Simon Harris calls on St John of God to repay millions in top-ups

Minister for Health accuses order of ‘diverting’ money due to service users

Mr Harris accused the order of “diverting” money due to service users to top-ups and bonuses for senior executive, in breach of public pay policy. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mr Harris accused the order of “diverting” money due to service users to top-ups and bonuses for senior executive, in breach of public pay policy. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has called on the St John of God order to repay up to €12 million it gave in payments to senior executives so it can be used for disability and other services.

Mr Harris accused the order of “diverting” money due to service users to top-ups and bonuses for senior executive, in breach of public pay policy.

He was responding to revelations in The Irish Times that the HSE has told the order to pay the value of the payments it made to executives over 30 years into its community services arm, for use in intellectual disability, mental health and housing.

The details, contained in an audit report on the charity, come at a time when it is facing a significant deficit in its State-funded operations. St John of God Community Services, which receives €130 million a year in State funding, says it is facing a €9 million deficit in current operations due to rising care costs.

The Minister’s intervention prompted an immediate response from St John of God, which said there was no reference in the HSE audit to any diversion of funds. “The order confirms that no such diversion of funds took place and there is no question of funds provided for services having been diverted.”

Mr Harris told reporters he was glad the HSE was beginning to unearth practice that were absolutely contrary to public policy. St John of God needed to ensure that all the money involved was repaid to services.

“I don’t buy the argument that because it came from a private source, not a public one, that it’s not a matter for the State. Of course it is; public pay policy is set out very explicitly by the Department of Public Expenditure. That money should never have been diverted to pay top-ups, bonuses, side payments, whatever you wish to call them.”

Moral responsibilityo

There was an absolute moral, if not legal, responsibility on the order to repay the money, he added. “We cannot have a situation where the State increased the money it pays into disability services and yet funding within those organisation which could have been used for services has been wrongly used in breach of public sector pay policy for top-ups.”

The highly critical HSE audit says the board of St John of God should seek a refund of €1.83 million in payments made to senior managers in 2013 from the recipients.

In an earlier statement, the charity confirmed it had received the report and accepted “there are lessons to be learnt”.

The order has directly subsidised St John of God Community Services to the tune of €16 million over the past four years, it said. In addition, a portion of the salaries paid to executives was funded by a management charge paid by the order to its subsidiary and therefore did not result in an additional charge to the Exchequer.

It said it was committed to working directly with the HSE on the recommendations in the report rather than by responding to “leaks in the media”.