Timing could not be worse for St John of God revelations
Senior figures in charity are not saying how €1.64m pot received in 2013 was shared
Clare Dempsey, chief executive of St John of God Community Services, John Pepper, group chief executive and Brother Donatus Forkan, provincial. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
St John of God played the openness and transparency cards yesterday in response to revelations it made large and secret top-ups to senior executives three years ago. But its willingness to put people before the media was not matched by a preparedness to answer key questions about this controversy, at least not for now.
The three most senior figures in the organisation would not say how much individuals got from the €1.64 million pot they shared in 2013. The payments were made on the basis of professional advice, we were told. Two of those who received payments refused to say how much they got, at least not until all 14 executives have consented to release of the details.
Here was one of Ireland’s largest charities with a history of voluntary input stretching back centuries found to be making substantial payments to lay managers, and not telling its main funder, the HSE. The decision to make the payments and not to tell the HSE about them was made by a previous provincial of the order and a four-man council, based on the professional advice.
Within the organisation, there is unease about the way it is governed and its attempts to cope with a difficult funding situation, which has seen Government support cut by €18 million since 2008.
St John of God is a huge, sprawling Catholic voluntary organisation that works in mental health, intellectual disability and services for older people. It receives over €130 million a year from the HSE for the services it provides for the State but also relies on donations, fundraising and bequests.
The organisation is run as a group of linked companies under overall control of the St John of God order. Because it is largely funded by the State, the St John of God Group, along with other so-called Section 38 agencies, have to abide by public sector pay rules.
The Section 38 agencies were engulfed in controversy in 2013 after The Irish Times revealed many of them were paying unauthorised “top-ups” to senior executives. The resulting controversy led to the resignation of the board of the Central Remedial Clinic and the departure of Rehab’s chief executive Angela Kerins.
Told to cease
The State was forced to soften its position on legal advice and allowed the organisations to submit business cases in support of the retention of particular top-ups. Ironically, St John of God engaged in this process by making cases for the retention of the allowances paid to seven staff, and its submissions were largely accepted.
But while it was engaging with the HSE about seven lower-level staff, it said nothing about the payments made to bigger fish at the top of the organisation. No one saw fit to check with the HSE whether the professional advice was in fact in compliance with Government pay policy.