Little clarity - or humility - but plenty of searching questions for CRC executives

The controversy over pay and governance issues at the CRC has posed a range of deeply troubling questions about how both charitable and State funding is being used.

Public Accounts Committee hearing   of the Central Remedial Clinic. Photograph: PA

Public Accounts Committee hearing of the Central Remedial Clinic. Photograph: PA

Thu, Dec 12, 2013, 01:00

After five and a half hours of brazen denial, long-winded explanation and tortuous grand-standing, we ended up where we started out.

We had no clarity over who authorised charitable funds to be used to top-up the salaries of senior executives.

We had no idea of whether the board would resign in light of the irregular way it hired its chief executive in the face of repeated warnings from the HSE.

And there were precious few signs of how public trust might be rebuilt given the failure of the board to admit that it did anything wrong.

Instead, what we got was a grandiloquent display that mixed arrogance with a slavish fixation on “entitlements” and “contracts” .

The controversy over pay and governance issues at the Central Remedial Clinic has posed a range of deeply troubling questions about how both charitable and State funding is being used.

The CRC’s representatives – board chairman James Nugent, director David Martin and former chief executive Paul Kiely – relied on two main arguments to explain its actions.

Firstly, it insisted that top-up allowances were part of the employment contracts of senior staff members. They couldn’t be altered for fear of triggering costly lawsuits.

This will be news to many across the public – and private – sector who have suffered drastic cuts in income.

The CRC’s representatives said they never discussed the prospect of senior staff voluntarily surrendering some of their top-up allowances.

Secondly, it repeated on many occasions that the HSE knew from 2009 onwards that it was paying senior staff unauthorised private allowance.

It was right. The HSE was aware that excess salaries were being paid. But there is an exhaustive paper trail which documents the executive’s unsuccessful attempts to engage with the CRC.

The clinic’s response to these queries was the equivalent of a two fingered-salute.

“It is our firm intention that the level of management salaries is a matter solely for the board of governors to determine,” the CRC board told the HSE on numerous occasions.

There was no appreciation, it seems, that this was an organisation in receipt of €19 million in public funds which also had a duty to the taxpayer to be accountable for the way it spent its funds.

Can of worms
In all likelihood, yesterday’s proceedings are just the beginning. The can of worms is being prised open.

Over the coming days the HSE is due to meet a range of publicly-funded organisations – known as section 38 bodies – which don’t comply with spending guidelines. And there are many more unanswered questions over hundreds of other State-funded organisations – known as section 39 bodies.

There are searching questions, too, for the HSE and why it is only now beginning to get to grips with these issues.

It could take months – if not years – to ensure all these agencies comply with State pay policies.
“There are no winners out of this,” Mr Nugent said at one point yesterday. He was right – to a point. Some executives have done very well out of this and their allowances are shielded from pay cuts.

The real loss has been public confidence in charitable fundraising, at a time when public generosity is needed more than ever.