Mary Lou McDonald calls on PAC to discuss 'financial irregularities' at Console

The founder of the charity, his wife and son ran up credit card bills of almost €500,000, an audit found

Mary Lou McDonald calls on PAC to discuss 'financial irregularities' at Console

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald at a press conference in Dublin | Image: Brian Lawless / PA Archive/Press Association Images

Sinn Fein's Deputy Leader is calling on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to discuss the 'financial irregularities' at Console.

It comes after an audit suggested that the founder of the charity and his wife and son ran up credit card bills of almost €500,000.

The money was spent on groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips.

Details of a HSE audit of the Console books - revealed on RTÉ's Prime Time last night - show company credit cards were used for trips to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

They were also used to pay for dental work, tickets to rugby matches and designer brands like Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren.

The audit shows Console founder Paul Kelly and his wife Patricia and their son Tim got around €500,000 in salaries and cars between 2012 and 2014.

The trio held 11 of the charity's 20 credit cards. During the period under review, nearly €90,000 in cash was withdrawn on the credit cards.

More than €66,000 of that cash was was withdrawn by Paul Kelly himself, but there is no documentation to show how the cash was used.

Investigations of Console's governance are underway by the HSE, an external team, the Charities Regulator and gardaí.

Mary Lou McDonald has been in touch with the incoming chairperson of the PAC - Seán Fleming TD - to request that the issue is top of the agenda when the committee meets next week.

Deputy McDonald said: “We cannot allow the charity sector to be repeatedly undermined by scandals such as this.

"It is imperative that we get the full facts on exactly what has happened so that we can ensure that it never happens again," she added.

'Broken Trust'

An RTÉ report earlier this month revealed concerns about the charity, which provides counselling for people bereaved by suicide.

Console recorded an income of just over €1.9m in 2014, almost half of it from state agencies, mainly the Health Service Executive (HSE).

RTÉ Investigates - Broken Trust revealed that, when applying for state grants, the charity on several occasions altered accounts to omit the reference to directors' pay and other benefits.

Mr Kelly has denied allegations of mismanagement.

It was reported last week that Mr Kelly had resigned as Chief Executive of Console - but Paul Cullen, Health Correspondent with the Irish Times, says there is now some confusion over that issue.

He told Pat Kenny: "As I understand it, he is now saying he has not resigned. He appeared in the office on Monday saying it was 'business as normal'.

"The elements seem to be there possibly for a legal battle over this. The matter may be taken out of the hands of anybody in the charity," he said.

Meanwhile, people availing of the services of Console are being advised that the phone line is still in operation.

Minister with responsibility for Mental Health, Helen McEntee, says Console's services are still very much needed.

"What we have to look at moving forward is that any alternative arrangements that are put in place will provide the service that is there," she explained.