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 CROSS VERY CROSS

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.
ENDS

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:34 AM

    Reposting this comment from Anonymous which was posted yesterday but under the previous article-NW:

    The Minister for Justice and Defence today (13.05.11) published legislation relating to White Collar Crime. The legislation is due to be passed into law by the summer recess. Below is an extract from an interview the Minister (Alan Shatter) gave to RTE Radio One 1 O'clock news today: "It provides for a new offence for the failure to provide information to the Gardai, in effect if a person has information that he or she knows might be of material assistance in either preventing the commission of a crime or indeed in securing the apprehension or prosecution or conviction of someone for a serious crime in what I describe as the white collar area, and if they fail to furnish that information to the Gardai that of itself can be a criminal offence. In this context we are talking about offences relating to banking, fund investments and other financial activities, money laundering, theft, fraud and corruption – a whole broad range of criminal offences which can if there is a conviction result in an individual being sentenced to a term of 5 years or more. What we want to ensure is that not only can the Gardai access information be it documentation or information held electronically but also that where people are aware that serious offences of this nature are being committed then they can’t simply look the other way but they are under a duty to disclose the information as soon as practical to the Garda authorities" (end quote) The endless reports and allegations aimed at the Irish Red Cross over the last year (and longer) all consistently point to serious and unacceptable practices at the Irish Red Cross. Hopefully this new legislation will once and for all remind the Executive Committee of their fidicuary duties relating to the positions they hold. The Gardai will now have the power to investigate any organisation irrespective of that organisations sense of being untouchable. The Minister's comment relating to people "turning the other way" when they are aware of wrongdoing is extremely pertinent!! This will now be a criminal offence. Internal investigations in the Irish Red Cross to date have been complete white washes. The Gardai will now have powers to investigate as they see fit any claims relating to white collar crimes in any organisation. Of course if such an investigation was carried out into the Irish Red Cross and no evidence is found to substantiate the various reports and claims to date, even better, then organisation can move forward. If the claims are substantiated then people will be held accountable under the law of this land, and the organisation can then move forward. Either way there is great hope the Irish Red Cross can move forward in a positive way. At least the trauma of recent economic events in Ireland is slowly ensuring that ALL organisations and people holding positions of responsibility will now be accountable by law for ensuring only the highest standards are maintained in relation to corporate governance and management.

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