Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Deeply flawed Irish Red Cross Constitution adopted while Vice Chairman is appointed for 21st year in a row

The 28th May 2011 was another dark day in the history of the Irish Red Cross. A flawed Constitution, designed by a select few with vested interests in remaining in power, was approved by members of the Central Council. The document was endorsed following a process virtually devoid of organisational consultation, debate or dialogue. All in all it was an appalling but near perfect example of bad organisational democracy.

To make matters worse a number of individuals with excessive service on the Board were re-appointed to their positions, once again making a mockery of Irish Red Cross’s public position that it is committed to good governance and board reform. The most brazen and shameless of these was the re-appointment of the Vice Chairman for the 21st year in a row. The continuing external damage to the Irish Red Cross’s reputation and image can only be guessed at.

All is not lost however regarding the Constitution. The document has no status until such time as the Joint IFRC/ICRC Commission on National Society Statutes in Geneva approves it. Given that the Constitution as it currently stands permits Central Council members, Area Committee members, Branch members and Nomination Committee members serve for life, in flagrant breach of internationally accepted good governance practice, it can only be hoped that the IFRC/ICRC will instruct the Irish Red Cross to make fundamental amendments and bring a corrected Constitution back before Central Council in December 2011. In addition to IFRC/ICRC approval the Constitution must also be accepted by Government and be compliant with pending Government changes to the 1938 Red Cross Act. A Government committed to transparency, good governance and ethics could not possibly stand over and/or legislate for the Constitution just approved.

Was there anything positive from the Central Council meeting readers might ask? Yes, believe it or not there was!

In what can only be described as a completely crushing and humiliating defeat for the ruling elite an important amendment was made to the Constitution before it was voted on, an amendment advocated by this Blog many times. The Article in the Constitution which stated that Executive Committee members could serve for a maximum of two three year terms and then be obliged to stand down for only one year before serving again was amended so that now Executive Committee members must step down for three years.

This amendment must be recognised and acknowledged as real progress in dismantling, albeit very slowly, the decades long power bases of certain individuals. The Blog is in no doubt that certain persons on the Executive Committee will be incandescent with rage over this last minute change.

There is, however, a real threat to the above positive development. Unless the Irish Government enshrines the amendment into legislation then the Central Council can change or revoke it at any time so long as a two-thirds majority approve it. African dictators are famous for bringing in ‘modern and progressive’ constitutions with clauses that include a maximum two terms in office. This is done initially to satisfy their western donors only to be amended in time so they can serve multiple and continuous terms in office. In the absence of the Irish Red Cross constitution amendment entering legislation a similar attempt can be expected over time by the Irish Red Cross. The subservient and acquiescent Central Council will not be any obstacle to reversing the amendment.

The issue of retrospective service was apparently raised during the meeting and surprise was expressed why lengthy cumulative service on the board to date is not to be taken into account when determining eligibility for future board service. The usual tried and tested Irish Red Cross response was trotted out by those same individuals with everything to lose should retrospective service be considered, namely ‘there may be legal barriers to taking retrospective service into consideration’. This is absolute nonsense and a standard operating procedure used by those under threat in the Irish Red Cross where they feign legal knowledge and try to scare off questioning and challenges.

There is absolutely no legal barrier whatsoever preventing the Central Council bringing in a rule that states any Executive Committee member who has served, say for 6 years, must immediately step down at the end of their current term and remain off Executive Committee for a minimum of 3 years. Central Council members should not allow themselves be bullied and intimidated into accepting positions that have no legal base in fact. Perhaps IFRC/ICRC and/or the Government will demand retrospective service be taken into consideration before giving their green light.

In the absence of a specific rule on retrospection, however, there is nothing preventing Executive Committee members from doing the right and honourable thing and stepping down after serving excessive periods in office. Clearly, based on the meeting of the 28th May, Right and Honour are distinctly lacking.

Everyone will now await the verdict from Geneva and the Irish Government. Both have been informed that the process of designing the approved constitution would fail any honest assessment of organisational consultation. Of particular note for readers has been the concerted attempt to prevent certain Irish Red Cross members from receiving a copy of the Draft Constitution. At least one life-long member whom the Blog is aware of wrote on numerous occasions to his Area, his Branch and to the Secretary General requesting a copy. All were ignored and to-date this individual has not had his request acceded to. Wilfully keeping the proposed constitution from even one member of the Society in and of itself makes the process of approving it on 28th May null and void in the view of the Blog.

Based on the Constitution as it currently stands the Society, in six/seven year’s time will finally see the removal of certain individuals for at least three years. Never again will anyone ever be permitted to serve on the Executive Committee for 21 years in a row. If it will not be allowed in the future it should not be allowed now. The Vice Chairman, Treasurer and any member with six years service or more should step down with immediate effect. The very precarious funding environment the Irish Red Cross finds itself in does not allow the luxury of waiting seven years for them to be forced to go.

The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness-Niels Bohr (Nobel Prize, 1922)

On a separate matter:

On 26th May 2011 Transparency International Ireland launched its new free confidential helpline called SpeakUp for persons wishing to seek advice on reporting corruption, fraud, abuse of power, negligence, misuse of resources and questionable procurement practices. The helpline will be staffed by experienced and trained professionals who will give free confidential advice and support to individuals who are facing ethical dilemmas or who witnessed something and are not sure how to proceed.

The Transparency International Ireland SpeakUp free and confidential helpline can be called at 1800 844 866 or by logging on at a specially protected website http://www.speakup.ie/

Anyone who has concerns over fraud, corruption, abuse of power etc in the workplace or elsewhere should not hesitate to call Transparency International whose highly dedicated and professional staff are immediately on hand to assist.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Irish Red Cross DRAFT proposed Constitution should be rejected

On Saturday 28th May 2011 the Central Council of the Irish Red Cross will vote on its DRAFT proposed new Constitution. The consultation process has been minimal. There are apparently 6,000 members of the Irish Red Cross and about 30 staff. How many of these have ever been consulted or have ever seen a copy of the proposed Constitution about to be voted on?

Apart from Central Council members, who number 42, only a small handful of individuals around the country have seen the proposals. This Blog estimates an absolute maximum 90-100 members, possibly much less. Out of 6,000 this is a disgrace.

Whether staff have been consulted and received a copy of the DRAFT only they can comment but knowing well the Irish Red Cross the Blog doubts very much their opinions or views were sought.

No external independent expertise was used during the Constitution design process. This is highly unusual especially when most (but not all) of those who made up the Governance Working Group have no professional experience or knowledge of good governance practice. The complete lack of organisational wide consultation is an outright breach of good corporate governance practice. The proposals were devised by a small number of individuals, the dominant and influential of whom have only one agenda, retention of power.

The Constitution will be voted on 28th May by individuals who historically do exactly as they are told. It is not clear if the vote will be by secret ballot or if a majority or a two thirds majority is required in order for it to be endorsed.

The Irish Red Cross will tell anyone foolish enough to listen that they intend to bring in effective governance and to reform the organisation. They have said this for 20 years. In the same breath people such as the Vice Chairman and Treasurer have put their names forward for continued membership of the Executive Committee for 2011/12. The Vice Chairman has served for 20 years and now he is going forward for his 21st year in a row!! Even ignoring his involvement in the Tipperary tsunami bank account scandal such long service is in complete violation of all good governance practice.

Actions speak louder than words. The actions of these long serving board members in going forward again makes a total mockery of any supposed governance reform process. Serving 21 years on a board is utterly unjustifiable. The Treasurer has served nearly ten years on the board, also unjustifiable. If these individuals were genuinely committed to good governance they would resign immediately and not go forward for election to Central Council or Executive for a minimum of five years but preferably never again.

The DRAFT Constitution that the Central Council will vote on this Saturday 28th May is poorly designed and is reflective of a complete lack of consultation. It will ensure the likes of the Vice Chairman, Treasurer and a few complient others will remain on the board for many years to come.

Smaller branches and Areas will over time become increasingly marginalised and power and influence will be concentrated in the hands of a very few.

It can only be hoped that both the International Red Cross in Geneva and the Irish Government use their power of veto and reject the DRAFT Constitution as unacceptable.

The Central Council has heretofore shown itself incapable of governing effectively or reigning in the excesses of the Executive Committee. An unquestioning herd mentality and group think has been a defining characteristic of the Central Council and Saturday 28th will be no different.

While certain individuals will see the endorsement of this flawed Constitution as a victory in reality it will be viewed externally as further evidence of the antiquated, dysfunctional and backward nature of the Society's governance structures and those who control it. The ongoing reputational damage to the Irish Red Cross will continue unabated as a result.

Noel Wardick, former Head of the Irish Red Cross International Department, has written a detailed analysis of the DRAFT Irish Red Cross Constitution in which he outlines the reasons why it is flawed, why it is a threat to organisational democracy and why it should be rejected. He has sent a copy of this document to the Irish Red Cross Chairman, Irish Red Cross Secretary General, IFRC in Geneva, Minister for Justice and Defence-Alan Shatter and to a number of Central Council reps whose email addresses he has.

Any member who wishes a copy of the analysis and commentary can request one by contacting noelwardick@yahoo.com

One can only hope the Central Council will do the right thing on 28th May and reject the DRAFT Constitution but given their record of acquiescence and subservience over the years one wouldn't bet on it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Call in Irish Parliament for resignation of Irish Red Cross Vice Chairman

In a highly significant development in the continuing crisis at the Irish Red Cross Society a high profile and well respected member of Ireland’s parliament, Mr. Finian Mc Grath-Independent, has asked the Minister for Justice and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, if he will

consider asking the current long serving vice chairman of the Irish Red Cross to follow the example set by the former distinguished chairman and step down and not go forward for election this year in order to allow for a new start for the Red Cross in Ireland”.

This Blog understands it is the first time that such a specific request relating to the Vice Chairman has been tabled formally and on official record in Parliament. It was asked on 18th May 2011. The importance cannot be overstated.

In addition to requesting that the Minister seek the resignation of the Vice Chairman Deputy Mc Grath put forward the following question:

“To ask the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the current vice-chairman of the Irish Red Cross intends to go forward for another term on the board of that organisation at its council meeting of 25th May 2011 (sic) next bringing his total service to date on the board to 20 years; if he considers this is compatible with best practice governance guidelines especially with regard to board rotation and renewal; and if he will make a statement on the matter”.

Of possibly more significance than the actual questions tabled by Deputy Mc Grath is Minister Shatter’s response. The Minister’s reply to the specific question about the Vice Chairman and the terms of board members could hardly be considered supportive or an endorsement of the Vice Chairman and others positions. His reply simply stated:

With regard to the Deputy’s question concerning the term of Board members and best governance guidelines, I have commenced an exchange with the Society concerning governance matters”.

All those committed to fundamental reform and change at the Irish Red Cross can only hope that the ‘exchange with the Society’ will be genuine and determined. If it is then there can only be one outcome. The person centrally involved will finally and extremely belatedly do the honourable thing. Until he does the crisis, the damage and the controversy will stumble on.

One thing I have learned in my time in politics is that if one of the parties is shameless, the other party cannot afford to be spineless-Frank Lautenberg

On a related matter:

Deputy Finian Mc Grath posed two other questions to the Minister. One requested Mr. Shatter to “include the concept of retrospection, which is previous service being taken into account for any new members of the executive committee going forward”.

This is a critically important concept and should feature in any new Irish Red Cross Constitution (it is not in the current draft version). If introduced it would preclude the current Vice Chairman and the Treasurer going forward for election again as their prior lengthy service to date, which is in serious breach of good governance practice, would be taken into account and disallow them from standing.

Deputy Mc Grath further asked the Minister when he expected to be in a position to fill the government nominee vacancy on the Irish Red Cross Society Central Council. The Minister replied “I am now considering how this vacancy might be filled and I will make a decision on the matter shortly”.

The Minister also confirmed for the second time in recent weeks that “amongst the issues that will be considered will be the question of introducing mandatory breaks in service”.

The fact that a serving Irish government minister has to spend his time and that of the Attorney General’s office on bringing in legislation to force the Irish Red Cross to reform itself seems of little concern or embarrassment to the Society’s Executive Committee and Central Council members.

The full text of the Questions and Answers (18th May 2011) can be viewed on the links below:



Saturday, May 14, 2011

Will Irish Red Cross repeat history and once again spend tens of thousands of Euros on legal bills?

During the 1990’s the Irish Red Cross became embroiled in a bitter, lengthy and very costly court battle with a member of its Central Council, Mr Jim Walsh. Mr. Walsh had been a member of the Irish Red Cross for 38 years and had served for 14 years as a member of the Society’s Central Council. While a member of Central Council Mr. Walsh became increasingly concerned at the manner in which funds raised from the general public for Somalia were being handled. He challenged the manner in which £1 million (Irish punts) had been transferred from a national Somalia collection bank account into a domestic account, the interest from which he claimed, was being used to clear off a deficit in the organisation’s domestic administrative costs. This was a practice he deemed entirely inappropriate and wrong.

In 1993 the Irish Times made contact with Mr. Walsh and he informed them he intended raising the matter with the Central Council. For speaking to the Irish Times the Executive Committee expelled Mr. Walsh. Quite unbelievably and with staggering arrogance the Irish Red Cross brought in a new rule that Central Council members could not speak to the media. They then made the rule retrospective, applied it to Mr. Walsh, claimed he had broken the rule (which didn’t actually exist at the time he spoke to the media) and expelled him.

Mr. Walsh took the Irish Red Cross to the High Court and won. The Court ruled the Irish Red Cross had no power do expel Mr. Walsh and no authority to impose a rule retrospectively.

The Irish Red Cross in its wisdom then decided to appeal the High Court judgement to the Supreme Court. The Irish Red Cross lost again. The Supreme Court ordered the Irish Red Cross to pay Mr. Walsh £120,000 (Irish punts), a huge sum of money in 1996. The Supreme Court, as did the High Court before it, quashed the Irish Red Cross decision to expel Mr. Walsh. The Supreme Court (the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Hamilton; Mr. Justice O’ Flaherty; Mr. Justice Blayney; Mrs Justice Denham and Mr. Justice Barrington) delivered their judgement on 7th March 1997. It was a humiliating and thoroughly deserved defeat for the Irish Red Cross ruling elite.

Similar concerns raised by Mr. Walsh regarding the misuse of public funds designated for overseas appeals were raised by Noel Wardick, former Head of International Department, throughout his time in employment (2005-2010) with the Society. In particular questions were raised over the use of funds intended for the 2010 Haiti Earthquake appeal. Like Mr. Walsh Mr. Wardick was expelled from the organisation. He was dismissed in November 2010. Mr. Walsh and Mr. Wardick’s cases are illustrative of what happens to individuals who highlight the pattern of highly questionable financial practice that has gone on within the Irish Red Cross for decades. Mr. Wardick is now pursuing an Unfair Dismissals action against the Irish Red Cross.

The Irish Red Cross, in attempting to silence Mr. Walsh incurred tens of thousands of Irish pounds in legal bills. The highest court in the land found they had no power or authority to do what they did. Where did the Irish Red Cross get the necessary funds to pursue this lengthy and costly legal action? Was it from the Department of Defence grant (tax payers money)? Was it from donations from the general public? Was it from the Kessel Fund? Where exactly?

Regardless of the source the donor is highly unlikely to have wished their money to be spent hunting down a board member who expressed genuine concerns about the organisation’s financial integrity.

The very same questions must be asked concerning another high profile and more recent failed legal action, that taken in 2010 against Google headquarters in California. As with Mr. Walsh the primary purpose of this failed legal action was to silence dissent, instill fear and prevent freedom of speech. Despite the author of the Blog revealing himself the Irish Red Cross continued in its legal action against Google in an attempt to identify the names and addresses of all those who posted comments on the Blog. Google refused to reveal the identity of the Blog author and similarly refused to reveal the identity of those posting comments. This Blog understands the Irish Red Cross has now abandoned its legal action against Google.

Members and volunteers around the country and Central Council members should demand to know how much this folly has cost the Society, where the money to pay for it is coming from and why the Executive Committee, who sanctioned the action, has not been held to account.

Someone wisely said ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. It is very evident that one of the persons who controlled and dominated the Irish Red Cross in the 1990’s is the same person who still controls and dominates the Irish Red Cross in 2011. Until this is changed tens of thousands of Euros in legal bills over the coming years are destined to be incurred by the Society in dealing with the fallout of the catastrophic decisions taken during 2010.

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality-Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321

On a related matter:

Blog readers may be interested in an article that appeared in the Phoenix Magazine regarding the Supreme Court case referred to above, dated 6th June 1997. Lest anyone believe the Irish Red Cross is not chronically dysfunctional the full article is as follows:


Red Ritchie Ryan’s recent appointment as Chairman of the Irish Red Cross Society follows a series of court battles and internal recrimination going back to 1993. These were revived recently when the Supreme Court gave its reasons for a decision handed down over a year earlier that the Irish Red Cross did not have the power to expel a long standing member of the charity for talking to the media.

James Walsh, chairperson of the Dublin county area of the Red Cross and member for 35 years, was foolish enough to cross the organisation’s hierarchy on the Executive Council back in 1993. Then, he challenged the manner in which £1 million had been transferred from a national Somalia collection bank account into a domestic account, the interest from which, he claimed, was being used to clear off a deficit in the organisation’s domestic administrative costs. These costs, Walsh stated, are supposed to be covered by the monies received from the Department of Defence each year as well as local collections but separate from collections specifically described as, say, Somalia famine relief. Walsh also claimed that the paid administrators had taken the power and authority previously wielded by voluntary executive members.

When contacted by the Irish Times in May 1993, Walsh said he intended to raise this and other questions at the upcoming central council meeting. But for his pains, Walsh was subsequently expelled from the Red Cross after decisions taken by the council in October and in an appeal hearing in February 1994. In a quaint manoeuvre, executive members passed an amendment to its rules which allowed the council to expel any member providing due cause is shown. This amendment was passed the day after the Irish Times article appeared and was subsequently used to expel Walsh from the Irish Red Cross Society.

Walsh initiated judicial review proceedings and won a High Court ruling which stated that he had not been validly removed and also that the society did not have the power to retrospectively expel him in any case.

Surprisingly, the Society brought the matter all the way to the Supreme Court where counsel for the Red Cross spent a day and a half presenting its submission in January, 1996. The judges then told Walsh’s barrister that they did not need to hear his side of the argument, unless he had anything in particular to say about the verbal submission from the Red Cross, as they had heard enough and were ruling in favour of Walsh. Earlier this year the judges delivered the reasons for their verdict. This fruitless legal action has cost the Red Cross in the region of £120,000 in legal costs.

There may be people in the Red Cross who believe this was money well spent as it kept Walsh silent for a year or two. He is now back in action and was elected to the Chair of the newly constituted Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown branch of the Red Cross. However, his opponents on the Executive Council removed him from this position recently, providing another focus for discontent among the membership at large.

The Executive Council have not thought it appropriate to discuss the Supreme Court debacle despite a letter being sent to the council by members of Walsh’s branch making various statements about the matter. Nor has there been any mention of former chairperson, Una Mc Gurk’s resignation from her position eight months before the expiry of her term of office. Ms. Mc Gurk gave the Red Cross no reason for her resignation although according to the Minister for Defence she said she had served for more than three years. Executive council members, however, were merely circularised with a memo from Red Cross honorary secretary, Ms. Maureen O’ Sullivan, informing them of their chairperson’s resignation.

Red Ritchie Ryan is now in the chair (see Phoenix 14/3/97). He is the fourth chairperson of the Red Cross in seven years and hopefully he will not succumb to the perennial feuding within that organisation like so many before him.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Irish Minister for Health forces resignation of Health Service Executive Board, could Irish Red Cross face a similar fate?

On Thursday 28th April 2011 the Irish Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly, forced every member of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Board to resign. The HSE is responsible for the health care system in Ireland. This was a bold, dramatic and historic move by a serving government minister. Minister Reilly is to be commended for his courage and determination. The sacking of the HSE Board was, according to the Minister, necessary in order to allow him and his colleagues, conduct a root and branch reform of Ireland’s health system. Dr. Reilly has set an excellent precedent, one that should be followed by others, including Minister for Justice and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, who has statutory responsibility for the Irish Red Cross.

No doubt if requested to seek the resignation of the Irish Red Cross Executive Committee and Central Council the Minister would reply that he is precluded from intervening in an independent organisation. The Minister’s civil servants, who draft his answers to parliamentary questions with tiresome predictability and occasional inaccuracy, continue to be incorrect in the assertion that the Minister cannot get involved.

Under the Red Cross Act 1938, Section 1, Subsection 2, the Government may, should it deem it necessary, intervene directly in the ‘management and administration of the affairs of the Society’ as well as in ‘any other matters in relation to the Society in respect of which it appears to the Government desirable and proper that provision should be made’.

Minister Shatter is therefore perfectly entitled under law to directly involve himself in the affairs of the Irish Red Cross. Minister Shatter’s department gives the Irish Red Cross nearly €1 million in tax payers’ money annually. In light of the financial irregularities revealed in the media and on RTE’s Prime Time last year and the failure of the Society to hold those responsible accountable surely it is now incumbent on the Minister to directly engage in order to ensure the protection of hardworking Irish tax payers’ money.

The Minister should follow the brave example of his colleague Dr. Reilly and immediately demand the resignation of the Irish Red Cross Executive Committee and Central Council. The Minister should then appoint a small interim Board of six or seven competent and experienced individuals chosen by him for a period of twelve months to work with the recently appointed Secretary General, Donal Forde. This interim board and Mr. Forde should be tasked by the Government to begin a detailed and extensive consultation process with the Society’s staff and its 6,000 members with a view to achieving fundamental, deep rooted and long lasting reform. This process, if handled professionally and openly, could be concluded by late 2012 with new primary and secondary legislation in place, a new Irish Red Cross Constitution agreed, and a completely new Central Council and Executive Committee appointed.

If Minister Shatter and his civil servants want to they will find plenty of excuses not to get involved. In this they will mirror successive Fianna Fail governments.

It should be noted that under the 2004 Health Act the Board of the Health Service Executive (HSE) is specifically protected from collective dismissal by a government minister. Dr. Reilly, had he chosen, could easily have hidden behind this piece of law and said ‘there is nothing I can do’. Instead the Minister showed guts and determination and despite the protective cover of legislation he used his moral authority and told the HSE Board he wished them all to resign and resign they did.

Minister Shatter is in a much stronger position than the Minister for Health as he is permitted under law to directly intervene in the Irish Red Cross. The Minister for Finance, Mr. Michael Noonan, has recently made it explicitly clear to Ireland’s bankrupt banks that he expects to see ‘Board renewal’ as a matter of priority. He has requested written plans from the banks in this regard. AIB, one of Ireland’s largest banks, immediately indicated to the Minister that three of its longest serving board members would not be going forward for another term again. The Minister welcomed their resignations.

So Minister Shatter, two of your government ministerial colleagues are leading the way in tackling poor and incompetent governance. They are demanding and achieving board resignations as a first and necessary step in the reform process. They are insisting that board members be held accountable. As Dr. Reilly said in an interview after the HSE board resigned ‘I talked the talk while in Opposition and now I intend to walk the walk while in Government’.

Minister Shatter, it is now your turn to be decisive and ‘walk the walk’. The Irish Red Cross Board must go. You as Minister can make this happen. Demand their resignations and end this crisis once and for all.