Staff member at marriage counselling agency misappropriated €28,500, audit finds

Report also shows an unauthorised €5,000 loan was made to employee of Accord

 

A staff member of Catholic marriage counselling agency Accord misappropriated €28,500 worth of cash donations from clients, a financial audit has found.

The report also reveals an unauthorised €5,000 personal loan was provided to an employee.

Accord said new guidelines had been put in place to prevent incidents of this nature from occurring again. The counselling service, run by the Irish Catholic Bishops, received funding of €2.4 million in the last two years from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Details of the incidents were contained in a November 2018 financial audit by the accounting firm Crowleys DFK and seen by The Irish Times.

It said a staff member misappropriated an estimated €28,591 worth of cash donations received from clients attending counselling.

The staff member admitted to the wrongdoing on February 3rd, 2017 and resigned on February, 21st 2017, the audit said. It noted that the treasurer of Accord’s central office also resigned that month. It said Accord notified Tusla of the issue in 2017 and a Garda investigation was also commenced.

“The incident puts in doubt the effectiveness of the system of accountability and internal control that the counselling centre has adopted,” the audit said.

“The counselling centre should aim to review its internal control environment and control mechanism to ensure that it is fit for purpose.”

Loan

Also included in the audit was details of the loan given to an individual member of staff whose name was redacted from the financial audit. It said the staff member was to repay the loan in 2016, but records showed that the cash was not received until February 2017.

It said no interest was applied to the loan and approval from Accord’s board was not acquired. Accord told The Irish Times that €335 interest was paid on this loan at a later date.

Last year, Accord changed its policy of not accepting gay and lesbian couples on religious grounds after the Government threatened to withdraw funding. It did so prior to signing a service level agreement worth €1.2 million. Bishop Denis McNulty, the president of Accord, said the agency “can’t refuse people”.

A spokesman for Tusla said following receipt of the information regarding the misappropriation of funds, an internal audit was carried out. It said the assessment of this audit was that only “limited assurance” could be placed on the sufficiency and operation of the Accord central office financial controls to mitigate key inherent risks to which financial activities are exposed.

“Findings and recommendations from the internal audit were issued to the chairperson and co-ordinator of Accord,” he said. “Tusla is tracking the implementation of the recommendations in its monitoring of Accord services.”

Accord said the Garda investigation into the misappropriation of funds was still ongoing. It said revised guidance was issued to centres resulting in the implementation of additional standards and the board was satisfied that this enhanced oversight has strengthened the effectiveness of the organisation’s financial controls. It said the recommendations contained in the financial audit “have been implemented in full”.