Wednesday, May 16, 2012's concluding article

On Tuesday 29th December 2009 the GovernanceReformAtIrishRedCross blog was created and the first article written. Today, 16th May 2012, this article will be its last.

Since that first article was published 870 days have passed. The Blog has straddled four calendar years. 110 articles have been written. 1,232 comments have been posted. The Blog has been viewed 102,697 times (at time of writing), an average of 118 views a day every day for two and a half years. The Blog’s 110 articles will remain in existence for perpetuity.

On the 8th May 2012 the Minister for Justice and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, appointed two external people to the Central Council (General Assembly) of the Irish Red Cross for a three year term. The credentials, expertise and knowledge of both are impressive. Mr. Máirtín O Fainín is a former career Ambassador (Australia, Argentina, Uganda, Zambia amongst others) with the Department of Foreign Affairs. He is currently a member of the Advisory Committee of the Combined Services Third World Fund.  Ms. Mary Flaherty, a former Fine Gael TD from Dublin and Minister for State at the Department of Social Welfare during the 1980s is currently Chief Executive of the CARI Foundation. During her political career Ms. Flaherty was also Fine Gael spokesperson on Development Affairs and worked closely with European colleagues to keep Africa high on the EU’s political agenda. It is not yet clear whether Mr. Fainín and/or Ms. Flaherty intend to put themselves forward for the Society's Executive Committee (Board of Directors).

The upcoming appointments to the positions of Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer, new Executive Committee (Board of Directors), and five additional external nominees (3 to Central Council and 2 to the Executive Committee) will be finalised on 26th May at the upcoming Central Council/General Assembly meeting. The new National Director of Units position has been awarded to Tony Lawlor, current National Vice Chairman.

Readers may be wondering why this is the last Blog article. After five years (2005-2010) working for the Irish Red Cross as Head of the International Department and nearly thirty months (December 2009-May 2012) writing the Blog now is an appropriate time to pass the baton. I have also concluded a settlement with the Irish Red Cross concerning my dismissal.

As this is the last Blog article it is important to note that there are a number of people who have assisted me throughout the last few years. I will not name them all here but they know who they are. At many difficult junctures they provided me with the strength and fortitude to keep going.

On a final note I owe a great depth of gratitude to my inspirational parents, brothers and sisters, my girlfriend, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, extended family members and friends for their unflinching support and encouragement. They have, without any shadow of a doubt, been my backbone and the mainstay of my determination to continue. I thank them all most sincerely and from the bottom of my heart.

Noel Wardick

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning-Ivy B Priest


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Irish Red Cross at a crossroads

The month of May 2012 presents the Irish Red Cross with two very different roads, the consequences of each hugely significant. The decision on which road to take will be before the Central Council of the Irish Red Cross at its meeting at the end of May (rumoured to be 26th). One decision will perpetuate the endless crisis at the Society and the other will open up the way to a brighter and scandal free future.

For the first time in its 73 year history the Irish Red Cross will get to choose its own Chairperson. Since 1939 the Irish Government has previously had the honours.  The Society must therefore choose wisely and carefully. The closed, secretive and non transparent process to date does not bode well. One can only hope the internal Nominations Committee, tasked with identifying a number of suitable candidates, is busy at work. The concern is that the decision has already been made and the Fianna Fail appointed incumbent, David O’ Callaghan, will be given a three year extension.

In addition to electing a new Chairperson the Central Council will appoint the Honorary Vice Chairman, Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer as well as the remainder of the Executive Committee (now with the new grand title of Board of Directors). The current Honorary Treasurer and Honorary Secretary are Fianna Fail government nominees and their terms of office expired on April 30th. They will unlikely be re-appointed by a Fine Gael/Labour Coalition. They can, however, be elected onto Central Council via their respective Red Cross Areas and presumably they will explore this option.

The current Vice Chairman has served in the role for 21 years and in doing so has breached all good corporate governance practice. Given the many calls for his resignation he may well be forced to finally step down but as some have posted on the blog the crumbs of consolation may be his appointment as National Director of Units. No matter how its dressed up though the National Director of Units will never carry the same standing, stature, prestige, honour or seniority as the Vice Chairman role.

If the Central Council wishes to go backwards and maintain the damaging status quo they will re-elect the ‘old reliables’. This will satisfy a number of insatiable egos but do nothing for the future of the Irish Red Cross. It is well past time for passing the baton on to the next generation of Irish Red Cross leaders. Of course if the current batch refuses to go they will be forced, within time, to step down anyway for three full years thanks to the newly passed Irish Red Cross Constitution. Now that its law even the old Ruling Elite will not be able to avoid at least three years in the wilderness.

To secure the future of the Irish Red Cross the Society needs in place by the end of May a new Chairperson, a new Vice Chairperson, a new Secretary, a new Treasurer and a number of new persons elected to the Executive Committee. The Nominations Committee can also appoint three external people to the Central Council and the new Chairperson can appoint two external people directly to the Executive Committee. The selection of these five people will be absolutely critical as will the four government nominees chosen by Minister Alan Shatter. The road to modernity, competence, professionalism, openness, transparency and accountability is now wide open and waiting for the Irish Red Cross to drive down it. It’s up to members of Central Council whether they take it or instead reverse back down the well travelled Irish Red Cross road of shame, incompetence, negligence, misuse of resources, poor governance and financial irregularities.

On a separate matter:

Under the new Irish Red Cross Constitution the number of Central Council representatives an Area is entitled to is determined by the size of its Area membership. As such great care needs to be taken in how membership numbers are calculated and recorded. The integrity of the Society will be forever compromised if membership lists and numbers are ever in any shape or form manipulated or tampered with. The Irish Red Cross should consider having random and regular independent audits of membership lists to guarantee their bone fides.

The Blog has received feedback that certain Areas have inflated their membership numbers over and above what they really are. The Blog has been informed that at least one Area, in order to increase its membership, approached the Defibrillator Groups in its Area which it previously trained and advised these groups that if the Group made a donation to the Irish Red Cross every member of the Group would be made a member of the Irish Red Cross. Individual membership fees were not paid nor requested. As a result of this increased ‘membership’ it is reported the Area is now entitled to an increase in number of Central Council representatives. The Blog has no confirmation that this has happened apart from a verbal report from a reliable source but nevertheless feels it important to bring it to the attention of readers.

The Irish Times of Tuesday 8th May 2012 carries a full page (3 articles) on the Government’s upcoming Whistleblowing legislation. One of the articles has a picture of Noel Wardick, former Head of International at the Irish Red Cross, and is titled Cost of Blowing the Whistle-The case of Noel Wardick.

At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past-Maurice Maeterlink

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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Irish Red Cross evidence to Parliamentary Committee continues to be challenged

On 16th March 2012 Noel Wardick, former Head of the International Department at the Irish Red Cross, continued to challenge evidence the Irish Red Cross provided to the Dail's Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the 19th January 2012 and in subsequent letters it sent to the PAC. Mr. Wardick's letter is published in its entirety below.

On a separate matter the position of Chairperson at the Irish Red Cross becomes vacant in April. For the first time in the Society's history the incoming Chairperson will not be appointed by the Irish Government but instead will be appointed by the Central Council (governing board of the Irish Red Cross).

The Irish Red Cross has established a five person Nominations Committee (3 from the Executive Committee and 2 from the Central Council) which is tasked with identifying a number of suitably qualified candidates. Once identified the role of the Nominations Committee is to recommend a number of names to the Central Council who will then vote to determine who is appointed Chair for the next three years.

As is the norm with the Irish Red Cross the new process of appointing the Chairperson is shrouded in secrecy and distinctly lacking in transparency. The names of the Nomination Committee have not been forwarded to all members and volunteers and the process for submitting applications to the Nominations Committee has not yet been outlined or articulated. No information on the matter is available on the Society's website. Could it be that the ruling elite of the Irish Red Cross already know who the new Chairperson will be and as such are not actively seeking applications? Is someone about to be 'crowned' Chairperson as opposed to being genuinely, openly and transparently elected?

The appointment of a Chairperson in April/May of this year presents the Irish Red Cross with the perfect opportunity to begin the process of true reform and renewal. Should an individual of real independence, capability, integrity, professionalism, courage, energy and competence be appointed the Society will have taken a great leap forward in rebuilding its tarnished reputation.

In addition to the Chairperson the positions of Vice Chair, Treasurer and Secretary also become vacant in April and it is critical for the Society that all three incumbents are replaced. The current Treasurer and Secretary are government nominees appointed by the former and now disgraced Fianna Fail government. It is unlikely either will feature in Minister Shatter's four appointments to the Central Council. All other positions on the Executive Committee become vacant in April and as such members of the Central Council have an opportunity to replace the jaded, staid and ineffective group currently in place. The re-appointment of incumbents will only serve to consign the Irish Red Cross to endless years of under performance, stagnation and reduced funding.

March 31st sees the closing date for applications for the newly created voluntary position of National Director of Units (NDU). All branches have previously been served with application forms, a detailed job description and submission procedures. The NDU will automatically have a seat on Central Council thereby making the individual eligible for election to Executive Committee. It can only be hoped the person appointed will be capable, independent and not a crony of the current leadership. Fresh blood, vigor and new ideas are required. The Blog concurs with the many comments that were posted advocating the appointment of a female NDU in order to address the inexcusable gender imbalance within the governance of the Society. Should a female candidate be appointed it is, however, of critical importance that the individual not be one of the current power obsessed cabal that control the Society. The same applies to the appointment of the new Chairperson.

Noel Wardick's letter to PAC follows:

16th March 2012

Mr. John McGuinness TD,


Public Accounts Committee,

Leinster House,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2.

Dear Chairman,

Reference previous correspondence from me to the PAC, in particular my letter of 25th February 2012 and the letter from the Irish Red Cross, of 14th March 2012, signed by Mr. Donal Forde, Secretary General.

I wish to make a number of important observations and comments on IRC’s letter which are necessary once again to ensure inaccuracies are corrected and to ensure the public record contains correct and exact information.

I am, however, conscious that the PAC has already invested a considerable amount of time on examining the situation at the Irish Red Cross and I am anxious to avoid overburdening the Committee with an endless series of ‘he said, she said’ correspondence. Nevertheless this is a matter of public interest as it involves an organisation in receipt of substantial monies from the Government and from the Irish public. I believe the public record must record the facts and where attempts are made to distort such facts the public record must be protected and those facts stated on public record and done so numerous times if necessary.

I note from the transcripts of the PAC meeting held on 8th March 2012 that the members are considering inviting a number of individuals before the Committee who have not appeared before it to-date. This is a most welcome development and once again I state my willingness to appear and be questioned on public record. More importantly I also note the PAC would appear to have determined that the best way of getting the answers it and the general public require is to have the Irish Red Cross independently investigated. I and others have advocated for a long time that a full independent investigation into the Irish Red Cross is required and that until such an investigation is held the Irish Red Cross will remain mired in secrecy and controversy. An independent investigation, chaired by an individual of the highest calibre, integrity and repute with no past or current connection whatsoever to either the Irish Red Cross, the International Red Cross or the Department of Defence, is the only way the true facts will emerge. Such an investigation, if properly implemented with a focus on true accountability, putting the facts on public record, and mapping a way forward would have real potential to bring years of turmoil, misgovernance and dysfunction at the Society to an end.

It is important to note that in the last number of years there have been numerous calls for an independent investigation into the Irish Red Cross. Such calls have been made at varying times by Fine Gael, Labour, Independents and Transparency International. In addition the Comptroller and Auditor General has examined financial irregularities at the Irish Red Cross and allocated a full chapter (32) to the Society in his 2010 Annual Report. Necessary reform of the Society was included in the Fine Gael and Labour 2011 election manifestos and is clearly stated as a policy objective in the Coalition’s Program for Government. The Society was investigated by RTE’s Prime Time in August 2010, there has been hundreds of Parliamentary Questions from parties of every hue and colour and the Society has been the subject of two full PAC hearings and discussed at subsequent hearings. As such the PAC joins a long list of individuals, groups and organisations that are deeply concerned about what is happening at the Irish Red Cross. The decision by PAC to consider the need for an independent investigation is therefore welcome and timely. Its findings will also hopefully serve as a road map to a much desired and wished for recovery.

In relation to the Irish Red Cross (IRC) letter of 14th March 2012 to PAC I wish to put the following on public record:

What is most striking about the IRC letter is the absence of commentary on a number of key points which I made in my letter of 25th February 2012. I think the silence of IRC on these issues is more revealing than their denials and statements on other issues.

In relation to the Tipperary Tsunami Bank account IRC states “We do not wish to comment further on the Tipperary account references at this point”. Given that IRC gave incorrect, false and inaccurate information to the Dail Public Accounts Committee on this issue and given that the Chairman of the PAC, at the meeting of 8th March 2012, stated in relation to IRC “We need to review this correspondence on the Red Cross because, among other issues raised, the Committee may have been misled” it is probably unsurprising that IRC wishes to disengage discussion on this matter. It is in their interests to do so but contrary to the interests of the Irish public.

I stand over all my previous correspondence submitted to PAC on the Tipperary Bank Account.

In relation to the undisclosed Banagher Branch bank account the IRC appears to miss the point completely. In my submission to PAC I referred to the €8,058 as an overdraft. IRC explain in their recent letter to PAC this was a term loan and not an overdraft. This is pedantic irrelevance by IRC. An overdraft is a short term loan and a term loan a longer one. That is not the point. The issue is that the Banagher branch failed to declare this bank account to IRC Head Office as per IRC Financial Policy. The Banagher account was one of 49 undisclosed bank accounts discovered in early 2008. The fact that the Banagher branch took out a term loan of €8,058 and did not declare the account to head office until a secret audit discovered it would be a matter of serious concern in any well functioning organisation. When IRC states in its letter “Banagher Branch was not in breach of any IRC policies as Mr. Wardick has suggested” they are simply incorrect. Not declaring a bank account (and one with a loan on it) is a serious breach of IRC policy. It is therefore important to know who were the signatories of this account, were any of them members of IRC governance and what action if any was taken for this breach of policy.

In their letter IRC have a full section on Financial Accounts of the Society. I do not intend to repeat at length what I have stated in detail in previous submissions other than to state that I stand over everything previously submitted. In their most recent letter IRC, once again, fails to address the FACT that as an organisation IRC has never once in its 72 history conducted a full organisational wide external audit as they are OBLIGED to do under their own Rules of the Society. The IRC is in breach of its own rules by restricting its annual audit to its head office only. By doing so its 145 Branches, 26 Areas and 4 Regions, which have millions of Euros of publicly donated money on their books, have never been formally externally audited and consolidated into one set of national Irish Red Cross accounts. It is inexplicable that an organisation would not be externally audited in its entirety. IRC’s auditors, who are the subject of an investigation by the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (CARB) because of their handling of the IRC audit, have confirmed in writing that the IRC is in breach of its own rules by not conducting a full organisational wide audit. This can be provided to PAC if required.

In relation to the satisfaction or otherwise of the auditors vis a vis IRC accounts I refer again to the statement by the IRC Secretary General at the 19th January 2012 PAC hearing where he stated the auditors were “unconditionally and absolutely” satisfied with the Society. Any examination of the management letters written by the auditors, BDO, over the last number of years, which the Comptroller and Auditor General also referenced in his 2010 annual report, would clearly contradict this view. Very serious concerns were raised by the auditors in these letters. I would also make the point that the list of discredited audit reports that have materialised in Ireland and overseas in recent years raise serious questions about the reliability of any audit statement that says ‘a true and fair’ view. As an example I have no doubt the audit report of AIB in 2007, 2008 etc presented the bank’s accounts as ‘true and fair’ but despite this the actual reality of spectacular mismanagement, greed and incompetence was not revealed, disclosed or referenced. As we now know AIB had to be bailed out to the tune of billions of Euros by the Irish taxpayer in order to prevent a systemic collapse of the Irish banking system. Other notable examples of companies that received a ‘true and fair’ statement from their auditors include Enron, Lehman Brothers, Anglo Irish Bank, Irish Nationwide etc etc, all now bust. In addition and to demonstrate the point that audited accounts of organisations are no longer considered sufficiently reliable when determining the overall financial health and capacity of an organisation Irish Aid, as part of its funding application process, requests copies of both audited accounts AND auditors management letters.

The Irish Red Cross accepts that it does not prepare its accounts based on the Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) for Charities. Addressing this has been long overdue and the failure to implement SORP reflects poorly on the financial capacity of the Society. It is now standard practice for charities to prepare their accounts in compliance with SORP and many Irish charities have been doing so for years. The Irish Red Cross has been in breach of SORP in relation to its property portfolio because of its failure to disclose the majority of its properties in its financial statements. This breach is recorded and noted in the externally audited accounts which IRC continually reminds us are a “true and fair” view of the Society. In addition the Irish Red Cross has been a recipient of Irish Aid funding over a number of years. It is my understanding, and I stand corrected if I am wrong, that recipients of Irish Aid funding must prepare their accounts according to SORP standards.

Regarding the Haiti earthquake appeal the IRC continues to insist they did not incorrectly allocate over €600,000 to their general domestic fund instead of the Haiti appeal. As Head of the International Department of the Irish Red Cross at the time I stand over my claim that they did. It was morally and ethically wrong of Irish Red Cross to do so. The IRC letter states that “our unattributable donors are systematically challenged to establish their wishes or preferences and monies that remain unattributable to a specific cause are then allocated to an unrestricted fund”. If in issuing this statement IRC is implying that during the Haiti earthquake appeal donors who contributed unspecified income were “systematically” contacted to determine where exactly they wished their money to be allocated to I can state categorically they were not. Given the hundreds and thousands of small unspecified donations that come into the IRC during a major international disaster contacting individual donors would simply not be possible. The IRC has not done so during such appeals and any implication that they have is false.

It is also important to restate what I said about the General domestic fund, to which IRC allocates all unspecified donations. I stated in a previous submission to PAC that “The balance was...put into the General domestic account where it can be used for a variety of purposes including administration and general overheads”. It is clear from this statement I did not claim that the money is solely used for ‘administration and general overheads’. The important point is that the money is used solely for domestic purposes when in fact such monies were intended by donors for overseas appeals.

In relation to the specific figures I provided PAC outlining monies allocated to the General domestic fund and raised during the Haiti appeal I stand over these figures. The information on which the figures are based was provided to me while I was employed by the Irish Red Cross by two members of the senior management team at the time. I will not name them in this correspondence but am prepared to do so along with their positions if specifically requested by the PAC. I will also share such information with any independent investigation should one be established.

In their attempts to reject my assertions IRC in fact prove my point that the General Fund is a domestic only fund where overseas appeal money should never be allocated as once done it never gets spent on overseas activities. The list of activities provided by IRC outlining which activities the General fund is spent on prove my point exactly that the fund is “a domestic account used for a variety of expenditures including administration and overheads”. Most of the activities listed such as youth programming, community services etc are provided by volunteers free of charge and as such related costs are in fact primarily administration, overheads and salaries. It is also very important to point out that the annual fee paid to the International Committee of the International Red Cross (ICRC) is paid from the Government’s grant in aid and the contribution to the IFRC is an annual administrative membership fee that goes to an administrative IFRC account. It is misleading by IRC to give the impression that this therefore proves the General Fund is somehow used for international activities when it is not. At no stage during my employment with IRC did the Society allocate any money from the General Fund to international activities. No General Funds monies are spent on overseas staff or programs or activities and they never have been. And therein lies the problem because overseas monies have been allocated in their millions to the General Fund. No amount of denials by IRC changes the fact that millions of Euros of publicly donated money for overseas disaster appeals was NEVER sent overseas. This is a practice that has gone on for twenty years. I look forward to the independent investigation verifying this.

In relation to the issue of a legacy donation in 2010 I recommended an investigation to determine the veracity of the donation. No allegation was made by me so therefore IRC’s rejection of my ‘allegation’ is totally unnecessary. A call for a matter to be examined is not an allegation so to say it is “untrue” as IRC does is meaningless. It would, however, be important to determine how this legacy was spent. During my time as a senior manager all legacies were spent covering domestic expenses and activities unless the donor specifically restricted the donation. No ‘unrestricted’ legacy received during Oct 2005-Nov 2010 was ever used on overseas programming as the IRC would not permit such money to be spent on its overseas activities. I sincerely doubt that those families who made such legacies to the IRC were ever made aware of this.

In relation to IRC properties I do not intend to re-iterate the extensive correspondence submitted to PAC to date except to say that I stand everything previously stated. The facts on the undisclosed IRC property portfolio over an extensive period of time in breach of accounting practice speak for themselves as do the auditor’s notes in the IRC accounts which couldn’t be any clearer. It is also important to note that the first time a list of IRC properties was ever made known to board members was when the list was submitted to the PAC on 2nd February 2012 following a request from PAC members. IRC has been under pressure to address the property issue since 1992. Without concerted pressure in recent years from former staff and former board members as well as the media and politicians including members of PAC and the exposure of numerous scandals within the Society it’s questionable whether the matter would ever have been addressed satisfactorily.

The IRC letter makes a remarkable statement regarding various drafts and texts of the new IRC Constitution, a statement which clearly proves the undemocratic nature of the organisation and the presumption of power, unilateral decision making and control that exists amongst those at the top of the Society.

In previous correspondence to the PAC I outlined the reasons why the supposed 3 year mandatory break (after six years on the board) was not in fact 100% mandatory because the IRC Constitution only made it mandatory if another person went forward for the position. If no-one else went forward then the incumbent could serve for a third three year term and so on indefinitely so long as no-one else went forward. The Constitution with this clause in it was approved and endorsed by the IRC Central Council on 28th May 2011[1]. No other individual, group or committee within the IRC has the authority to amend or reword the constitution once approved other than another vote of the Central Council. However, the IRC letter of 14th March 2012 clearly admits that the wording of the constitution as approved by the Central Council on 28th May 2011 was changed in August 2011. The IRC letter states “the clause to which he (Noel Wardick) refers was in an earlier draft and was removed in August last year (2011)”. Under IRC laws and regulations and under the legislation that underpin them there is no authority to alter the wording of the approved constitution other than by a vote of the Central Council. No Central Council meeting took place in August 2011 and therefore no vote took place by the Central Council to remove such a clause. No such vote took place at the December 2011 Central Council meeting. Therefore whoever claims to have altered the wording of the constitution in the absence of a vote by Central Council clearly acted ultra vires and as such this means the removal of the clause was null and void. Therefore statements issued by IRC during the PAC hearing of 19th January 2012 in response to a question asked by Deputy Eoghan Murphy, Fine Gael, WERE false and inaccurate.

On 10th March 2012 the Central Council of the IRC convened. Once again a reworded constitutional text was presented to members whereby the three year mandatory break was amended for the second time. The revised wording removed the possibility of avoiding the three year break if no-one else presented for the post. As a result a member of the Executive Committee is compelled to step down after serving two 3 year terms regardless of whether someone else is nominated for the post or not. The Central Council voted to accept the revised wording. As such the revised wording came into force for the FIRST time on 10th March 2012. It did not come into force in August 2011 as the authority to make the amendment simply did not exist.

The fact that the IRC letter of 14th March confirms certain individuals believe they have powers to unilaterally alter the constitution of the Society in the absence of Central Council approval is cause for deep and fundamental concern.

The amendment to the constitution which now compels members of the Executive Committee to step down after 6 years with no wriggle room to remain on is a welcome development and is a direct result of lobbying and pressure by a number of individuals. What remains seriously flawed in the new constitution is the absence of any acknowledgement of accumulated service to date or retrospection. As such long serving board members can continue to serve for another six years. In one case, the national vice chairman, this would bring his service to 27 years on the board, making a mockery of all claims to good governance.

The IRC letter also attempts to mistakenly imply that the Society, under the Acting Chairmanship of the Treasurer, Mr. Ted Noonan, willingly, readily and enthusiastically decided to instigate an independent investigation into the Tipperary Tsunami bank account in the last quarter of 2010. The reality is the IRC had covered up the matter since the account was first discovered in March/April 2008 but because of sustained and severely critical media and political pressure including an RTE Prime Time investigation in August 2010 the IRC’s inaction and refusal to investigate became utterly untenable. Under ferocious pressure they caved in and announced in September 2010 that an independent investigation was to commence. The IRC, in its letter of 14th March 2012, uses this to present Mr. Noonan in a favourable light. What the letter neglects to explain is that Mr. Noonan was the Treasurer of the Society at the time (as well as temporary Acting Chair) and from the time of his appointment as Treasurer in June 2009 until fifteen months later he never once sought to examine or have the undeclared Tipperary tsunami account (or the 48 other undeclared accounts) investigated.

Despite ‘announcing’ an independent investigation in September 2010 four weeks later the IRC cancelled the investigation in favour of a highly compromised internal review. Having announced an independent investigation as Acting Chairman and informed all IRC Central Council members, Executive Committee members, Working Group members, Area Secretaries, Branch Secretaries, Regional Directors, Area Directors and all staff in a written memo as well as the national media there is no evidence that Mr. Noonan opposed or sought to prevent the complete reversal of this decision four weeks later.

In Mr. Noonan’s memo of 3rd September 2010 announcing the independent investigation he also stated the following:

To have the communities we seek to serve question our integrity and motives is an insult to everyone in the Irish Red Cross who have given so much of themselves to help others

The above by Mr. Noonan as Acting Chairperson of the IRC is a shocking and revealing insight into the culture and mentality of those who lead the Society. For the IRC to be challenged, questioned or criticised was to them utterly unacceptable, unfathomable and intolerable. Mr. Noonan’s words sent a chilling message to all within the not question us. Mr. Noonan remains IRC Treasurer to this day.

In the IRC letter of 14th March the Society attempts to discredit my account of what happened regarding the Tipperary bank account but they do so in a manner unbecoming of a Red Cross national society. They cannot provide a single fact that actually proves my account inaccurate but instead they use pejorative and negative language in a ‘standard operating procedure’ widely used by lawyers when trying to damage truth telling witnesses.

In my letter of 25th February 2012 to PAC I noted the following regarding an email I sent in 2008 that clearly disproves evidence given by the IRC at the 19th January PAC hearing:

It is important to note that the email referred to above has been reviewed by the Irish Red Cross Chairman, David O’ Callaghan and therefore he has been fully aware of it since soon after his appointment

In the IRC letter of 14th March the Society makes no reference to the above statement and by doing so it is reasonable to deduce that they do not contest it and thereby accept their account of events relating to the Tipperary account to be inaccurate.

During the PAC hearing the IRC made false and damaging statements about the former Finance Consultant/Acting Head of Finance/Acting Secretary General concerning his role and actions around the Tipperary tsunami bank account. While the Society did not name the individual all those familiar with the IRC know the name of the individual they were referring to. It is critically important that the IRC issue a public apology to the individual concerned as they have wronged his name and character.

The PAC has wisely discussed the necessity of requesting an independent investigation into the affairs of the Irish Red Cross. I stand over my assertions to-date and as stated many times I am prepared to appear on record before the PAC. I am also prepared to stand up in a court of law should that become necessary in the future. I will also cooperate fully with any independent investigation once established.

For too long in Ireland those responsible for wrongdoing have not been held to account. The Irish Red Cross is no exception. A robust investigation with a wide remit led by a person of true independence has the potential to bear witness to the truth. I have no doubt the truth, once established and published, will vindicate those who have suffered at the hands of IRC for insisting on unconditional integrity, competence, good governance, honour and sound financial stewardship.

I believe the request for a truly independent investigation will meet strong resistance as there are powerful, influential and well connected people and at least one government department that would much rather allow ‘sleeping dogs lie’. I can only hope the PAC is not dissuaded from its decisions.

Yours sincerely,

Noel Wardick

[1] It is to be noted that the original text of the constitution to be put before the Central Council only contained a mandatory one year break but 12 days before the Central Council meeting of 28th May 2011 the Minister for Justice & Defence wrote IRC a strongly worded letter outlining what he regarded as good governance and appropriate board tenures. This letter was not shared with Central Council members, in flagrant breach of good governance, but the draft text of the constitution was amended at the last minute to increase the one year mandatory break to a qualified three year mandatory break

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Parliamentary Committee to request an independent investigation into Irish Red Cross

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:[PAC-R-327]Correspondence-3.1.pdf

Noel Wardick’s response to Donal Forde’s apology letter to the PAC was also published by PAC and can be found at:[PAC-R-345]Correspondence-3.19.pdf

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

First Page Previous Page Page of 4 Next Page Last Page

Chairman: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness The first item is the minutes of the meeting of 23 February 2012. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed. Most matters arising from the minutes will be dealt with during the course of our agenda.

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: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on 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: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness 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: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on 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: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness 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: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on 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.

Chairman: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness What does Deputy Eoghan Murphy suggest in regard to Mr. Wardick and others?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy Would we give them an opportunity to state their case?

Chairman: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness We could say that we are finalising matters by allowing them to state their case.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on 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: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness 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: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy Yes.

Chairman: Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness 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)