Over the past week, a number of revelations have come to light surrounding the suicide prevention charity, Console. This morning's edition of The Irish Times features a report that Console's former chief executive officer and his wife and son ran up credit card bills of almost €500,000 on items such as groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips over a three-year period. We are informed that the items for which the credit cards were used included large unvouched cash withdrawals, trips to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other destinations, designer clothing in outlets such as Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss, dining out, Rugby World Cup tickets and dental work. The largest single expenditure item on these credit cards was cash withdrawals of €87,026. Of these, the former CEO withdrew €66,296 and no documentation was provided to identify how these cash sums were used.
This report follows last week's "Prime Time" programme which examined how Console spent its money. These revelations have caused outrage and distress. Many of those who did voluntary work for the organisation feel especially let down.
Console was allocated approximately €2.5 million by the Health Service Executive in recent years to help it provide counselling services. Almost half of the charity's revenue comes directly from taxpayers through State bodies and the balance is raised through funding and donations from members of the public. The CEO, Mr. Paul Kelly, has resigned his position.
He said he has not intentionally done anything wrong. "Prime Time" alleged that the chief executive of Console received payments in excess of €215,000, apparently in breach of company law and Revenue regulations. The HSE told The Irish Times last week that some concerns relating to corporate governance, including the appointment of a new chairperson and reporting relationships between the management and the board, were raised in 2009. Certain control actions were put in place at the time, including the placing of a limit on the organisation's funding.
Why did the HSE sit on this audit report for more than six months when credit cards were live, buying Rugby World Cup tickets and drawing down payments? How much was Console allocated in 2016? Why did the HSE continue to fund the charity when concerns were raised about Console as far back as 2009? Was the HSE aware of allegations about the former chief executive, Paul Kelly, to the effect that he pretended to be a doctor to get a job in the Royal City of Dublin Hospital on Baggot Street and masqueraded as a brother in a religious order? Is it the case that following his resignation the chief executive told staff that he was still at the helm and turned up at the charity's office in Celbridge saying that it was business as usual?
The Minister of State may well tell us that the HSE maintains its money was properly spent and that what happened to the charitable donations was nothing to do with the executive. Nevertheless, would it not be good practice for the HSE to examine how Console spends its other moneys given that the HSE is providing so much money to the organisation?