Learning the lessons from Console

We are sure everyone is deeply troubled by the revelations regarding Console, and concerned about the negative impact on the community, voluntary and charitable sector. It is very disturbing that this situation prevailed undetected for so long – especially after all the hard work done by so many organisations in recent years to learn the lessons from earlier controversies by focusing on good governance and committing to openness and transparency.
Over the last number of weeks The Wheel has engaged with the leading media outlets to make sure the sector’s voice is heard. To date we have provided balanced inputs on Prime Time (RTÉ One), Six One News News (RTÉ One), News at One (RTÉ Radio 1), Today with Sean O’ Rourke  (RTÉ Radio 1), Newstalk Breakfast, The Last Word with Matt Cooper (Today FM), Ireland AM (TV3), News at Five (UTV Ireland), The Journal and in the Irish Independent, Irish Examiner, Sunday Business Post, Evening Herald and several regional media outlets. We have also been in direct contact with journalists who have published potentially misleading information.
In parallel with this, we have maintained contact with the Charity Regulator and continue to benefit from close working relationships with the HSE, Revenue Commissioners and all relevant Government departments.
We strongly recommend that you review our toolkit (PDF) to help you navigate your organisation through this turbulent time for the sector. The toolkit includes concrete steps to maintain high levels of trust in your organisation and tips for dealing with media queries.
We know that it feels as though the community, voluntary and charitable sector is being tarnished by all of this – but charities have a responsibility to sustain their charitable missions in the face of this situation. We know also that many of us who work in the sector are heartened by the ongoing positive support and belief of long-time supporters and committed donors. And we also know that many organisations have already published high quality information on their websites relating to how they are governed, who their trustees are, how they are financed and the positive impact of their work.
The key messages we have been articulating in the media and to stakeholders are that:
  • no generalisations should be made to the sector as a whole as a result of the this very particular case – it is always unfair to generalise in this way
  • no trustees should privately benefit from their work as a trustee, and employees, or people paid to do regular work for charities, should not be trustees, company directors or board members
  • all the funds under the control of charitable trustees are public funds, and no component of those funds should be regarded as being “private”: trustees are in this sense the guardians or custodians of public funds to be applied solely in furtherence of the charitable purpose.
  • all charities should have completed their registration process with the Charity Regulator and submitted their first annual report, and those that haven’t are in breach of legal requirements
  • all charities should adopt the Governance Code for Community, Voluntary and Charitable Organisations
  • all fundraising charities should ensure that they comply with the Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising by Charities
  • the Charity Regulator should quickly set a financial reporting standard for charities and we believe that standard should be the Statement of Recommended Practice for Financial Reporting by Charities (the SORP)
  • funders need to review the adequacy of their reporting protocols, policies and procedures.
The requirements above relating to the Governance Code, Fundraising Principles and Financial Reporting by Charities (SORP) are known as the Triple Lock for Charities, and we believe that when applied by charities alongside the full powers of the Regulator, they will sustain public trust and confidence in charities.
Although – as reported in the High Court – the crisis in Console goes way beyond mere governance failure, there are other issues that need to be addressed if we are to learn all the lessons:  the extent to which funders and regulators act in a timely manner on concerns; apparent shortcomings in the adequacy of audit procedures; the lack of clarity as to where responsibility lies for investigating concerns; the adequacy of reporting procedures implemented by funders. We believe we now need to understand these issues and identify corrective actions necessary. We will be working to develop proposals to address these issues and others raised by recent developments. We will also be looking at what more needs to be done to support trustees in their important work, and to value the absolutely vital contribution that charities make to sustaining our social, community and health services.
There are some positive changes that have emerged from these recent developments: the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice has announced the commencement of Part IV of the Charities Act which will equip the Charity Regulator with the investigative powers it needs to take pre-emptive action (currently it can only act if a concern has been brought to its attention). The Regulator has also requested that statutory funders, such as the HSE, develop a memorandum-of-understanding with it to ensure funders inform the Regulator of any concerns.
We have called on the Minister to ensure that sufficient resources are made available to the Regulator to enable it to fully implement its new investigative powers. We have also asked the Regulator to expedite the setting of the financial reporting standard needed for consistent financial reporting by charities and to ensure a mechanism is put in place to monitor and drive compliance by charities with the fundraising principles.