Console irregularites undermine charity sector
Assertive regulatory approach essential
Fraud and financial abuse may occur in any business but with the help of detailed regulations, strict oversight and good corporate governance, it can be minimised. When incidents do occur, particularly in the voluntary sector, they have a chilling effect on public opinion and on community involvement. That is why the disclosure of financial irregularities at the family-run suicide counselling charity, Console, has damaged other well-run organisations that are struggling to raise funds for the provision of necessary services.
Controversies rocked Rehab and the Central Remedial Clinic two years ago and prompted Taoiseach Enda Kenny to speak of cleaning up the charities sector. Provisions in the Charities Act that had lain dormant since 2009 were activated and a Charities Regulatory Authority was set up. Some 7,000 charities were believed to fundraise about €500m annually. But in the absence of a formal register, a legal obligation to publish their accounts and an oversight body, there was no control. These charities are now required to register before they can claim tax relief. But many have not done so and the new system is struggling to cope with the numbers that have applied.
Tackling decades of official neglect is not easy and it will take time to eliminate abuse and weed out fraudulent individuals. The new Regulator should not tolerate being ignored and a more assertive approach is required from State agencies. The Health Service Executive, which contributed €2.5m to Console for counselling services, failed to deal firmly with complaints received in 2009. When a formal audit in recent months uncovered abuses by Paul Kelly and family members it was slow to respond. Such desultory behaviour is unacceptable, particularly when a high-profile charity is involved. In defending the wellspring of public generosity, any hint of corporate or individual misbehaviour must be quickly investigated and action taken. Console did good work in the past and the charity, under new management, continues to provide support for distressed individuals and families.