The Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross, Mr. Donal Forde, has been forced to issue an apology for giving inaccurate evidence to a recent parliamentary Public Accounts Committee hearing (19th January 2012). The hearing was held to investigate financial irregularities, misgovernance and misuse of donor money at the Irish Red Cross.
Following the 19th January hearing the evidence given by Mr. Forde and his two colleagues, Mr. David O’ Callaghan-Chairman and Mr. Ronan Ryan-Fundraising Manager, was challenged in separate written correspondence from the former and highly respected Irish Red Cross Board member, Jennifer Bulbulia and the former Irish Red Cross Head of International Department Noel Wardick.
The Dail (Irish parliament) Public Accounts Committee then forwarded the letters to the Irish Red Cross and requested a formal response to their contents. Faced with this situation and the information contained in the letters Mr. Forde was left with little or no option but to admit the Irish Red Cross had presented inaccurate evidence.
The question remains, however, had Mr. Forde not been challenged by Mr. Wardick and Ms. Bulbulia would he or Mr. O’ Callaghan or Mr. Ryan ever have admitted on record that a significant aspect of the original IRC evidence was inaccurate? Or would their inaccurate evidence have remained as the official response on public record? We will never know of course but readers can come to their own conclusions.
In addition to apologising for serious inaccuracies Mr. Forde was also forced to back track concerning the quality and reliability of his original evidence regarding the undisclosed Tipperary Tsunami Bank account, on which the national Vice Chairman, Anthony (Tony) Lawlor, was a signatory.
At the 19th January hearing Mr. Forde was very definitive in his answers about what happened, who knew what happened, who didn’t know what happened and when people knew what happened. Much of Mr. Forde’s evidence in this regard was factually wrong, inaccurate and incorrect. When subsequently challenged Mr. Forde, on behalf of the Irish Red Cross, has had to row back substantially on his evidence. In his response to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in his letter of 14th February 2012 Mr. Forde was forced to admit:
“However I have to say that I, or my colleagues, were not prepared for some of the very forensic questioning relating to the precise detail of events surrounding the Tipperary Bank account incident through the period from 2005 to 2009”
It is highly unfortunate that during the actual hearing on the 19th January that Mr. Forde nor his two colleagues made such an admission but rather presented information as fact and accurate. They clearly led the Committee members to believe they were speaking with authority on matters that it has now transpired they were not prepared for nor were they knowledgeable about.
Mr. Forde goes on to admit in his letter to PAC:
“I am not in a position to offer a definitive account of those events, nor indeed were any my colleagues on the day”
The question must now be asked why Mr. Forde, despite his admission that he and his colleagues could not provide a definitive account of the situation, did exactly that during the hearing. They presented information as fact and at no stage informed the PAC hearing that they were not in a position to answer questions. Instead they gave inaccurate and incorrect information to an Oireachtas Committee investigating the organisation they represented and presented such information as accurate and correct. Clearly therefore the Dail Public Accounts Committee was misled. Whether the PAC was intentionally misled or not only the Irish Red Cross officials will ever know. Mr. Forde does say in his letter that he did not intentionally mislead the Committee members.
In his letter Mr. Forde further states:
“If I have offered any evidence that is inconsistent with these, I apologise for this but have done so only out of unfamiliarity and not with any intention to mislead”
Mr. Forde has admitted to the PAC that he and his colleagues, in relation to key aspects of the Committee’s questions, were “not prepared”, “not in a position to offer a definitive account” and “uncomfortable” and “unfamiliar”. Mr. Forde has only admitted this after his evidence given on the 19th January was robustly and credibly challenged. At no stage did he make such admissions during the hearing and instead presented serious inaccuracies as fact. He did this despite knowing he was not prepared, was not familiar, was not in a position to offer a definitive account and was uncomfortable in providing answers. This the Irish Red Cross did knowingly before publicly elected representatives of a national parliamentary committee. The fact that they were prepared to do so sums up the culture of the organisation.
In relation to Ms. Bulbulia’s letter (the link to the full letter is below) Mr. Forde says:
“Ms. Bulbulia’s account may well be accurate as it relates to the Tipperary bank account, but I have no basis on which to make judgement”
Ms. Bulbulia’s letter completely contradicts Mr. Forde’s own evidence. Ms. Bulbulia, a board member at the time of the Tipperary bank account’s discovery, has clearly stated on record that she, other board members and the Secretary General were immediately informed in March/April 2008 about the account’s discovery.
Mr. Forde stated to the PAC hearing that no board member knew, that the Secretary General didn’t know and only the Consultant/Head of Finance knew and that he told none of his superiors. Now that Mr. Fore accepts that Ms. Bulbulia’s account may be accurate he must therefore accept that his own statements may be inaccurate. He must also accept that his attempt to scapegoat the former Consultant/Head of Finance by stating at the PAC hearing that he did not inform board members or the Secretary General about the account after he discovered it is grossly wrong and a serious injustice to the individual concerned. Mr. Forde should immediately issue a retraction of his statements in this regard and extend a public apology.
Mr. Forde also states in relation to Ms. Bulbulia’s letter
“Ms. Bulbulia is correct in pointing to two inaccuracies in my evidence and I apologise for these. As I have earlier explained they are attributable to my unfamiliarity with these events and I did not intend to mislead the Committee”
The above is the second time in his letter to PAC of the 14th February that Mr. Forde is forced to apologise and claim he did not intend to mislead the Committee members. Mr. Forde admits that his evidence that the bank account was discovered in August 2008 is inaccurate and that Ms. Bulbulia’s assertion that it was discovered in March/April 2008 is correct. In his evidence to PAC Mr. Forde also stated that when the bank account was discovered in ‘August 2008’ it was immediately transferred to IRC head office in September 2008. Now that Mr. Forde has admitted he was incorrect to say the account was discovered in August 2008 it therefore follows his evidence that the money was ‘immediately’ transferred to IRC head office is also inaccurate. Clearly if the account was discovered in March/April 2008 and only transferred to IRC head office in September 2008 it took a full six months to do so. By providing the wrong information to PAC (unintentionally according to Mr. Forde) Mr. Forde avoided any questions from PAC as to why an undisclosed account, when discovered, would take a further six months to transfer the proceeds (€162,000) to its proper place in IRC head office. Mr. Forde is now surely obliged to answer the questions he avoided by giving inaccurate information.
The link to Ms. Bulbulia’s letter to PAC rejecting Mr. Forde’s evidence is:
It is the view of this Blog that Mr. Forde and his two colleagues should re-present themselves before the Public Accounts Committee so that additional questions can be asked now that the true facts are beginning to materialise. It is also important that the IRC properly account for the inaccurate and 'definitive' information they presented despite now admitting they were not in a position to do so. They must be held to account for doing this.
As part of his conclusion Mr. Forde states in his letter
“The Irish Red Cross has publicly acknowledged the governance failings that have taken place and apologised for them”
The Irish Red Cross fails to comprehend that words are meaningless without action. If the governance failings have been acknowledged why is it that those responsible for these failings such as the Vice Chairman and the Treasurer as well as the acquiescent, complicit and indifferent members of the Central Council and Executive Committee all remain firmly in place controlling and dominating the Society?
Little in reality has changed at the Irish Red Cross. If ever proof was needed the disgraceful performance by Irish Red Cross officials in giving highly inaccurate and incorrect evidence to the Public Accounts Committee confirms this. The culture of deceit, cover up, secrecy, lack of transparency, little or no accountability and appalling governance remains as deep rooted as ever.
This Blog article will conclude with a quote from a letter written by Ms. Jennifer Bulbulia when she was an Irish Red Cross board member and Honorary Secretary of the Society. The letter was addressed to the then Chairman and copied to the entire board and is dated 16th May 2008. It summed up the culture of the Irish Red Cross then and it sums up the culture of the Irish Red Cross in 2012.
“I have attended numerous meetings of the Finance Committee since December and have been truly shocked by the lack of transparency and proper process that has been uncovered”