Red Cross to face questions on overseas aid donations

 

THE IRISH Red Cross society is to be asked to respond to allegations that millions of euro, much of which was collected for overseas aid, was retained by the society in domestic accounts.

The Dáil Committee on Public Accounts agreed yesterday to invite the Red Cross to answer questions of corporate governance, including allegations that some €160,000 collected for those affected by a tsunami in Asia remained for a number of years in a bank account in Tipperary.

Committee chairman John McGuinness said similar complaints had been received, including one relating to another instance of €600,000 that had allegedly been retained following a collection in February 2010. He said the overall figure mentioned in this complaint was “millions”.

Mr McGuinness proposed the invitation at the suggestion of Eoghan Murphy TD (FG) after the committee was told by Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley the Red Cross was largely beyond his remit.

The committee was told the Department of Defence, which provides a block grant of €1 million a year to the Irish Red Cross as well as appointing a chairman and about one-third of the Red Cross “council”, had no power to direct the organisation.

At a discussion on financial control in the Irish Red Cross Society, secretary general of the department Michael Howard told committee members: “The Government of Ireland cannot hold the Red Cross to answer.”

He said it was very important to understand no member of the Red Cross was accused of misappropriating money, and while “a number of deficiencies were exposed”, new corporate governance controls were being put in place.

Among the deficiencies was the discovery in recent years of some 49 bank accounts, one of which, in Co Tipperary, contained some €160,000, he acknowledged.

Labour TD Michael McCarthy repeatedly asked Mr Howard when his department had been made aware of the complaints, and what action it had taken. Mr Howard said he could not be certain regarding the complaints, but he had been assured by the society that when people made a donation to it, normal International Red Cross best practice was followed.

This would involve the society making a specific appeal for particular disaster relief, and all donations received for that purpose would serve that purpose. He said in times of specific appeals it was frequently the case that normal donations to the Irish Red Cross, outside the disaster relief appeal, would be received. This latter collection was considered available to the society domestically.

Simon Harris (FG) asked what was the point of having a Government appointing a chairman and about one-third of the council of the Red Cross if they were not available to report on uses of taxpayers’ money.