Tuesday 25 October 2016

Charity 'used funds for flights to Australia and New Zealand' - audit

Airplane tickets to Australia and New Zealand were paid for out of charity income to the suicide bereavement organisation Console, an unpublished HSE audit has found.

The HSE is seeking a full response from Console on funds totalling around €500,000. They were used for a range of items, including the flights and other expenses which appear not to be directly relevant to the charity's work.

The charity, which received €855,227 from the health service in 2014, will continue to be funded and keep on with its bereavement-counselling work pending the outcome of a probe into its finances by the HSE and gardai.

Founder Paul Kelly resigned as chief executive on Thursday night. Two directors - his wife Patricia and sister Joan McKenna - also resigned. An RTE Investigates programme revealed a range of irregularities, including payments of €215,000 to its directors from 2010-2012. As a tax-exempted charity, directors are not entitled to payments.

Mr Kelly, who was paid around €90,000 in consultancy fees, denies any wrongdoing.

An external review of the charity by accountant Tom Murray, and David Hall, of the Irish Mortgage Holders Association, began yesterday at the request of the board.

The charities regulator, John Farrell, said yesterday: "Where a member of the public has a concern about non-compliance with the Charities Act. We actively encourage them to pass this information on to us.

"If we believe that any charitable organisation is in breach of legislation, it is our policy to require a meeting with their trustees to seek assurances that they are in compliance with the law."

However, Ivan Cooper, of the The Wheel, a national organisation representing 1,350 Irish charities, warned that the regulator, whose office was set up to oversee the industry in 2014, is still without key investigative powers.


The regulator still cannot take action against a charity based on information brought by a third party, he said.

"Over 50,000 people act as trustees or voluntary directors of charities in Ireland, and together these individuals control over €7bn of spending on services delivered by over 11,000 organisations," Mr Cooper said.

"It is the responsibility of trustees to ensure that any and all statements, claims and funding applications they make to support their work are true and accurate," he added.

The HSE said that a copy of its internal audit had been sent to its mental health division.

"The national director for mental health has considered the findings and recommendations, and has engaged with Console and asked it for any comments it may have. Once this engagement process is complete a decision will be taken regarding future arrangements with Console."

The HSE audit alleged that Console also named people as board members who had no association with the charity and were unaware they were being listed. These included former senator Jillian van Turnhout.

It claimed Console breached Revenue Commissioners' rules which state there should be a minimum of three officers, trustees or directors who are not related.

It also claimed it produced a number of different accounts in the one year.

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