Flailing about is not helping Irish Cancer Society

Has the Irish Cancer Society suffered irreparable harm from the grant cuts controversy?

Aishling O’Herlihy, Susan Humphreys and Vivian O’Brien  at the launch of the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day 2016. Photograph: Andres Poveda

Aishling O’Herlihy, Susan Humphreys and Vivian O’Brien at the launch of the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Day 2016. Photograph: Andres Poveda

 

The squall that buffeted the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) this week has its origins in recent controversies affecting the charity sector.

All charities have suffered a slide in donations as fallout from scandals in Rehab and other organisations. Add to this the economic downturn and the result has been to place many organisations under financial pressure.

Even big charities like the ICS, with a turnover of almost €20 million and branches throughout the country, have been hit. Organisations have had to cut services, staffing and pay. It opted to close a financial support programme that helps families with cancer, a decision that was portrayed as a selfish act taken by cosseted executives.

It pointed out that other measures had been attempted to bridge a near €1 million shortfall, including redundancies and the non-filling of vacancies and maternity leave, as the clamour rose on social media and Liveline.

Critics took aim at chief executive John McCormack and his €145,000 salary plus pension and company car, the fact that 12 staff earn over €70,000 and the €12 million valuation of its Northumberland Road headquarters.

A public relations disaster unfolded, starting with the announcement of a cutback just days before the main fundraising campaign gets under way. As the backlash began, the charity flailed about with a run of poor media appearances and then tried to claw back lost ground by making concessions.

On Wednesday, it announced it was reversing the decision, though the U-turn applies only to support for children. By yesterday, speaking at the Daffodil Day launch, Mr McCormack was offering €10,000 of his salary to help fund the support fund for children. In reputational terms, it was too little, too late.

Questions remain

The society is an effective lobbyist. Cancer has its own programme in the health service and children get medical cards automatically.

These things didn’t happen in a vacuum. They cost money and, ultimately, this has to come from the public.