Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mystery surrounds the appointment of new Irish Red Cross Chairperson

For the first time it its 73 year history the Irish Red Cross will, during the month of May, appoint its own Chairperson. Since the founding of the Irish Red Cross in 1939 the Irish Government has always appointed the Chairperson.

Following the recent approval by the Government of a new Irish Red Cross Constitution the honour of appointing the Chairperson now falls to the governing Central Council of the Society. The obligation on the Irish Red Cross to therefore carry out the selection and appointment process in an open, transparent, fair and accountable manner is obvious.

How has the Irish Red Cross faired so far then? Well an organisation steeped in a culture of secrecy, misgovernance, financial irregularities, cronyism and misuse of donor money doesn’t change its spots easily. Despite the appointment of a new Chairperson being only weeks away there has been no public vacancy announcement and no information or details provided on the Irish Red Cross website. It is not clear what, if any, application process applies and how one can put forward suitably qualified interested candidates. Such secrecy and lack of transparency doesn’t exactly shout to the world ‘we are committed to change and henceforth we will amend our ways’.

The Irish Red Cross has apparently appointed a five person insider Nominations Committee, three from the Executive Committee and two from the Central Council, to oversee the mysterious process. The three individuals appointed from the Executive Committee would best be described as ‘status quo loyalists’ so the two individuals from the Central Council will have their work cut out if they have any interest in appointing a chairperson committed to real change. Nowhere on the Irish Red Cross website is the name of these five individuals and their contact details revealed. The culture of secrecy prevails.

It remains unclear if the Nominations Committee will put forward a number of names on which Central Council members will vote at their May Central Council meeting or if they will submit one name to be crowned on the day.

Just to mention one of the ‘sweeping’ changes under the new Irish Red Cross constitution is the name change of Central Council to General Assembly. One can only imagine the dramatic impact this new name will lead to! Those familiar with the Irish Red Cross know that the rewriting of the constitution began over twelve years ago so it’s encouraging to see that twelve years work has led to such fundamental change as a new name for the Central Council.

This Blog is not a big gambling fan but if it was to put a few Euros on who the next Chairperson of the Irish Red Cross will be the money would be on the existing Fianna Fail appointed Chairman, David O’ Callaghan. His term of office expires on April 30th, six days from now and he has not publicly indicated his desire to step down. This combined with the Irish Red Cross failure to announce the vacancy and invite applications in an open, accountable and transparent manner leads the Blog to believe Mr. O’Callaghan wants to be given another term in office. If that is the case the Blog has no doubt the compliant Central Council (sorry General Assembly) will oblige and his coronation will be complete by the end of May. If that happens long serving board members can breathe a sigh of relief as Mr. O’Callaghan has gone out of his way to publicly praise and endorse those with the longest board service and who would have most to lose in the event of a new reforming chair being appointed.

Silence also surrounds the appointment of the first National Director of Units. The closing date for applications was 31st March 2012 so presumably an announcement should be imminent. Many comments on the Blog have been advocating for a ‘non-insider’ female to be appointed to break the appalling gender imbalance within the governance structures of the Society and to put a hole in the culture of cronyism endemic to the organisation.

As mentioned above the new Irish Red Cross constitution was approved by the Government last week. In fairness the new rules have a number of positives and as well as many negatives. The main positive is that despite every attempt by long serving board members to delay and minimise governance reform strenuous lobbying by a number of individuals scuppered their efforts. As a result there is now a maximum limit on the number of years any individual can serve on the Executive Committee (now called the Board of Directors, another of those sweeping changes!). This will ensure obscene amounts of service such as Tony Lawlor’s 21 years as Vice Chair will never ever be allowed happen again. This must be acknowledged as a big positive. It will hopefully protect future generations of the Irish Red Cross from the damage caused by poor governance that has been sadly inflicted on the Society over the past twenty years. No Executive Committee member going forward will be allowed serve more than two three year terms (six years) in office without having to take a mandatory three year break. This will ensure no individual ever again gets a strangle hold on the Society to the extent current long serving board members have.

It should be remembered that those responsible for putting forward governance reform proposals did everything to minimise this mandatory break. The first draft constitution put forward reluctantly recommended only a one year break. This was endorsed by the compliant and acquiescent Central Council. Following an enormous amount of lobbying which resulted in a letter to the Irish Red Cross from Minister for Justice and Defence, Alan Shatter, in May 2011, the powers that be at the Society introduced a three year ‘not really mandatory’ break where one had to step down for three years after six years service but only if someone else was nominated for the position. If no-one else went forward for the position then an individual could serve a third three year term, a fourth term and so on indefinitely. The compliant and acquiescent Central Council approved this amended version. More lobbying followed and finally the game was up for the Irish Red Cross.  The clause allowing indefinite terms of office if no-one else went forward for the position was removed. The compliant and acquiescent Central Council approved this third attempt at proper governance reform at its 10th March 2012 meeting.  As such a three year break after six years service on the Executive Committee is now MANDATORY with NO exceptions. This must be acknowledged as very positive and a direct result of sustained advocacy and lobbying.

There are a number of critical weaknesses in the new constitution. First and foremost it does not take into account cumulative service on the board to date. While the new constitution is clearly stating that serving no more than six years on the Executive Committee followed by a three year mandatory break is good practice such a philosophy will not be applied to those excessively long serving board members such as the Vice Chairman and Treasurer. This means that despite having already served 21 years as Vice Chairman the current incumbent, if he is re-appointed, will be permitted to serve for another six years before having no option but to step down from the board. The positive is this individual will, at most, in six years time be off the board for a minimum period of three years. The negative is we may have to wait six years for this to happen. If, however, the Irish Red Cross membership are sensible, prudent and genuinely committed to good governance long serving board members will not be reappointed in May and a six year wait for their departure will be unnecessary.

Another key weakness in the new constitution is the absence of any maximum length of service and/or mandatory breaks for Central Council (General Assembly) members. This means Central Council members can effectively serve for life (indefinite three year terms) in breach of accepted good governance practice. It is to be remembered that the Central Council is the highest deliberative authority of the Irish Red Cross, to which the Executive Committee reports. The failure by the Irish Red Cross leadership and the Department of Defence to insist on mandatory breaks from Central Council similar to that which now applies to the Executive Committee diminishes substantially the overall standing of the new constitution.

Despite the obvious deficiencies in the new Constitution (and only two have been referred to in this article) the mandatory three year break from the Executive Committee with no exceptions is a significant development. Its approval by the Government is a substantial defeat for those in the Irish Red Cross who fought tooth and nail to prevent it ever happening. It will in time inflict a serious blow to their power bases and henceforth they will never again hold the same sway, power, influence and control over the Society as they have done for the last twenty years. These individuals surely realise that during their enforced three year absence from the Executive Committee, whether that period commences in 2012, in 2018 or somewhere in between, that swift and decisive moves will be made to ensure their stranglehold on the organisation is finally broken. Should they return to the Executive Committee after their forced three year exile they will find a changed environment, an altered context and the influx of individuals during their absence who are prepared to challenge them and prevent their return to dominance ever again.

Much effort and many sacrifices have been made by numerous individuals to drag the Irish Red Cross kicking and screaming towards reform. Those guilty of wrongdoing have yet to be held to account but their disgraceful actions and incompetence are all now on public record and the truth has been exposed for all to see.

Without the efforts of those committed to reform there would be no three year mandatory break from the Executive Committee, the power of long serving board members would not have been substantially weakened and the suffocating hand on the throat of the Irish Red Cross would have grown tighter not looser. Much work remains to be done but it is clear the truth, when exposed and combined with determination, can and does force positive change. It can be painfully slow but over time persistence pays off and will bear fruit.

Like any good gardener will tell you the de-weeding process never ends, you must always remain vigilant and if you want your garden to bloom you must never stop.

To rid the grass of weed, to get
     The whole root,
Thick, tangled, takes a strong mind

And desire -- to make clean, make pure.
     The weed, tough
As the rock it leaps against,

Unless plucked to the last
     Live fiber
Will plunge up through dark again.

         Lucien Stryk, 1924-The Rocks of Sesshu, And Still Birds Sing, 1998


  1. Anonymous8:16 AM

    Excellent article blogger. Thanks for keeping us informed. I know I for one as a member appreciate it as without this source of information I would be in dark about the happenings at the Society

  2. Anonymous3:16 PM

    What is the process of dialogue within the Irish Red Cross, how do they listen to their membership. Where are their ears?
    How does this organisation act when it is criticised, does it engage to empower its membership? Does it create innuendo to create demons of its critics? Perhaps it is as I suspect a society like the Irish Catholic church an organisation which needs to be discovered for what it really is. Is it really like the three monkeys deaf, blind and dumb?

  3. Anonymous4:06 PM

    It is very interesting to compare the tone of the early blog postings to the current postings.

    Huge differences in tone, approach and writing style.

    Early blog was very factual and to the point.

    Later blog is considerably more wordy and preachy. Preferred the earlier version to be honest.

    I don't suppose that anyone has considered that many of those dismissed as "insiders" are actually trying their best for the society at this moment in time - but simply not doing it in a way that meets with the approval of the writers ?

    Anyway, life goes on !!

  4. Anonymous1:17 AM

    The elections for Central Council for the next three years are taking place around the country within the various Areas of the Irish Red Cross. The results in so far have returned the same people as before. So far then no evidence of this promised change and new blood....

  5. Anonymous2:26 AM

    The tone of the blog, as I see it, reflects that the facts of malpractice, irregularities and cronyism have been well established from the outset and there is now incredulity that Irish Red Cross remains in limbo.
    Compare Irish Red Cross to any other country's Nationl Society in Africa, Asia or Europe and you will see how moribund it is and lacking in nationwide activity and credibility.
    Now thats a fact!

  6. Anonymous3:10 AM

    Did it ever occur to the writer of the comment above above that maybe it is the "insiders" that he refers to that provide the blog with its information and that the "insiders" who want reform (although it must be said they are few and far between it seems to me) see the blog as an important ally and an important source of pressure on the Society that they can then take advantage of internally in their push for change.

    This blog has been like a detailed journalistic investigation into the Irish Red Cross. Everybody knows that for detailed investigative journalism to succeed it is usually those very "insiders" referred to above that provide the journalist with constant information. I have no idea if this is happening at the Irish Red Cross but I always assumed there was a number of Executive Committee and possibly Central Council members feeding information to the blog. I'm personally convinced its they that provide its oxygen. Maybe Im wrong but the constant supply of accurate information is coming from somewhere close to the top.

  7. Anonymous1:08 AM

    The information is certainly not coming from the new Secretary General, he has taken on the guise for which he was hired. It would appear the new leadership will certainly do what ever it takes to protect those that do not deserve protection. They will engage in providing information that is absolutley false. What will happen if/when the Irish Red Cross SecGen is called back to PAC but this time to answer questions about his former employer AIB under the PAC Banking Inquiry once it starts? If the insiders were as real as are suggested, then they are making little progress given the results of some of the Area Central Council elections with the same tired old staid blood returned. Nothing will change with these people or if there is to be any change it will be as sow as a snail. No one with any credibility would allow the censorhip that has gone on in the past and is being practiced today. I have read recent emails from members of the Irish Red Cross and I find it incredible some of the responses. Are these the people who run a humanitarian Society who would actually argue that no one should dare to contact them unless solicited. Akin to the Samaratins saying 'don't call us we will call you'.

  8. Anonymous1:10 AM

    It is very unfortunate that Irish Red Cross has chosen not to advertise transparently and openly the vacancy of its Chairman. While superficially they try to convince us things will be different going forward its hard to be convinced when secrecy surrounds the appointment of such an important position. I would have to concur with comments above that the choice of Chairperson was decided long ago behind closed doors and by the old ruling elite. If this proves correct its a very bad omen for the Irish Red Cross's future

  9. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Good luck Noel against the tyrants !

  10. Anonymous1:58 PM

    Ho Humm.

    Nothing new to read here anymore. Same old Same old.

    There will always be those that will resist and fear change

    There will always be those who are not satisfied unless change is "their change" in the format they want.

    To be honest, I think the blog is now preaching to the choir to a certain degree.

    Everyone, on both sides, has made up their minds about this topic long ago.

    While the Blog serves to inform, in no way could it be seen as an unbiased observer. Then again, that is not it's purpose.

    Likewise, anyone who holds an opposite opinion will dismiss the blogs contents.

    Sometimes I think the presentation of "Insiders" and "Reformers" is somewhat simplistic. There is no Black and White in this situation

    Anyway, back to more mundane interests......

  11. Anonymous1:28 AM

    To the poster above I say this to your 'same old same old' and 'nothing new to read here anymore' remarks. I presume you are saying the exact same thing about Cardinal Sean Brady's refusal to report to the Guards over child sex abuse? Thats also more 'same old same old' 'nothing new' if thats the approach you wish to take.

    Taking a 'same old same old' approach is music to the ears of the likes of Seanie Fitzpatrick, David Drumm and all the other incompetent bankers who wrecked this country. Taking your 'same old same old' approach is the same as turning a blind eye and Ireland is well known for turning a bling eye. A wrong is a wrong is a wrong. There is no difference between an 'old' wrong and a 'new' wrong. Regardless those responsible need to be held to account because as the quote at the end of the blog article above says, if you dont the weeds grow back.

  12. Anonymous5:59 AM

    The critical issues of missmanagement and irregularity in Irish Red Cross have not been dealt with. Hard to believe for example that the property portfolio details of IRC representing the trust of the now deceased has still not been provided.
    Such issues will not go away and disparaging remarks about this blog will not diffuse the indignation which will persist and grow stronger until there is the transparency necessary.
    Demands for transparency and accountability as well as standards in operation will continue to grow here for all charitable organisations as we move away from the unquestioning and trusting culture of the past. IRC has still not adjusted to the changing environment it is to exist or fail in.
    Those that support the IRC actively or passively in its present form are doing a great disservice to those in need whom it purports to help.

    Anyone who has worked overseas knows how difficult it is to work in conditions of corruption and nepotism which often persist. How much more difficult is it for an IRC delegate to champion better ways to do business in partnership with poor people if the IRC lacks integrity itself?
    How does the IRC contribute to the great Red Cross / Crescent Movement if it refuses to change and treats its constituency with contempt?

  13. Anonymous8:06 AM

    To the "Ho humm " above, Easy seeing that you are comfortable in you pants. Had some of them nice Ministers of God been delving in your nether regions would you be going "Ho Humm", I wonder would Justice be something you would rather have a time frame.

    A simplistic solution to a simplistic mind !

  14. Anonymous1:04 AM

    To the poster above. IRC did finally provide a list of its existing properties to the Dail Public Accounts Committee when they demanded the list. This list is also on IRC's website. It took 20 years and this blog to force IRC to release the list. The list doesnt, however, contain a record of properties previously held but sold and that is a big gap in information on properties and on what happened to the proceeds from the sales.

  15. Anonymous4:44 AM

    This comment is posted in 2 Parts.

    Part 1:

    More Parliamentary Questions in Dail Eireann this week about the Irish Red Cross. The Minister is distancing himself even further than previously now that he no longer appoints the Chairperson of IRC and only four central council members instead of sixteen. The big risk for Irish Red Cross is that the 10% cut in government funding they suffered in 2011 will be followed by more severe cuts in 2013 and 2014 now that the Department of Defence has less and less of a role.

    Written Answers - Irish Red Cross
    Tuesday, 1 May 2012
    Dáil Éireann Debate
    Vol. 763 No. 3

    535. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Defence if the current three year term of Government appointed members of the Irish Red Cross Central Council expires at the end of April 2012; if he will be appointing four new Government appointees for a period of three years; when he will be announcing the names, qualifications and experiences of his nominees; and the way the four persons were chosen. [21503/12]

    536. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Defence if the Irish Red Cross, for the first time in its 73 year history will appoint its own chairperson for a three year term in May 2012; if the Irish Red Cross will advertise this vacancy publicly; and the procedures, if any, for putting suitably qualified candidates forward for consideration. [21504/12]

    537. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Defence if in May 2012 the Irish Red Cross will appoint members to its board; in view of the fact that his Department is a significant donor to the Irish Red Cross 2012 grant, circa €850,000, and further in view of the fact that he will have five representatives on the Board, four nominees and a Department official, if he has sought assurances that current IRC members with long term service on the board such as the vice chairman with 21 years service and the treasurer with 12 years service will step down and make way for new candidates. [21505/12]

    Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): I propose to take Questions Nos. 535 to 537, inclusive, together.

    As the Irish Red Cross Society is not a State Body, there is no requirement for Government to advertise publicly in advance of nominations being made by it to the Society’s General Assembly. Following its recent decision to amend the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939, the Government may nominate up to 10% of the membership of the General Assembly. On the basis of the Society’s current overall membership, which in turn dictates the size of its General Assembly, the maximum number of Government nominees is four. I intend to propose four names for nomination by Government shortly.

    I am aware of the fact that it is the firm view of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that membership of the Society’s Board of Directors is a matter for the Irish Red Cross itself. In these circumstances, it would not be appropriate for me to seek assurances on the future make-up of the Board but I am satisfied that appointments to a new Board of Directors will be made shortly in accordance with the Society’s recently revised Constitution and Rules. The Deputy may wish to note that there is no provision in the Constitution or Rules for the Minister for Defence to have five representatives on the Board.

    A further change made by the Government’s recent decision to amend the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939 is that the Society shall shortly appoint a Chairperson, in accordance with its own Constitution and Rules. The process of appointing a Chairperson is therefore a matter for the Society itself.

  16. Anonymous4:45 AM

    Part 2:

    538. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Defence in November 2010 the former Head of International Department (details supplied) at the Irish Red Cross was dismissed by the Society for whistleblowing on a range of governance and financial matters, the unfair dismissal case before the Employment Appeals Tribunal will be heard on XXX, in view of the fact that his Department’s official (details supplied) who sits on the Irish Red Cross Board was the formal administrator of the person's internal disciplinary hearing, if his Department will be appearing before the Tribunal as a witness. [21506/12]

    Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): The calling of witnesses to appear before the Employment Appeals Tribunal in relation to this case is a matter for the Tribunal itself. My Department will co-operate fully with any such request made by the Tribunal.

  17. Anonymous10:52 AM

    Has the IRC given a reason as to why Donal Forde told the PAC that the deeds to properties not even purchased yet had been stolen in 1984, did he really think this would be believed. Dr Who does not exist !
    Honestly its all made up just like Fordes excuse.

    If one takes a trip down to the land registry office one will get a much clearer picture of exactly how much of the property story is made up.

    What happened to the investigation Pat Hogan did in 1992. Did Lawlor have these documents shredded too?

    I hope there are no history students trying to get to grips with facts re: the Irish Red Cross, as stated at the PAC the minutes were made up to suit.

    Can you trust anyone nowadays?

  18. Anonymous3:32 AM

    One of the great successes of this Blog is that the Irish Red Cross ruling elite's attempts to bring in non effective minimal governance reform failed and failed miserably. Because of this blog the 3 year mandatory break from the Executive Committee was brought in, with no possible way of avoiding it. As has been reported here before twice the Irish Red Cross had to amend their 'reform' proposals from a one year mandatory break and then from a very dodgy three break that you didnt have to take if no one else went for the post meaning there may have been no break at all, to finally, dragged kicking and screaming, to bring in a three year mandatory break. For 20 years the ruling elite resisted reform and this blog and its author, along with others, finally smashed their hold on power. Now on-one will ever again serve for 21 years on the Executive Committee like the national Vice Chairman, Tony Lawlor has. Six years service on the Executive will be the maximum before members will have to step down for a full three years. This will completely prevent individuals like Lawlor ever dominating again to the extent he and others have. These guys will be the last of it. Yes it will take another few years before they depart the scene but the process is well under way and is now unstoppable. Hopefully the new generation and IRC youth are preparing for their turn if office and hopefully they will do a far better job than their failed elders.

    Its a dead cert that Tony Lawlor will be appointed the National Director of Units. Everyone knows the IRC would be too scared not to give him the position so its likely Lawlor will remain on Executive for now but whether he does or doesnt in six years time he has to GO and GO for a full three years, something he will hate every minute of. A number of his cronies will have to go with him. This is the blog's massive victory and its single biggest achievement. Equally if Lawlor is forced to step aside from the Vice Chair position this May 2012 the blog will have scored another huge victory as anyone responsible for an undeclared bank account until getting caught does not deserve to be an honorary officer of the Irish Red Cross. Well done blog, you have been the single biggest factor in shedding light on Irish Red Cross and forcing them to behave themselves because they are under the media, public and political spotlight. Roll on those 3 year mandatory breaks and the destruction of the ruling elite. Well done! Victory is yours blogger.

  19. Anonymous4:10 AM

    I agree with the comment above. Forcing the Irish Red Cross, albeit very reluctantly, to bring in a mandatory 3 year break from Executive Committee is the single biggest achievement for all those involved in the reform of the Irish Red Cross. It was 100% resisted and those that resisted failed. One of the key reasons they failed was this blog and all the lobbying that others did with the Minister. Roll on six years time when the ruling elite will be dumped off Executive for three glorious years. If they return they will realise they will never again dominate. There days are numbered and there is no turning back now. The empire is crumbling before our eyes (slowly mind you but still crumbling).

    If Central Council members have any sense though they wont wait six years and later this month they will elect a new Vice Chairman, a new Secretary and a new Treasurer so fresh blood and ideas that come on board and help rescue the Irish Red Cross from the mess its in. History shows though that Central Council is incapable and afraid to remove the ruling elite so we will know by end of May if they are still the same or whether the likes of Tony Lawlor will lose his Throne as Vice Chairman. As a consolation if he does get forced out or doesnt go forward because of the disgrace he has borne on the Society the crumbs of the new National Director of Units will be given to him to help ease the pain of losing the Vice Chair. A bit like when Bertie sent Charlie McCreevy packing off to Europe when he became a liability or more recently when Enda and co sent Kevin Cardiff packing from the Dept of Finance when he became a liability to Europe as well.

  20. Anonymous2:17 AM

    I wonder will Tony Lawlor follow in the footsteps of Sheila Callan and have a trophy named after himself and just like Sheila Callan his minions could make him the first recipient. They could call it the Tony Lawlor perpectual trophy which will be awarded every 21 years or maybe for extraordinary lengths of service. In order to win it you would have to ignore calls for your resignation from many quarters and your name and extra long length of service would have to be regularly raised in Dail Eireann. Not sure what else they could award it for, but certainly declaring openly and transparently the existence of bank accounts would be an automatic disqualifier