromised in a number of aspects but most importantly it fails to allocate blame to those blatantly and obviously responsible for failing to declare the Tipperary Bank account to head office. If those responsible for their unacceptable actions are not held to account and seen to be held to account then the value of the report will be greatly diminished. This blog would take the view that the findings of the report warrant the immediate resignation, from all positions within the Irish Red Cross, of the Tipperary Branch officers involved.

This formal response will go through the Internal Report section by section and respond where necessary. As follows:

Introduction

The report says “Interviews were conducted with Declan O’ Sullivan, Anna Marie O’ Carroll, Tony Lawlor, Eileen Keane, Des Kavanagh, Ted Noonan, John Roycroft and Bernadette Lawlor Lennon”.

The fact that the team of investigators failed to interview Noel Wardick, former Head of the International Department, means the report is fundamentally compromised as by any standard he must be considered a key participant. From reading the report and the numerous inaccuracies it is obvious that Noel Wardick’s input was not included and as a result the investigation team have misunderstood a number of important aspects of the Irish Red Cross and how decisions were and are taken. Did the investigation team have access to critically important correspondence issued over the years by Noel Wardick? No investigation could have been completed properly or accurately without access and review of these files.

The internal investigators also failed to interview Carmel Dunne, the Irish Red Cross Secretary General until mid 2007. The internal investigators failed to interview Jennifer Bulbulia, Central Council member and Honorary Secretary during the Tsunami who resigned in mid 2009, citing one of the reasons the failure by the organisation to investigate the Tipperary bank account. In addition the internal investigators failed to interview David Andrews, Chairman of the Irish Red Cross from 1999 to 2009. The decision not to interview Andrews, Dunne, Bulbulia and Wardick is inexplicable. The report is severely compromised as a result.

It is also critically important to note that the three internal investigators and authors of the internal report faced serious conflicts of interest because of the following:

1. Liam O’Dwyer and Michael Halligan were members of Central Council and the Irish Red Cross Finance Working Group at the time of the Tsunami in 2005.

2. Liam O’Dwyer, Michael Halligan and Angela Coen are all currently members of Irish Red Cross governance structures.

3. Angela Coen has at least one family member on the Irish Red Cross Training Working Group. Tony Lawlor (one of the subjects of the investigation) is also a member of the Training Working Group.

Findings

The report says “...a decision was made by the IRC Executive Committee that the money collected by the IRC (for the Tsunami) would be spent over a period of five years

The decision to develop a five year plan and spend the money over a five year period was taken by the former Head of the International Department, Noel Wardick. This decision was approved by the then Secretary General. This blog is not aware whether or not this decision was ever discussed with the Executive Committee.

Following the recruitment of Noel Wardick to Irish Red Cross in October 2005 it was obvious from the outset that the Irish Red Cross was struggling to manage and get to grips with the scale of the donations it had received, €32 million, and how and what to spend it on. This was no different to every other aid organisation across the globe who were responding to the tsunami. When Noel Wardick first joined there was massive pressure coming via the Executive ‘to spend and to spend quickly’. At the level of the Executive there was a fundamental dearth of knowledge and understanding around operating and implementing direct country operations overseas and the complexities and challenges of working in such environments. The Secretary General at the time, Carmel Dunne, was particularly supportive during these initial months and as such much progress was made. The priority in those first months after Wardick’s recruitment was to build the capacity of the International Department in Dublin and equally importantly the capacity of IRC overseas teams to ensure the Society could guarantee the effective use of the public’s money. What is most disappointing about the Irish Red Cross internal report is its attempts to link the weaknesses and lack of capacity in the head office finance department during the years 2005-2010 with the unacceptable failure by officers of the Tipperary Branch to declare and submit the €162,000 collected for the Tsunami. The weaknesses in the head office finance department had absolutely nothing to do with the Tipperary Bank Account situation. IRC has very clear procedures and policies in this regard and these procedures were in existence and known to all branches in 2005. All blame for the undeclared Tipperary Bank account rests 100% with those officers in Tipperary who knew about the money and failed to declare it. No blame for this can be attributed to any staff member as it was not their responsibility to report branch accounts. Equally importantly if staff did not know of the existence of accounts because the information was withheld from them they could not be expected to do anything about it. On this critical aspect, blaming the finance department, the investigators have erred significantly. It was very obvious, however, from October 2005 that the Irish Red Cross had a fundamental lack of capacity within its head office finance department. This point was made abundantly clear over a five year period and requests for change and improvement were constantly made. Many improvements have been made to the finance department but it is still significantly short of capacity and experience. The decisions not to recruit additional finance staff to support a massive international disaster response operation and a growing complexity in the organisation's activities was a serious mistake and one presumably made by the Executive Committee. They must be held accountable for this grave error in judgement. Nevertheless it must again be pointed out that even if the Irish Red Cross had sufficient capacity in its head office finance department the Tipperary bank account situation would still have arisen simply because if head office does not know bank accounts exist then they cannot do anything about them. The internal investigators have made a big error in trying to explain that the failure by Tipperary branch officers to declare the Tsunami bank account was because of a weak and short staffed finance department in Dublin. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes the finance department was weak and short staffed but this in no way contributed to or can explain the failure by Tipperary branch officers to carry out their duties and declare and submit the money to Dublin until it was discovered during a secret internal audit nearly four years later.It is important that the internal investigators are made aware of the very robust financial accounting procedures and systems implemented by the International Department in all its overseas operations. For example in Indonesia and Sri Lanka the International Department recruited expatriate finance controllers to oversee all financial and administrative matters relating to each country. The respective finance controllers then established a finance and administration department within the country operation which was then staffed with numerous skilled national staff. As an example the Irish Red Cross national finance officer in Sri Lanka (who reported to the expat Finance Controller) was a qualified accountant. The Irish Red Cross finance department in Indonesia was bigger and more resourced than the finance department in Dublin. The reason the International Department had a highly skilled and properly resourced finance and administration department in all its overseas operations is because the Executive Committee was not involved in such decision making. In 2005 the Irish Red Cross finance department had no Finance manual or guidelines for its overseas operations and little apparent interest in developing one. During 2008/09 the International Department unilaterally decided, with Secretary General approval, to take on the development of a finance policy in this regard and a comprehensive one was researched and finalised.

The refusal to properly staff the head office finance department and other head office departments was done consciously by members of the Executive Committee, in the view of this Blog, to ensure they maintained total and micro control over the workings of the Society. None of these weaknesses can, however, be used to explain away the failure by the Tipperary branch officers to carry out their duties and declare the Tsunami bank account.

The internal report states “The concerns identified by both the auditors and the consultants were compounded by human resource issues arising in the IRC HQ. On top of which the sudden departure of the then Secretary General in mid 2007 left a leadership gap in the organisation. In any consideration of the matters which later emerged this context is important since it shows a picture of an organisation operating in an outdated manner with poor systems and under resourced and demotivated staff”

The last sentence in the quote above is accurate and to be welcomed. It recognises that the Irish Red Cross was and still is a highly dysfunctional organisation controlled by a handful of people on the Executive Committee. Ms Dunne’s ‘sudden departure’ was all to do with her desire to reform the organisation and smash the power bases of the ruling elite on Executive. For this she was rewarded with a ‘sudden departure’. Once again while the internal investigators have identified a range of human resource and staff morale problems none of these were responsible in any shape or form for the failure of Tipperary branch officers to declare the tsunami bank account to head office as they were fully obliged to do. It is very disconcerting that the internal investigators seem to be attempting to put the decision not to declare the Tipperary account down to a range of other problems that existed within the Irish Red Cross at the time. These problems did exist and they were serious but they in no way explain the Tipperary back account situation. It is very simple. The Tipperary Branch has an appalling record over a number of years of not reporting its accounts to head office. It is the considered view of this Blog that the Tipperary branch has been afforded protection against sanction because the Chairman of the Tipperary Branch also serves as the Vice Chairman of the national Executive Committee. There is an unacceptable conflict of interest here. The people who are clearly breaking the organisation’s rules and procedures are also the same people who not only determine those rules and procedures but are responsible for issuing sanctions if and where those rules and procedures are broken. It is because of this unacceptable conflict of interest and concentration of power that certain individuals have always felt themselves above the ‘rules of the organisation’. It is the view of the Blog that branch officers should not be permitted to sit on the national Executive Committee. Just as County Councillors must resign when elected to the Dail branch officers should also resign when elected to Executive.

One of the primary reasons the Tipperary situation arose is because certain individuals felt they could operate with impunity. Unfortunately they did operate with impunity and continue to operate with impunity. They believed they were untouchable and accountable to no-one. The Tipperary saga has nothing to do with short staffing or lack of resources in headquarters. It happened because certain people flagrantly breached the organisation’s rules and were never held to account. The reason they were not held accountable is because they were the very same people who decide who is accountable and who is not.

The internal report says “The account remained open with the monies collected intact until the 23rd of September 2008 when the monies now totalling €162,960 were transferred to the IRC HQ Tsunami account”.

It is important to note that the above money was not ‘willingly’ transferred to Dublin in the truest sense of that word. The Tipperary Branch had no option but to transfer the money because a secret internal audit had discovered it and effectively the Branch was ‘forced’ to return the money.

The internal report says “There is no evidence of any movements in this account during 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 apart from the full transfer to the IRC and a €1,000 and a separately a €100 withdrawal and subsequent the return of same due to a misunderstanding between the bank and the Branch”

When exactly did the return of the above monies take place? Did the return of these monies take place AFTER the bank account was discovered by head office? This is not addressed in the internal report and it is a serious failing not to do so. The report also fails to address what it means by a “misunderstanding between the bank and the branch”. What exactly is the nature of this misunderstanding? Was any official of the Tipperary bank in question interviewed to ascertain their opinion on this misunderstanding? The fact of the matter is €1,000 and €100 was withdrawn from the Tsunami account. No money should ever have been withdrawn from this account as no-one apart from the International Department, with the authority of the Secretary General (and approval of Executive), has the authority to decide how public appeal money is spent. Certainly no branch officer has permission to make such decisions. Why this money was taken out of this bank account and what was it spent on before being returned is not addressed in the report. In the absence of any explanations by the investigation team serious questions must arise over this matter and further investigation is clearly required.

The internal report says “In this context it was decided at Branch level, to leave the money in the designated deposit account and transfer it as and when IRC HQ needed it”.

This statement is entirely reflective of the extreme arrogance and attitude of certain members involved in this case and their belief that they operate with impunity. First and foremost no-one in the International Department had any knowledge whatsoever of the existence of €162,000 in a Tipperary bank account designated for Tsunami projects. The former Head of the International Department at the time, Noel Wardick, was first informed by the then Secretary General, John Roycroft, by way of a phone call, sometime in September/October 2008, over six months after the account was first discovered in April 2008. As such the International Department would never have been in a position to ask the Tipperary branch to release the money ‘when it was needed’ as the International Department never knew of its existence. Secondly no branch officer has any authority whatsoever to retain monies collected for an overseas appeal. This point must be reiterated very strongly. No Irish Red Cross branch has any authority to retain monies collected for an overseas appeal. Every single Irish Red Cross branch is obligated to send every penny of money collected for an overseas appeal to Irish Red Cross HQ in Dublin as soon as is reasonably possible after the money is collected. As Head of the International Department it was then Noel Wardick’s responsibility, in conjunction with the Secretary General, to decide on how monies collected for an overseas would be spent and over what time frames. Individual branches have no hand, act or part in such decisions. It is absolutely NOT a matter for any branch officer to ‘decide’ when they will release money to the International Department. It is simply not within their authority to make such decisions. Decisions to do so therefore represent a clear abuse of power.

The internal report stated “Both the Branch Chairperson and the PRO indicated that they had no concerns about this since the account was an IRC designated deposit account not for use locally. They did acknowledge that for the money to remain untransferred for 3.5 was excessive...”

Did the internal investigators ask the Tipperary branch officers involved how long they would have kept the Tsunami money undeclared had the account not been discovered by the secret internal audit and what would have happened to the money had they not been forced to return the money to HQ? It is entirely a matter of conjecture of course as to how long the Tipperary branch would have kept this account secret but any sense given by the internal report that the money was willingly returned after 3.5 years is incorrect. The Branch had no option but to transfer the money to Dublin.

The failure of the Tipperary branch to transfer the money to Dublin was problematic for the International Department as its plans and priorities are determined based on the budget available to it. In late 2008 the International Department was already well on its way towards planning its exit strategies from direct operations in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The announcement that the Department suddenly had an additional €162,000 meant it had to readjust all its budgets and expenditure plans. Branch officers in Tipperary including the national Vice Chairman would NOT have any detailed understanding or knowledge of overseas day to day operations and/or priorities and are not professionally qualified in the area of development and humanitarian programming. It is for this reason they have no input into day to day decision making on such matters. Their belief that they do is a prime example of their hubris.

In July 2010 the Tipperary Branch Chairman and national Vice Chairman, Tony Lawlor, did an interview with the Tipperary Nationalist newspaper where he stated categorically that the Tsunami Tipperary money had been spent. He also told the newspaper the money involved was €150,000. Upon reading this article Noel Wardick wrote a formal memo to the Acting Secretary General, Declan O’Sullivan, stating categorically that the money had NOT been spent and would not be spent until possibly late 2011 (this email was quoted liberally in the media following its leaking to the Sunday Times). The fact of the money being unspent has now been borne out in the internal report. The Wardick memo, according to the Sunday Times, also questioned why Mr. Lawlor was quoting a figure of €150,000 to the media when he knew full well the true figure was €162,000. There is no evidence from the internal report that the internal investigators raised this critical issue with Mr. Lawlor. Why is this and why did Mr. Lawlor give inaccurate information to the media? Within days of the Tipperary Nationalist interview the Irish Red Cross were forced to admit the amount involved was in fact €162,000 and that it had yet to be spent. This caused more damage to the reputation of the Irish Red Cross and no doubt confidence in the integrity of the Irish Red Cross was beginning to decline as a result of these conflicting statements and u-turns.

The internal report says “their explanation (Tipp branch) of the delay in the context of the five year plan for the expenditure of the monies is understandable....”

Had the internal investigators interviewed Carmel Dunne, former Secretary General until 2007 and Noel Wardick, former Head of International until late 2010, the above statement would likely not have been included. Officers in the Tipperary branch flagrantly broke the rules and policies of the Irish Red Cross. They failed to report or transfer money which they had no entitlement to retain for nearly four years. The Chairman of the Tipperary Branch broke, over a number of years, the very rules he as national Vice Chairman is responsible for overseeing and implementing nationally. It is not a matter for branch officers to decide when overseas money will be spent. It is a matter for the Head of the International Department in conjunction with the Secretary General (with final endorsement by Executive although Executive has no role in day to day decisions on such matters). The Tipperary branch had no authority to do what they did and as such the comment that “it was understandable” has no validity. In fact such statements implicitly endorse the unacceptable practice of blatantly and knowingly breaching organisational policy and procedure.

The internal report stated “The fact that no returns were submitted to IRC HQ by Tipperary branch for 2005 and 2006 is in our view a more serious governance issue for the IRC HQ than the late transfer of the Tsunami monies. This is compounded in our view by the fact that the submitted 2007 late returns from Tipperary branch did not feature the Tsunami account”

The above statement is very welcome. It was widely known within the Irish Red Cross that the Tipperary branch was a repeat offender in breaching organisation finance policy regarding branch accounts and submissions to head office. The matter was continually swept under the carpet and not dealt with for one reason and one reason only. The Chairman of the Tipperary branch is also the Vice Chairman of the whole Society and would be acknowledged as the ‘person who runs and controls the Irish Red Cross’. Such critically important findings as stated above must be acted upon and those responsible held accountable. Without concerted action being done and being seen to be done statements such as above will be consigned to meaningless words on paper.

In referencing a press release issued by head office concerning the Tipperary bank account the internal report says “While the press release did not identify whose error it was it did implicate the Tipperary Branch by using the phrase the “account remained there untouched". The statement could have been worded differently acknowledging the error on both sides but the reviewers feel given the publicity involved it was not an unfair press release”.

It is encouraging to see the internal report state “it was not an unfair press release”. It is, however, worrying in the extreme that the internal report would also say “acknowledging the error on both sides”. This is classic ‘internal report’ writing at its best..... compromise to keep everybody happy particularly those who are powerful, do not blame any individual, blame systems and procedures not people and hold no-one to account. The simple matter of fact in relation to this case is that there is NO error on BOTH sides. There is error on ONE side and ONE side only. A number of Tipperary branch officers took ‘the law into their own hands’ so to speak, flagrantly breached organisational policy and procedure and failed to transfer money to IRC HQ that they had no entitlement to hold until they were caught following a secret internal audit. Other weaknesses within the head office finance department contributed in no shape or form to this unilateral act by certain Tipperary branch officers.

Recommendations

This Blog understands that Tony Lawlor was/is the Chairman of the Tipperary Branch and his sister was the Treasurer of the Tipperary Branch. The internal report does not clarify whether a brother and sister were both signatories on the Tipperary Tsunami bank account. All good organisational practice should have very explicit policies preventing any number of ‘conflict of interest’ situations arising. One such policy is to avoid ‘blood relation’ conflicts of interest. In non family businesses and voluntary organisations it would be standard protocol not to allow blood relations be bank/cheque signatories on the same accounts. Does the Irish Red Cross have policies in this regard and if so were they adhered to?

The internal report falls very short in another key area. It provides no commentary on the total failure of those in charge in 2008, when the undeclared account was discovered, to formally investigate and report on the matter. Central Council, the supreme governing authority of the Irish Red Cross, was not informed at the time. Most Central Council members and many Executive Committee members first became aware of the matter following media reports in late 2009 and then from updates on the Blog. One of the reasons Jennifer Bulbulia, former Central Council member and Honorary Secretary of the Society, resigned was the organisations’ failure to have the Tipperary bank account investigated. It seems the internal report has demurred entirely from allocating blame to all those responsible for this sorry saga, first and foremost those who committed the wrongs (Tipperary branch officers) and secondly those who failed to investigate them. As such the report's credibility is dramatically reduced.

There are, however, a number of welcome recommendations in the internal report which need to be robustly acted upon. One statement in the Recommendations section however must be challenged and its goes to the heart of the internal report. That is the attempt to link certain weaknesses in the IRC head office finance and administration department (which were solely caused by the Executive Committee’s failure to allow various Secretaries General resource it) to the actions of certain Tipperary branch officers. This link is at best a serious error of judgement on the part of the internal investigators and at worst an attempt to protect certain Tipperary branch officers. The Tipperary branch officers involved in the tsunami account acted unilaterally, without permission, of their own volition and in blatant breach of organisational procedure which they were fully aware of. They must be held accountable for this. Head office staff or any weaknesses in head office played no hand, act or part in the decision taken by Tipperary branch officers to intentionally withhold public money collected for an overseas appeal and to not declare its existence to IRC HQ. In failing to explicitly acknowledge this the internal report, which is strong in parts, has been substantially compromised. This, unfortunately, is the nature of internal reports. It is the Blog’s belief that these serious shortcomings would not have occurred had independent investigators carried out the review.

This formal response to IRC's internal report will conclude by saying that despite the very obvious deficiencies of the report it has highlighted numerous unacceptable practices that many of us have campaigned long and hard for change on. Some of us have even been fired for trying to highlight these. The recognition of these practices as wrong is very welcome and the internal investigators should be commended for that. Had the Blog not existed, however, and had the media not got behind the campaign for reform of the Irish Red Cross one thing can be certain. No investigation, whether internal or independent, would ever have taken place. The next step now is accountability. All eyes will be on the Irish Red Cross to see how it responds. Let’s hope it meets the challenge bravely and courageously. Failure to do so will bring more reputational damage and confirm that real and genuine reform is not nor has it ever been on the agenda.

16 comments:

  1. Whilst I once found it personaly tough to be sent to Coventry by the Irish Red Cross, at no time did I once relinquish my belief in the ideals of the organisation. I will stand before any member of the Central Council and account for my actions, but I will also apologise for nothing in relation to seeking justice for all those who have been treated with gross contempt by particular members of the Central Council now and in the past. These individuals deserve to be exposed for what they have done.

    Last Saturday I had expected that Noel Wardicks sacking would have been discussed and an action plan voted upon. Instead it would appear that no decisions were made and the sacking of Noel despite it being fundamentally flawed stands. So whilst I once again reiterate the same message which was present in my letter dated 29th November 1999 which appealed to the members of Central Council to get off their hands and act. Some things just take more time than we imagine.

    I would appeal to anyone who has letters or any form of detail or facts, please send me a copy so that we can correlate all this information into a historical file, which can be distributed to the ICRC and IFRC and of course the members of the Irish Red Cross. It’s about time there was a good history lesson.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous10:40 AM

    Dear Central Council members,

    I see from the Dail debate (link is above) that Minister Killeen said that last week (this means before the Central Council meeting) that the Irish Red Cross submitted to him some new governance reform proposals. The Minister also said that the International Red Cross had made additional submissions as well (thank god they are finally involved!). Were the new proposals which were submitted by Irish Red Cross shared with you at last Saturday's Central Council meeting??? You know the answer and so do I! They were NOT shared with you!! Why is that? Is that acceptable to you?? You are the top governing structure of the Irish Red Cross. The Executive Committee reports to you. Yet they can submit new governance reform proposals to the Irish Government without first discussing with Central Council and even after they submit to Government they still do NOT tell you or share the new proposals with you. Such neck! But you allow them away with this every single time.

    Yes I know the Central Council will hold a meeting again in February 2011 but I cannot believe you think it is ok that these new proposals have not been shared with you. The government is already drafting legislation on them and you havent even met to discuss them!! Imagine you as the ultimate authority of the Irish Red Cross do not have these new proposals yet the Minister does (who keeps saying he has no role in the IRC), the Attorney General does, The Acting SG does, the Minister's rep on Executive Committee does, the International Red Cross in Geneva probably does, yet you guys, the supposed big boss, the ultimate authority of the Society, dont have them.

    You honestly cannot abdicate your responsibility like this again and again and again. Why is Noel Wardick still fired when even the weak Tipperary internal report proves he was 100% correct??!!! And Tony Lawlor is still your Vice Chairman when he and other officers are clearly guilty of grave breaches of finance policy and procedure based on what the internal report says. Are you people for real?????????

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous4:58 AM

    Clearly the report available online is incomplete and so the following comments are made in ignorance of all the considerations and recommendations.
    The report writers appear keen to imply that no money was misappropriated and that the Branch did not hide the bank account. Some issues which needed to be addressed in support of these assumptions and which are generally highly relevant to the report and its brief of examining financial controls:-
    - Surely IRC required annual audits of Branch/ Area and Regional accounts to be carried out in support of annual “returns” and that such audits would of course have included the Tsunami accounts?
    - How could it be possible that such a local audit of money received and expended in the name of the Red Cross could not have included the Tsunami account and its reconciliation with the Branch Cash Book and receipting proceduresl?
    - What were the mechanisms of accountability to the Tipperary Red Cross Branch members and to the Tipperary people who donated to the Tsunami appeal as to how much was received by the County Branch (before the forced disclosure in 2008) and how it was being used to help those in need?
    - If there was no financial accountability through internal audit or no public accountability of monies received and expended; how is it possible for the Tipperary Branch to have any credibility to remain in operation in its present state?
    - If the Tipperary Branch had not lodged all or some of the money received in a bank A/C; how would this have been discovered without the accountability referred to above?
    - Is the submission of unaudited returns or accounts to continue to be accepted as adequate accountability of Red Cross Branches and if so how can IRC continue to operate with inadequate audit of centralized accounts ?

    The report writers implied that the discovery of dormant accounts did not reflect deceit but rather neglect. There appears no realization or recognition throughout the report that such unused money is only held in trust by the IRC as a conduit to the poor and those in need:
    - Surely any humanitarian organization which has unaccounted and unused money in the system is a case of serious deceit to those who donated the money in the first place and to those in whose name the money was raised.

    The report recommends that Branches which do not comply with annual returns should be wound up as per existing regulations:
    - The Red Cross is required to have a presence throughout the country if it is to be recognized as a National Red Cross Society. As such the option of simply closing the Branch is not helpful however easy and non-confrontational solution that appears.
    - The IRC needs to have the regulations and procedures in place to ensure the good management and accountability of branches and the will and means to implement and police the rules of membership.
    - To simply close erring branches would undermine the whole concept of the Red Cross as an essential nationwide agency of civil society. The responsibility for public accountability can not be achieved by closures.
    - The “family run” Tipperary branch would clearly not meet the requirement that the Branch should be representative of the catchment population as a whole.

    It should be recognised that the entitlement of those in need is ignored and depreciated by every day that elapses without resolution of this sorry mess, yet the buck-passing and lack of urgency continues.

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  4. Anonymous2:28 PM

    The history of the Irish Red Cross has many interesting anecdotes...! The Society was never one to follow best practice or indeed follow any practice, if the members of the Executive didn't like anything then they just ignored it. Lets take a small item such as the Principles. The Minister of Defence has said many times that the Society was formed in 1939. When did the first person become an Instructor in International Humanitarian Law ie to teach the Principles)? Well it took 54 years (November 1993)! Once they had an Instructor what did they do? Nothing! of course, they had no interest in that sort of thing as it didn't require a uniform and a big peaked hat. In November 2nd 1990 the Central Council were asked to affirm their support to the following statement. " We the members of the Central Council of the IRC affirm our Society's obligation to uphold the Principles of the Red Cross and the terms of recognition for national Societies as laid down by the IRC and IFRC". They refused and guess who seconded the objection? A Ms S. Callan, that name rings a bell? She was the Irish Red Cross spokesperson on the Prime Time program in August of this year. Imagine objecting to that motion??! Says it all really.

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  5. Anonymous5:13 AM

    The internal report into the Tipperary bank account informed us that not only did the Tipperary branch people, including Tony Lawlor, not inform head office about the Tsunami money or return the money to head office until they were caught, they sent no branch returns for ALL their financial transactions (not just tsunami) in 2005 or in 2006. No financial returns at all! In clear violation of Irish Red Cross financial policy. A policy Tony Lawlor was partly responsible for policing!! In 2007 they only sent in partially completed accounts which were missing documentation and bank reconciliations. These returns were not sent until November 2008. Yet they got away scot free with this. WHY? WHY? Why was this allowed go on?? What was really going on in the Tipperary Branch?

    In my view there is enough evidence and concern for the three internal investigators to:

    1. IMMEDIATELY seek a meeting with the GARDA FRAUD BUREAU and hand over all the files they have in their possession and let the Gardai decide if a full scale criminal investigation is warranted. Failure by the three internal investigators and the IRC Chairman to do this would be 100% negligent.

    2. In the meantime Tony Lawlor and the other Tipperary branch officers should be suspended from all Irish Red Cross positions until such time as the Gardai decide what to do. Even if no criminal investigation is launched those branch officers involved should be expelled from the Irish Red Cross for life because of their repeated failures to follow and yearly violation of Irish Red Cross financial procedures.

    If no action is taken then the Central Council is saying loud and clear that it is ok to ignore financial policy, keep bank account secret, ignore the wishes of the general public who give IRC money and to ignore the victims of natural disasters for whom the money is collected. And if you do nothing despite having knowledge then its very simple: you are complict.

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  6. Anonymous5:31 AM

    "There were serious administrative failures in the Irish Red Cross"-Minister of Defence, Tony Killeen, Dail Eireann, 15th December 2010.

    This is the very same Minister who repeatedly told the Dail that he had no concerns about what was happening in the Irish Red Cross. What good judgement Minister!

    What about all the Irish taxpayer money given to Irish Red Cross? How can the Minister with any degree of certainty say he can assure Irish people that their hard earned taxes are not being wasted and lost in an organisation where he himself admits there are "serious administrative failures"? The Minister is looking very red faced now and maybe he will finally understand he has been led a nice merry dance by the inner sanctum of the Irish Red Cross.

    Why is is that those people responsible for the scandalous breaches of Irish Red Cross accounting policy, those people who not only kept the tsunami account in Tipperary secret but kept all their accounts secret because they didnt send any financial reports for nearly three years, are still in their positions and one of them is still the Vice Chairman of the entire organisation? How can this be? What is even worse is that the person who exposed all these financial irregularities and misuse/non use of donor money, Noel Wardick, is still fired and presumably now on the dole. If its any consolation to Wardick he has been completely vindicated by the Tipperary internal report. Everything he said is true and even worse from what I have read.

    So the guilty remain in their positions and those brave, courageous and honest people who expose the guilty are fired. Does the board of IRC and their pawns who work for them not have any idea how badly they have disgraced themselves. They are the laughing stock of the entire NGO/civil society sector in Ireland not to mention the disdain they are held by others within the International Red Cross.

    I'd say Wardick cant wait to get Irish Red Cross into an Irish court because he is going to have a field day exposing the rot and incompetence and bullying and cronyism and by god I hope he throws a big party with the money IRC will be forced to pay him for the grief they have caused because I for one will want to celebrate with him on that day. There is nothing more joyful than watching people who desrve it get their comeuppance.

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  7. Anonymous5:47 AM

    Well done Blogger. So far you have achieved:

    1. You asked for a new Chairman so the Acting Chairman, Tony Lawlor, could be replaced ASAP. You were successful. A new chairman is in place.

    2. You asked for the post of Secretary General to be advertised openly and transparently and a permanent person put in place to replace John Roycroft who left a year ago and end the caretaking role. You were successful in this. Interviews have already taken place and a new Secretary General will be in place in January hopefully. Having a new Secretary General and ensuring its a 'new' person will be one of your biggest achievements.

    3. You forced IRC to end their stupid and expensive court action against Google to get all the IP addresses of people who posted comments. This was a big victory for freedom of speech in Ireland and elsewhere. A BIG well done on this one.

    4. For three years IRC refused to examine the scandal of the Tipperary tsunami bank account. Even though IRC kept it internal you forced them to formally investigate the matter and the report has glaringly exposed those responsible, people who before insisted they did nothing wrong. What an amazing achievement here Mr. Blogger.

    5. You have encouraged and cajoled Central Council to wake up from their sleep and do something. I hear a few of them (four or five) got stuck in at the last CC meeting and are now demanding answers and are putting together a long term strategy to have certain people removed. They are begining to re-assert their authority. Brilliant Blogger!

    What remains outstanding is a full scale organisational independent investigation but in the meantime an urgent investigation is required into Irish Red Cross's property portfolio. Even the IRC auditors have reported for two years at least that IRC has broken standard accounting practice on this score. The €7 million worth of properties IRC is a closely guarded secret. Why is this? An investigation into these would be explosive, far bigger than the Tipperary Tsunami. Anybody who knows anything about IRC knows this. And the management perks for the two managers?? Has someone informed the revenue authorities on these two people? Why is this matter not investigated???

    Progress Blogger so well done. You got fired but wow have you made progress. It gives me faith that sometimes the little guy can win and win big. Keep going, for all our sakes.

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  8. Anonymous10:00 AM

    The debasement of the Red Cross / Crescent Movement by the IRC as explained in the post above is almost incredible. There is a real problem for the Red Cross / Crescent Movement in accepting the IRC as a bona-fide member and National Society. It is high time that the ICRC, as the senior guardian of the Movement, took the required constitutional steps to allow for expulsion. Otherwise, the softly softly approach to resolving IRC's integrity problems (providing guidance and support etc) by the International Movement will inevitably prove a waste of money and false hope to those Irish volunteers and members who care about the needy at home and abroad.
    The governance and senior management of IRC are evidently not up to or sincere about the changes needed. Going through the motions of consultancies and reviews are unecessary diversions which are coldly calculated to maintain the status quo.
    As part of civil society, we must very soon look to alternatives in reorganising the Red Cross in Ireland as reliance on the existing Central Council, the Department of Defence or the International Red Cross intervention may prove inadequate.
    Success in reforming the IRC will not regrettably be achieved by criticism from the sidelines and the absence of any significant signs of progress confirms this to be the case.

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  9. Anonymous10:45 AM

    It will be at this point in the closing days of the year that we will all be given diaries for 2011. If the Irish Red Cross have not acted to have an impartial investigation into the irregularities and failures in the provision of proper justice to Noel Wardick, then I would suggest that the month of February is noted as the month when the Red Cross will se a real demonstration outside their meeting. The pussy footing around the subject of Governance will have drawn to a close and the days of real action will begin. After all they cannot charge us all with gross misconduct....!

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  10. Anonymous12:05 AM

    What is happening with regard to the donation that was returned to the donor in recent times due to the fact that the Secretary General would have had to insure the rules of the Society were being enforced. So having consulted the Executive who break the rules more often than a baker breaks eggs they decided that to keep to the rules was a step too far.

    What a insult to any Donaor. I am sure Geneva will now be happy to recieve the money.

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  11. Anonymous3:24 AM

    I saw a while ago that one commentor wrote about €600,000 of publicly donated money for Haiti being used by the Irish Red Cross for its domestic operations in Ireland.

    Well our little Irish Red Cross branch over here in the snowed in west has seen a copy of a letter that Noel Wardick wrote to the Irish Red Cross Chairman David O' Callaghan in which Noel states very clearly his belief that over €600,000 which should have gone overseas to the Haiti Earthquake appeal was kept in the domestic accounts in order to cover up the huge domestic deficit. Noel says this practice of using money collected for overseas appeals for costs in Ireland has gone on for years and he says millions of euros intended for overseas disasters never left these shores of ours. In his letter he says the practice is "morally reprehensible". According to the word on the ground in these parts Noel sent the letter to the Minister for Defence, Tony Killeen as well.

    If what Noel is saying is true and in his letter he quotes a range of figures to back up his point then heads need to roll immediately as using money collected on the basis of supporting an overseas disaster and then using the money for expenses in Ireland (for example: very large salaries for the CEO, consultancy fees, suing Google, legal fees as a result of firing Noel, perks for some senior managers etc) or to cover up huge domestic losses must be illegal and even if not illegal its still VERY wrong. If what Noel says is true then Irish Red Cross is lying and deceiving Irish people.

    My message today to the Chairman and Acting Secretary General of Irish Red Cross is return every penny of that €600,000 to the Haiti fund. But not only the €600,000, you must return the millions of euros taken from overseas appeals over the last twenty years. And return it NOW.

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  12. Anonymous3:36 AM

    Minister Killeen,

    You have admitted in the Dail "serious administrative failures" in the Irish Red Cross. The Irish Red Cross Chairman, David O'Callaghan, has admitted "serious deficiencies in our accounting practices".

    I am an Irish tax payer and I work very hard to earn my salary. I am happy to pay taxes that ensure guards are on the streets and nurses and doctors in our hospitals. I am not happy for my hard earned money to be used to prop up a basket case of an organisation where you admit "serious administrative failures" and its own Chairman admits "serious deficiencies in our accounting procedures".

    Irish tax payers, through your Department, give €1 million of our money to the Irish Red Cross every year. It is because of examples like this atrocious waste of Irish tax payer money that Ireland is on its knees.

    Please explain to me, an Irish tax payer, why you give one penny of our money to the Irish Red Cross when you openly admit that the organisation has serious failures? So what you are saying is the Irish Red Cross can fail and mismanage spectacularly and still get its annual grant? As someone else said once on this blog, you have to love this banana republic of ours! Banana republics is something we are very good at.

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  13. Anonymous6:35 AM

    So the latest is that Irish Red Cross took €600,000 from its Haiti fund and is using it to cover up a huge domestic deficit?!

    If thats true its beyond disgusting. The commentor above says he/she has a copy of a letter that Noel Wardick sent to the Irish Red Cross Chairman on this. Why dont you send that letter to the Gardai and the media? €600,000 that the Irish public gave for Haiti is being used for expenses in Ireland. God I'm sick just thinking about how revolting these people are who make these decisions. Irish Red Cross staff must be very scared and weak to know this and still stay silent. Thank god Noel Wardick is brave enough to expose these shocking practices. He can hold his head high. Someone has to stop these people, it cant continue during 2011.

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  14. Anonymous6:45 AM

    Not only €600,000 taken from the Hait appeal. How much was diverted from the more recent Pakistan appeal? And how many millions diverted to cover losses and ridiculous expenses in Ireland over the last few years?

    Secret bank accounts in Tipperary. Withdrawals from these accounts. Violation of Irish Red Cross finance policy. No branch financial returns for years.

    A secret and undisclosed €7 million property portfolio which even IRC external auditors say IRC is breaking Standard Accounting Practice on.

    The Minister says "serious administrative failures at Irish Red Cross". Its own Chairman says "serious deficiencies in our accounting procedures".

    And still no resignations from those responsible. These people should be told to resign immediately or be removed if they dont.

    And as for Noel Wardick who exposed all this? Fired!

    Oh Irish Red Cross you have so disgraced yourselves, brought shame to the Red Cross emblem and destroyed the name of the Irish Red Cross.

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  15. Anonymous12:12 PM

    The Irish Red Cross does not have serious failures, it is one !

    Perhaps the reason that Fianna Fail have been reluctant to bring the Society under the Freedom of Information Act is more to do with it being implicated in actions to do with it’s political masters. I would like to refer to the transfer of monies into a bank account in Northern Ireland and the subsequent use of that money…

    A recent program on TV3 also gave mention to the Irish Red Cross and the involvement of a certain C J Haughey. The story as it unfolds gets better as we live long enough to hear it.

    The full transcript can be found at courts.ie

    In the Matter of the Committee of Public Accounts of Dail Eireann (Privilege and Procedure) Act, 1970, and in the Matter of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961, and in the Matter of Padraic (otherwise Padraic Haughey).

    Someone mentioned the masons ! There is no better contriving bunch than the political masters that gather within the walls of Merrion Square.

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  16. Anonymous3:01 PM

    Would their be a connection in tiimes past between Sinn Fein and the Irish Red Cross? The plots thicken!

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