Friday, November 18, 2011

Call in Ireland's parliament for Irish Red Cross Vice Chairman and Treasurer to step down

Not for the first time in recent months there has been another call in Ireland’s parliament, Dail Eireann, for the Irish Red Cross national Vice Chairman, Anthony (Tony) Lawlor, to step down from his post after serving a staggering 21 years in the position. In addition to calls for Mr. Lawlor to step down an additional call was made for the Irish Red Cross Treasurer, Mr. Ted Noonan, to also consider stepping down. Mr. Noonan has been a member of the Executive Committee for ten years and the Treasurer for the past three years. He has been at the helm as Treasurer throughout recent controversies at the Society.

In suggesting both Mr. Lawlor and Mr. Noonan step down, Deputy Finian McGrath stated on the 9th November 2011

To ask the Minister for Defence his views that the time is now appropriate for the Vice Chairman and Treasurer of the Irish Red Cross to step down from their positions in order to allow for a more reasonable turnover of personnel at leadership positions within the Irish Red Cross”.

In addition Deputy McGrath stated:

To ask the Minister for Defence if following his letter to the Chairman of the Irish Red Cross of 16th July 2011 (should have read 16th May) regarding corporate governance issues the Society has now considered a more comprehensive reform of its corporate governance arrangements; his views on the fact that the current vice chairman of the IRC is still serving in that position for the 21st year in a row, that the current Treasurer in that position for ten years in a row and both on the Executive Committee for 21 and 10 years respectively; his further views on whether this arrangement is in line with best practice corporate governance guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter

On the issue of governance and the misgovernance at the Irish Red Cross Deputy McGrath had a third question for the Minister:

To ask the Minister for Defence if consideration has been given to incorporating term-limits and retrospection of service for members of the Irish Red Cross executive committee in the amendments to the Irish Red Cross Order 1939; when he expects to bring forward the draft legislation on the Red Cross to Cabinet for approval; and if he will make a statement on the matter”

Deputy Finian McGrath is a senior, well respected and influential politician in Ireland’s parliament. His interventions in the Irish Red Cross crisis are both important and welcome. In calling for the resignation of the Society’s Vice Chairman and its Treasurer Deputy McGrath is targeting the heart of the deep rooted problems and dysfunction that exists. Internally within the Irish Red Cross there is a great fear and reluctance to tackle the core issues that have brought humiliation, shame and disgrace on the Society. Such fear and reluctance is often typical of dysfunctional governance structures where group think and a herd mentality become accepted practice. When this becomes ingrained, as it has within the Irish Red Cross, only decisive external intervention will resolve the problems.

Minister Alan Shatter has taken a much more robust approach to the Irish Red Cross than any of his predecessors who remained completely indifferent during their tenures in office, the consequences of which we are paying for today. Minister’s Shatter’s letter of 16th May 2011 to the Irish Red Cross Chairman, which was subsequently kept from Central Council members until revealed on this Blog, made it very clear he wished to see long serving board members depart the board of the Irish Red Cross. The Irish Red Cross rejected the Minister’s suggestion and reappointed the Vice Chairman and Treasurer. It remains to be seen if the Minister penalises the Irish Red Cross for its insistence in persisting with appalling governance practices by reducing the annual government grant to the Society in 2012.

In typical Irish Red Cross fashion the date and agenda of the upcoming Central Council meeting are being kept a closely guarded secret. Such secrecy is reflective of the fear and paranoia of the Society’s leadership. With an extremely weak and complient Central Council the ruling elite and the controlling cabal continually get away with treating fellow board members in this dismissive manner.

It can only be hoped that at the November/December Central Council meeting that Central Council members will find their independence and courage and finally demand the resignations and removal of the Vice Chairman and the Treasurer. It is humiliating and embarrassing for the Society that such courage is left to those external to the Society. Until such time as the Vice Chairman is held to account for his actions and the Treasurer for his inactions and both removed from all Irish Red Cross governance structures the Society will suffer indefinitely.

No amount of tinkering at the edges of reform and producing endless written policies will compensate for the damage done by not holding people responsible for wrongdoing and negligence to account.

The link to the Parliamentary Questions of the 9th November 2011 and the Minister’s replies is:

The parliamentary question put down on the awarding of an Irish Red Cross IT/Web Design contract to a UK company was not answered and appears to have been withdrawn.

All persons ought to endeavour to follow what is right, and not what is established-Aristotle

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Minister indicates a cut in Irish Red Cross government funding maybe on the cards

Minister for Justice, Defence and Equality, Mr. Alan Shatter, in an appearance before the Irish Parliament’s Joint Committee on Justice and Defence, gave the strongest indication yet that he is considering a cut in the government’s grant to the Irish Red Cross.

In response to questioning by Deputy Dara Calleary, Fianna Fail, on the ongoing misgovernance and mismanagement at the Society the Minister said “The capacity of my Department to pay to the Irish Red Cross a sum next year the same as this year-particularly with regard to its funding of its headquarters-is an issue that must be addressed. At this moment I am unable to guarantee the funding position for this year for any particular agency outside the Department”.

Given that the Irish Red Cross rejected the Minister’s written request of 16th May 2011 to address the issue of long serving board members by re-appointing the Society’s Vice Chairman for the 21st year in a row and reappointing the Treasurer to serve for his 10th year on the board it should come as no surprise that the Minister is considering cutting the grant to the Society. In speaking before the Justice and Defence Committee the Minister, in relation to board service, said the following:

However, I have a concern that the board of the Irish Red Cross in particular-the main oversight group within the Red Cross-should have a reasonable turnover of individual members. I do not regard it as good for an organisation that an individual may fill an executive position for 15 or 20 years and that no one else has an opportunity in real terms as opposed to in theory, to fill that position. Every organisation needs to encourage its grassroots members to stand for executive positions to give them an opportunity to participate at a higher level and to be engaged in making managerial, strategic and administrative decisions”

Democracy is about choice and without choice there is no democracy. For years and years the Irish Red Cross national Vice Chairman has been returned as Vice Chairman by virtue of being the sole candidate nominated. This is reflective of, in reality as opposed to in theory to quote the Minister, a highly undemocratic and unhealthy organisation.

In relation to Minister Shatter’s letter of 16th May 2011 serious questions must be asked and answers demanded as to why this letter was not brought to the attention of Central Council members at their meeting of 28th May 2011. It is incredulous that an organisation that received a very specific written request from a senior government minister directly concerning the election and appointment of its board members would fail to bring such correspondence to the attention of those very same board members. It is even more incredulous when one considers that the Central Council meeting of the 28th May had as one of its primary agenda items the election of the 2011/12 Executive Committee, an area in which the Minister wished to see reform and change.

Not bringing the above letter to the attention of Central Council members can only be described as outright and flagrant misgovernance of the highest order. The Minister’s letter was addressed to the Society’s Chairman, Mr. David O’ Callaghan. He must explain why it was decided and by whom that only he and a select few were made aware of the letter and why its existence and contents were kept undisclosed to all other Central Council members.

The letter's existence only became known when the Minister himself made public reference to it in a speech in the Dail in June 2011. This Blog, in pursuing its objective to bring transparency and truth to the Irish Red Cross, then updated members on its existence and contents.

It can only be hoped that at the upcoming Central Council meeting due to be held later this month (still no date though!) that Central Council members will demand answers and insist they be shown the respect they deserve as the supreme deliberative authority of the Society. Failure to do so will ensure they remain consigned to irrelevance where they have allowed themselves be confined for years.

The unfortunate aspect of any government funding cut is that it will potentially jeopardise jobs at the Society’s headquarters. Already there have been redundancies during 2011 in two of the regional offices.

As with many aspects of Irish society those most impacted by negligence, incompetence, misuse of resources and financial irregularities are those most innocent of any wrongdoing. The Irish Red Cross is no exception to this. As such it is likely staff will pay the heaviest price for the wrongs of their superiors.

Should Irish Red Cross staff face redundancy in the New Year they can lay the blame squarely at the feet of their intransigent, obdurate and incompetent board. The Minister’s responsibility is to protect Irish tax payers money and if he in any way feels the competency, probity or ability of the board to safeguard those and other funds is under any question he has no option but to reduce or suspend the grant in its entirety. The Minister has clearly sent a warning shot across the bow of the Irish Red Cross in his comments to the Oireachtas Justice and Defence Committee. Based on historical evidence, however, it can be assumed with near certainty that the Irish Red Cross will ignore it. They have acted with impunity for decades and believe they can continue to do so.

The Minister, in discussing the undeclared Tipperary tsunami bank account with the Committee stated “I refer to the infamous situation within the Irish Red Cross where substantial funds were raised in one area and were retained in a bank account and not utilised”. It would appear from the Minister’s speech that even in government ministerial circles the Irish Red Cross Tipperary tsunami undeclared bank account on which the Society’s national Vice Chairman, Anthony (Tony) Lawlor, was a signatory, is considered “infamous”.

In his concluding remarks to the members of the Committee the Minister made clear his feelings when he said “It is in the interests of the Irish Red Cross that further change occurs...”. At this stage the dogs in the street know exactly what change is required. Those responsible for the financial irregularities and years of negligence and misuse of resources at the Society need to be removed. Failure to do so and the next shot from the Minister may not be across the bow but directly at it.

When you do something like this, you do increase the vulnerability for fraud, plain waste, abuse and mismanagement. We are very apprehensive about what we are seeing-Richard Skinner

On a separate matter:

The Irish Red Cross was briefly discussed again at the all party Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee in the Dail on the 20th October 2011. This followed on from the previous week (13th Oct) when financial irregularities at the Society constituted the main discussion. It is clear the Public Accounts Committee intends to continue its investigations into matters at the Irish Red Cross, something that in the public interest is to be very much welcomed.