Fianna Fail deputy Willie O’Dea, pictured with Paul Kelly, of Console, at a coffee morning in the Mayor’s office in 2012
FIANNA Fail deputy Willie O’Dea has described the allegations of spending at the charity Console – which were revealed in a recent audit – as “absolutely reprehensible and horrendous” and said those involved “should face the full rigours of the law”.
“I hope the gardai are now investigating this. For monies to be taken from a charity which is set up to help families bereaved by suicide is so morally wrong,” he told the Limerick Chronicle.
Deputy O’Dea was introduced to Paul Kelly, the founder and former chief executive of Console, now resigned, at a coffee morning in the Mayor’s office in Limerick in 2012 to mark Console’s 10 years in existence.
At that time the then Mayor of Limerick, Gerry McLoughlin, and former Munster rugby player, spoke of his own battles with mental health and praised the work of Console.
Mr Kelly has since been picked up by gardai in Dublin in relation to his own personal well-being and safety – not from any criminal matters.
The HSE audit showed that Mr Kelly, his wife and son ran up credit card bills of almost €500,000 on items such as groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips over a three-year period.
He set up Console after his younger sister died by suicide, and it has offices in in Limerick, as well as eight other locations around the country.
It has now emerged that more than half of total credit card spending between 2012 and 2014 was in the name of a nun, a former employee, who had not worked for the charity since 2009.
Mr Kelly, it has been alleged, spent €252,254.62 on credit cards over the three years – €128,168.53 of which was in the name of the nun. The credit card in her name was in fact upgraded from a business to premier card in 2013.
Fianna Fail deputy Niall Collins has now called on the Health Service Executive to publish audits, which it has carried out on 27 charities, to ensure greater transparency within the sector. Deputy Collins says confidence in the charity sector has suffered following on from the revelations about Console, and he wants to see this restored.
“There are hundreds of charities across this country which provide excellent services to vulnerable people and we must ensure that these organisations are protected. The scandal at Console risks damaging their reputations, as well as that of the charity sector as a whole.
Meanwhile, a Limerick woman, who lost her husband to suicide when he was 59, has said she feels “sick” about revelations of financial mismanagement at the suicide bereavement charity. The woman, who does not wish to be identified, received counselling from Console in Limerick after her husband took his own life in 2014. “I was devastated beyond belief, absolutely devastated,” she said.
“A friend of mine has fundraised for Console, did the Camino walk for them, and asked a huge circles of people for money, and now she can’t even look at them”. The woman praised her counsellor in Console, whom she saw for over a year, and said many counsellors with Console are also feeling “betrayed”.
“I hope it doesn’t adversely affect them, because the work that they do is fantastic and their frontline staff are amazing. They have helped pick me up, and many others like me, off the floor when I needed it most,” she added.
“The money that those people took and spent on themselves could have provided another helpline. They reduced their helplines from six down to two. There are only two helplines left for the whole country, for people who are feeling suicidal or people who are affected by suicide.
“And is there somebody, somewhere who tried to call for help and couldn’t get through because there were only two lines? And is that person now in their grave? We will never know that.
“Every day someone is going to face what I faced and every day someone is going to feel suicidal and going to need to talk to somebody.”
Despite the allegations levelled at those running the charity, she believes that Console provides a vital service and has grave fears about the damage caused by scandal.
“I think an awful lot of people will stop fundraising. I have friends who fundraise and they don’t want to be associated with the name Console anymore.
"That is really serious because if we don’t have the counsellors and we don’t have the helplines who’s going to save everybody now?”
The president of the Irish Association Of Suicidology Dan Neville said while he was disappointed in the Console revelations, he wasn't surprised.
“We had some concerns about [Paul Kelly] four years ago, though not in regard to the operation of Console.
“With the HSE prepared to substantially front him, I suppose we took some comfort in that and assumed its systems would ensure, given the level of funding involved, that every cent would be properly accounted for.
“Given these concerns, and his well documented past, I always felt that something [like this] might happen with Kelly in charge.”