THE Irish Red Cross has admitted its vice-chairman was one of two signatories at the centre of a controversy surrounding an undisclosed bank account containing €160,000 in donations.
The charity has also defended spending about €140,000 in legal fees in a bid to identify a whistleblower who had posted a blog critical of the IRC’s financial governance.
The Dáil Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday that the IRC’s board and head office were, for three years, unaware of 49 accounts containing a total of €214,000 arising out of the IRC’s 2005 tsunami appeal.
Secretary general Donal Forde, a former AIB banker, said funds raised from any appeal were now consolidated into a single account, although that was not the practice at the time. One account under the control of its Tipperary branch contained €160,000.
Mr Forde acknowledged that the charity’s vice-chairman, Anthony Lawlor, who has served on its executive committee for 27 years, was a co-signatory on the account.
He claimed members of the Tipperary branch held the view that the IRC’s head office was aware of the account. However, Mr Forde said its head of finance only became informally aware of its existence in September 2008.
PAC vice-chairman Kieran O’Donnell exp-ressed concern that it took another 14 months before the IRC’s executive comm-ittee learned of the undisclosed accounts.
Mr Forde said the matter would have been regarded as “a financial administration error”. However, he stressed that no funds had been misappropriated.
David O’Callaghan, the IRC chairman, said: “There was a mess. Hands up, it wasn’t spotted.”
He stressed that the IRC had responded to past weaknesses in a “very substantial and convincing manner”.
He also exp-ressed disap-pointment at recent allegations made against the society including claims that monies were diverted from its Haiti appeal of two years ago, that its property assets were misrepresented and that there were irregularities in its accounts.
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