More Protests at Irish Red Cross Central Council meeting
On Saturday March 5th 2011 two long serving life members of the Irish Red Cross once again protested outside the Irish Red Cross Central Council meeting. Gerard Moyne, Donegal and Mary Cullivan, Dublin, called for the immediate removal of the Irish Red Cross Vice Chairman, Tony Lawlor and the re-instatement of the former Head of International, Noel Wardick.
In another development the new Irish Government's 'Programme for Government' contains a full commitment to tackle the problems of the Irish Red Cross. Page 58 of the document states the following:
We will initiate a detailed legal review of the basis, structures and governance of the Red Cross in Ireland to improve its functioning in the light of changing circumstances.
The Government's direct intervention is a very welcome initiative but at the same time a shameful indictment on the governance failures of the Irish Red Cross. Those responsible should do the honorable thing and resign.
On 4th March 2011 Transparency International, the global organisation that fights corruption and abuse of power, issued another letter to the Irish Red Cross calling for an independent invesigation into the Society and the re-instatement of Noel Wardick, its former Head of International. Transparency International has indicated to the Irish Red Cross that the dismissal of Noel Wardick is contrary to best practice and that reprisals for speaking the truth cannot be condoned. The Transparency International letter also requested that its previous letter of 10th December 2010 be formally issued to all Irish Red Cross Central Council members.
The link to Transparency International's latest statement on Noel Wardick and the Irish Red Cross can be found on their website at:
On the 5th March 2011 the Central Council of the Irish Red Cross will meet to continue its dialogue and discussion on a draft set of governance reform proposals. This Blog has gone on record as saying these proposals, as currently written, will fail to reform the organisation and will serve to solidify the power base of the cabal of individuals who have controlled and dominated the organisation for twenty years.
Equally, if not more importantly, those individuals responsible for unacceptable actions and behaviours over the last twenty years must be held to account and removed from office. It would be normal practice to allow these individuals the chance to resign but if they refuse they should be compulsorily removed from office. First and foremost amongst these individuals is the current Vice Chairman of the Society. His central role in the Tipperary Tsunami bank account scandal has brought great damage and shame on the organisation. His actions are unacceptable, his response since the audit discovery of the undeclared account unforgivable and his failure to resign inexcusable.
This Blog strongly advocates, in the absence of a voluntary resignation, the compulsory removal of the Vice Chairman from all office holding posts within the Irish Red Cross with immediate effect. The failure to do so will in effect condone and approve major violations of organisational finance policy and procedure. The retention of monies, with no authority to do so, for three and a half years in an undeclared bank account is a clear misuse of donor money. Should the Vice Chairman not be removed from office a clear message will be sent internally and externally that keeping an undeclared bank account for many years (until caught) and blatantly and wilfully ignoring organisational finance policy as well as withholding monies intended for the victims of disaster is not a punishable offence in the Irish Red Cross. The damage to the Irish Red Cross is and continues to be incalculable.
In relation to the proposed governance reform this Blog understands that Central Council members only received the draft Irish Red Cross Constitution on Tuesday March 1st for a meeting to be held on Saturday March 5th. This Blog also understands that the document is nearly 30 pages long. It will therefore be virtually impossible for Central Council members to review, discuss and circulate the draft constitution to their Area and Branch colleagues, something that is absolutely essential before Central Council representatives can reflect the views of their members. While the March 5th meeting is to be welcomed if its intention is to enable discussion and feedback no attempt should be made or permitted to seek approval of the draft contents until such time as all Areas and Branches have had adequate and sufficient time to arrange local meetings to discuss and review. The Irish Red Cross has a long and deep cultural aversion to genuine membership consultation. Changes to something as fundamental as the Society’s constitution must not be left in the hands of the ruling cabal.
This Blog is familiar with the proposed changes being proposed by the Governance ‘Reform’ Working Group. An examination and comment on the proposals is provided below:
1. The “Downer” Governance Report and Recommendations have NOT been accepted by Central Council as Merrion Square is now claiming. Central Council previously gave permission to the Working Group to engage in dialogue with the Irish Government and Geneva using the Downer report as a guideline for those discussions. Central Council, however, made it clear the proposals were not approved or accepted.
2. The Downer report proposes to change the name of the Central Council to General Assembly. This is simply a ‘stroke’ to remove the Society’s obligation to hold a real and proper General Assembly, open to all members, every two years. Should this proposal be accepted no proper general assembly of the Irish Red Cross will ever be held again. A General Assembly, with all members allowed attend, provides one of the greatest threats to the ruling cabal and it is something they deeply fear. It is the reason no general assembly has been held since 2005. The ruling cabal have no intention of ever facing the general membership and the change of name and the removal of the obligation to meet with general members every two years will ensure general members are further sidelined from organisational decision making. Organisational democracy within the Irish Red Cross will be further decimated.
3. The proposal to have the number of Central Council (CC) representatives from each Area determined by membership numbers in each area is a recipe for disaster, dispute and abuse of power. It also means the total number of CC Reps will change every year as the number of Reps from each Area will vary with local membership numbers. The proposed Central Council/General Assembly has no defined number of members. If an Area has more than 999 members it gets to have 4 Representatives on the CC. Therefore in theory if all 26 Areas ever reached a membership of 999 members or more there would be 104 representatives on Central Council. This proposal implies that every time membership increases the number of reps on CC will increase, something that will over time make Central Council unworkable, unwieldy and unmanageable. CC numbers will continually be fluid and unstable with representatives changing every year as membership numbers in Areas goes up and down.
4. The new Secretary General in his Sunday Times interview stated he wanted to double IRC membership from 6,000 to 12,000 in 3 years. If successful in this it will imply that over the same period Central Council numbers will grow year on year.
5. The current proposals re Area reps on Central Council will also ensure the supreme governing body of the Irish Red Cross will be totally dominated by the larger Areas at the expense of the smaller Areas. The bigger Areas, because of their bigger membership numbers, will have more Reps on Council and therefore extra voting numbers. The message is very clear: bigger is better. If big we will dominate, if small you will have little influence.
6. If the European Union operated on the above principle (point 5) countries such as Ireland would have no say in Europe, ever. The European Union was thankfully not designed on big is better. To ensure a functioning and coherent EU all 27 member states, regardless of size, have always had equal voting rights and power of veto. The Irish Red Cross proposals are the exact opposite of this. Smaller Areas will suffer, have less influence and will be dominated by the larger Areas. This is a recipe for disaster within the Irish Red Cross and smaller Areas will be further marginalised, isolated and ignored.
7. The proposals suggest that not only will Areas with bigger membership numbers dominate but that any Area with less than 50 voting members will have no representation whatsoever on Central Council. This is the equivalent of the EU saying countries like Ireland and Belgium can never vote on anything or be represented in Brussels. The proposals suggest that Areas with less than 50 voting members will be represented by a neighbouring Area! Which one if the Area is bordered by numerous other Areas?? Again this is tantamount to saying Ireland is too small so it will not be allowed attend EU meetings but that our neighbour, the UK, will represent us! The Irish Red Cross proposals are fundamentally flawed in this regard and will severely worsen an already serious organisational democracy deficit. Power will be concentrated in the hands of a few large Areas.
8. The proposals re number of Area reps on CC is virtually guaranteed to result in manipulation of membership numbers and lists over time especially where membership numbers are bordering on getting an extra Area rep onto CC or alternatively bordering on losing a CC rep. It is a near certainty that disputes over membership numbers will become a major issue within the organisation.
9. A ‘Voting’ member is any member aged 16 and over. Is this standard with the Red Cross globally?
10. There is a proposal that a new position be created called the National Director of Units (NDU) and that this person would automatically sit on Central Council/General Assembly. Firstly it’s important to note that CC has never approved the creation of the NDU position. Secondly if the position is created there is no logical reason why the post holder should sit on Central Council. Units around the country, as a component of branches, are fully and sufficiently represented at Central Council via their elected Area representative/s. Thirdly why someone involved with the ambulance service would be entitled to sit on CC without at the same time having persons specifically representing Overseas, Community Services, Restoring Family Links, International Humanitarian Law, Gender Policy etc is entirely unclear. The Irish Red Cross is not soley an ambulance/first aid organisation and preference should not be given to this activity over other components. The IRC is a humanitarian organisation, with multiple activities, of which ambulance/first aid is but one.
11. There are no proposals outlining who would appoint the NDU. There are also no proposed term limits for the post holder of the NDU. There are no proposals for automatic rotation of the NDU post. Anyone familiar with the Irish Red Cross and the NDU concept knows full well the post is being proposed as the escape route for one individual in the event he is forced off the Executive Committee.
12. There is no proposal to take into account previous service on the Executive Committee. Members should immediately consider including a proposal that all serving Executive Committee members with in excess of ten years service on Executive must step down in May 2011 and not present themselves for elected office for a minimum of three years. As far as this Blog is aware such a rule would only impact three people currently on Executive Committee and as such there would be no loss of continuity or knowledge. Space must be made for new blood and fresh ideas. In addition all talk of governance reform is meaningless when persons with between 10 and 20 years service are permitted to remain in governance positions.
13. The proposals suggest that an Executive Committee/Board of Director can serve a maximum of two three year terms and following this must step down for one year. Thereafter the person can run again and serve two more three year terms. This is minimalistic reform in the extreme, farcical in fact. If the term of office is three years then it would be normal best practice that when one must step down it is for one full term, three years. And not one third of a term as proposed by IRC. The reason of course for such farcical attempts at reform is that the Governance Reform Working Group is dominated by the likes of the Vice Chairman, who are bitterly opposed to real reform, despite their claims to the contrary.
14. The current proposals, if they were accepted, imply, as an example, that the current Vice Chairman, who has served in the position for 20 years, could serve for two more terms, six years, then step down for only 1 year and serve again for another six years giving him a total of 32 years out of 33 years on the Executive Committee. No more flagrant breach of good governance practice could there possibly be.
15. Why is there NO term limits and rotation proposed for Central Council members? It seems CC members can serve for life, again in breach of international best practice.
16. The proposals suggest that 10% of CC members can be non Irish Red Cross members appointed by a Nominations Committee. 10% of a moving total as CC numbers will change every year as membership numbers fluctuate up and down. This means that if membership numbers fall in any given year and Area reps on CC also fall that the total CC numbers will fall meaning the 10% number will also fall which will mean someone having to decide to throw off one of the 10% members. Who will decide this? And how will it be decided which 10% member is asked to step down.
17. The proposal to have CC numbers based on Area membership is a sure way route to chaos and confusion. Currently Area reps are elected for 3 years and once elected a person knows they will be on CC for that period of time. With the current proposals a CC rep once elected may be forced to step down the following year if the membership numbers in his/her Area falls. Say for example an Area has 3 reps on CC (because it has over 500 members) and then its membership numbers falls to 495 members meaning it is only entitled to have 2 Reps on CC. This implies 1 CC rep out of the 3 will have to immediately step down. How will it be decided which CC rep from the Area will depart? What if they refuse and argue one of the others should go? Who in head office is going to track Area membership numbers to ensure each Area has the correct amount of Reps?
18. The structure and functions of the Nominations Committee as proposed warrants extreme scrutiny as excessive powers are proposed to be invested in it. Members should very carefully read the small print on the proposed Nominations Committee as the reality is that this committee will become the most powerful and influential body within the Irish Red Cross. Given the ruling cabal’s history this presents another potentially very dangerous and damaging development for the Society.
19. The proposals state that the Central Council/General Assembly will evaluate Executive Committee members’ performance which is all fine in theory but no explanations are given as to how exactly this will be done. It is positive, however, that the proposals at least state that CC will have the power to remove Executive Committee members. Of course CC has always had this power, it has just failed to exercise it.
20. The proposals are very vague about the Expert Group to be established that will advise the Executive Committee and CC. There is no mention of numbers on this Group and more importantly who will appoint/select members of this Group. It is also not at all clear what is meant by ‘advise’ and the exact role and authority of such a Group. There is no reference to how long persons would serve on this group, how often they would meet and on what exactly it is they would advise on.
21. At a more micro level the proposed constitution would allow for up to 10 members to be co-opted onto an Area Committee. This is an incredibly high limit for co-option. As many Area Committees do not even have 10 elected Committee members allowing co-option of 10 members could see a situation arise where the number of co-opted members on an Area Committee is greater than the number elected. This proposal is very sinister and needs very careful and detailed consideration. The current rules allow each branch to nominate 2 representatives to serve on their respective Area Committee. If an Area is then allowed co-opt up to 10 more members then it is possible that instead of each branch being equally represented the branches from where the co-optees come from will dominate thereby creating instability and division. This will especially be the case during the election of Area Reps to Central Council. In addition the proposed number of co-optees allowed onto an Area Committee is far greater than the proposed number of co-optees, two, allowed onto the Executive Committee.
22. Why is it proposed that the Regional Director of Units and Regional Medical Director would sit on every Area Committee in his or her region and have full voting rights on each one? This is an excessive and unhealthy amount of power.
23. Why is there no rotation or maximum terms of office proposed for Central Council members, Area Committee members, Branch Officers, NDU, RDUs and ADUs?
All in all the current draft proposals represent a very bad deal for those advocating reform in the Irish Red Cross. The draft proposals need to be widely discussed and debated amongst the wider Irish Red Cross membership and not rammed through at a hastily convened Central Council meeting. This Blog proposes that a full general assembly of all members be called to discuss, debate and make proposals on the future Constitution as well as on the structure and organisation of the Irish Red Cross. The consultation process on governance reform to date has been negligible. Ordinary members and staff have been entirely excluded. Once again the broader Irish Red Cross membership has been ignored and disenfranchised. This is purposely done as the current set of proposals are specifically designed to concentrate and retain power in the hands of a few. It will be a very dark and ominous day for the Irish Red Cross should they be approved by Council.