The former minister for mental health, Kathleen Lynch, was aware that embattled charity Console was being audited by the HSE but said her main concern was that its counselling was not in question.
Ms Lynch said she was made aware of the HSE investigation last spring. She thought the audit was routine.
The department’s then senior minister, James Reilly, had been alerted in 2013 by a former parliamentary assistant that there were concerns around Console. He told the former assistant to put them in writing through formal channels. The eventual HSE audit was prompted by concerns made by the National Suicide Prevention Office.
The audit was due to be finished last August and Ms Lynch said she continued asking why it was taking so long. In the autumn, she was told “there were concerns and irregularities”.
“It wouldn’t have been my function or a function of any minister to control or direct the audit,” she said. “My main concern would have been the service continuing, that it was appropriate and that those delivering the services were qualified to do so.... I was assured that any money taxpayers were contributing was going to the counselling service.”
Ms Lynch pointed out that the HSE only has power to investigate how public funds are being used and that the charity regulator needs to be given oversight over all of a charity’s funds, including fundraising.
“The HSE can account for the public purse but the private contribution, we need to come to grips with,” she told RTÉ Radio.
Meanwhile, Public Accounts Committee member Josepha Madigan has said the Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) should be invited to appear before PAC.
“The establishment of the CRA by the last Government was a welcome move in terms of bringing increased transparency,” she said. “I believe it would be beneficial for all concerned, particularly those who donate, if PAC could hear from the CRA and examine its role and powers.
“Charities registered with the CRA have their accounts published on its website and I would like to discuss with the chairman and the CEO of the CRA what powers exist in situations where there is an allegation of misuse of funds within a charity.
“I would like to examine whether uniform guidelines on bookkeeping could be introduced and made mandatory. I would also like to know how quickly the CRA can act when a complaint is made.”
Newly appointed PAC chairman Seán Fleming said at the weekend that he wants the HSE to appear before the committee to discuss the Console saga early this month.
Mr Fleming also pledged that reports of unauthorised top-up payments at St John of God would be investigated by PAC.
He said the previous PAC in the last Dáil had already examined top-up payments, but this latest case was new information.
Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall has claimed that the Government and state agencies had been warned of problems with Console for many years.
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