€1.6m in salary top-ups for charity bosses must be repaid

Senior charity bosses will be forced to pay back lucrative salary top-ups as part of a government crackdown.

Unauthorised top-ups “will not be tolerated”, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe warned yesterday, after details of significant bonus payments to senior staff members at St John of God emerged.

Health Minister Simon Harris also said payments would have to be returned, which could force 14 senior managers in the St John of God organisation to repay €1.6m worth of top-ups.

Mr Harris said he is “very concerned” by the pay revelations in the St John of God organisation and said the HSE is now investigating.

“I have been clear, the HSE has been clear and, today, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has been clear in stating that if any payments have been made above and beyond the allowable level of payments, then those payments must be returned,” Mr Harris told the Dáil yesterday.

St John of God is a Section 38 body, which means it is funded by the HSE and its employees are usually considered public servants.

However, the organisation claimed its CEO, John Pepper, who earns €182,000, had left the public service in 2013 and so was not subject to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) pay cuts.

Mr Harris said: “We cannot have a situation whereby some people working in St John of God are earning salaries lower than that of the chief executive and are subject to the FEMPI act, while people at the very top are earning large salaries and are not subject to it.”

Mr Donohoe added that all Section 38 bodies are subject to FEMPI measures and no exemptions have been made.

He said: “Our pay policy in relation to the health services is very, very clear here. Nobody who is in receipt of a public salary can have their salary added to by an additional private payment.

“I think it is not fair to someone who is earning €25,000 who had their wages reduced as a result of the crisis that our country was in, for them to see somebody who is earning €250,000 not have to take on board the same burden and same change.

“You can expect that if pay policy has been breached and if we find evidence of that, that actions will follow from that,” he said.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said the revelations “raise very serious concerns over the compliance of certain organisations with the standards that have been laid down by Government regarding payment of people who are delivering services paid for by the taxpayer.”

AAA-PBP TD Gino Kenny told the Dáil he worked for the St John of God services for two and a half years, “during which I met the best, most dedicated, and fantastic people I have every worked with”.

But he added that there is “something rotten” about the revelations, especially since services had been cut in the organisation. He called on those who received top-ups to stand down.

Minister of state Finian McGrath said St John of God is due to receive €132.4m in taxpayer funding this year.

“We need to ensure that the money is spent on the services, including on occupational therapy and speech and language therapy. We need to deal with the issue of excessive pay,” he told the Dáil.

Labour’s Alan Kelly said there is “a crisis” with regard to the transparency of the funding of organisations under Section 38 and asked Mr Harris to publish the audits of these bodies “in a spirit of transparency”.

It comes as the High Court yesterday continued orders freezing the assets of the Console charity for a further week.

The court heard that it is hoped agreement could be reached between lawyers for Console and the Kelly family about allowing them living expenses from their accounts, all of which have been frozen, pending the determination of the case against them.

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