Saturday, 25 January 2014

And the Oul' Collecting Tin Went Jingle-Jangle...

It feels like I have been bashing Ireland a lot these past few days, but then that's like blaming someone playing Whack-a-mole for battering the little blighters when they appear.

The RTÉ News.

As a further illustration of the endemic problems Ireland has, I now have to turn to the sorry tale of the charitable sector and the inflated pay of some of its senior executives.

Ireland is rather odd in that much of what is the function of the State in most other countries (the provision of education, healthcare and other social services) was contracted out to the 'charitable sector' (primarily the Catholic Church) by a very poor newborn national government, and enthusiastically embraced by churches, holy orders and charities, for whom the provision of such services guaranteed a line of government funding, and gave them a degree of control over the recipients of the services (think again of the Catholic Church and education).  The result is the sad tale of the like of the Magdalene laundries and mental asylums, where the Irish State paid private institutions to make problems disappear.

And although charitable fundraising to supplement the budgets of hospitals and schools is pretty common in the UK and the US, it is (I think) even more prevalent in Ireland, where many of the charities and institutions could not function at all, despite funds from central government, without the committed and dedicated work of its supporters and volunteers, running raffles, selling teddies and taking street donations, all to plug a gap in service provision that the inadequacy of funds from direct taxation has created.  Many of these charities, such as the Central Remedial Clinic do sterling work, and provide support and relief to many of the most disadvantaged, unfortunate or challenged in Irish society.

I cannot begin to understand then the disappointment and sense of betrayal felt by people such as Tom Clonan, when they discovered that the Board of the CRC, like that of St. Vincent's hospital in Dublin, had been making 'top-up' payments to the salaries of senior executives from private sources, including the charitable funds raised by the charity's supporters.

Essentially, when Ireland fell into economic crisis, pay-caps were introduced across much of the public sector to reflect the strained circumstances the Exchequer found itself in, and to dampen public anger towards salaries that were barely justifiable during the boom times let alone in a country that was bankrupt.  For charitable bodies like the CRC and St. Vincent's, whose senior executives receive salaries that are mostly funded from the public purse, but also partly-funded from private sources, the boards of these organisations decided (apparently having signed employment contracts that made no allowance for pay reductions in times of reduced funding) to adhere to their contractual obligations and top-up their CEO's pay-packets from their private funds.

Private funds
(NB: Children In Need is in no way implicated)

So one of two things happened:

1) The boards of these charities went to their CEO and said, "Dear CEO, the country is in crisis and the income this charity receives is down, so would you ever mind taking a bit of a pay-cut so we can continue to deliver our services to those who need them?", to which the CEO replied "No".


2) The boards never even bothered to ask the CEOs to take a pay cut, and just decided to keep the gravy train chugging along.

It is little wonder that, no matter which of the two alternatives turns out to have been the case, that the Board of the CRC resigned en masse, when it emerged that their retiring CEO (who had been on an annual salary of €240,000) received a lump sum of €470,000 and a pension pot top-up of a further €270,000.  Most of this money came the CRC's fundraising arm, in the form of a 'loan', and amounted to half the funds that people like Tom Clonan had raised for the CRC over the past year.

Another of Ireland's most well-known and well-respected charities, REHAB, refuses to disclose how much is paid to its CEO Angela Kerins.  It is believed to be in the region of the quarter-of-a-million paid to Paul Kiely of the CRC.

In the case of St. Vincent's, its CEO was getting paid almost €300,000 to run one hospital in Dublin. That is 40% more than the newly-appointed Chief Executive of the UK's National Health Service, the largest employer in Europe, will receive.

But rather than say,
 "You know what Paul, the country's banjaxed, we've hardly any money and would rather spend what little we have on giving wheelchairs to kids who need them than fulfilling a ridiculous contract with you made in the la-la land days of the Celtic Tiger so you can have a second Caribbean holiday every year.  So if you want the money you are owed under your contract, then sue us"
the spineless wimps on the board wrote the cheques and tried to keep quiet what was going on.  (The CRC's former CEO in question even lied to a parliamentary inquiry when asked how much was the lump-sum he received on retirement).

Now, there may be explanations why they acted the way they did.  They may have thought that they would lose in court, that their board responsibilities included honouring contracts blah, blah, blah.  In all likelihood I think they just didn't want people to know how much they were paying the CEO in the first place.

Personally, I would like to have seen Paul Kiely go to court almost literally to take wheelchairs from kids who need them so he could further feather his own nest.  That would, as they say in Dublin, have required a neck like a jockey's bollocks, but at least the public would have seen the sort of people they had entrusted with providing services to Ireland's needy.

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