Friday 20 September 2019

Issue of top-up payments shines cold light on charities

AS the charity sector here struggles to digest the astonishing details that continue to emerge from the controversy at Console, yet another charities story has broken, this time regarding the St John of God's Group which is alleged to have paid over €2m in top-up salary payments to 14 senior managers in 2013.

At a time when the sector was just about recovering from the controversies that emerged from Rehab and the Central Remedial Clinic, it is once again plunged into despair because of the alleged actions of a handful of people who, many will argue, have betrayed those who have continually supported and trusted them.

In the case of St John of Gods - a well respected charity that provides training, employment and residential programmes for children and adults with intellectual disabilities - the HSE is now to investigate payments of between €50,000 and €250,000 to each of the 14 executives. Because the charity receives a contribution of €130m from the HSE each year, the organisation entered into an agreement whereby it 'shall not pay nor subsidise salaries, expenses or other prerequisites which exceed those normally paid within the public sector'.

It seems pretty black and white, yet charity bosses have this week said that making those payments was 'the correct thing to do,' based on professional advice, to 'discharge contractual obligations with managers'. They insisted that the payments did not impact in any way on the provision of services and supports, and that the money was taken from rental income.

Try telling that to the families of their service users who are forever fighting and campaigning for basic services while senior managers at the charity are enjoying top-ups of between €50,000 and €250,000. It begs the question: how does the HSE hand over such significant amounts of money without knowing how it is being spent?

The happenings in Console, meanwhile, are even more disturbing, given that the people responsible for accruing €500,000 on 11 of the charity's credit cards did so purely for their own gains, with no apparent scrutiny from anyone. Again, that this was allowed to happen is simply inconceivable.

An audit of the charity showed that Paul Kelly, his wife and son clocked up almost half a million euro between 2012 and 2014 alone on personal luxuries such as designer clothes, luxury cars and foreign holidays, as well as groceries, restaurant bills and even Rugby World Cup tickets.

This, we must remember, is a charity that offers support and counselling to the most vulnerable in society - those who have been bereaved by suicide.

It's hard to conceive that when Paul Kelly was travelling to fundraisers the length and breath of he country, meeting people who, like himself, have lost loved ones to suicide and who have benefited from the services of Console, that their hard-earned money was seldom being used for what it was intended. That is cruel and the ultimate betrayal.

The damage caused by these latest controversies is unquantifiable and there are some serious questions to be answered - particularly by the HSE and the charities regulator.

Until then, however, let's hope that those who support these charities continue to do so for the sake of the honest, decent staff who have done nothing wrong yet who will ultimately suffer because of the actions of a few.

Wexford People

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