Peter Ireton, the founder and former chief of the developing world charity Bóthar, has died in tragic circumstances.
His sudden death comes amid bitter court conflict between Bóthar and David Moloney, the man who succeeded him as its chief executive in 2011.
Mr Ireton, who would have turned 69 this week, was found dead on Monday morning at his home in Castletroy, Limerick. His body was taken to University Hospital Limerick for a postmortem after it was discovered in the back garden.
“Gardaí are investigating a sudden death incident following the discovery of a body,” a spokesman said.
Mr Ireton’s death was described locally as a “personal tragedy”. A family friend said: “People who know him are absolutely devastated.”
It comes less than a fortnight after Bóthar took action against Mr Moloney, claiming in the High Court that he misappropriated some €464,346 of the charity's money to benefit himself and associates.
Mr Moloney is at the centre of the court proceedings after Harry Lawlor, a long-time Bóthar director and its former chairman, claimed he was "guilty of an egregious breach of trust and an appalling dereliction of his duty".
Mr Moloney, who resigned in February, has denied any wrongdoing and has protested his innocence. His assets have been temporarily frozen by the High Court and he has been ordered not to reduce his assets below €465,000. The case is due back in court next week.
Mr Lawlor disclosed in a court affidavit that Bóthar has also been investigating Mr Ireton, saying a question arose as to whether payments he received after retiring a decade ago were made with the board’s knowledge or consent.
“It has very recently come to light that Mr Ireton continued to receive substantial payments from Bóthar after his retirement in 2011 until at least 30[th] April 2015, and these payments are currently being investigated by the board,” Mr Lawlor said.
“Bóthar has recently commenced an investigation into these and other transactions involving Mr Ireton and awaits the conclusion of this investigation to decide whether to pursue Mr Ireton for wrongdoing.”
In his affidavit Mr Lawlor said Mr Ireton had retired in 2011 “as far as the board was concerned”.
Mr Ireton had himself denied any impropriety, telling a newspaper he had not been contacted by Bóthar about its investigation. Mr Ireton said he did not retire in 2011 and continued working for the charity until May 1st, 2015, and was on its staff openly.
Bóthar was Mr Ireton’s brainchild. He devised the charitable scheme and helped recruit senior local figures to its board. It was his idea in 1990 to mark the Limerick Treaty 300 celebrations by sending Irish cows to families in rural Uganda, funded by donations made by members of the public.
The charity itself was established in Limerick in 1991, with former IFA president TJ Maher as chairman and an inaugural board that included the then Catholic Archbishop of Cashel, Dermot Clifford, and the then Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick, Edward Darling.
The first board also included Mr Lawlor, a director of HL Commodity Foods, a supplier of cheese, butter and dairy ingredients. Mr Ireton was company secretary. Other founding directors included Kevin Culhane, a farmer who was Mr Ireton's uncle and accountants James Guinane and James Quigley. Another was Billy Kelly, a former Limerick Leader journalist.
Bóthar became well known for sending livestock overseas to poor families in Africa, South America, Asia and eastern Europe. In January, for example, it sought donations for dairy cow projects in Rwanda, Albania and Kosovo.
But when Bóthar took action against Mr Moloney this month after an internal investigation, the High Court heard the charity has stopped fundraising. Bóthar had €6.06 million in income in the year to June 2019 and paid out €5.53 million to “charitable activities” that year, according to Mr Lawlor’s court filing.
Mr Lawlor said the catalyst for the dispute was an anonymous, undated complaint he received in April 2019. The complainant questioned Mr Moloney’s recruitment of staff, including one senior member, outside the normal process.
The complainant also questioned what were described as “false” hotel expenses claims by two employees; and said Mr Moloney had resolved to do nothing about them because one expenses claimant was a life-long friend whom he recruited to a senior post while the other was a family member.
Mr Lawlor said Mr Moloney orchestrated a campaign to remove him from his position as chairman because he was concerned that he had embarked on a train of inquiry that would ultimately expose his fraudulent activities.
He accused Mr Moloney of enlisting the assistance of Mr Ireton and others to change the composition of Bóthar’s board.