Children’s charity boss rejects criticisms

The chief executive of a children’s charity from which four directors resigned last week citing governance concerns has rejected suggestions of financial impropriety or any attempt by him to block a governance review.

Tony Heffernan, who set up the Saoirse Foundation, named after his daughter who died from Battens Disease, also said he was “very happy” for the gardaí to investigate a complaint from one of the directors that challenges his claim that the charity’s ambulance was targeted by a thief at last year’s National Ploughing Championship.

The alleged theft generated significant media coverage and the public dug deep to help out, with an estimated €40,000 received in donations.

However director David Hall, one of the four to resign, wrote last week to the Garda Fraud Squad alleging to have CCTV footage from inside the ambulance which shows a theft did not occur.

At the time, Mr Heffernan said equipment worth in the region of €800 was taken including leads for oxygen and saturation and pulse and blood pressure equipment. Yesterday he said the theft involved “consumables, non drug-related items”.

He also rejected the suggestion that media had been made aware of the theft before gardaí, saying he personally reported the matter to gardaí at the ploughing championships.

Mr Heffernan’s son Liam also died of Battens Disease. Both children died at age five.

When contacted by the Irish Examiner, three of the directors who resigned, including entomologist Tim Lavery and consultant paediatrician Dr Fergus Leahy, as well as David Hall, said they had resigned due to governance issues that had not been addressed.

The Foundation’s directors had passed a resolution at a board meeting of February 25 last to initiate an immediate governance review using named independent advisers who would look at the charity’s day-to-day operations and particular identified fundraising events, including the Dingle to Dublin Megapush, where an imitation Bumbleance was pushed to Dublin, arriving on All-Ireland weekend last September, with the objective of raising money to purchase a second Bumbleance.

However, the organiser, Mick O’Shea, wrote to Mr Heffernan in April saying he could not continue to work with the Saoirse Foundation because seven months after the Megapush had taken place, there was still no new Bumbleance and no date for delivery. Mr O’Shea said he was requesting the return of funds immediately.

He wrote to the charity regulator questioning the Saoirse Foundation’s accounting procedures, saying there was a circa €70,000 discrepancy between the first figure given for the Megapush and the second. Mr Heffernan blamed the delay in the ambulance purchase on the ambulance builders. He said yesterday that Mr O’Shea’s suggestion of a €70,000 discrepancy was “completely incorrect”.

Mr Heffernan said he had also written to the charity regulator Úna Ní Dubhghaill and she had said the most appropriate way to deal with the issues raised was to do so internally.

He said he had no objection to a governance review “by any of the big four” as long as it had a timeline and financial cap, which he said the review requested by the directors lacked.

The latest directors to resign are in addition to four more resignations between November last year and February this year.

 

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