Charity, we are told, is the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need. When you or I spontaneously put our hands in our pockets for the roadside tramp we are simply giving what we can to an obvious person in need.
Events in Ireland in the last year however show that organized charities operate a different way. From what we have seen and read, the priority of charities appears to be self enrichment for the giver at the expense of the needy. I have written about this topic before.
In Ireland it is easy to secure charitable stays for your group or organization if you are in the know. Once the Revenue boys rubber-stamp your application, it becomes a tax-free, disclosure-free holiday. Better again, the likelihood is that the very State that granted you the status will also give you substantial grant-aid from tax revenues collected.
From outside that particular tent, we are expected to believe that the highest standards of integrity and responsibility automatically governs the charities due to the quality of the people involved. We are expected too to understand that charities are above suspicion when it comes to their day-to-day operation. Essentially the story is that the people running such august bodies are fine individuals of the highest moral fibre who selflessly do good work for their fellow lesser mortals.
Then the first rumors began bubbling about Rehab and it's CEO Angela Kerins. A friend who worked in a similar charity told me at the time that whenever Angela had to travel from her country mansion to the city based offices of Rehab, she did so by helicopter. Her court case drags on so we'll say no more but the arrogance of the woman is mind-boggling in the face of the evidence against her.
The Rehab circus was running in the Four Goldmines when the Central Remedial Clinic scandal blew up. Public donations to all charities collapsed after that and this has not changed since. The word charity is now a dirty word here and its true meaning has become the opposite of its dictionary definition.
Then last week a new charity bomb went off. The suicide charity "Console," burst onto the front pages in the guise of their CEO Paul Kelly. Journalistic accounts of the man paint a picture of a top class con man who once even posed as a doctor in his checkered career. Having pillaged hundreds of thousands of euros for himself and his family, he has gone to ground. The airwaves have dedicated whole programs to Console and Kelly all week with calls for revenge.
A weary public woke this morning to yet another charity scandal, this time courtesy of St John of God's. Their CEO, Claire Dempsey, is paying herself €125,000 a year despite a HSE cap of €110,00. But the real scandal is the €16 million in pension top-ups among other things. This is sixteen million euro donated directly or indirectly for the good of the mentally handicapped but the CEO and managers have been at the honey jar for themselves.
On the rump of all of these charities and the hundreds of other charities not yet exposed, is the Charity Regulator. Like the Financial Regulator, the Phone Regulator and all the other quango jobs created for the boys, the post is meaningless. The horrible truth is that there is no regulation of charities in Ireland.
It's funny how some incidents in your youth stay with you forever. Thinking back, I must have been in my early twenties at the time and I was in the city one afternoon for a few hours. Some charity box was rattled in front of me and in exchange for some coinage, the girl plonked a sticker on my lapel. Then as I sat alone later having one pint before the bus home, a little bloke slid in beside me and pointed at the lapel sticker. "I'm a manager for them," he told me proudly. To this day I can't remember who "Them" was but it doesn't matter.
With a lot of smirking and sneering then the guy surprised me by telling me that I was a fucking ejit, and he got my instant attention. Then he became truly vile as he explained that 99p out of every 100p we, the public gave, went to the employees of the charity. He left me in no doubt that he found it to be a brilliant ruse but he hinted that it surely couldn't last. That was why he had no difficulty regaling me with his genius. He truly believed the scam must surely end soon, (this was the late seventies!!!), but he pulled a bundle of twenties from his pocket in a big gesture and offered to buy me a pint. The large lump of cash was this skinny fucker's way of showing me he was telling the truth. I left in disgust.
That encounter all those years ago was on my mind when I wrote, "Give to the wealthy," last November. In fifteen unwanted minutes in a Cork pub in '77 or '78, I vowed never to give another penny to any charity but to look to doing my modest bit on a face-to-face basis with the actually needy. I confess as well to having my opinions hardened in recent years, when in public debate with some of the highest profile charities in Ireland. Condemnation by health officials for the ordinary smoker is one thing, but the attacks by the charities on us is particularly vicious, though delivered in the pious tones of caring. Their cynical delivery of a bunch of lies on secondhand smoke was truly nauseating, even more so because it formed the basis for campaign to incite hatred for the smoker. They call it de-normalisation and I have a vague recollection from a history book that Hitler used that term in relation to the Jews.
But smokers aside, the truly shocking part of all of this is that the real needy people, those with genuine problems requiring our help, are the victims of this horrible greed. The guilty are well-dressed, well-connected individuals who somehow have the respect of the establishment. They have the funds at their disposal to defend themselves legally so absolutely none of them will do time for theft. The ranks of the elite will close around this, ahem, embarrassment, and when the whole sorry episode fades from the short-term public memory, things will return to normal with business as usual.
The institutional sickness will continue with minimal discomfort for the guilty.