Charity directors quit after being ‘abandoned’ by watchdog

The charity regulator’s lack of any real power has come to light following the resignation of four directors from a children’s charity over concerns about governance and financial irregularities.

David Hall, one of the directors to resign from the Saoirse Foundation, said he was dismayed to find the Charities Regulatory Authority has no power to conduct an investigation.

Mr Hall wrote to charity regulator Úna Ní Dhubhghaill in March expressing concerns at what he claimed were attempts by Foundation CEO Tony Heffernan to block the board’s efforts to appoint an external company to carry out a review of certain fundraising events and a governance review.

Mr Heffernan has rejected these claims.

Mr Hall said he was seeking the “direct intervention of the Charities Regulatory Authority in the Saoirse Foundation to protect the charity and its funds”.

However the regulator wrote back in April to say she considered the issue an internal matter and that she would not be getting involved in the investigation.

Mr Hall then wrote again in May on behalf of the four directors — who included Tim Lavery, Dr Fergus Leahy and Dr Eugene Cotter — saying they were “deeply disappointed that we have been abandoned by your office and now find ourselves with no option but to resign from the charity and report our concerns to the gardaí”.

Mr Hall said it was “deeply concerning that you would decline to intervene when the public have been given the clear expectation that your office is the regulator of charities and that new significant powers have been given to you”.

The regulator responded to a separate complaint from Mick O’Shea, who was behind a major fundraising drive on behalf of the Foundation, saying the authority “is not currently resourced to undertake investigations” because the the relevant legislation has not been commenced.

Mr Hall wrote to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last week saying he and his fellow directors “feel exceptionally let down by the lack of effective regulation despite the impression being given to the public that all was in order with the establishment of the Charities Regulatory Authority”.

Mr O’Shea had complained to the regulator that the ambulance he fundraised for had not been purchased or ordered seven months after the event and he had been given two differing figures for the amount raised.

Mr Heffernan has disputed Mr O’Shea’s claims that there was a discrepancy around the amount Mr O’Shea raised.

He has also rejected any notion of impropriety around the payment of two cheques by the charity totalling circa €270,000 to overseas research bodies.

Mr Heffernan told the Irish Examiner they were annual payments that had been signed off on by the Health Research Board under “legally binding contracts”, of which the directors had copies.

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