Education Minister Richard Bruton has defended the HSE’s continued funding of national suicide charity Console despite being aware of irregularities for many years.
Under questioning in the Dáil, the minister said the HSE had not ignored the issues that were identified in 2009 and instead said staff had been “watching closely”.
“While this is very uncomfortable, this is the system working,” he said during leader’s questions as he defended the HSE.
It comes after RTÉ’s investigations unit revealed serious concerns around the governance of the national suicide charity.
A draft HSE audit also found that Console founder Paul Kelly and members of his family spent almost €500,000 on 11 credit cards over two years to buy items including designer clothing, trips to Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore as well as dental work and groceries.
Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry called for more powers to be given to the Charities Regulatory Authority to allow them to do the work for which it was set up.
However, Mr Bruton said given the serious allegations highlighted over Console, the investigation would fall to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.
“Some elements, such as the investigation of potential fraud, fall beyond the operation of the Charities Regulatory Authority,” he said.
“Failings in respect of directors’ responsibilities would fall to be investigated by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Issues are being actively pursued in respect of Console that fall outside the Charities Regulatory Authority’s direct responsibility.”
The minister described as “heartening” the fact that the investigation “has come directly from the HSE taking close scrutiny of charities under its framework”.
He said the HSE has a revised framework for all the bodies it funds and it was in this context that the irregularities in Console were first identified, followed by an audit and the investigation, with a new governance structure being put in place to deal particularly with the issues in Console.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the story was “amazing but not unique” and added that “sadly, we have been down this road previously with other charitable entities”.
She called on the minister to insist that the HSE appear before the Public Accounts Committee next week and that it hand over a copy of its audit of the charity.
Responding, Mr Bruton said: “Clearly, the House is entitled to scrutinise the HSE on the way it oversaw this but there is no doubt that there is a trail of activity; it is not one of ignoring the issues that were identified in 2009.
“HSE staff have been watching closely. The irregularities that were identified resulted in the audit.
“Of course, they will have to be investigated and if further action needs to be taken by appropriate bodies such as the OCDE or the garda, there must be due process for everyone involved in pursuing the steps that might follow from the findings of the audit. The House must respect that as well.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved