No evidence Console spent €150,000 in State grants as claimed

Internal audit finds spending on services for emigrants ‘significantly less’ than reported

Suicide prevention charity Console Ireland shut down after a scandal over how it was spending funds. File photograph: Getty Images

Suicide prevention charity Console Ireland shut down after a scandal over how it was spending funds. File photograph: Getty Images

 

An internal audit found no evidence that more than €150,000 provided to the UK arm of suicide prevention charity Console was used to provide counselling services to Irish emigrants as claimed.

Between 2013 and 2016 Console UK, set up by Paul Kelly, received several large grants from the Department of Foreign Affairs under an Emigrant Support Programme.

A department audit of the British arm of the scandal-hit Irish charity, completed last April, was “unable to obtain evidence” that the funds were spent “in accordance with the agreed purpose of the grants provided, for the benefit of the Irish community.” The full audit was released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The audit found “a total of £16,167 was paid to counsellors for counselling services over a period from September 2013 to 30 June 2016”, which was “significantly less than reported to the department”. Two grants worth £70,000 were given to the charity to provide counselling services between 2014 and 2016.

“We could not obtain evidence that services were (or could have been with the hours worked) provided to the numbers of clients claimed in the reports to the department,” noted the audit. It found that over the near three-year period the charity had employed four counsellors working part-time for one or two days per week.

One counsellor had been employed for two years and 10 months, and the other three for 10, six and three months respectively.

“Furthermore we could not obtain evidence that the services were provided to members of the Irish community, as per the purpose of the grant. Therefore the expenditure can be deemed ineligible,” the audit said.

Console Ireland shut down after a major scandal over how the charity was spending funds. In June 2016, it emerged the charity chief executive and founder Paul Kelly, his wife Patricia, and son Tim had run up credit card bills of almost €500,000 on items such as groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips. The trio were all directors of Console UK, which has also closed.

Between 2013 and 2016 Console UK, set up by Paul Kelly, received several large grants from the Department of Foreign Affairs under an Emigrant Support Programme. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

In 2013, the department gave the charity €59,200, as a start-up grant for the London-based UK charity. Console UK claimed €36,025 from the grant was spent on office set-up costs. However, the audit concluded that “no evidence has been provided of any such expenditure being incurred”.

The charity told the auditors that this was as the expenditure had been paid out by Console Ireland, “but no information has been provided” to corroborate this, the report said.

The amount the charity claimed it spent on services under the terms of the grants, “do not correlate with the annual financial statements for the organisation, nor the evidence from the financial records provided”, the audit said.

The departmental investigation was launched following the concerns raised around Console Ireland’s governance and spending.

Following the critical audit, the department has sought to recoup the full €150,000 from the liquidated charity. A spokeswoman said it has been included in the liquidator’s statement of claim.

The audit included a two-day visit to London in July 2016. And auditors also held separate meetings with Paul and Tim Kelly in Dublin.

The audit recommended that the department review how it monitors funding spent under the emigrant support scheme to ensure better accountability.

Last month, the State’s corporate watchdog secured a High Court order allowing it to examine material on computers taken from Console Ireland as part of an investigation into the conduct of the charity’s affairs before its liquidation in July 2016.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement secured the order after several protocols as to how the investigation of files held on electronic devices is to be conducted were agreed with Paul and Patricia Kelly.