Governance ‘failings’ putting ISPCA at risk, former chief claims

Watchdog investigating former animal welfare charity executive’s protected disclosure

Former ISPCA chief Andrew Kelly has   begun legal proceedings claiming unfair dismissal from his role. Photograph: Eric Luke

Former ISPCA chief Andrew Kelly has begun legal proceedings claiming unfair dismissal from his role. Photograph: Eric Luke

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The board of the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) has “consistently failed” to meet governance standards, putting the charity at risk of “financial and reputational damage”, its former chief executive has claimed.

The Charities Regulator is investigating a number of claims made by Andrew Kelly, former head of the animal welfare charity, about alleged governance shortcomings.

The claims were made in a whistleblower’s report, known as a protected disclosure, sent to the regulator last month, before Mr Kelly was removed as chief executive.

The disclosure, seen by The Irish Times, claims the board of the charity had “consistently failed in its duty to ensure proper governance”, with 10 directors resigning over the last year and a half.

A recent spate of resignations had left a “significant skills gap” on the board, Mr Kelly told the regulator. “I have raised my concerns with the board of directors directly about several issues, including a risk of financial and reputational damage to the ISPCA,” the disclosure said.

Mr Kelly, who had been chief executive since 2014, said the board had failed to properly deal with complaints he filed against two directors.

The charity has been at the centre of significant turmoil in recent weeks. The chair of the board, Fiona Squibb, and another member, Seamus Counihan, had been suspended pending the outcome of grievance procedures lodged by Mr Kelly in recent months.

Last month Ms Squibb took a High Court action to overturn her suspension, claiming it had been unlawful, unfair and fundamentally flawed.

In a March 10th hearing, Justice Leonie Reynolds urged Ms Squibb to seek mediation with the charity, given the high costs of litigation. A number of days later Ms Squibb and Mr Counihan were reinstated to the charity’s board.

Amid the controversy four other members of the board resigned, a number of whom had been independent directors. The majority of the board is now made up of members linked to local ISPCA volunteer groups.

The ISPCA then announced late last month that Mr Kelly was no longer working with the charity. The former chief executive has since begun legal proceedings claiming unfair dismissal from his role. Mr Kelly did not respond to requests for comment.

The protected disclosure was sent to the Charities Regulator a number of days after the High Court hearing, which had “damaged the reputation” of the charity, Mr Kelly wrote.

The charity’s insurers had raised concerns on foot of the media coverage, which he claimed could lead to a “significant increase” in its premiums.

Mr Kelly criticised the current make-up of the board, stating the high proportion of directors drawn from local ISPCA groups could lead to “conflicts of loyalty”.

The board also lacked expertise in areas such as human resources, fundraising, public relations, and had no members who were veterinary practitioners or animal welfare professionals, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Charities Regulator said it “does not comment or give updates on open inquiries or concerns, as to do so could prejudice a charity and the work of the regulator”.

In a statement, the ISPCA said: “The matter is currently being addressed and therefore it would be inappropriate for the ISPCA to comment any further at this point in time.”

The charity runs three animal rescue and rehabilitation centres, and its inspectors respond to reports of animal cruelty, neglect and abandonment.