THE founder and chief executive of the Console charity has resigned amidst allegations of financial misconduct at the organisation.
Paul Kelly, who founded Co. Kildare-based Console in 2002, and his wife Patricia, who was listed as a director, jointly headed up the suicide bereavement charity.
Both resigned from their positions last week, following a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) audit which revealed that the pair, and their son Tim Kelly, benefitted from almost €491,649 (£412,869) in salaries and cars between 2012 and 2014.
Details of the audit, which were first revealed by the RTE investigations unit, also showed that during that same period a further €464,777 (£390,302) was lavishly spent by the family on 11 Console credit cards - for items including groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips.
That included trips to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, designer clothing from the likes of Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss, dining out and Rugby World Cup tickets.
In light of the HSE’s findings the charity’s board set up an external review, which led to the resignation of Mr and Mrs Kelly last week.
Over the weekend the couple’s solicitors arranged for the 2010 Audi Q5 used by Patricia Kelly and a 2009 Mercedes CLS driven by her husband to be collected from their home in Clane, Co. Kildare.
The cars alone cost the suicide prevention and bereavement charity more than €87,000 (£73,000).
Ireland’s Charities Regulatory Authority has since appointed five new board members to assume control of the charity, including interim CEO David Hall, while the charity’s accounts are investigated.
As news of the alleged mishandling of Console’s finances spreads, there is shock among those who have supported the charity over the years – not least in Britain, where Paul Kelly officially launched a London branch of the organisation in 2015.
Galway native Colm Farrell raised £100,000 for Console in Ireland after completing two charity walks – across the 32 counties of Ireland and the 86 counties in England, Scotland and Wales - in 2014.
This week he told The Irish Post: “I was very disappointed to hear this, I was shocked to think that somebody might do what they like with the money that was being donated.”
Mr Farrell, who has remained in Britain since his cross-country challenge, now living in Warrington, has since set up an anti-suicide charity of his own, the Leeds-based national counselling service Stamp out Suicide.
He claims the Console revelations may make fundraising harder for all charities.
“It doesn’t do much for charities across the board, it will put a sour taste in people’s mouths, it will deter people from wanting to give to charities,” he admits.
“But I do hope that Console remains open - the service is vital and it would be a shame if it was to fold, as there are still so many people out there that need the service,” he added.
Console’s London branch, registered with The Charity Commission as Console Suicide Prevention Ltd, began offering services in 2012 but was officially launched at the House of Lords in Westminster last year.
At that event, held in October 2015, the charity revealed that the family of former Welsh soccer manager Gary Speed, who took his own life in 2011, had funded a counselling room in his memory at their London headquarters.
Mr Speed’s parents and sister attended the launch, where they were pictured with Mr Kelly.
In the same year organisers of the London Irish Vintage Rally and Family Day handed a fundraising cheque for £26,650 to Console’s London branch, which has been headed up by Tim Kelly since its foundation.
Over the past three years the Irish government has also supported the charity in London through its Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) funding.
From 2013-2015 the charity received a total of £119,700 in ESP funding, although their 2016 funding application has now been put on hold, a government spokesperson told The Irish Post this week.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has, under the Government’s Emigrant Support Programme (ESP), provided funding to the organisation in question for three years. €59,200 [£49,700] was provided in 2013 while £40,000 was provided in 2014 and £30,000 in 2015,” they confirmed.
“This funding has related to the establishment and ongoing operation of the organisation’s suicide prevention and bereavement counselling service in London for the benefit of the Irish community.”
They added: “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently informed Console UK that consideration of its application for funding under the 2016 ESP grant round has been put on hold pending an audit of the London operation by the Department, which will be conducted in the coming weeks. No grant for Console UK under the 2016 ESP has been agreed.”
Console’s London branch is now due to be investigated by The Charity Commission, which claims to have “significant regulatory concerns” regarding the organisation.
“The Charity Commission has significant regulatory concerns regarding the UK charity Console Suicide Prevention Limited,’ a spokesperson told The Irish Post on Monday.
“We have opened a regulatory case and engaged with the charity outlining these concerns. We are liaising with all required UK and Eire authorities,” they added.
The Console charity was unavailable for comment when contacted by The Irish Post.