Sam Boal

Console allegations first came to light seven years ago: Mary Lou McDonald

The Sinn Féin deputy leader says the HSE needs to answer “lots of questions”.

CONSOLE IS REPORTEDLY expected to seek the protection of the High Court today, as the charity appointed businessman David Hall as interim CEO.

The suicide charity and its founder Paul Kelly have been engulfed in further controversy since fresh details emerged of Kelly and two family members spending half a million euro on personal expenses.

RTÉ Prime Time Investigates revealed massive irregularities in the charity’s finances in relation to cash receipting, expense claims and financial accounts.

A HSE audit of the charity found that half a million euro was spent on foreign trips, designer clothes, eating out and other expenses between 2012 and 2014 – while another half a million was spent on salaries and cars for Paul Kelly and his wife Patricia Kelly.

Kelly has denied the allegations of mismanagement and poor governance.

Sinn Féin deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said concerns were first raised about Console seven years ago.

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“It’s absolutely astonishing,” McDonald told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.  ”As I understand it, concerns were raised by the National Office for Suicide Prevention as far back as 2009 but yet the malpractice continued.”

McDonald said the public accounts committee has been in contact with the HSE, which needs to answer “lots of questions”.

“We need the HSE and the other parties to come before the public accounts committee and we need to scrutinise these matters. I would have a huge concern that as far back as 2009 something was flagging in the system.”

How is it that it took so long for all of this to come to light and more to the point, what was the ongoing monitoring situation from the HSE and others in respect of taxpayers’ money going into these services?

Businessman David Hall said this morning he has been appointed interim CEO of Console, following a meeting with the charity’s board of directors.

“The number of people making contact to assist with Console is mind-blowing,” Hall said on Twitter. “Thank you. The work they do will be protected.”

The charity is expected to go to the High Court today to seek protection of its assets, the Irish Times reported.

What happens next?

The besieged charity is currently under investigation from five state bodies. These are: the HSE, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Charities Regulatory Authority, the Public Accounts Committee and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

The HSE says it has completed its final audit and will now will now seek comments from the charity before deciding on any future arrangements with Console.

Currently, the charity has a service level agreement with the HSE, whereby it receives funds to deliver services.

The gardaí are also examining the use of funds to determine whether further action needs to taken on their part.

Hall said earlier this week he is “confident” the charity regulator will take steps to protect the charity.

Charities Act

In the Dáil today, Fianna Fáil Deputy Marc McSharry asked if the government will be commencing the Charities Act so that the charity regulator “can do the work it was set up for”.

In response, Minister Richard Bruton said the charities regulator is moving to provide staff so it can commence part four of the act – which involves protection of charitable organisations - and establish the basis under which that part of the act can be provided.

Part four and part seven (miscellaneous) have not yet been enacted. More details on the Charities Act can be found here.

McSharry said this is “not acceptable”. “We can’t constantly depend on the focus and sharpness of Prime Time Investigates when it comes to looking after the hard-working staff in Console,” he said, adding that a precise date for commencement of the act is needed.

Sinn Féin Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked if the government will call on the HSE to make its audit report immediately available to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), as well as the service level agreements with Console.

She said that the government should also insist that the HSE should be present itself before PAC next week. In a statement, she said that part four of the Charities Act should be enacted “without delay to give the Charities Regulator the legal power to carry out statutory investigations of charities”.

Bruton said that he agrees that the Oireachtas has a right to make sure that the overseeing bodies and their activities are fully accounted for before the Oireachtas.

He said he was sure that the HSE would make itself available, and he agreed that it should appear before the PAC. He added that the PAC does not rely on suggestions from him.

Publisher reaction

The publisher of a book of short stories which was brought out in aid of Console has expressed its concern at the “perturbing and extremely reprehensible” situation.

Silver Threads of Hope is a collection of stories by Irish writers including Emma Donoghue, Colm McCann and Dermot Healy. Anne Enright wrote the foreword.

New Island, which published the book in aid of Console, said the allegations underlined the need for rigorous statutory oversight of charities.

As you can imagine, New Island finds the situation regarding Console perturbing and extremely reprehensible, should the allegations turn out to be true.
Not least because the editor, Sinéad Gleeson, and the many contributors very generously donated their time, expertise, and talents to a worthy cause.
This illustrates the urgent need for even more rigorous statutory oversight and certification, otherwise it will seriously impact on the willingness of people, firms and organisations like ourselves to support the many issues that deserve our financial assistance.

Read: ‘My blood was boiling’ – Restaurateur Derry Clarke among those to react to Console revelations

Read: ‘Charity regulator ‘should have been in Console’s offices long ago’

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