The Irish Red Cross was once again high on the agenda of the national parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting of 8th March 2012.
Concerns around the reliability and veracity of Irish Red Cross evidence given before the PAC at a hearing on the 19th January 2012 have increased significantly since the Irish Red Cross was formally challenged by a number of people who subsequently wrote to the PAC. As a direct result the Irish Red Cross was forced to write to the PAC on 14th February 2012 and admit sections of their evidence were inaccurate and that on at least one substantive issue they were not prepared, were unfamiliar with the topic and were not in a position to give definitive evidence, this despite failing to make this known at the original hearing of 19th January. On the 8th March 2012 the PAC Chairman, Deputy John Mc Guinness, stated in no uncertain terms:
“The Committee has received a considerable volume of correspondence on the Red Cross, particularly since our meeting of 19th January. We need to review this correspondence because, among other issues raised, the Committee may have been misled (by Irish Red Cross)”
The PAC Chairman then went on to raise the necessity of a third party intervention and an independent investigation into the Irish Red Cross
“However our examination of the issue has thrown up more questions than answers and, rather than having another wave of correspondence on the various issues raised, it behoves the Department of Defence and Minister for Defence to arrange for a third party to review the evidence and establish definitively in respect of areas that are in dispute. Until we get independent assurances there is no way we will be able to sign off on the Red Cross examination”
The PAC Chairman is to be commended for the above statement as well as his unwillingness to sign off on the Irish Red Cross issue until he is fully satisfied that the full truth and nothing but the truth has been told. It is also a serious rebuke to Donal Forde, Irish Red Cross Secretary General, who in his letter of apology to the PAC had questioned the point of an “ongoing exchange” on such matters.
In addition to discussing the possibility of requesting an independent investigation the PAC is considering asking a number of people, such as Noel Wardick, former Head of International at the Society, to appear before it. This would give individuals such as Mr. Wardick the opportunity to explain in person what really happened at the Irish Red Cross and why much of the Irish Red Cross evidence on 19th January was inaccurate.
The Chairman concluded the Irish Red Cross discussion with the following remarks:
“To be clear on what we are proposing, we will ask the clerk to examine the correspondence to determine who might be invited before us. When that process is brought to a conclusion we will refer the hearings to the Accounting Officer with the suggestion that he have the matter independently investigated. Is that Agreed? Agreed.”
This Blog has continually advocated for and put forward the view that an independent investigation into the Irish Red Cross is the only way the truth would out and the only way to ensure those responsible for wrongs are held to account. Time will tell if an independent investigation eventually takes place but the PAC hearing of the 8th March 2012 has brought us one step closer.
The Public Accounts Committee also published on the Oireachtas website the detailed and comprehensive response written by Noel Wardick to the Irish Red Cross evidence given at the 19th January PAC hearing. It can be found at:
Noel Wardick’s response to Donal Forde’s apology letter to the PAC was also published by PAC and can be found at:
The full transcript of the 8th March 2012 PAC meeting as it relates to the Irish Red Cross is below:
Business of Committee
Thursday, 8 March 2012
Committee of Public Accounts Debate
The next item on the agenda is correspondence received since our last meeting. No. 3.1 is correspondence dated 22 and 25 February 2012 from Mr. Noel Wardick, former head of the international department of the Irish Red Cross. Some members will be interested in this matter. The committee has received a considerable volume of correspondence on the Red Cross, particularly since our meeting of 19 January. We need to review this correspondence because, among other issues raised, the committee may have been misled. We are in a difficult position in that the Red Cross is not accountable to this committee. However, our examination of the issue has thrown up more questions than answers and, rather than having another wave of correspondence on the various issues raised, it behoves the Department of Defence and the Minister for Defence to arrange for a third party to review the evidence and establish definitively the position in respect of areas that are in dispute. Until we get independent assurances there is no way we will be able to sign off on the Red Cross examination.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: We have several items of correspondence that contradicted the evidence presented to us. As the Chairman noted, the Red Cross is not directly accountable to the committee. Is he proposing that we conduct an investigation into the evidence we were given?
Chairman: We have a number of options. We can conduct an investigation and ask the Department to examine the Red Cross. The other option is to give Mr. Wardick and others the opportunity to appear before the committee.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: We have received correspondence relating to the Charities Act 2009. When witnesses from the Department appeared before us previously to discuss the Red Cross, they indicated that the Act would solve many of the problems arising in the charity sector. However, the aforementioned correspondence indicates that the implementation of the Act will not be proceeding in the near future. I do not know how it will benefit us to bring the Red Cross before us again, unless it is just to give its representatives an opportunity to tell the same story. Would it be preferable to ask the Department to investigate the issue properly? I am concerned, however, that it may take the same hands-off approach it followed previously.
Chairman: We continue to receive a volume of correspondence which gives rise to further questions. We need to bring the matter to a conclusion. We can do so either by asking the Accounting Officer to conclude matters by way of an independent investigation or we can hear evidence from Mr. Wardick and others before reaching our own conclusions. I do not know if the Comptroller and Auditor General can play a role in assisting our efforts to bring the matter to a conclusion but we have to make a decision because otherwise the correspondence will continue to arrive, the accusations will continue to be made and we will not have concluded our work.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I suspect the Department will continue to take a hands-off approach in terms of investigations. I got the impression that if Ireland tried to set a precedent it would have a negative effect in terms of other countries attempting to interfere with their own Red Cross societies. If the committee proposes to invite the Red Cross to appear again I would support the proposal.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Would we give them an opportunity to state their case?
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I imagine others besides Mr. Wardick who have written to the committee and its members would also like to meet us. I do not know if the committee has previously facilitated such meetings.
Chairman: I will ask the clerk to examine the correspondence to determine whether it is worthwhile to invite them before us to examine the issues they have raised before referring the hearings to the Accounting Officer as part of a request that the matter be formally investigated by an independent figure. We could possibly bring the matter to a conclusion by these means.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Yes.
Chairman: To be clear on what we are proposing, we will ask the clerk to examine the correspondence to determine who might be invited before us. When that process is brought to a conclusion we will refer the hearings to the Accounting Officer with the suggestion that he have the matter independently investigated. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong-Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)