Pieta to take over Console services

Suicide charity Pieta House is taking over services previously operated by Console in a deal finalised yesterday to ensure minimum disruption to clients.

The transfer of helpline services is already completed under arrangements that were outlined yesterday at the High Court. It appointed a provisional liquidator to Console after hearing that it was €294,000 in debt and unable to ensure its services could be maintained.

The HSE has been providing funding to three of Console’s services — the 24/7 suicide helpline, the suicide bereavement liaison service, and the suicide bereavement counselling service.

The health authority, together with the interim chief executive for Console, David Hall, was involved in discussions with similar support organisations on maintaining the service in recent weeks.

Currently, 314 people receive one-to-one counselling from Console, while its helpline receives an average 29 calls every day. Mr Hall encouraged all staff and service users to be patient and to engage fully with Pieta House during this period of change.

“Use the services. They are now in safe hands,” said Mr Hall. He was made interim chief executive after Console founder Paul Kelly stepped down from the job in the wake of revelations last month about spending of the charity’s funds.

Yesterday afternoon, the HSE asked representatives from Pieta House to Dr Steeven’s Hospital in Dublin to recommence discussions on taking over Console’s services with immediate effect.

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At a press briefing later, Pieta House chief executive Brian Higgins said everything possible would be done to ensure that clients of Console receive the same high-quality service.

“For us, it is also crucial to assure our existing clients, supporters and staff there will be no impact on the counselling services we currently offer to people in suicidal crisis and people who self-harm,” said Mr Higgins.

Mr Higgins said the 24/7 helpline (1800 247 247), now being managed by Pieta House, was up and running. He said the charity aimed at having bereavement counselling and liaison services to former Console clients “up and running” as soon as possible.

He hoped that, where possible, Console counsellors would be given contracts by his charity and that Pieta House would be able to rent the premises formerly occupied by Console.

HSE national director of mental health services Anne O’Connor and the minister of state for mental health, Helen McEntee, thanked Console staff for continuing to provide essential services in what must have been a very distressing period for them.

Mr Hall expects staff to be made redundant today but he was hopeful that that State redundancy scheme would “kick in” for them.

The High Court heard yesterday that the charity employs 12 people full-time and contracts 60 counsellors around the country, but €74,421 in wages falls due to staff next Wednesday.

The Revenue Commissioners were owed €77,500, and most of the remaining creditors are suppliers owed €90,860.

HSE officials will be quizzed on the issue when they go before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee this morning.

The hearing is scheduled to look at HSE controls on how taxpayers’ money is used by voluntary hospitals and charities which it funds, but a major focus will be on its monitoring of Console before the recent audit of the organisation.

Health Minister Simon Harris last night said that it was regrettable that the issues around spending seemed to go on for years.

“With the benefit of hindsight we all wish it was identified sooner,” he told RTÉ’s Six One.

National Office for Suicide Prevention director Gerry Raleigh said a number of other organisations, such as the Samaritans, Aware, Grow, and Shine also offered to help.

News: 8

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