‘Unanswered questions’ in abuse charity’s finances

Monday, November 15, 2010

By Jennifer Hough

JUST a few months ago a new board of directors was appointed to Right of Place, a charity for survivors of institutional abuse.

It was thought – and hoped – this would bring an end to the secrecy, unanswered questions and allow for a full airing of the facts, and an investigation into past actions which had seriously concerned members.

However, it has become clear this is not going to happen, and rather than facilitate this, the HSE seems happy to sweep it under the carpet.

Right of Place has been mired in controversy since last year when this paper revealed funding was not filtering down to the membership.

Now with the resignation of two of the new board and ongoing reticence from the HSE to investigate, it seems the only way forward is for the Public Accounts Committee to finally bring all the facts and figures together.

Abuse survivor Tom Brennan, stood down after just two months as the elected treasurer, as he maintains he was not comfortable presiding over the finances of an organisation with so many unanswered questions.

To say Right of Place in Cork has “unanswered questions” is putting it mildly.

Since last December this paper has repeatedly put those questions to the HSE, which funds Right of Place, and in the public domain.

Still no answers are forthcoming. Not even for the financial controller it seems. According to Mr Brennan he came up against an unwillingness to answer questions and an apparent lack of concern about finding out how millions of euro of taxpayers money was spent over the years.

“Looking at all the money which has been spent over a 10-year period I asked for a written record of who benefited, what was achieved and what the plan was. I asked the project leader Noel C Barry and was promised the information but I never received it,” Mr Brennan said.

“Every business has a business plan and upon that you can say fail, achieved or whatever the case may be.

“Apart from people who benefited from wages, meals, travel expenses, rent and the very small number of people who lived in Welcome House and Right of Place, there is absolutely nothing to show that anybody benefited from it.”

Examining the payroll system, Mr Brennan discovered there was four people who were being paid by cheque and not through the payroll system.

There was one employee out on long-term illness but who is still being paid – though again not through the payroll system so he could not see how much he was getting, and another man living in London getting €400 a week for running an office from his house where it is claimed he is running an advice service.

“I asked what this man had achieved over the years, what did he do, what progress had he made and I was told he repatriated three people.

“I told Mr Barry I wanted to see all the employee files. I asked that expenses had been drawn down, what entitlements were, who was out sick. On three occasions he was to have the information for me but it never materialised. He could not tell me how many people were employed there. I asked to see a database of membership, it never materialised.”

Mr Brennan then asked about an accountant.

“I met with the accountant who raised concerns. They said normally they charge €1,500 to €2,000 for an audit but for this year it was so complex it would be more than €10,000.”

A letter from the accountants to Right of Place, seen by the Irish Examiner, asks for copies of travel expense claims, purchase invoices, details in relation to cheque payments, copy of receipts in relation to petty case payments for 2009 and details of members assistance paid to individuals, among other things.

According to Mr Brennan, although Mr Barry had walked into a meeting one day and quit his post, it was later asked decided he should be allowed to “retire” rather than resign.

“This means he gets all his entitlements, I asked how could we let someone who had presided over this mess go away with a lump sum and a pension.”

At this stage, Mr Brennan was seriously considering about his own position.

“I was totally and utterly frustrated. I took legal advice and was advised by my solicitor to get out.

“I put it to the new board that if we did not get to the bottom of all of this then as the directors of a charitable organisation we could be held financially liable. My own solicitor told them this and they still would not believe it.”

According to Mr Brennan, the awkward questions he was asking were not going down well and it was about this time that his travelling expenses began going missing.

He saw this as a subtle but clear sign that he was to desist from trying to get to the bottom of things.

Did the HSE ever ask any of these very pertinent and important questions?

“I don’t know,” Mr Brennan said, “the HSE was very vague.”

Indeed, repeated requests to the HSE for answers simply refers the matter to the board, although this paper understands the HSE is only too aware of what is going on.

Of course, the underlying question, is why all of this was allowed to carry on for so long.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved


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