Report criticises charity's tsunami response


THE IRISH Red Cross struggled to cope with the huge level of donations it received in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami and “serious administrative failures” lead to significant delays in dispersing the money raised, according to an internal report published on Saturday.

The investigation, which was carried out on behalf of the charity after severe criticism of its handling of the funds collected in its 2005 appeal, showed that while there was no misappropriation or misallocation of funds, there were problems connected to the management of some of the money collected.

The tsunami devastated much of southeast Asia and killed more than 230,000 people. The public response was enormous, with almost €32 million collected by the Red Cross alone.

The report says that charity did not have sufficient staff or management controls in place to deal with the response to its appeal. The most serious issue addressed was the delay by the Tipperary branch of the society in forwarding €162,960 to Irish Red Cross (IRC) headquarters in Dublin. Donations collected by this branch remained in a Tipperary bank account for more than three years. The report stresses the branch did not attempt to hide or retain any of the money it collected.

Last summer an IRC employee became the focus of a High Court action after anonymously publishing online confidential information about the charity on a blog.

Noel Wardick, head of the international department with the IRC, set up the blog last December in which he alleged widespread problems at the charity, including alleged financial irregularities. He also used the blog to call for a full-scale independent investigation into the affairs and operations of the organisation.

The charity brought a High Court action against Google Ireland and internet service provider UPC last July seeking to reveal the identity of the blogger. In its petition it claimed the contents of the blog had a serious impact on staff morale, on fundraising and on the day-to-day running of the organisation. Mr Wardick decided to reveal his identity on his blog.

This weekend, IRC chairman David O’Callaghan said the report showed “serious deficiencies in our accounting procedures”. After his appointment in September 2010 he had put “improved governance of the society’s affairs” at the top of his agenda. He said “every cent” donated for areas affected by the tsunami “has been and will go to relief projects in these areas”.