A scandal has erupted over the appropriation of funds from Irish charities and voluntary health agencies after one charity admitted the pay of its senior staff had been padded with money linked to a cash-raising lottery.
There have been calls for an urgent government inquiry into the operation of the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) after it emerged that funds are being pocketed by CRC management even as its services are being cut.
Chief executive Paul Kiely, who received a State salary of 107,000 euro prior to his retirement, received a “top-up payment” to bring his annual income to an extraordinary quarter of a million euro ($340,000).
Executives at Irish voluntary organisations typically receive six-figure State salaries, but a number are allowed to supplement this with additional “top-up bonuses”, normally drawn from the organisation’s operations. The legality of the practice remains a grey area and varies according to the amounts involved, the terms of written contracts, the political connections of those involved, and a “nod and wink” level of corruption.
The director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Tony O’Brien admitted only seven health agencies out of 42 comply with public sector pay rules, and admitted there was a “nod and wink culture” on the appropriation of funds. Millions of euro had been diverted into the pockets of management in so-called top-ups this year, he admitted. When questioned about the issue, the responses of some of those involved had been evasive.
“Clearly, we see in some of the responses, evidence of what was perhaps ‘a nod and a wink’ culture,” Mr O’Brien said.
“(A culture) of, ‘I’ve had a word with somebody, they said it would be alright, I haven’t documentation but sure, we’ll do it anyway’. That clearly has to be consigned to history.”
The payments controversy initially came to light after health watchdog Hiqa discovered last year that a manager at Tallaght Hospital had been in receipt of an additional 150,000 euro in questionable payments since 2005.
Earlier this month, it emerged that boss of Crumlin Children’s hospital gets a private 30,000 euro ‘top up’ payment taken from the proceeds of a hospital shop. And last week, Rhona Mahony, the top doctor at the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, defended her receipt of additional payments, which she described as ‘private fees’.
This week, Mr O’Brien confirmed that he may be seeking an additional 300 million euro to maintain the operations of the HSE.
The Irish Labour Party, which is holding its annual party conference this weekend, admitted it was embarrassed by the money grab of health and voluntary sector insiders while savage cutbacks are being implemented in the health services.
Speaking at the conference in Killarney, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said revelations about the use of donated and other funds to top-up salaries were “extremely disturbing”. Charitable donations should not be used to fund “lavish salaries”, she added.