St John of God says €1.5m for executives came from rental income

Order says decision not to inform the HSE about payments was taken on professional advice

Clare Dempsey, chief executive St John of God Community Services, John Pepper, group chief executive  St John of God Group and Brother Donatus Forkan, Provincial, St John of God Order, speaking during interview at StJohn of God, Stillorgan, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Clare Dempsey, chief executive St John of God Community Services, John Pepper, group chief executive St John of God Group and Brother Donatus Forkan, Provincial, St John of God Order, speaking during interview at StJohn of God, Stillorgan, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Undisclosed payments totalling over €1.5 million made by charity St John of God to 14 of its executives came from rental income, the order has said.

The order said it did not intend to keep the payments secret from the Health Service Executive (HSE) and believed at the time, in 2013, that what it was doing was correct.

Details of the payments have emerged through a whistleblower in recent days and the HSE, which was previously unaware of them, has ordered an investigation. The largest single payment is over €300,000.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was very disappointed about the revelations concerning St John of God and added that “it seems there were efforts to conceal additional payments from the HSE”.

Brother Donatus Forkan, provincial of the St John of God order, said he could understand people’s upset after the payments were revealed in recent days but the decision not to inform the HSE about the payments was taken on professional advice.

Brother Forkan said the order was anxious to be open and transparent and had last Friday given the HSE “everything” in relation to the payment, including the written professional advice it received on the matter in 2013.

“At the time, we were convinced what we were doing was correct, above board and legal,” he said.

The €1.64 million involved did not come from public funds or private donations, he emphasised, but from rental income on properties owned by the order.

Seventy per cent of the sum related to a once-off discharge of pension liabilities for the managers concerned and 30 per cent to “employment contract liability”.

Brother Forkan declined to specify the individual payments involved and two of the executives who received a top-up, group chief executive John Pepper and St John of God Community Services chief executive Clare Dempsey, declined to say how much they received.

They also declined to specify the size of the largest payment.

Brother Forkan said consent would first be required from the 14 individuals before these details could be revealed or the professional advice released, but he hoped this would happen within a matter of days.

Mr Pepper said St John of God regretted the fact that the matter had made its way into the public as it had the potential to damage the good name of an order with an over 500-year history. “We’re keen there’s no tarnishment of reputation. We rely heavily on our relationship with the HSE and we’re very dependent on monies that come from our benefactors. The last thing we want to do is cause anxiety or needless concern to the people we serve, our families or our staff.”

Mr Pepper said his salary is €182,000 a year, which comes from private sources within the group. Ms Dempsey said the payments did not impact on spending on community services by St John of God.

Between 2008 and 2015 the group has suffered budget cuts of €18 million and this had posed significant challenges for the organisation, she said.

Brother Forkan insisted the group was in compliance with HSE policy on Section 38 agencies, which are largely State funded and are required to comply with Government pay policies.