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”.

25 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:16 AM

    So even after a call in the Dail for the Irish Red Cross Vice Chairman, Tony Lawlor, to resign and after everything that has happened he still refused!!!! Instead he went forward for the 21st year in a row. That in itself makes meaningless all talk by IRC of governance reform. The damage this is doing is incalculable. These people think they scored a victory by being re-appointed and that is the sad thing about this. Egos have taken over and like Sepp Blater of FIFA they think they have won when the reality is they are disgraced.

    Its no wonder the public, donors and corporate sponsors are looking elsewhere

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  2. Anonymous6:24 AM

    I hope the politicians in the Irish Red Cross, such as Darren Ryan of Labour have read The Village, Ireland's political magazine. I wonder how Darren and others justify the Vice Chairman and Treasurer getting re-appointed. Then again politicians are good are 'justifying' things!

    Well done to Noel Wardick for bringing more public attention to what is really happening in the Irish Red Cross. As a taxpayer I dont want to see a penny of my money going to that place until it cleans up its act, gets a new Board and returns the €600,000 to the Haiti fund.

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  3. Anonymous4:27 PM

    Well written Mr. Wardick. While this article is another of many damning articles against the Irish Red Cross it crossed my mind on reading the article that it is so frustrating that all these reports whether they are print media, news programmes, blogs, radio etc are all created out of a wish to reform and save the Irish Red Cross. One would be forgiven for assuming that based on the wall of silence and inaction from Irish Red Cross Executive Committee that these numerous articles were all calling for the destruction of the Irish Red Cross. In reality the unceasing message that has been quietly rumbling away for years and is now getting louder and louder is that the Irish Red Cross needs to be reformed and transformed into an organisation that is truly reflective of the Red Cross Movement. Mr. Wardick your message is loud and clear, it one that is immensely positive for the Irish Red Cross. I hope at branch level that the Members and Volunteers understand what you are calling for. I hope they realise that change is not something to be feared but rather encouraged. It is a call to literally save the Irish Red Cross. Many before have made the same call and have been silenced and rebuked, however all those past voices do count and will count when the change comes - because change is coming, the momentum is too much to stop it now irrespective of the wall of silence from Merrion Square. That wall looks awfully fragile now.
    It was also heartening to hear the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter re-affirm today that he expects two referenda relating to Oireachtas Investigations and Whistle Blower Legislation will be held along with one to allow the Government to reduce judicial pay all on the same day as the Presidential elections in October. Interesting that on the same day that a new President of the Irish Red Cross will come into office it is likely that two new pieces of legislation will be enacted, the absence of which to date has protected the Irish Red Cross in its disgraceful and immoral behaviour. At last those who hold positions of responsibilty will be held accountable where wring doing is found to have occured. Truly a day of new hope for the Irish Red Cross.

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  4. Anonymous4:10 AM

    I watched the RTE Frontline program with Pat Kenny a week ago. It is telling that all the main aid agencies in Ireland were in the audience. Guess which one was not in the audience? Yes! Correct! The Irish Red Cross was not in the audience. Why? Because it was not invited! After the Prime Time investigation last year RTE knows full well what goes on in the Irish Red Cross.

    And everyone remembers what happened when they interviewed an Irish Red Cross spokesperson on that occasion!! Humiliation, shame and disgrace. So to be fair to RTE its probably in Irish Red Cross's own interest that they not appear on TV again.

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  5. Anonymous4:13 AM

    Recently the Red Cross appointed an ex employee of AIB as their Secretary General. This gentleman has I believe no prior experience of the workings of the Red Cross nor any experience of working in the International Aid sector. Whilst respecting fully his presumably extensive abilities as a banker, I must question however how he was able to get this job, when he was faced in the interview process against numerous experienced aid sector professionals and even one candidate who not only is internatioanlly respected as an authority on the workings of the Red Cross, but has served with the Red Cross for some decades in senior international positions. This man at a previous attempt for the same positiion was noted as being a truly remarkable candidate.

    Is it not fact that the Irish Red Cross will do anything to prevent anyone with experience in the international aid sector sector and especially anyone with Red Cross experience in getting this senior position. They would prefer to hire someone who has nn knowledge about the organisation so they can do what they do best. Manipulate and obstruct that person until the point they get so frustrated and disillusioned they leave. The process then begins again. It keeps the powers that be and their merry bunch of hangers on happy and in power and that is what matters most. Keep up the good work Mr Wardick at least you have won by far the moral high ground. Good luck to Mr. Forde but he must guard against the tactics of the Executive Committee which they have used successfully for more than twenty years. So far though it looks to me as an exact replica of previous secretary generals tenures. Honeymoon period now, everyone friendly and cooperating. By year's end tensions will begin to increase as Forde tries to assert his authority and reform the Society. He will face obstacles and delays and the process of his eventual departure will have commenced, which should happen in approximately 18 months time. With the current Executive Committee and a Chairman with no presence Mr. Forde has little or no chance.

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  6. Anonymous4:36 AM

    Saw that Frontline program as well. Can someone answer me this question:

    Why is it that the Irish Aid budget which does such great work around the world saving lives has been cut by 30% by the government and the Department of Defence has not cut a penny from the grant to Irish Red Cross? Every other department and organisation has had its budget cut. Something very suspicious there.

    The Frontline program was arguing whether overseas aid money would be better spent supporting hard pressed carers in Ireland. Well definitely the €1 million grant wasted on the Irish Red Cross would be far better spent on helping carers, who are real heroes.

    So why not lobby your local politicians to have the Irish Red Cross grant switched to an area where it will be put to good use and not wasted?

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  7. Anonymous4:47 AM

    You have to laugh at the Irish Red Cross. Either that or break down and cry.

    There is a photo on its website of Sheila Callan presenting a trophy to her own Area. Guess what the name of the trophy is? Its called the Sheila Callan Humanitarian Award!!! Named after herself!!!!!!!! Im serious! If you dont believe me check out the article on the home page about the First Aid competitions.

    So Sheila Callan is presenting a trophy she named after herself to her own Area!!!

    It takes an especially unique character to name a trophy after themselves and an even more unique character to give it a grandiose name as the Sheila Callan HUMANITARIAN Award!!!

    Rumours that Ms. Callan was asked to step down from the Society after the RTE Prime Time interview last August are obviously false and incorrect.

    Perhaps a new trophy should be commissioned and called Most Spectacular TV Interview of the Year Award? Wonder who would win it? Or another could be The Extra Long Service and Will Never Step Down From the Board Award. There'd be a few competitors for this one though.

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  8. Anonymous7:10 AM

    One must wonder given the weight of evidence which supports the view that there is or has been collusion between individuals and political parties that at some stage the current Government would act to stop this abuse. Fine Gael outlined in their manifesto that good Governance was required, yet despite knowing that the current proposals as put before the Central Council were nothing more that a mockery to protect the interests of those who retain control of the Red Cross many of us are worried Fine Gael and Labour will approve them. Members of the Irish Red Cross leadership have abused their positions, hid money in secret bank accounts and misused other monies and yet no action has been taken in any form to sanction them for this abuse. The Irish Red Cross began a search for hidden properties in 1992 and to date no report has been forthcoming on these properties. 19 years later and still 'they are working on it'!!! BDO the accountants/Auditors have been unable to find or report in successive accounts on these properties. How are the Executive Committee able to hide this information from the Auditors? Is this why the previous Auditors left the Society? Did they know too much? This whole thing is one sickening scam and I as a tax payer want answers on how my money is being spent without adequate accounting

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  9. Anonymous8:07 AM

    The comment on the RTE program is a bit unfair. Just because poor Sheila didn't have a clue what she was supposed to be on TV defending, is just a reflection of the guys at the top not the whole organisation. The membership are like mushrooms and they would prefer to be kept in the dark as any other way would mean accepting responsibility and we can not have that!

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  10. Anonymous1:31 AM

    Dear Members of the Irish Red Cross,

    If any of the comments were incorrect in this Blog the Irish Red Cross or should I say Anthony Lawlor and his followers would be dealing with these in their normal way and that is the serving of injuctions. However, this will never happen, given that one cannot act against the truth.

    I as a member of the Red Cross, cannot undertsnad why you, who purports to represent actions for Humanity can support fully acts, which you know to be contrary to the ideals of the Red Cross. So whilst you might swan about in bright red uniforms, we know your dirty little secret hidden behind your charade of silence. You are as guilty as the man/woman who denied the people of Haiti their just dues and the people of the Tsunami their needs.

    So when next smiling at the camera remember those whom you were responsible for denying shelter ultimatley leading to hunger and death.

    Well done ! You must waaer the uniform with pride.

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  11. Anonymous1:50 PM

    The post above encourages branches to embrace change and not to fear it. As far as i can see certain branches are clearly owned by or afraid of the Executive. Why did the branches not vote out horwell, lawlor and noonan along with the rest? Why are the Areas not demanding votes of no confidence in them and get rid of them now not wait for any longer! Fair play to Galway they got it together and got rid of their problems. What happened to the votes of no confidence lodged by the Cork Area in 3 of the senior managers ????? One is now gone but 2 remain. Why has no action been taken on this?

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  12. Anonymous1:53 PM

    How does one apply for the Sheila Callan Humanitarian award or does she decide who is human ?

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  13. Anonymous2:26 PM

    God - perish the thought, but perhaps Ms. Callan did not name the cup herself. Seriously - lets not assume the worst about anyone.

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  14. Anonymous1:44 AM

    I personally am looking forward to the inaugral Sheila Callan Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Tragi-Comedy.

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  15. Anonymous3:40 AM

    The decision to create a new trophy last year and call it the Sheila Callan Award was carried out in the usual secretative non consultative closed manner everything in the Irish Red Cross is carried out. Does anyone honestly think that if there was an open competition within the Society to choose someone to name a humanitarian award after that the name now on the trophy would be the one now on it? Not a chance!

    Sheila Callan is not the first Executive Committee member to have the brass neck to call a trophy after themselves. What about the Dominic Burke Perpetual trophy?! Peas in a pod these guys.

    Who decided the Dublin Borough should get the Sheila Callan Humanitarian award? How was this decision taken? Was there a selection committee? When was the competition for the award announced? When did applications have to be submitted? What was the criteria? How were candidates shortlisted? Where are all the procedures, application forms etc written down? What about all the Irish Red Cross overseas delegates who have risked life and limb over the years and who are still doing so in places like Afghanistan. Were they not worthy of the award? Probably not and for one reason and one reason only......they dont wear an Irish Red Cross uniform and dont do first aid in Ireland!! As a result they are automatically excluded from this so called 'humanitarian' award.

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  16. Anonymous3:50 AM

    I loved the comment about Irish Red Cross being a Tragi-Comedy!!! Its the best description I have heard so far. Sums the place up in two short words!

    I feel so sorry for the hard working staff in Ireland and overseas and all the genuine volunteers around the country but at the end of the day if you stay silent and out of fear or indifference do nothing then I'm afraid you can only blame yourselves.

    Irish people in the election just gone destroyed Fianna Fail and ended their corrupt and incompetent reign for wrecking the country but Irish Red Cross members rewarded those responsible for wrecking the Irish Red Cross by voting them back in again. So to be honest you get what you vote for and you deserve what you vote for. And if you stay silent and do nothing about it you also deserve the consequences. If you keep staying silent and keep voting these people in then the Irish Red Cross will always be the dysfunctional backward financially broke organisation it is today.

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  17. Anonymous4:14 AM

    This is all just too funny !
    Then again this is not a comedy or is it.

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  18. Anonymous3:45 AM

    Looks like the Irish Red Cross are not alone in the lines of conflict. "Striking Red Cross blood drive workers picketed in Pennsauken and at five other locations Tuesday in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to protest stalled labor talks". This is not the first time the American Red Cross has had difficulties, as many older veterans of war and conflict recall when they got the bills for blood they recieved many years ago.

    The Irish Red Cross at one time ran the blood bank in Ireland and lucky for us all it was taken away from them. One can only imagine the consequences if the Irish Red Cross had been allowed continue running the blood bank. One shudders with fear.

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  19. Anonymous11:51 PM

    The Irish Red Cross have advertised for the position of Branch Finance Officer,"note the military term "Officer", this person according to the outline must "To be aware of Irish Red Cross finance policies and procedures and relevant legislation pertaining to the organisation.", now this is all very well, but if one considers that the Irish Red Cross has no Finance policies. If it did the Vice Chairman would not have got away with hiding 162k and the sSociety would not have got away (So far) with taking 600k out of the Haiti Appeal.
    The Scoiety has the 1939 Rules and that is it. All other policies are made up and forgotten about as and when needed as James Walsh discovered when he was dismissed for questioning the Scoieties policies. He won his case in the High Court and the Scoiety were lambasted on their so called policies in the Supremem Court.

    So good luck to this individual who get the job of trying to sort out this mess and labrynth of deception and intrigue !

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  20. Anonymous2:36 AM

    Very interesting Prime Time on RTE last night. It reported on the Rostrevor nursing home case which has been closed due to abuse of patients by a staff member. The workers who came forward and blew the whistle on this have made a massive sacrfice. As it happens they are migrant workers. For them to come forward and report this was a massive risk, they would have realised their work permits are job specific and their action could potentially cost them their right to stay in this country. Between this and the actions of the Irish Red Cross it makes me so ashamed of our State that those who sacrifice so much to simply do the right thing are left high and dry. What kind of society do we live in where to stop a man physically abusing elderly residents of a nursing you must sacrifice your job and be cast aside without any protection whatsoever or where you report serious financial irregularities within an aid agency funded by the State and that same aid agency actively seeks vengence for daring to question such irregularities. This country was led through a brief period of false hope and apparent prosperity, somewhere along the way I think our morals got lost. If any good comes out of the recent crash of that house of cards it is that maybe we are slowly regaining a focus on what is good and right. John Devitt of Transparency Internation reported on the same Prime Time programme that the legislation to protect whistle blowers currently being drafted by the government needs to include criminal penalties for those who take retaliatory action against whistle blowers. A very wise proposal as unfortunately the culture of turning a blind is still embedded in this country. The threat of criminal prosecution will hopefully change that mindset and in turn see the end of the disgrceful behaviour at places like Rostrevor and within organisations like the banks and Irish Red Cross.
    The prime time report can be seen at http://www.rte.ie/news/av/2011/0623/media-2985710.html#

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  21. Anonymous6:05 AM

    I see from the latest Parliamentary Question in the Dail on Thursday 23rd June inquiring about ongoing problems in the Irish Red Cross the Minister in his reply stated that he will be meeting with the Irish Red Cross Chairman and Secretary General to discuss reform.

    This is positive but only so long as the Minister takes with a pinch of salt everything he will be told. The Minister will be informed that governance reform is well underway which it is not. Nothing has changed. If he is told reform is underway all he has to do is ask the following question:

    'If governance reform is underway then please explain how it is possible that your Vice Chairman was re-appointed to the board for the 21st year in a row and your Treasurer, who failed to investigate the Tipperary tsunami bank scandal when it was first discovered, was re-appointed to the board for the tenth year running?

    The Minister should instruct the Irish Red Cross to stop wasting his time with inaccurate claims of governance reform.

    As someone said on this blog actions speak louder than words and all the evidence at Irish Red Cross points to nothing changing. The Irish Red Cross have become masters over 20 years at telling various ministers and the international Red Cross in Geneva that they are 'reforming'. Nothing ever happens. Maybe this minister wont fall for it but he is showing all the signs of being as gullible as the others.

    If the Minister was genuinely interested in seeing change at the Irish Red Cross he would issue the following statement to the Chairman and Secretary General during their visit:

    'Your annual grant in aid from the Department of Defence of €1 million will not be paid until concrete governance reforms are in place. First and foremost in this must be the removal of your Vice Chairman and Treasurer from office. Until then not a penny of tax payers money will be given to the Irish Red Cross'.

    A simple statement like that would see instant reform, instant personnel change and give the Society a chance at recovery.

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  22. Anonymous2:24 AM

    It is not easy to be the messenger, when I first brought it to my Areas attention that minutes were being rigged on a National Committee and that money was being misused and more often not used, all I got was a wall of silence. Whilst on the overseas Committee I brought these matters to the attention of the Society. Anthony Lawlor and Sheila Callan were amongst the people who were appointed to investigate these claims. History answers what action they took.

    Mr Anthony Lawlor recently wrote a letter to the Chairperson in Donegal, which said that the rules allowed the Area Committee to eject me as a life member from the Area Committee. Mr Donal Forde National Secretary does not have a copy of this letter nor does the Area Secretary for Donegal. My attempts to get a copy to date have been without success. Why is their need for secrecy?

    Some years ago I was bought before Mr Lawlor and others, who sat on a disciplinary hearing which questioned me on my opinions of the Red Cross. Lawlor reported to the Executive that I had apologised. All records of this event have been destroyed in Merrion Square. I wonder WHY ? Sorry not all records, I kept a copy of everything including the recording of the meeting.

    Are these the people who should represent this Humanitarian Society, who destroy records so that they cannot be discovered? Who make up rules to suit their own needs? Who hide money? Who hide properties?

    NO, NO, NO, NO, NO when will they hear ?

    Gerard Moyne
    Life Member Irish Red Cross Society

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  23. Anonymous4:40 AM

    You might well ask how do I know that the records have been destroyed. I recently made a request under the Data Protection Act. The Society failed to provide any of this information, saying that none was available other than my name as a member. No ther records seemingly exist.

    Lucky i kept everything !

    Gerard Moyne
    Life Member Irish Red Cross

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  24. Anonymous11:42 AM

    I cannot beleive that the Irish Red Cross has destroyed records to protect these unworthy individuals.

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  25. Anonymous3:06 PM

    They have not only destroyed records they have endeavoured to destroy lives. They the inner sanctum has spent their whole lives involved in the destruction of member’s characters, by the use of innuendo and rumour. They will make calls and embrace individuals into their fold, so that they can spread the venom they call being humanitarian. However, when they are done with these people they drop them like a hot iron using the same methods.

    It is a vicious circle and the proof is! look at the names at the top they rarely change and that is what Jenny Bulbulia saw through, and unfortunately resigned.

    Keep up the good Work Noel !

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