Mr Harris insisted his and the Government’s “absolute priority” remains ensuring services continue for vulnerable people affected by suicide in Ireland.
Speaking at the launch of a €57m cross-border congenital heart service at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, Dublin, yesterday, Mr Harris said he remains appalled at the “disturbing” events surrounding a small number of the charity’s key officials.
Condemning the “serious breach of trust” between the organisation and the public — which will be examined by the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee next week — he said there are “potentially significant matters” that gardaí and revenue must now fully investigate.
“I’m very conscious there is an ongoing garda investigation, and I’m very conscious elements of that audit report will be, in my view, a matter for the gardaí,” he said.
“I think there are potentially significant matters for the Revenue Commissioners, there are obviously also matters for the HSE.
“Unfortunately, the Irish people have been let down at the highest possible level within that organisation.”
Mr Harris said that while Irish people have “a great tradition of supporting charities”, this public support is based “on the belief and the understanding there is the highest level of governance in those managing them... You couldn’t read the audit report [on Console] without being deeply concerned at the very blasé way the organisation was run.”
Mr Harris stressed “Irish people can be assured” this approach is being stamped out by the new Charities Regulator, which will be given additional powers to strip groups of their charity status in September.
However, when asked if the St John of God’s top-ups financial crisis could be repeated and if it is proof problems still remain three years after the Central Remedial Clinic and Rehab controversies, he admitted: “I cannot categorically say it is an isolated incident... I’m very disappointed with what I’m reading about St John of God’s, where it seems there were efforts to conceal what was happening.
“You can put all the structures you want in place, but when somebody signs on the dotted line and says I am in compliance with those rules, there does have to be an element of presuming they are intending to fulfill what they are signing up to.”
Meanwhile, former junior minister for mental health Kathleen Lynch has revealed she and other officials “got an inkling” of irregularities at the charity in “April or May last year”.
The ex-Labour TD speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime said she learned a HSE audit was taking place more than a year ago, and continually made inquiries until last autumn when “I was aware there were irregularities”.
She said the issue is about the Console organisation “not the service” and people need to know they can still depend on its support.