O Tighearnaigh resigns from ISPCC


The Chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Mr Cian O Tighearnaigh, has announced his resignation with the aim of protecting the society and his family from "unprecedented negative publicity".

The children's rights campaigner was arrested last January, and later released, in connection with a Garda investigation into allegations of fraud in the charity, prompted by a newspaper report that collectors had not been paid the full commissions due to them.

In a statement at the weekend Mr O Tighearnaigh (40) said his decision to resign was taken with great regret. However, he considered it "to be in the best interests of the organisation."

The society expressed its gratitude to Mr O Tighearnaigh and said he would defend "both his professional and personal integrity by whatever means is required."

It said: "Under his influence, the society grew into a rapidly expanding, well-funded, child-centred service provider with a high profile and independent voice advocating children's rights and needs at a national and community-based level."

Yesterday, the acting ISPCC director, Mr Paul Gilligan said initial indications were that the controversy had not led to a decline in donations. "The current position is, we have not seen any impact on our fund raising. Fund raising has remained stable."

Mr O Tighearnaigh joined the organisation in 1981 when it was facing a financial crisis. As chief fund-raiser and chief executive from 1987, he helped to turn the society's fortunes around, but not without shedding some valued services, including family centres and pre-schooling for children at risk.

His brainchild was the children's helpline, Childline, started in 1988 and now the ISPCC's flagship activity.

Critics accused him of publicity-seeking and of lacking depth in his analysis of childcare issues. Other charities balked at the fundraising techniques introduced by the society during his tenure, including the recruitment of armies of street collectors working on commission.

In December 1998 a Sunday Business Post investigation found that amounts in 10 sealed collectors' buckets containing known amounts of money were underestimated in every case by almost 10 per cent by the ISPCC. This would have affected commissions for collectors.

Mr O Tighearnaigh was arrested the following month and questioned by officers of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation.

Meanwhile the ISPCC employed accountants and consultants Deloitte & Touche to make recommendations on the management of the organisation.

After Mr O Tighearnaigh took paid leave, meant to be for the duration of the Garda investigation, Mr Gilligan was appointed acting director of services under a new management structure, operating on an interim basis.

At the same time the ISPCC came under fire for its treatment of volunteers, after many left or were "derostered" because they would not raise £300 in ticket sales. The practice was subsequently abandoned and an internal committee was established to look at workers' grievances.

Mr O Tighearnaigh said his resignation was "a very sad occasion for me. I have devoted most of my adult life to working for the ISPCC but given the recent events and the surrounding publicity I believe, in the future interests of the Society, I should step aside at this point.

"I would like to express my personal thanks for the thousands of supporters, donors, service volunteers and the many hundreds of ISPCC staff who loyally supported the society at any time during my tenure in helping to protect children and in championing their rights.

"I also wish the society every success in its current reorganisation to advance existing plans and meet the challenge of promoting children's rights."