Give Me a Crash Course In . . . Glen

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - PAUL CULLEN

The Gay and Les­bian Equal­ity Net­work is clos­ing down. What’s go­ing on there?

Yes, the char­ity – known by the acro­nym Glen – is wind­ing up its af­fairs af­ter de­cid­ing it is no longer vi­able. A re­port it com­mis­sioned by for­mer Sen­a­tor Jil­lian van Turn­hout con­cluded the or­gan­i­sa­tion faced in­sur­mount­able chal­lenges on five fronts and didn’t have a fu­ture. So af­ter al­most 30 years Glen is clos­ing its doors.

But the past three decades have seen de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, civil part­ner­ships and same-sex mar­riage. How can a gay rights char­ity not be vi­able?

Van Turn­hout con­cluded the or­gan­i­sa­tion has been caught in “a per­fect storm”. Fund­ing has dried up, Glen has no chief ex­ec­u­tive and has lost key staff in re­cent years. Its fi­nan­cial fu­ture was also look­ing bleak, es­pe­cially af­ter Chuck Feeney wound up the phil­an­thropic sup­port that ben­e­fited Glen and so many other Ir­ish char­i­ties over re­cent decades.

But what caused this storm?

Glen ap­pointed a new ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Aine Dug­gan, last au­tumn. She quickly flagged con­cerns in­ter­nally about pos­si­ble fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment. The board, which ap­peared to be un­aware of the is­sues up to then, agreed that the Char­i­ties Reg­u­la­tor should be told. A re­view got un­der way as the reg­u­la­tor re­quested and was given doc­u­men­ta­tion.

What kinds of is­sues were in­volved?

Two main ones. First, Glen’s co-founder and then chair­man Kieran Rose used Glen’s re­sources and fa­cil­i­ties last year for an un­suc­cess­ful bid for a Seanad seat. Mr Rose ran up costs of ¤11,500, which he re­im­bursed. In ad­di­tion, up to seven credit cards were in use, and staff used them for per­sonal pur­chases. Van Turn­hout de­scribed this in a later re­port as “a sys­tem of good­will” for lowly-paid staff – a sys­tem that had grown up over time. She said it was “ex­tremely poor prac­tice” but em­pha­sised that there was no ma­te­rial gain for staff and all money was re­paid.

Were there other fac­tors?

Dug­gan set about re­struc­tur­ing Glen and in Jan­uary two long-serv­ing staff mem­bers were made re­dun­dant. In March, the board ap­pointed an in­ves­ti­ga­tor to look at com­plaints made by two staff, who had gone on sick leave, against an­other staff mem­ber. That re­port is un­der­stood to be near com­ple­tion.

Over Easter, news of the dif­fi­cul­ties within the or­gan­i­sa­tion leaked. Dug­gan, who was step­ping down but was still in place, went on ra­dio to say the con­text to the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in­cluded a lack of fi­nan­cial ex­per­tise re­view­ing the books. Call­ing for a full au­dit, she added: “I would like to be able to stand up and say I can ab­so­lutely 100 per cent stand over a state­ment that there was no mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion. Un­for­tu­nately I can’t do that.”

So was there mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion?

Ab­so­lutely not, says van Turn­hout in her re­port. A sep­a­rate re­port by ac­coun­tant Donal Ryan says: “We did not find any ev­i­dence of mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of state or donor funds or any fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­ity tak­ing place”.

So ev­ery­thing’s al­right then?

No, not re­ally. Glen main­tains it is “un­der re­view” by the reg­u­la­tor, rather than be­ing the sub­ject of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as was widely re­ported. The pub­lic­ity has had cat­a­strophic ef­fects. The HSE stopped fund­ing some projects. Rose re­signed from the board. Glen had no chief ex­ec­u­tive to re­build the or­gan­i­sa­tion, and no money to em­ploy a new boss. It re­mains to be seen if the Char­i­ties Reg­u­la­tor and, in re­la­tion to Rose’s po­lit­i­cal fund­ing, the Stan­dards in Pub­lic Of­fice Com­mis­sion have any­thing to say.

“Work­ing to­gether in a spirit of sol­i­dar­ity we have achieved much,” the char­ity said in its vale­dic­tory state­ment. “But now it is time for the ba­ton to be passed and there is still much, much more work to be done.” But not by Glen.

Gil­lian Van Turn­hout said the or­gan­i­sa­tion Glen has been caught in “a per­fect storm”

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