Charities regulator has no legal powers to probe charity sector

The charities regulator does not have the legal power to carry out statutory investigations of charities — as a section of the legislation has yet to be enacted.

It comes as serious questions are raised about the future of the suicide charity Console after it emerged hundreds of thousands of euro may have been misappropriated.

The board of Console met last night to appoint a new chief executive.

The HSE has confirmed its internal audit into Console has been completed. It has asked the charity for any comments it may have in relation to the audit before it decides on any “future arrangements with Console”.

“The internal audit is now complete. A copy of the final internal audit has now been sent to the mental health division for its attention. HSE management is currently considering the content of the report and is in the process of acting on its findings,” the HSE stated.

Draft sections of the audit revealed that former Console boss Paul Kelly and his wife and son spent almost €500,000 on designer clothes, foreign trips, groceries, and other expenses between 2012 and 2014. All three benefited by almost €500,000 in salaries and cars in the same period.

Five state agencies are investigating the charity.

The latest charity scandal has focused attention on the lack of power granted to the Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA). The agency was set up in 2014.

Its website shows the regulatory power has little teeth in terms of investigating malpractice in an individual charity.

Console boss Paul Kelly
Console boss Paul Kelly

Under the ‘What we do’ section, the CRA states it does “not have the legal power to investigate individual complaints” but that if “serious risk” is identified, it may decide to take “appropriate action” in relation to that charity.

An older version of this webpage stated the CRA had neither the power nor the resources to investigate charities.

“Part 4 of the Charities Act 2009 gives the Charities Regulatory Authority statutory powers of investigation with respect to charitable organisations. This part of the act has not yet been commenced so we are not currently empowered or resourced to conduct statutory investigations of charities,” it states.

The Department of Justice last night confirmed the charities regulator “has no role in investigating fraud, nor any competence to carry out investigations in that regard”. It said the regulator currently has 23 staff, but a significant increase in its pay budget for 2016 will allow for that to increase to 36. It said Part 4 would be commenced “as soon as possible”.

Ivan Cooper, director of public policy at charity representative body The Wheel, said it has repeatedly called on the regulator and justice minister to commence Part 4 of the Charities Act so it can have the necessary power to carry out investigations.

“When that’s done, that will equip the regulator with the teeth that it needs to deal with these kinds of situations into the future,” he told RTÉ.

It has emerged that Console has no assets with the exception of two cars, a Mercedes and an Audi Q5, purchased by Mr Kelly and his wife for their personal use at a cost of €30,613 and €57,057, respectively.

David Hall, appointed by Console last week to undertake a review of activities at the charity, said correspondence was issued seeking return of the vehicles.

David Hall
David Hall

Mr Hall also said Console has a mortgage liability in the region of €500,000 on a property on the Navan Rd.

He assured the public that such a situation would never again arise at the charity. “This matter is now under control. The practices that were highlighted in that report are no longer continuing, will never continue again,” he said.

Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats said Console had no prospect of recovering from the scandal unless major changes were made in terms of how it operates into the future.


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