Auditors met ‘considerable resistance’ from former Console chief

HSE director general to appear before Dáil Public Accounts Committee on Friday

Tony O Brien of the HSE will appear before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on Friday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Tony O Brien of the HSE will appear before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on Friday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times


Internal auditors from the Health Service Executive met with “considerable resistance” from the then chief executive of Console when they sought to carry out their investigations into the suicide bereavement charity last year, the director general of the HSE Tony O’Brien told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on Friday.

In his opening statement to the hearing on the Console controversy, Mr O’Brien said HSE internal auditors wrote to Console in April last year to advise that an audit would commence on the 27th of that month.

He said on foot of a request from Console, the start of the audit was deferred and actually commenced in mid May 2015.

“This audit should have taken approximately 12 weeks to complete. However, the audit was particularly complex and challenging and the auditors met with considerable resistance from the then CEO. The audit was completed in April 2016. At all times the auditors were careful to follow fair procedures and due process.”

Mr O’Brien told the committee that an increase in HSE funding to Console in 2013 - to prevent the collapse of a national suicide helpline previously run by another organisation - was predicated on the charity agreeing to a greater level of scrutiny and enhanced governance by the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP).

“It was this increased level of scrutiny by NOSP that gave rise to a number of concerns including Console’s continued failure to respond to requests for information, delivery on commitments to commission independent reviews of its service and failure to attend significant meetings (particularly relating to the helpline) and to their annual accounts. Arising from these concerns in late 2014, NOSP approached HSE’s internal audit division and requested that Console be included in their audit work plan for 2015.”

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Mr O’Brien confirmed that the St John of God organisation sent a solicitor’s letter to the HSE in recent days after internal auditors wrote to it last week seeking information on highly controversial payments to senior figures.

The solicitor’s letter is understood to have expressed concerns that the HSE had prejudiced the work of the internal auditors as a result of a statement published in The Irish Times last Saturday in which it said it believed the St John of God organisation was not compliant with official pay rules.

Mr O’Brien said that on 1st July 2016 the St John of God order informed the HSE that a number of payments had been made to 14 of their senior staff in 2013.

He maintained that in September 2013 the HSE had and written confirmations from all voluntary hospitals and health agencies - known as section 38 orgnisations that:

*all remuneration paid to employees was in accordance with Department of Health consolidated pay scales.

*non- exchequer sources of funding were not being used to supplement employee remuneration to give rise to rates of individual remuneration that exceed DOH consolidated pay scales.

*if unsanctioned payments were previously paid, all such payments had ceased and the recoupment of any overpayments would be pursued as expeditiously as possible:

“An important element of the declarations sought at that time was full disclosure in relation to these matters.”

“St John of Gods has declared itself as non-compliant with public sector pay policy. This declaration and other recent revelations regarding the payments to the 14staff members are a matter of very grave concern for me and the HSE.”