McDonald asks why Console concerns ‘took so long to come to light’

Former Console ambassador says suicide prevention charity is ‘irreparably damaged’

 

The State has been “sloppy and slow” in enforcing Section Four of the Charities Act, Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.

Ms McDonald said this inaction had allowed some people take advantage with a recent example of which is the Console situation.

She said she was worried at the length of time it took to address concerns that were raised in 2009 about Console’s finances.

“It is astonishing that concerns were raised in 2009, yet the malpractice continued right through to 2014 and maybe even beyond. How is it that it took so long for this to come to light,” she said.

Founder of suicide prevention charity Paul Kelly, his wife and son ran up credit card bills of almost €500,000 on items such as groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips over a three-year period, according to a HSE audit.

Mr Kelly, his wife Patricia and their son Tim, benefitted by almost €500,000 in salaries and cars over the period from 2012 to 2014, the audit has also established.

“It is important that there is an emphasis on proper financial management and governance in organisations that receive State funding. Taking funds from such charities it not just reprehensible, it is fraudulent,” Ms McDonald said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

She said it was a great dilemma. “What it boils down to is that the State is outsourcing services it should be providing itself.”

Console ‘irreparably damaged’

The former mayor of Galway Peter Roche, a former ambassador and fundraiser for Console, said the organisation was “irreparably damaged” and “tarnished”.

He has stopped a cheque for €2,200, made out to Console, that was part of the proceeds of the Mayoral Ball.

Mr Roche, who lost his son Colin to suicide, said he was alarmed by reports of lavish spending by the Kelly family.

“I believed in what I was doing as an ambassador for Console and as a fund raiser - I believed that Console was helping people in crisis,” he said.

“Reading the reports I felt disgusted, annoyed and betrayed. It was almost like a bereavement, dealing with this shattering news,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

“I think Console is irreparably damaged. I can’t understand how long it went on, how a family could spend funds on anything other than the service,” Mr Roche said.

“Console is now tarnished. The only way it can rise now is to have new people at the top.”

On the same programme, Minister of State for Mental Health Helen McEntee, who lost her father Shane to suicide, said that the Console situation throws a shadow over the service.

“This affects everyone from staff, to fund raisers to the vulnerable people using the service - it is important that money is spent appropriately and properly,” she said.

“There is a need to ensure that Console services continue. The vision of the people who work there must continue.”

Console staff ‘shocked’

Staff at Console’s Cork service are feeling hurt, betrayed and sickened by revelations of the lavish spending by founder of suicide prevention charity Paul Kelly and his family.

Ger Rynne, counselling co-ordinator for Console and manager of Console services in Cork, said he was “shocked and sad, angry and betrayed”.

“Some people are upset understandably and others are still supportive of the core work being done by Console on the ground in terms of offering bereavement counselling for people at their most vulnerable,” he said.

He said some of the counsellors were not getting paid in a timely manner for their work.

“I’ve worked for charities in the past and know that in recessionary times finances would be tight and there may be cash flow issues, so that was always my understanding that Console and Paul Kelly were managing the funds as best they could and paying people when funds became available. Counsellors continued to do the work despite this,” Mr Rynne said.

Mr Rynne said as an employee of Console he was paid although not always on time.

“Sometimes I had to email to ask for it, but I always was paid. I was allowing a period of grace. Like a lot of counsellors I didn’t get into the business to make loads of money. I was understanding, naively maybe, that funds were tight,”he said.

Mr Rynne told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that staff were feeling hurt and betrayal.

“We’re conscious that funds are tight. I run the centre very economically, there are no lavish expenses, no credit cards in Console Cork. People getting paid poorly and giving up and above what was necessary, doing it out of the goodness of their heart, giving something back to the service,” he said.

“ Then when you hear of the lavish spending it’s sickening really. For clients and people who donated money to the service, it’s very hurtful to them as well.

“I don’t know where all the money went, I didn’t concern myself about it.”

Mr Rynne said the staff focussed on day-to-day duties including offering appointments, managing clients and responding to suicides in communities.

“ Despite the upset at the end of the month when your money wouldn’t arrive, we didn’t hugely concern ourselves with the running or the financing of the organisation, we are therapists,” he said.

“Some clients are still coming, some are raw and so bereft in their grief, they come in, sit in their chairs do their therapy, not concerned about Console so long as there is a counsellor in the chair opposite them.

“Others, further on in their grief, may have done fundraising for Console and they’re upset and hurt - but they are very supportive of the counsellors on the ground. Offering to validate our work if necessary in the media. Turning the tables, they are hugely concerned for us.”

Mr Rynne said counsellors are continuing their work through a time of uncertainty about payment.

“It’s been a week but seems like a month. They’re continuing to work, they’re reassuring me that they will continue to work, but we need some clarity and assurance that we can continue to deliver this valuable service,” he said.

“We need reassurance that we will be paid for that work, we need radical change in leadership and management we need to start afresh and rebuild our mission and public stake in the work we do on a daily basis.”