Gardaí interview staff at Console centre on financial issues

Charity to come under further pressure as more details of spending emerge

Paul Kelly founder of Console.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Paul Kelly founder of Console. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Gardaí examining the use of funds at suicide charity Console, amid concerns over financial management, visited its premises in Co Kildare yesterday and interviewed staff.

Five different State agencies are now investigating Console – the HSE, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Charities Regulatory Authority, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Public Accounts Committee.

Following the resignation of chief executive Paul Kelly and two directors last week, the charity is expected to come under further pressure as more details emerge over spending at the organisation. The three remaining directors have expressed serious concerns to the charities regulator.

Mr Kelly, who now maintains he has not resigned as chief executive, has been warned of the legal issues that could arise from him contacting public bodies and stakeholders. He has been advised by the charity to obtain independent legal advice.

A HSE internal audit detailed many aspects of the charity’s financial operations, including the use of credit cards to buy household items, the attendance of staff at overseas conferences and the use of higher-end cars.

Allegations

Mr Kelly has denied the allegations of mismanagement and poor governance.

Incoming PAC chairman Seán Fleming yesterday wrote to the HSE seeking a copy of the audit and details of the service level agreement it has with the charity. The Charities Regulatory Authority has begun approaching figures in the not-for-profit sector with a view to appointing them as replacement trustees of Console. The authority has powers under the Charities Acts to appoint trustees to charities under specific circumstances where the assets and operations of the organisation need to be protected.

It maintains lists of suitably qualified people who could be called on to act in such circumstances. A decision on whether to use these powers is expected to be taken at a scheduled meeting of the authority in the coming days.

The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation was given a damning interim report on the charity compiled by the two external reviewers appointed last week to investigate Console. Forensic accountant Tom Murray and businessman David Hall also provided copies of their report to the remaining three directors of the charity and to the office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Mr Kelly, who has insisted to staff that it remains “business as usual” at the charity, did not turn up at its offices in Co Kildare yesterday.

Opposition TDs yesterday criticised the charity regulator’s role in the controversy, saying the authority should have been more actively involved to ensure good governance and financial management.

Written undertakings

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the authority is seeking formal written undertakings from the trustees of Console “that the property and the finances of the charity are secure and subject to robust corporate governance”.

The trustees are also being asked to give undertakings that would allow a full investigation to take place and for the appointment of new trustees by the regulator, if required, she said.

Console’s headquarters, a five-bedroom house in a residential estate in Celbridge, is owned by Mr Kelly and his wife Patricia.