Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
67. Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether there should be an independent investigation into the governance and management of the Irish Red Cross in view of the recent negative publicity surrounding the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15709/10]
70. Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Defence his views on the recent internal governance review of the Irish Red Cross; his further views on whether this review goes far enough in terms of addressing concerns relating to the governance and management of that organisation; the outcome of recent discussions between officers of his Department and the Irish Red Cross; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15716/10]
87. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence the discussions that have taken place between his officials and the Irish Red Cross regarding the recent internal governance review of the Irish Red Cross; and the action he proposes to take arising from these discussions. [15607/10]
The Irish Red Cross Society is an autonomous body, established by the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939 pursuant to the Red Cross Act 1938. The society is an independent charitable organisation with full powers to manage and administer its affairs through its governing body, the central council. Membership of the central council is by way of appointment by the Government or by election in accordance with the rules of the society.
In accordance with Article 9 of the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939, the chairman of the Irish Red Cross Society shall be a member of the central council and shall be nominated by the president of the society. The Red Cross Act 1944 provides that the President of Ireland shall by virtue of her office be president of the society. I am following up on the good work of my predecessor in ascertaining a suitable candidate to be proposed by Government to the President, for appointment to the post of chairman of the society. In the interim, the vice chair of the society acts in lieu of the chair.
The society has been subject to some adverse publicity in recent times but this fact does not fully reflect the true standing of the society and its international governing body in the eyes of the public. It is important for the morale of its volunteers that the society’s unique position be properly recognised and that change, as appropriate, be effected.
As independence from Government is one of the fundamental principles under which the Red Cross conducts its business, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the question of an independent investigation into the governance and management of the Irish Red Cross Society. National societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their Government and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the International Red Cross movement. I am anxious to ensure that all my dealings with the society continue to be conducted in accordance with the society’s basic principle of independence from Government.
The working group, which was established by the society to propose changes in governance, forwarded its findings and recommendations to the Minister for Defence in January 2010. Officials in the Department have commenced dialogue on the contents of the report with officials in the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs, and the Irish Red Cross Society. When the consultative process is concluded, I will bring before Government any statutory changes deemed necessary.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Obviously there have been ongoing problems with the Irish Red Cross Society for a number of years and it is important that the Minister addresses the matter. Whereas he wants to keep at arm’s length from the organisation, the laws passed by this House give him the authority to get involved. This issue has been festering. I met the acting secretary general and the chairman of the Irish Red Cross Society some time ago. Like Deputy O’Shea I have been receiving letters from members of the Irish Red Cross Society. A recent blog on Saturday, 17 April again reflected that rumours of serious industrial relations unrest at the society intensify. Matters seem to be getting worse and not better in the Irish Red Cross Society. While I am not taking any sides, those issues need to be addressed because the Red Cross is a very important and closely knit organisation. The wrong message is going out to people throughout the world as regards what is happening in Ireland. When we see people with the reputation of Mr. David Andrews and the highly regarded civil servant Mr. John Roycroft resign before their time, this obviously raises questions.
This is to lay down a challenge to the Minister. Given that he is contributing €1 million from his budget and by statute he is entitled to become involved in the governance of the Irish Red Cross, he should act.
Enough money has been spent on consultancy fees in examining the Irish Red Cross. We know there is a problem. What is needed as soon as possible is new legislation and the setting up of a new structure for the governance of the Irish Red Cross, as well as the definition of the composition of the Government body and the central executive, which is too big and unwieldy at present.
Will the Minister give a commitment that it is his intention to bring legislation before the House? We will give him every possible help with it in order to reform the Irish Red Cross and ensure that the current problems are addressed. When does the Minister intend to appoint a new chairman, which is important? I know the Minister will act prudently in the appointment of that person and will appoint somebody with an international reputation with vast experience not only in this country in the context of providing Irish Red Cross services, but also internationally. Such people are available.
Deputy Tony Killeen: In his early sentences, Deputy Deenihan outlined the difficulty, namely, how to address a problem while at the same time staying at arm’s length and remaining within the provisions of the law, which is a somewhat tricky assignment. I would be very concerned if the view were the one that has been expressed to him, namely, that matters are getting worse, which would be most unwelcome.
My understanding is that there is no provision in the establishment order for me, as Minister, to intervene directly in the day-to-day running of the organisation. There is perhaps a grey area in that regard and Deputy Deenihan has suggested there may be a requirement for legislative change. This is an issue I have not considered but, in view of what the Deputy has said, I will consider it.
Deputy Tony Killeen: ——and with whom I would strongly disagree. I have had an opportunity to examine the record of the previous Minister, Deputy Willie O’Dea, in this regard. Frankly, I do not believe I could have done any better, considering the issues he was trying to address and the constraints he was forced to operate within.
Deputy Tony Killeen: With regard to the question of the chair, it was not a matter that had been abandoned. Considerable work had been done by Deputy O’Dea in many areas regarding this issue, and I will not go back to the start but will benefit from that work.
On all sides of the House, we agree that the International Red Cross and, by extension, the Irish Red Cross has a particularly positive standing and has enormous potential which it has realised almost all of the time, notwithstanding the difficulties it has faced. In so far as we can facilitate or help to ensure that this continues to be the case, it is incumbent on all of us, particularly on myself, as Minister, to try to get to that point.
Deputy Brian O’Shea: There is a basic issue in this regard. The fact the State has any major role in terms of the Irish Red Cross relates to the fact the relevant statutory instruments come from the period just before the Second World War, when there was the threat of invasion, bombing and mass casualties. My view is that the role of the State should be reduced. However, in the context of what the Minister has to deal with, where he can make a positive input into the future of the organisation is in regard to governance as per the legislation which he may or may not feel is appropriate.
I realise this is all new to the Minister and that he has inherited this issue. I absolutely share his view that the Irish Red Cross is a very important organisation and there needs to be an end to all of the current adverse publicity. I ask that the Minister would consider the idea of the organisation being much more independent of Government, that he would consider a modern governance structure and, most of all, that the issue be dealt with rapidly so this very important national organisation, which has done a great deal of good, can get on with its primary work, serve the community and be involved in important projects abroad. This would ensure a period of negativity is brought to an end.
Deputy Tony Killeen: I welcome the comments by Deputies O’Shea and Deenihan and agree with both in many respects. Ultimately, the logic of what Deputy O’Shea said in regard to State involvement cannot be argued against. That is a direction that may or may not be possible within the legal parameters that are currently in place under that Act, which, as the Deputy says, dates from a particular era and reflects that fact. Notwithstanding this, the need for a modern governance structure is probably a matter of considerable urgency and how that can be achieved is an issue on which we will have future engagement. I welcome the support of the Deputies and also the goodwill in society, which is reflected in both Houses, towards the International Red Cross and the Irish Red Cross.
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