Education Minister Ruairí Quinn has called for the board of the Central Remedial Clinic to quit as the controversy over the use of public donations to top-up the salaries of well-paid managers escalates.
Deputy Labour leader Joan Burton said the lavish salaries at the disability organisation were beyond even what the Taoiseach earned and that the charity needed to clarify how its funds were used.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Mr Quinn said the situation was “unacceptable” and the board should step down.
“Everyone in the public sector has had reductions of pay, and certainly there’s been a pay cap that voluntary organisations that receive substantial money from the taxpayer through the relevant government departments are not an exception to that rule,” he said.
He said if the board refused to resign, and breaches of the pay cap continued, it would result in “consequential actions” being taken.
Other senior Government members echoed the call for a complete clear-out of the 10-member board.
Ms Burton said the revelations about the CRC were “extremely disturbing” and that this time of year was a sensitive period for fundraising for charities such as the clinic.
“Charity donations are not meant to fund lavish salaries way in excess of what the Taoiseach is earning,” said Ms Burton. “The CRC need to clarify in relation to their fundraising, in relation to their additional sources of funding of how that money is spent.”
She said she was familiar with the clinic’s work.
“I really do think that the CRC need to come out and clarify issues,” she said.
“What happens after that depends on what they have to tell us. But clearly there are the most serious questions in relation to the governance and oversight operations on the organisation.”
Changes may need to be made in how its money is used, said Ms Burton. There were also possibly contract issues, she suggested, with the top-up payments.
Earlier, as the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee called on the CRC to “come clean” and explain precisely what payments were made and to whom, the Labour Party chief whip Emmet Stagg insisted the board should resign without delay. “They should be ashamed of themselves and should step down straight away,” he said, adding it was an outrage that the fundraising arm of the clinic was sitting on a €14m surplus while services to the disabled were being cut.
As charity collectors spoke of their betrayal, Mr Stagg called for a full inquiry into how the top-ups happened and said it must ensure it was never repeated again.
His views were echoed by the chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, Charlie Flanagan, who accused the board of the CRC of going into hiding.
He said people were extremely angry at board members who participated in the approval of top-up payments from charitable donations, and explanations were required immediately.
“I fail to see how these people can remain in positions of responsibility, and therefore it is my view that they should step down.”
PAC member and Independent TD Shane Ross was the first politician to call for resignations. Yesterday, another member of the committee, Fine Gael’s Simon Harris, said, based on the information he was in possession of, it was very difficult to see how the board’s position was tenable.
He said the fact that millions were used to top up senior managers’ pay was sickening and damaging to all those who work so hard to raise much needed funds to provide vital services for people with disabilities.
He said while attention been focused on the issues of CRC, it was important to note that top-up payments for senior managers seems to have been systematic across many such organisations which receive significant funding by the taxpayer.
“The director general of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, referred at PAC to the likely nod-and-wink culture which has existed in these organisations for some years,” said Mr Harris. “We must now get to the bottom of this to ensure that situations like that at CRC do not ever happen again.”
PAC chairman John McGuinness said he was awaiting the HSE report into the matter, which he expected to receive next week. He accused the HSE of turning “a blind eye” by not insisting on compliance.
He said if the clinic did not make a comprehensive statement and come clean on the payments to staff, it would be hauled before the committee to explain.
Earlier Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure minister, said the Government would find it difficult to ensure salary compliance in voluntary organisations because individual agreements across organisations complicated the process.
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