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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Stephen Wilson/PA The charity works in the area of conservation.
# birdwatch ireland
Charities Regulator identifies several financial oversight failings at Birdwatch Ireland
The regulator was informed of concerns at the charity in 2019.

THE CHARITIES REGULATOR has identified a number of failings in relation to the oversight of a birdwatching charity. 

Among these are “insufficient board action to ensure adequate financial controls and procedures”, and the “use of restricted funds for purposes outside their designated projects”.

A statement from regulator, which published its findings today, said Birdwatch Ireland’s trustees informed the Charities Regulator that they are committed to addressing the findings in the report and have updated the Regulator on their progress so far.

Concerns were raised in relation to the company in March and September 2019 and regulator appointed inspectors last year to carry out a statutory investigation into BirdWatch Ireland after a number of concerns were raised in relation to the company.

The registered charity engaged with the regulator in 2019 but as part of a review of open concerns, the regulator previously said “a matter of further concern” was found.

This prompted it to launch an investigation of the charity. 

BirdWatch Ireland is an independent conservation group which says it has over 15,000 members and supporters, and around 30 branches around the country. 

In its report, the regulator said there was an “inappropriate structure” in BirdWatch for financial governance and oversight, where the person in the CEO role had most of the approval authority and responsibility for internal control.

It also found a lack of sufficient oversight of funding arrangements, contracts and budgets for projects and a lack of compliance with the terms of funding agreements. This resulted in cash from restricted funds “being spent outside of their designated projects”.

There was also evidence of the lack of provision of timely and accurate financial information to the board, the regulator said.  

Commenting on the findings, Helen Martin, chief executive of the Charities Regulator said the inspector’s report highlights the important role and responsibilities of charity trustees.

She said: “They must be fully informed on applicable legal and regulatory requirements and work together effectively. This is a key principle of the Charities Governance Code which emphasises the crucial relationship between trustees and a charity’s senior management.

“Furthermore, the report underlines how important regular board meetings are, as this is where charity trustees exercise their collective authority.”

‘Non-existent’

Instead, the report “highlights the difficulties that can arise for a charity where there is inadequate board oversight”, and where essential internal controls are “non-existent, not adhered to, or are not fit for purpose”. 

Regarding the use of restricted charity funds, Martin said the report shows the importance of treating these appropriately and only for the purpose for which they were provided to the charity.

“Trust and confidence underpin Ireland’s charity sector and donors and funders must have certainty that the money or grants they give are used for the intended purposes only,” she said. 

“The Inspectors’ report contains points of learning for all charities, and we would encourage anyone involved in a registered charity to read the full report.”

The regulator said Birdwatch Ireland was furnished with a copy of the inspectors’ report and given an opportunity to provide an update on the matters referred to in it.

The charity’s board of trustees subsequently provided a detailed update to the Charities Regulator outlining actions already taken and those that are ongoing and have committed to addressing the findings in the inspectors’ report.

“Birdwatch Ireland continues to engage with the Charities Regulator and as part of that engagement our Compliance and Enforcement Unit will follow up with the charity to ensure that any outstanding actions required to address matters referred to in the Inspectors’ report have been implemented,” Martin said.

Birdwatch Ireland has been contacted for comment.

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