From top: Director of HSE Tony O’Brien and Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan, of Dublin Rathdown at the Public Accounts Committee this morning
Director of HSE Tony O’Brien and members of the Department of Health is before the Public Accounts Committee this morning in light of the revelations concerning the former CEO of Console, Paul Kelly.
During this morning’s meeting, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan repeatedly asked Mr O’Brien if the HSE took any responsibility for Console’s finances.
She was fairly dogged, in fairness.
From the meeting…
Tony O’Brien: “We were not Console’s regulator, we were not its primary funder. We were purchasing a certain range of services from Console which were being received, which continued until yesterday. Which will now continue in another organisation. We have no powers over their fundraising activities or those other extraneous matters.”
Jospeha Madigan: “Just on that point that you say there, Mr O’Brien, and I heard you on Sean O’Rourke (RTE Radio One show)… you also said that you partially funded Console. To me that’s actually missing the point. The main principle still applies, you’re still giving a significant amount of money to this charity so it doesn’t matter whether its partially funded or not. The same principles still apply, the same oversight should apply in relation to that particular charity and I don’t think that’s a good enough response, in my view.”
Madigan:“When you talk about value for money, it seems, putting the services to one side, it seems extraordinary that you say that you’re satisfied in relation to what’s transpired.”
O’Brien: “Well, can I explain why? And it does go back to an earlier point and I know you don’t necessarily agree with where I’m coming from on this. The services are all we paid for. Our engagement with that organisation was…”
Madigan: “Are you abdicating all responsibility from oversight of Console?”
O’Brien: “What I have said and what I’m saying clearly…”
Madigan: “I’m asking a question…”
O’Brien: “You’re seeking to frame it in a way that I can’t give you a yes or no answer..”
Madigan: “That’s what your implying..”
O’Brien: “What I’m saying..”
Madigan: “That’s what you’re implying…”
O’Brien: “If that was the case why would we have concocted this very extensive internal audit. What I’m saying is we…”
Madigan: “Which should have been done, with respect, many years beforehand, many years beforehand. Do you accept there’s any failings on behalf of the HSE for Console?”
O’Brien: “The failings that are in the report on Console, which you’ve had an opportunity to read, are failings within Console. Clearly, at any point in time, with the benefit…”
Madigan: “Do you accept any…”
O’Brien: “Can I answer the question?”
Madigan: “No, because, no because you’re saying the failings are within Console itself. Do you, Mr O’Brien accept that the HSE had a responsibility towards Console? Do you accept any, any responsibility?”
O’Brien: “We had a responsibility to the provide funding in relation to the services they were providing to satisfy ourselves, the quality of those services, and when significant issues of concern…”
Madigan: “But why didn’t you carry out inspections when you could have done that? You..”
O’Brien: “It’s very difficult for a witness to answer questions if they only get the first 50% of their answer out.”
Madigan: “Go ahead but…”
O’Brien: “If I could answer the question, it may answer the next question that you’re trying to pose to me. When issues of concern arose about financial governance, the audit was initiated. Prior to that, there had not been unresolved issues which led to that decision. Obviously, officers have to make judgements at all times. With the benefit of hindsight yes, maybe the decision could have been made earlier…”
Madigan: “OK, maybe the decision could have been made earlier. Will you accept the failings on behalf of the HSE in relation to the governance of Console?”
O’Brien: “No, I do not accept. We were not responsible for the governance of Console. Console is a separate legal entity. Our only responsibility can be in relation to the oversight..”
Madigan: “So you’re saying the HSE has absolutely, is absolutely blameless thus far?”
O’Brien: “I didn’t say that.”
Madigan: “But that is what you’re saying, Mr O’Brien.”
O’Brien: “If you were to review the transcript, you will find I didn’t say that.”
Madigan: “I have read your transcript at length..”
O’Brien: “No, no, the transcript of our discussion right now. At no point have I said the HSE is blameless.”
Madigan: “You’re not saying, you know what you’re saying, Mr O’Brien, you’re hiding behind words and you’re very good at it.”
O’Brien: “Can I say something? Chairman…If the PAC were an airline, I’d be in the top tier of the frequent fliers programme, right? So I expect to be in here a lot. As I was with the previous committee. The committee members know what I mean. We have provided all the specific documentation the committee asked us to provide. We’ve come as required, now we’re going to do our best to give you all the information that we can. But sometimes it’s very difficult if I only get the first few words of an answer out..”
From top: Console CEO Paul Kelly and the charity’s former patron Mary McAleese in 2011; The panel on TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne last night
On Tonight with Vincent Browne, hosted by Matt Cooper, the panel discussed the payments made to Console CEO Paul Kelly, his wife Patricia and son Tim – as recently reported by RTE Investigates.
The panel included Fine Gael Senator Michael Conway, Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins; interim CEO of Console David Hall; and columnist with the Irish Independent Colette Browne.
Matt Cooper: “Did this come out of nowhere, is this only something that’s happened in recent times? Or for how long have people in authority been aware that there’s a problem?”
David Hall: “You know my function, when we came in, was to carry out this review and as I said to everyone concerned at the time, only the truth will be expressed from mine and those involved’s perspective. The review and the analysis of the HSE began in April 2015. The first interim report was given on the 1st of July, 2015. These are the documents I’ve seen and I have. The…”
Cooper: “A year ago?”
Hall: “A year ago. The ninth…”
Cooper: “Money was still being given to Console, Console was still actually taking money from the public, was getting money from the State, for a year after the HSE knew there was a big problem here?”
Hall: “Yes. The ninth version of this report was given to the board in March of this year.”
Cooper: “The ninth?”
Hall: “The ninth version and there is one more version I believe which is being tided up and is the final version not yet released by the HSE. The last version I have, and the one I relied upon in court today, with Justice Gilligan was version number nine. 176 pages. Actually, and this might sound a bit odd to say this but it’s a brilliant report. The people who conducted, this actually makes the situation ten times worse than you would imagine. The quality and the content of that report would be, for its investigative manners and information that it garnished, is brilliant.”
CEO of Console Paul Kelly; analysis of Console credit card payments and payments to his wife Patricia and their son Tim; and RTÉ Investigates journalist Paul Murphy
You may recall last Thursday night’s RTÉ Investigates report on the finances of national suicide charity, Console.
It reported how inappropriate payments were made to directors; multiple sets of accounts were used with alterations and deletions sent to different bodies; different dates of birth for the same person were used; while directors signed documents using both married and maiden names.
On the night of the report, it was reported that CEO of Console Paul Kelly had resigned.
Further to this….
Last night, RTE Investigates journalist Paul Murphy returned to the matter on Prime Time and reported on a draft copy of a HSE audit into the charity’s finances.
The audit reveals details of how Paul Kelly, his wife Patricia and their son Tim benefited by almost half a million euro in salaries and cars between 2012 and 2014 with a further half a million euro spent during that period on Console credit cards for items including groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips. Between them Paul, Patricia and Tim Kelly used eleven credit cards over the three year period.
Amongst the items the cards were used for, were 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.
…Paul Kelly received consultancy payments of €218,586, plus a 2009 Mercedes CLS costing €30,600 (fully expensed) and 4 credit cards.
Patricia Kelly received salary payments €67,149, plus a 2010 Audi Q5 costing €57,000 (fully expensed) and 4 credit cards.
There were no contracts or board approvals for the payments for the CEO or his wife.
Inconsistent and vague explanations were provided to the internal audit about Patricia Kelly’s car.
In addition, Mr Murphy reported last night that although Mr Kelly issued a statement saying he’d stepped down last Thursday – following a board meeting – Mr Kelly is now claiming that the meeting was never properly convened and he actually has not resigned.
Watch last night’s Prime Time back in full here (go to 30.25).
Derry Clarke, who runs L’Ecrivan restaurant in Dublin with his wife Sallyanne Clarke, spoke to Seán O’Rourke, following last night’s Prime Time report.
Derry and Sallyanne’s son Andrew died by suicide in 2012.
Mr Clarke, who has fundraised extensively for Console since Andrew’s death, said:
“In January, a generous benefactor gave me a cheque for €26,000 which I gave directly to Console. It really makes me sick really, it really does. And to face these people, you know, over the last two years, to fundraise for, it’s difficult.”
“…I had no idea [of the payments], I really didn’t and that’s what really makes me more annoyed with myself because, normally, you know, when you’re giving a lot of money to someone, you check it out, you know, you check out where it’s going to and what it’s doing…where it’s going, what’s it being spent on. No idea really.
“And, you know something, in reflecting on Paul Kelly, I only met him at functions or fundraising functions so I never knew what car he drove or where he lived. So I didn’t know anything about him really when I look back, it’s kind of amazing really. A lesson learned, the hard way.”
“One thing I’ve got to say though Seán is Console, as an operation is spectacular. I mean the services they offer are second to none. I mean they’re the only charity at the moment that do a 24/7 phone line, a national phone line, that’s still in operation today.”
“I mean they get over 3,500 calls a month so that is something we have to look at. Many volunteers and counsellors that work with Console now, today, I mean they’re great people. It’s something which we should think of. If we could separate what they do, day-to-day services, from one person’s actions. If we could do that, that would be great.”
A report by RTÉ Investigates to be broadcast on Prime Time tonight reveals serious mismanagement and deception by Paul Kelly, the founder of Console Suicide Bereavement Counselling Limited.
RTÉ Investigates – Broken Trust – will reveal concerns surrounding the charity’s finances with regards to cash receipting, expense claims and financial accounts.
The report also shows that, when applying for State grants, the charity on several occasions altered accounts to omit the reference to directors’ pay and other benefits.
These amounts totalled over €215,000, according to accounts filed by Console with the Companies Registration Office for the three years 2010 to 2012.
…In documents submitted to funders, the charity also incorrectly claimed that certain people were board members.
One of these was former senator Jillian van Turnhout who told the programme that she was “stunned” that her name had been used and that it is “hugely alarming that any charity would purport that anyone is on the board who is not on their board.”