Former charity chief gave ‘assurances’ over abuse notification

Department told Extern it considered ‘termination of all funding’ over abuse controversy

A spokeswoman for Extern said it had been notified by a statutory authority ‘about an allegation against a former Extern employee,’ with that case later being closed. Photograph: Alan Betson

A spokeswoman for Extern said it had been notified by a statutory authority ‘about an allegation against a former Extern employee,’ with that case later being closed. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The board of youth work charity Extern had been given “assurances” by its former chief executive that a serious case of child sexual abuse had been reported to all authorities, despite Tusla not being informed.

Extern is an all-island charity that works with vulnerable children, providing support services and running Garda youth diversion projects.

Earlier this year a former employee was convicted of sexually abusing a young teenager in Extern’s services in Northern Ireland during the second half of 2019.

The charity did not notify Tusla, the State child and family agency, of the incident for more than a year, despite the staff member working directly with children from the Republic. While authorities in the North were informed at the time, Tusla was not told until September 2020.

Correspondence shows the Department of Justice, which also was not notified, considered terminating more than €750,000 a year in funding to the charity over the controversy.

The department described the matter as a “very substantial corporate governance failure,” which gave rise to several “issues of major concern”.

In an email on December 8th, 2020, Deaglán Ó Briain, principal officer in the department, told Extern that if it did not provide “satisfactory” answers to a number of queries, “the department will then proceed to consider termination of all funding agreements and contracts”.

The correspondence queried the move of Charlie Mack, the charity’s chief executive at the time of the incident, to head up English charity Cranstoun, which provides youth work and domestic violence services.

In a response on December 18th, the interim chief executive of Extern, Danny McQuillan, admitted there had been a “serious failure” in not reporting the abuse to authorities in the Republic.

The incident “was immediately and appropriately reported to the relevant Northern Ireland statutory authorities,” and escalated to Mr Mack and the board.

“The board was given assurances from the former CEO that this issue had been reported to all appropriate stakeholders. The board understood this to include stakeholders in the Republic,” he said.

The correspondence was released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

A November 2020 departmental briefing note said officials had been informed Mr Mack’s departure from Extern earlier that year had been by “mutual consent”.

It was not related to the abuse case, “but wider issues of transparency and governance with the board”.

Reference

The note said Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster had raised concerns with Extern about the charity enabling its former chief executive “to work at this level in another organisation through positive referencing”.

In Mr McQuillian’s December 18th letter, he said: “Extern were neither approached for, nor indeed provided, any reference for the former CEO.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Mack referred requests for comment to Cranstoun. When asked if anyone connected to Extern had provided a reference for Mr Mack, Cranstoun said it “does not comment on individual HR matters”.

The department temporarily suspended Extern’s funding last December, and restored it this April following further talks.

A project in Dublin’s north inner city due to be run by Extern, worth €490,000 in funding through the Department of Community Affairs, was also scrapped.

The charity receives €7 million a year from Tusla, to provide supports to vulnerable young people. When the failure to initially notify Tusla came to light, the agency halted all new referrals to Extern for several months.

In an email to Department of Justice officials on November 12th, 2020, Tusla said the lack of alternative service providers “was a real concern”.

Tusla had also been informed about “allegations against another former employee of Extern,” the email said.

A spokeswoman for Extern said it had been notified by a statutory authority “about an allegation against a former Extern employee,” with that case later being closed. Extern had made Tusla aware of this allegation “during a full and frank review of any disclosures,” she said.