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Former ChildFund boss spent ‘excessive’ amounts on hospitality

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The former chief executive of an Irish charity spent an “excessive and inappropriate” amount of money on restaurants, travel and accommodation, an investigation by the Charities Regulator has found.

In a damning 52-page report, the watchdog found that ChildFund Ireland, which has received millions of euro from the State, did not have “adequate” control in managing its spending on travel, expenses, income, credit card expenditure, petty cash, payment of bonuses and overheads.

The report said such weaknesses created “significant financial and reputational risk” to the charity.

Inspectors also found a lack of sufficient oversight by the charity’s board over its financial matters, and an inappropriate financial governance structure where the chief executive had most of the approval authority and responsibility for internal control.

They also found that an “ineffective” finance and audit sub-committee only met on limited occasions and had an “inappropriately defined” scope of work.

The report said there was “inadequate oversight” by the board and sub-committee of credit card and travel expenditure, procurement and purchase approvals, retirement expenditure, bonuses and recruitment practices.

The international charity, which was founded in 1991, supports the education of children in developing countries such as Ethiopia.

The investigation into the charity came after a number of concerns were raised with the regulator, including one in December 2018.

Concerns

The concerns raised were in relation to the conduct of ChildFund’s former chief executive Michael Kiely, credit card expenditure, lack of control by the trustees of ChildFund, and the breakdown in the relationship between ChildFund and its most significant contributor, Irish Aid.

An investigation was carried out which looked at the appropriate use of charitable assets and the procedures for the recording and authorisation of payments.

It found that the finance director, who was unnamed in the report, was allowed to make decisions that were not in line with policies and procedures of the charity after she employed seven people contrary to its recruitment policies.

The finance director gave jobs to six people she knew. However, the roles were not advertised and there were no interview processes.

It was claimed that the staff were brought in as emergency recruitment to deal with the extra work around Christmas; however the inspectors said that two of the six staff were still on the payroll in March 2020.

It also emerged that Mr Kiely, the finance director and her daughter went on a trip to Zambia at a cost of more than €6,300.

The finance director’s daughter is not a member of staff, despite travelling at the expense of the charity.

Mr Kiely told inspectors that the director’s daughter was appointed junior ambassador to take books to children on the trip to Zambia, despite there being no formal recruitment or appointment procedure for the role.

The former chief executive resigned in December 2017, and it emerged that a series of large expenditures were incurred for his retirement lunch and dinner.

The organisation had a deficit of €12,436 when it spent a total of €2,774 on these events, including a €600 farewell gift.

Inspectors from the Charities Regulator found that a large portion of spending went on food and meals in restaurants.

From January 2017 to July 2018 the finance director’s credit card expenditure on food was €3,812.19.

This included meals, some of which the former chief executive attended after he retired.

Incidents of expenditure

Of the 84 incidents of expenditure on food by the finance director using the company credit card, none was supported by an expenses claim form, only one was supported by a detailed receipt, and 12 were supported with a Visa receipt only.

The remaining 71 expenditures had no supporting documents, the regulator found.

A review of credit card statements and receipts found that only 154 out of 417 expenses claims included back-up documents, and there was no approval of expenses by the board.

The regulator said it could not conclude whether the expenses were for charitable purposes.

The regulator also noted that the position of the chief executive was not filled until August 2018 and that the organisation was managed by the finance director, despite board members admitting that she was not qualified.

Previous reports into the charity found that there were issues around its structure and wage costs.

The latest report found that the “ineffective board” has not acted in a timely manner on the recommendations set out in the three reports.

In a statement, ChildFund Ireland chairman Gerald Doherty said the board “broadly accepts” its findings.

“The board fully accept and deeply regret that the control functions and oversight were not of a sufficiently high standard and the board wish to assure our donors and stakeholders that the matters identified in September 2018 were addressed once they had come to the board’s attention,” he said.

“The board would like to emphasise to all stakeholders that since January 2019, it has been engaging with ChildFund International to secure its future.

“It has been a difficult period for the charity, and many of the steps which the report highlights and advises, could not be undertaken until such time as the regulatory process had concluded.”

The Irish Times has sought comment from the parties involved. – Additional reporting: PA

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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