Giving to charity, or to bloated salaries?

By Michael Clifford – The Irish Examiner

Saturday, 16th April 2011

Kerins is reported to receive a salary package upwards of €400,000…..How can the public continue to have confidence in Rehab? The service it provides is beyond reproach, but what are people handing over money for?

IN these times of austerity, giving to charity has never been as important. Austerity doesn’t hit all sectors equally. Those who require support of one sort or another invariably bear the biggest brunt of cutbacks.

Therefore, it’s never been as important to have confidence in how donations are being put to use. For instance, who wants to give to charity in order to support a fat-cat salary?

It is in this vein that recent revelations about Angela Kerins have been so disturbing.

Kerins is chief executive of the Rehab organisation, which provides training and work for people with disabilities.

Rehab employs about 3,500 people, of whom about one-in-seven have a disability.

Those with a disability working for Rehab receive a top-up payment to their disability allowance. Over the last two budgets, the allowance has been slashed from €204.30 to €188 per week, a cut of 8%.

Kerins, by contrast, is reported to receive a salary package upwards of €400,000. She is also a member of a number of other state boards for which she receives an assortment of stipends. These figures have not been confirmed because Kerins refuses to divulge the exact level of her remuneration on the basis that not all of Rehab’s income derives from the state. A spokesman said she took a 10% cut last year, but her specific salary is not available.

Last year, Rehab received €54.4 million from the state, representing more than a quarter of its total income, and a far bigger grant than was received by most other charities.

Kerins’ refusal to reveal the extent of her “package” is inexplicable. Most other charities are completely up front on what they pay their top people.

For instance, as of last December, Director of Trócaire Justin Kilcullen receives around €150,000. The chief executive of the Brothers of Charity, which provides respite care, is paid €113,000. The top man in St Michael’s House in Dublin, Paul Ledwidge is on €176,000.

Enable Ireland’s chief Fionnuala O’Donovan received pay increases in 2008 and 2009 to bring her salary from €158,000 to €169,000. While cuts were being made to allowances for people with disabilities, one of the bosses in the sector was receiving a generous pay rise. Her salary was cut in 2010 to €156,000. (Some of these figures may have been revised downwards in the last few months.)

When the salaries came into the public domain in December, Health Minister Mary Harney described the information as “disturbing”. Her disturbance was disturbing in itself. Should a serving minister not have been well aware that these were the levels of salary being paid out to organisations funded by her department?

In most cases, the salaries are linked to the upper reaches of the public sector. This is the realm of the cosseted elite, where cast-iron job security and gold-plated pensions are regarded as an entitlement. This is not life as the middle or lower-paid public servants know it, and it’s a world away from where a majority of people in the private sector work.

In remuneration terms, this is the company being kept by some chiefs of charity organisations. Like Mary Harney, many in the public find this quite disturbing.

Heading up a charity brings with it a certain kudos, as if the individual is personally helping those less fortunate. When members of the public give of their time and money to charity organisations, few of them would consider that they do so to support big salaries at the top.

Despite all that, there are mitigating factors. People of ability are required to run charities efficiently. Salaries should be linked to something, and the public sector is the obvious benchmark. If public sector pay at the upper level is crazy, well, can you blame the charity chiefs for just keeping the head down?

Kerins’ case is in a different realm. If her salary was to be benchmarked against the public sector, she would be sitting atop government buildings tossing alms to the great unwashed.

Equally, her refusal to divulge the level of remuneration puts her in a unique position.

Public sector salaries are in the public domain. The bloated packages of the chiefs of public companies are published. This information is disseminated because both the state and public companies engage with the wider public and shareholders. If the public is required to invest confidence in these entities, it is deemed necessary to open up the books.

How can the public continue to have confidence in Rehab? The service it provides is beyond reproach, but what are people handing over money for?

Kerins’ supporters point out that Rehab is more akin to a commercial semi-state than a charity, and her salary is benchmarked accordingly. This in turn raises questions about what exactly is the function of the organisation. There is a screaming need for an entity to train people with disabilities, who continue to be discriminated against in the workplace. But if only 14% of trainees fall into this category, what is the point of such a huge organisation? Could it merely be, like so many other state and private entities during the bubble, that it has grown to be a vehicle to build an empire?

Other aspects of her position raise other questions. Rehab imports coffin components through a China-based company in which her brother is a director. Kerins’ husband was also a director of the company, but is understood to no longer be so. The coffins are assembled by Rehab employees in Kilkenny. It is impossible to see how a conflict of interest doesn’t exist.

She was at the centre of another possible conflict when she was on the board of the National Disability Authority, until her departure in late 2009. If, for instance, an employee of Rehab had an issue over work-related issues, it is to the NDA they would take their complaint. And sitting on the board of the NDA was the boss of Rehab.

Her connections to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael reaped benefits over the years as she was appointed to a number of state boards and agencies.

One such agency was the Equality Authority, to which she was appointed chairperson in September 2007. The following year, the board members were paid a stipend for the first time since the establishment of the authority in 2000. As chair, her own few bob came to €14,000.

Niall Crowley, who was regarded as passionate advocate for those on the margins, resigned over severe budget cuts in 2008. She had no problem with the budget cuts, and, according to Crowley’s version, little problem with his departure.

Kerins has been an effective advocate for people with disabilities over the years. Her ability to befriend politicians has worked to Rehab’s advantage, and that must be a good thing. She was also a perfect product of the state crony capitalism that saw money being flung around during the bubble years, usually at those close to the centres of power. Times change, and if Rehab expects to retain the confidence of the public, it would do well to show a little transparency, and explain why Angela Kerins is paid as she is. It might even turn out that she’s worth it.


2 Responses to “Giving to charity, or to bloated salaries?”

  1. its a bit like what the lawyers made out of the redressment fund . somehow it gets more and more unfair as we see the sums spent on people like this lady. at the other end of the scale many of us survivers contribute while we think we are helping the poor. i have put money in boxes for this and that but i did not know that i was making this lady so very rich.Who on earth is worth paying so much for her to do her job.its charity buisness. but mostly its buisness.

  2. sean morrison says:

    Dear Michael Clifford,
    You have stumbled upon fraudlant disbursements of funds from the Irish gov. etc. Now please look at the victims of abuse case ongoing and the funds being distributed to Groups who claim thousands of members. It is no secret, they operate openly and the Gov. turns a blind eye, or at least the last Gov. did.

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