The Central Remedial Clinic, which publishes its first strategic plan today since it was embroiled in one of the worst scandals to hit the charity sector, has said it may in time change its name, but it wants to ensure its “house is in order” first.
Chief executive Stephanie Manahan, who was appointed to lead the charity in June 2014 in the wake of the top-up scandal, says the experience was “very hard” on both staff and clients of the charity.
In late 2013 news emerged that the CRC board had been using charitable donations to pay top-up allowances to senior staff, bringing their overall pay far above HSE-agreed official pay rates.
Ms Manahan, who has implemented a “grass-roots transformational review”, is confident the governance and accounting structures in place at the CRC are among the most robust and transparent anywhere.
“I’m now being contacted by other agencies asking, ‘how did you do it and what did you do?’” she said.
While her predecessor Paul Kiely had a salary after top-ups of €240,000 a year, Ms Manahan is on €88,279.
The top-up scandal led to the resignation of the CRC board, with many senior managers leaving. There also followed a root-and-branch review of the regulation of charities.
“Yes, people were very hurt, felt very let down . . . When I came in I’d say the place was quite broken, fractured. There were fiefdoms and grudges,” Ms Manahan said.
“The whole crisis had broken the psychological contract between the staff, the service users and the public, who had loved this organisation. The organisation was ready for reunification and a refocus on core values.
“What I have focused on has been not only putting things to rights but doing a grass-roots transformational review.”
This has entailed not only recruiting new senior managers – in all 89 new staff have joined since 2014 – but ensuring “long-overdue” investment in equipment, building maintenance and staff training.
The total wage bill at CRC has fallen from just more than €15 million in 2013 to just more than €12 million last year.
The number of senior managers remains seven, with five of them new people appointed to the existing posts of head of HR, head of finance, head of communications, head of children’s services and head of adult services.
A new person will be appointed to the newly created role of head of specialist services, a key recommendation of the strategic plan.
The plan, to be published today by Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Disability Issues Finian McGrath, is the result of “deep and wide consultation” with the 400 staff and 4,000 services users. It will run from 2017-2021.
Among its 13 key objectives are to “ensure the CRC’s governance is appropriate and represents the highest standards of best practice” and to “ensure the CRC’s financial sustainability in coming years”.
While Ms Manahan will be judged on the quality of service provided by the CRC under her stewardship, she will also be watched closely by the public and the State – which provides about 60 per cent of its €20 million annual budget – as to how successfully she delivers these key objectives.
She decided “quickly” after arriving to “park” seeking charitable donations, though the CRC may “dip its toe back in the water”. She has not decided whether the famous “Santa bear”, which was promoted under the last regime to raise money for the CRC at Christmas, has gone forever, “but for now, yes”.
Donations still “flow in”, especially from clients’ families but she wants to develop other “philanthropic” income streams that will also bring relationships with institutions with which the CRC could work.
She wants to see the CRC involved in research on improving services and therapies for people with disabilities.
Ms Manahan believes Ireland could “do so much more” for people with disabilities, saying: “We need to think about how inclusive we really are.”
She cites the lack of accessible public transport and describes as “outrageous” that people with disabilities are often put in nursing homes, rather than supported to live at home.
Key to achieving a more inclusive Ireland, she says, will be Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Mr McGrath has committed to this “by Christmas”.
Earlier this year the CRC was embroiled in a row with staff , which threatened to lead to a strike, after its board unilaterally decided to cease making further contributions to the private pension scheme in place after the deficit grew to €2.3 million plus risk reserves of €2.7 million.