Thursday, June 30, 2011

Minister requests Irish Red Cross to address issue of long serving Board members but his request is ignored

On Wednesday 29th June 2011 an Adjournment Debate in Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) on the continuing problems at the Irish Red Cross took place.

Labour Party (member of coalition government) deputy Aodhán O Riordáin made an excellent speech outlining the 20 year crisis at the Irish Red Cross. He raised numerous issues including abuse of power, financial irregularities and in particular the excessive length of service of certain board members. He called for government funding to the Irish Red Cross to be suspended until a full independent investigation takes place.

Minister for Justice and Defence, Alan Shatter, responded to Deputy O' Riordáin. While the Minister issued the standard civil servant drafted reply in parts he did, however, go much further than his predecessors and this is to be welcomed and acknowledged. It is clear from his responses that he and the Government have very serious issues with the long service of certain board members and the overall governance of the Irish Red Cross.

The Minister informed Parliament that on 16th May 2011 he wrote to the Irish Red Cross asking them that they address the issue of long service members. 12 days after receiving this letter the Irish Red Cross gave the Minister his answer. They re-appointed Tony Lawlor and Ted Noonan, something which clearly flew in the face of the Minister's request.

It is quite incredulous that the Irish Red Cross would ignore a specific written request from a high ranking government minister in such an arrogant, dismissive and egotistic manner. One can only imagine the reaction of the Minister. Minister Shatter stated that Irish Red Cross funding from the Government for 2012 is under review. Perhaps the Minister will use the funding as the tool to express his displeasure. If he does the Irish Red Cross only has itself to blame.

Another question that must be asked is why Irish Red Cross Central Council members were NOT informed about the Minister's May 16th letter? This letter was not shared with CC members. Perhaps if they had been issued with a copy and therefore aware that the Minister had formally requested they address the issue of long service members they would not have re-appointed Tony Lawlor and Ted Noonan. They may have thereby avoided the ire of the Minister.

The Examiner newspaper of 30th June 2011 carries an article under the heading "Minister Shatter seeks assurances on Irish Red Cross funding". The Minister has obviously felt it necessary to write to the Irish Red Cross to seek assurances that its government grant is being honestly and properly spent. This in itself is an indictment on the Society.

Link is:

The full Dail debate will be up on the Blog once Parliament publishes it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Could Irish Red Cross Board members face criminal prosecution under proposed whistleblower legislation?

On Thursday 23rd June 2011 Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, carried a report on its flagship current affairs program, Prime Time, examining the issue of whistleblowing in Ireland and the lack of legal protection for whistleblowers. The context was the recent scandal at the Rostrevor nursing home which has been closed by the health authorities following reports from whistleblowers of widespread abuse of elderly patients.

On the panel discussion was Mr. John Devitt, CEO of Transparency International Ireland. For those not familiar with Transparency International it is a global organisation that fights corruption and abuse of power. Its views are listened to by people of influence and in high office around the world. Transparency International Ireland, has on two separate occasions, called for an independent investigation into the Irish Red Cross and has written to the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent (IFRC) and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the matter. Transparency International has also called for the reinstatement of Noel Wardick as Head of the International Department pending the results of such an independent investigation.

In the course of the RTE program Mr. Devitt not only said that comprehensive whistleblowing legislation was urgently required in Ireland he also insisted that any legislation should contain provisions which would allow criminal prosecutions to be taken against employers and individuals who retaliate against whistleblowers.

Reprisals and retaliation by employers against whistleblowers in Ireland have been and continue to be standard practice. Mr. Devitt was of the view that the ability to take a criminal prosecution against employers and individuals was absolutely necessary in order to protect whistleblowers who report in good faith abuse of power and misuse of resources and in order to encourage employees to report in the first place. The current situation allows employers operate with near impunity and the fear that results from this keeps the vast majority of employees silent.

This Blog welcomes the comments by Transparency International and fully supports the call that any whistleblowing legislation introduced contains provisions that will allow criminal prosecutions against employers and those individuals that retaliate against employees for speaking the truth.

If such legislation is finally introduced the mis-balance of power that currently exists within the Irish Red Cross may finally be corrected. Those board members who have overseen reprisals against staff or turned a blind eye will be forced to think twice in the future.

Should the provisions in the legislation advocated by Transparency International be adopted then it is entirely possible that in the not so distant future criminal prosecutions may be initiated against Irish Red Cross board members who have been involved in retaliatory action against whistleblowers.

The RTE Prime Time program can be viewed on:

We have not sought war, nor do we seek war, but if war be made upon us we must defend ourselves and shall do so-Eamon de Valera in a letter to British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, 1921

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One of Ireland's leading political magazines publishes article on crisis ridden Irish Red Cross

The Village magazine, one of Ireland’s leading political publications has included the following article in its latest June-August 2011 edition:

A whistle-blower’s tale

By Noel Wardick

In July 2005 I came home after seven months in Darfur and seven years working in Africa. I accepted a job with the Irish Red Cross (IRC) as Head of its International Department, based in Dublin.

Perhaps I should have listened to a colleague of mine who informed me it was considered a dysfunctional organisation and had a high staff turnover. I was, however, glad to be home and the Red Cross was a global organisation with an impeccable reputation.

After my first month it was clear that the IRC had problems. Within weeks I had reservations about the capacity of the Finance Department. More worryingly I was very uncomfortable with certain procurement practices which were largely out of the hands of senior management and instead under the control of certain board members. I expressed concern. I was advised “this is the way business is done here” and not to challenge the two or three individuals who dominated the board.

In June 2007 the Secretary General (SG) left in acrimonious circumstances. She had been pushing for reform, a dangerous pursuit in IRC. By 2009 there were problems with a huge financial deficit, staff redundancies, staff morale, failures to rotate board members and delays in distributing funds raised for that year’s domestic flooding. Throughout the period 2005-2010 I challenged the prevailing culture at the Society. I sought reform, accountability, transparency and openness. Where I could implement it, on the international side, I did. Where I couldn’t, at the level of the board, I documented my concerns to the organisation’s hierarchy. I was forever being told “Noel, you are a marked man”.

The discovery of an undeclared bank account in mid-2008 in Tipperary under the name of the IRC, which had had €162,000 lying in it for over three years, caused consternation and panic. The money was supposed to be for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami but money was not forwarded to IRC head office as per IRC financial procedures. The Vice Chairman of the IRC was a signatory on the account. He denied any wrongdoing. At least one call for his resignation was made.

Questions were asked in the Dáil, particularly by Labour’s Brian O’Shea and towards the end of 2009 many of these matters were covered in Village Magazine, which named names and outlined details of the undeclared bank account for the first time; and in some, though not many other organs. With one or two notable exceptions, the establishment media seemed uninterested that a pillar of the charitable sector was in fact seriously delinquent. Another SG resigned suddenly and unexpectedly in November 2009 and a discomfited David Andrews, Chairman for 10 years, resigned on the same day. Chaos and turmoil followed.

Eventually an investigation, highly compromised as it was internal, took place in late 2010 following intense media and political pressure. Serious errors, breaches of policy and mistakes were identified. Blame was apportioned to no-one. The signatories on the account were not sanctioned or reprimanded. The Vice Chairman was re-appointed to the IRC board for the 21st year in a row on May 28th 2011. This despite the IRC’s public position that it intended reforming its governance.

By 2010 every attempt was being made to silence dissent and protect long established power bases. I began writing an anonymous blog outlining the IRC’s problems. Attempts were made to inform IRC members about the blog and to encourage them to take action.

Shutting the blog down became an obsession for the IRC hierarchy. This culminated in the extraordinary decision in mid 2010 to take legal action against Google HQ in California demanding they reveal the identity of the blog author. Google refused. IRC incurred huge legal costs in the failed legal action.

In August 2010 I publicly revealed for the first time, on RTE’s Prime Time, that I was the blog author. I had, just days before, told the IRC.

In November 2010 I was fired “for gross misconduct”. I have taken an Unfair Dismissals action against the IRC. The backlog of cases means it will be many months yet before the case is heard. In the meantime I remain unemployed.

The complete absence in Ireland of whistle-blowing protection for employees who in good faith report abuses means the weapon of fear can and is used to great effect in ensuring those who witness wrongdoing remain silent.

Those responsible for the financial irregularities and the breaches of good corporate governance at the IRC remain in positions of authority and seniority. The government knows this and still it unquestioningly gives €1 million of tax payers’ money to the IRC every year.

One government-appointed member of the IRC Central Council summed it up “Until those responsible for the Tipperary tsunami bank account scandal are removed and until those board members with excessive service step down the future of the IRC remains seriously jeopardised”.