Monday, January 31, 2011

Irish Red Cross: A bright new begining or more of the same???

Today, 31st January 2011, sees the first day at work for the new Irish Red Cross Secretary General, Mr. Donal Ford. This Blog wishes him every success for the challenging assignment ahead. The hopes and aspirations of hundreds of volunteers around the country and staff in Ireland and overseas rest on the shoulders of two men, Mr. Forde and Mr. David O’ Callaghan, the Irish Red Cross Chairman appointed in September 2010.

For nearly two decades Irish Red Cross staff and volunteers have seen the Irish Red Cross misgoverned and mismanaged with negative media coverage, calls for independent investigations and parliamentary questions in Dail Eireann (Irish parliament) a regular occurrence. Primary responsibility for virtually every Irish Red Cross internal crisis, and there have been many, rests with a highly dysfunctional governance. Since 2005 alone there have been four separate Secretary Generals. Since 2005 there have been five Heads of Fundraising. In addition there has been a huge turnover of staff across all other departments. Over the last twenty years there has been eight Secretary Generals all of whom left in highly controversial and often extremely acrimonious circumstances. All this points to an organisation suffering from a deep malaise. Central to this malaise are two or three members of the Executive Committee and Central Council and an overall weak and disempowered Central Council which has refused to sanction or remove these individuals. Until this governance issue is addressed once and for all the malaise will continue unabated regardless of who is Secretary General or Chairperson. The power base of this handful of individuals needs to be immediately dismantled. These individuals, who have served on Executive Committee for between 12 and 20 years, in outright breach of good governance practice, need to be told to step down. Should this not happen the fate that awaits Mr. Ford will be the same as that of his eight predecessors.

Any new Secretary General to the Irish Red Cross is at his or her strongest in their first few weeks and months. It is therefore crucial that they use this time and strength to make sweeping and fundamental change. It is during this time that every effort must be made to ensure the removal of the Vice Chairman and have him held accountable for his actions over the Tipperary Tsunami Bank account. The Irish Red Cross will never fire a secretary general in the first few months after his/her appointment and it is this fact that gives the secretary general their power. The further a secretary general gets into their time in office the less concerned the ruling elite on the board fear the negative publicity of firing another secretary general. As such the power of the secretary general begins to diminish quickly after the first eight or nine months as the ruling elite begin once again to interfere and control the day to day running of the organisation. This deterioration in relations usually coincides with the ‘latest’ governance reform proposals advocated by the new secretary general which invariably threaten the ruling elite. The ruling elite will resist and thwart the secretary general at every step of the way and two things generally happen. The secretary general gets so frustrated and despondent that they resign and depart or alternatively the secretary general shows courage and continues to push reform. If this happens relations with the ruling elite on the board will plummet and over some pretence created by the board the secretary general will be fired. Any independent examination of the last twenty years will prove this correct.

Mr. Ford needs to be aware that there is a current set of Irish Red Cross governance reform proposals before the government. The Vice Chairman was on the committee that devised these so called reform proposals. Mr. Ford, if he seeks advice from the right quarters, will be informed that these proposals are designed with one objective in mind and that is the retention of the status quo. Should the proposals be voted into place by the Central Council at its next meeting in February/March they will consign the Irish Red Cross to another decade of turmoil as the same individuals responsible for the last twenty years of turmoil will remain in positions of influence, power and authority. In fact if these proposals are not scrapped there is every real chance the current Vice Chairman will be the new Chairman in 2012 when Mr. O’ Callaghan’s term expires, a mere seventeen months away. The consequences of this do not bear thinking about.

In order to ensure fundamental reform of the Irish Red Cross a number of things need to happen including:

· All Executive Committee members with ten years or more service should step down in May at the end of their current terms and must not present themselves for election to Central Council or Executive for a minimum of three years.
· The supposed governance reform proposals need to be revised substantially as previously outlined on this blog. In particular when members step down after two terms in office they must remain off all committees and the Executive for a minimum of three years and not one year as currently proposed.
· A new Vice Chairman needs to be appointed with immediate effect. The internal report into the Tipperary tsunami bank account clearly states that the Tipperary branch should have been closed down for repeated violations of Irish Red Cross financial and accounting policy. Had this happened, as it should have according to Irish Red Cross policy, Mr. Lawlor would not be the branch chairman. He would not therefore have been elected to the Area Committee and he would not have been elected by the Area Committee onto Central Council and from there to the Executive Committee. As such there is a real question over the legitimacy of Mr. Lawlor’s position as Vice Chairman. He is in this position only because the Irish Red Cross failed to implement its own policy and close the Tipperary branch. Mr. Lawlor’s position as Vice Chairman is therefore null and void. His appointment was only possible because the Irish Red Cross totally disregarded its own policies and procedures. His appointment is therefore invalid.
· There has been a long term plan to create a new volunteer position of National Director of Units. For some inexplicable reason (although we all really know the reason) it is proposed that the office holder of this post would sit on the Executive Committee. It has long been assumed that the current Vice Chairman would take this position once it is created. Should this role go ahead and be confirmed by Central Council the recruitment should be handled by the new Secretary General and the Chairman. It should be an open competition. Most importantly the National Director of Units should NOT sit on Executive. There is no legitimate reason for the post holder to sit on Executive. The current proposals, designed to ensure a certain individual remains on Executive in the event of his removal from his current position, is shameless enough to make that other master of retaining power, Valdamir Putin, blush.

It can only be hoped that Mr. Ford uses his first few months in office to bring in sweeping changes at the level of governance. He will need the full support and endorsement of the Chairman, David O’ Callaghan, as he implements this difficult and dangerous task. All other reform and restructuring is of secondary importance. Should Mr. Forde not succeed in fundamental governance reform and oversee the removal of certain individuals the Irish Red Cross will lose another secretary general within 2 to 3 years, either through despair or termination. Someone once said “If one is to be successful it is imperative that he works towards removing all the hurdles and obstacles coming in his way”. Mr. Ford has a great opportunity to transform the Irish Red Cross and make it one of Ireland’s leading and most respected not-for-profit organisations. Remove THE obstacle and success will be his. Failure to do so and history will repeat itself for the ninth time.

Dictatorial individuals are no more inevitable in private and not-for-profit businesses than dictators are in national governments. They will arise and prosper, nevertheless, if true believers of democracy-citizens devoted to democratic ideals-do not constantly oppose them-Charles Edison


  1. Anonymous12:44 AM

    I will keep an eye out in the sky for the two blue moons ! That is about as much confidence as I have in there being change. Whilst we all welcome Donal Forde I believe his tenure has already been mapped, so I would keep my CV up-to-date Donal your probably going to need it

    Forgive me for being one of those members who takes the view that the Executive Committee and it’s members have historical similarities to individuals like Hosni Mubarak, Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe, not that the Executive rule with tyranny, but of course this has been a source of much discussion on the Blog, it is that they act with impunity with no fear of the consequences to either the individuals they bully or the effects on the integrity of the Red Cross as a result of their actions.

    Then we have the members of the Central Council who like all good mantle ornaments, they have their uses, but do tend to gather dust on the peripherals of the real action in Merrion Square. They are given the opportunity to buy a badge, but this is as much control of the Red Cross that is allowed.

    The Central Council in real terms has little or no real role to play in the Red Cross they do meet in a fancy Hotel for a few hours twice a year, which gives them that feel good feeling and of course the mandatory cup of tea before being sent on their merry way. But they actually don’t do anything. There is the odd one who will stick their head above the mantle, but as James Walsh and others found out we can’t have that.

    So Mr Forde good luck, but I would sooner be taking on climbing Everest !

  2. Anonymous10:07 AM

    Leave, Leave, Leave, Leave! And so shouted one million Eygptians at their President, Mr. Mubarak, whose days are numbered and rightly so. Its time for our Central Council members to for once in their lives some true courage and shout Leave, Leave, Leave, Leave at the Irish Red Cross Vice Chairman. He has been in his position for too long, 20 years. He must go and go now!

    Forget about Noel Wardick revealing truths about Irish Red Cross incompetence and misgovernance. Mr. Lawlor was investigated by his own peers from the Irish Red Cross Finance Working Group who found that he along with his fellow Tipperary branch officers broke nearly every Irish Red Cross financial rule and procedure for years until they were caught and stopped. His own peers!! Not Noel Wardick. His own peers said the Tipperary branch, which he is Chairman of, should have been closed down for its breaches of accounting policy and as the blog pointed out in the latest article that means Tony Lawlor's Vice Chairmanship is null and void. He is an invalid candidate.

    So Mr. Lawlor I echo the views of one million Egyptians, Leave, Leave, Leave, Leave and for once put the interests of the Irish Red Cross ahead of your own personal ambitions. Leave, Leave, Leave, Leave!!

  3. Anonymous10:31 AM

    Good luck to Mr. Forde in his new job and boy will he need bucket loads of luck to survive. If the Central Council had any liathroidí they would remove Lawlor and thereby protect Mr. Forde and allow him get on with his new job.

    If Lawlor is allowed stay then Central Council are saying its perfectly ok to break all the rules, financial or otherwise, you can do this for years, you can stash public money in an account and not send it to the victims it was intended for and you can sit like a king on Executive for as long as you want. Central Council members, do your job for once in your lives. Support the new Chairman and Mr. Forde and get rid of Lawlor. Then 99% of your problems will go away. Even Wardick might then be prevailed upon to leave you in peace!

  4. Anonymous11:33 AM

    And take Ms Murphy who knows of no other organisation and the uniformed king of Judgements Tom Horwell with you as he has proved he has broken the Principle of Impartiality! I hope he has a clean suit when Noel Wardick gets him to account for himself in the courts! That should take a few smiles and grins off the chosen few !

  5. Not sure if one should say this is a celebration day or a sad day. Today is the 40th day since the Irish Red Cross were to provide me with the information as requested under the Data Protection Act. The Society were to provide the information by the 26th December 2010. I have written many times to the new Chairman and to date no response has been received. Perhaps the Red Cross feel that because they have political masters or should I say did have, that they are exempt from the law.

    Perhaps it is this same arrogance which allows the Irish Red Cross to feel that it is correct to retain monies for periods of years, retain monies from Appeals meant for the victims of disasters. Perhaps it is this same arrogance that allows the Society to ignore it's own rules and allows the Executive to do as they so wish. Will this arrogance and contempt for this Nation continue I think not !

  6. Anonymous1:41 AM


    Having read in depth the matters raised and discussed at length in this Blog I can clearly see that were there are extensive truths being discussed. Were the matters raised not be so then the Blog would have long since been castigated on the Irish Red Cross's own web site.

    I see in discussions on the Irish Red Cross Facebbok page issues which are reflected in this column. It is indeed a sad reflection of the failures in governance of this organisation. I have given instruction that we as a group will no longer donate in any way to the Irish Red Cross or any of it’s Branches until the I shall see a complete open investigation into the failures which are endemic and pervasive with this organisation.

    I am at a loss to understand why your new Chairperson has not come out publicly to protect the integrity of the Irish Red Cross surely he must now accept this responsibility.


    Ex Donor !

  7. Anonymous2:00 PM

    The following is an extract from a piece by
    Simon Roughneen for ISN Insights which can be read in full by following the link at the end.

    Political Burlesque Follows Economic Chaos in Ireland.

    "not only has there been no equivalent to the jailing of Bernie Madoff, the disgraced US financier, but on 21 January another senior bank executive, who was belatedly discarded after 2008, was handed a plum job as Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross".

  8. Anonymous11:54 PM

    The new Secretary General is now in-situ for a week, now doubt Mr Lawlor and the Elite will have given him the indoctrination that is due to all new Secretary Generals. So we the members will watch with geat interest how they play this guy !

    Or maybe as I suspect that he has more than two neurons and soon discovers that he is being played like a puppet! Will he gather around him those that have huge reservations about the dictatorship which is the Executive and hear the truth or will he take the easy path and do like good little Secretray Generals do and wait to be fired !