Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said she would like to see a charities regulator appointed quickly on a permanent, or possibly interim, basis following revelations about the use of charitable funds at the Central Remedial Clinic.
Asked about the details that emerged when the clinic's former chief executive Brian Conlan appeared before the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, Ms Burton said she, like everybody in Ireland, was "quite taken aback and shocked by the sums which were mentioned".
“I saw that the HSE are making inquiries including taking some legal advice on the appropriateness of some of the payments so I think it’s important that the investigation should be completed and that we get all the facts and we get full disclosure of what exactly is happening,” she said.
The committee heard that former CRC chief executive Paul Kiely received a payoff of some €740,000 when he retired from the organisation last year.
The money was paid by the Friends and Supporters of the CRC to the main CRC organisation, in what was described in draft internal accounts as a “donation”. The sums represented almost half of the annual income of the fundraising organisation.
Asked about the damage done to the sector and if there was a lack of urgency over the appointment of somebody to regulate charities, Ms Burton replied that it was matter for the Minister for Justice but that she would be very happy to see it happen.
“We have a lot of charities with absolutely excellent standards of reporting and give very full and complete disclosure and I would certainly like very much to see the charities regulator being appointed, possibly on an interim basis, but certainly seeing that [PROCESS]underway as quickly as the Department of Justice are able to make the arrangements.”
The Charities Act, which would have established a regulator for the sector, was enacted – but not enforced – in 2009. The legislation would have compelled the State’s 8,000 charities to make their financial information public for the first time.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter deferred the implementation of the legislation in 2011 on the grounds of cost. Government members have said they expect an appointment in the first half of this year.
Asked if Mr Kiely should pay back the money he received, Ms Burton replied that the Public Accounts Committee should be given time to complete its work on the subject and that she expected the HSE would take “appropriate action” based on legal advice being sought.
The revelations, Ms Burton said, raised issues in relation to damage being done to the wider charity sector and that there were lessons to be learned from the experience.
“The public in Ireland are very generous to charities, and rightly so, but the public intend their money to go for the charitable purposes that are advertised and I think it is very important that we get completely to the bottom of it so that we have a rebuilding in confidence both in the CRC and also that charity sector in general doesn’t sustain a huge amount of collateral damage,” she said.
Ms Burton was speaking in Dublin at the launch of a initiative called Feeding Ireland’s Future, in which the food and grocery industry is seeking to provide young unemployed people with advice and an understanding of the sector that could help them to find work in the future.
Companies such as Tesco, Kelloggs, Musgraves and PwC are participating in the project, which follows a similar initiative that began in the UK in 2012.