29 June 2016
By Bryan T. Smyth
Sinn Féin TD and Mental Health and Suicide Prevention spokesperson Pat Buckley TD has called on the government to do more to regulate charities to ensure that donations and state supports are being spent properly.
He made his comments as part of a Topical Issue debate he requested following the expenses scandal at suicide charity Console. He also challenged the government on its record of providing its own public suicide preventions services.
Deputy Buckley said:
“In recent years, due to a number of scandals, there is little doubt that public trust and confidence in the charity sector has been damaged due to the actions of a handful of people in a small number of organisations. Scandals around generous salary top-up payments, gold-plated pensions and unjustifiable expense claims have been splashed all over newspapers, TV screens and exposed here through Oireachtas PAC Committee.
“These scandals pointed to then and now a need for greater regulation of the charity sector and also the need for the state to step up to the mark in terms of service provision to avoid these scandals in the future and further wasting of the publics charitable donations and state supports.
“The public were rightly upset and dismayed at the recent scandal surrounding the charity Console. This is a body, which is known across the country and widely respected for its important work on suicide prevention and working with bereaved families, has had its name dragged through the mud because some senior figures were able to take advantage of lax regulation and unchecked expenses and accounts.
“Console, of course, must take responsibility for this abuse of the trust of its supporters and those who depend on its services but the state also has a role to play which it has failed to live up to even in spite of the scandals at other bodies such as Rehab.
“Obviously, work has been done and improvement made to the Charities regulatory Authority since the rehab scandal but still we have had to rely on the investigative work of RTÉ for the truth to come out.
“Many of the charities operating in our country do so responsibly but they should not suffer for the wrongful actions of a handful of people. Paul Kelly CEO, his wife Patricia, and their son Tim all directly benefited by almost half a million euro in salaries and cars between 2012 and 2014 with a further half a million euro spent during that period on Console credit cards for items including groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips. Between them, Paul, Patricia, and Tim Kelly used eleven credit cards over the three year period.
“This egregious use of the charities funds is a slap in the face to its other employees, its supporters and the people they serve. To think of the work that could have been done with the money which was frittered away on luxuries is truly sickening.
“The government must do more to protect against these kind of abuses in future and to identify past abuses and to bring them to light so that people can again have faith in the charities to which they donate.
“I would also like to make the point that charities like console exist for the most part out of a failure of the state to provide adequately for the needs of the people. We have no state-wide crisis intervention service for adults, very long waiting lists for counselling and that is the state’s fault for failing to deliver. This forces people to provide those services through charitable bodies which unfortunately are open to these kinds of abuses.”