Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Priority Questions

Irish Red Cross Society

3:00 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Question 1: To ask the Minister for Defence his plans for reform and restructuring of the Irish Red Cross; the timetable for implementing any such changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38256/10]

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister, Department of Defence; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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The current governance proposals arise from a resolution passed in November 2007, by the council of delegates of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The resolution urged all national societies, as requested by action 3 of the strategy for the movement, to examine and update their statutes, their rules and related legal texts by 2010, in accordance with the Guidance for National Society Statutes and relevant international conference resolutions. This task is being undertaken by many Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world.

The formal report of the working group established by the Irish Red Cross Society to examine the issue of governance was received in the Department of Defence in January of this year. In order to implement the recommendations made, significant amendments to the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939 will be required. The 1939 order, which was made pursuant to the Red Cross Act 1938 provides for the current governance arrangements of the society.

Representatives of the society and officials from the Department of Defence have had a number of meetings to discuss the specific changes required to the 1939 order and work is ongoing in that regard. Officials from the Department have also met officials in the Office of the Attorney General to discuss the changes that need to be made. The rules of the society, as provided for in the 1939 order, will also need to be amended by the society to reflect the proposed governance changes. As of now it is not possible to give a precise timetable for the implementation of the required changes; however, this work is being prioritised in the Department and good progress is being made.

The recent appointment, by the President, of Mr. David O'Callaghan as chairman of the society is also a positive development. Mr. O'Callaghan is a former career civil servant with experience of matters relating to the Irish Red Cross Society from his time as Secretary General of the Department of Defence. I am fully confident that his appointment will help expedite the reform process under way in the society. The post of secretary general of the society, which is currently filled on an acting basis, was recently advertised and I expect that the society will be in a position to fill the post in the near future.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his response. Does he agree that the Irish Red Cross Society is a very important organisation both nationally and internationally? It is used here for emergency planning and other purposes, and is an auxiliary to the State. Does he also agree that it should get the greatest of attention from the Minister? What is the delay in implementing the 20 Government proposals? Has the Minister read these proposals and what are his views on them?

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister, Department of Defence; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I agree that the Irish Red Cross Society is a very important organisation. It is important to remember that the governance of the society is set out under the terms of the Geneva Convention, the 1938 Act and the 1939 order. One of the principal requirements of the Minister is to ensure the independence of the Irish Red Cross Society. That provision is not necessarily put in place because of the requirements relating to the Red Cross in Ireland but because the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies operate internationally, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, and their neutrality and independence from government is a very important consideration in that context. It would be disastrous for the Government to undermine the independence of the Irish Red Cross Society by intervening in the day-to-day running of the organisation and the Government would not countenance doing so.

Further to the proposals arising from the 2007 review of the international societies, the working group set up here made a number of recommendations, which we have discussed here on previous occasions, including that the chairman of the Irish Red Cross Society should be independently appointed when the new system is in place, that the number of Government nominees should be dramatically reduced and many other recommendations on the internal workings of the organisation.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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The Minister has not answered my question on why it is taking so long to reach a decision on these proposed reforms. Is it not true that the Department received these proposals in January and ten months later the Minister has not taken much action on them? Is it not time that action was taken? Far from intervening or interfering, as the Minister said, this is supporting and is something the Irish Red Cross Society itself seeks. Is it not true that it is the Minister who is delaying change, reform and progress on this matter, which will lead to the Irish Red Cross Society being open to all kinds of bad press which does not help its thousands of volunteers who do considerable good work, including some of its members who go overseas and put their lives at risk? Is it not about time for the Minister to make a decision that would support and help the Irish Red Cross Society by taking decisions on these reforms? Is it not the Minister's responsibility to introduce changes to the 1939 order?

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister, Department of Defence; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Of course after the report of the task force was received a number of steps needed to be undertaken, not least of which was consultation with the international Red Cross with regard to whether the working group proposals were appropriate in the context of the changes the international Red Cross had sought in 2007. There was considerable consultation at that level. There was also consideration of the proposals at the level of the executive of the Irish Red Cross Society, which was a very important element of that. There was not a large queue of people seeking to be appointed to the position of chairman of the society and I am very grateful to Mr. O'Callaghan for having accepted it. At this point he and his executive have considerable work to do independently of the Government. Some of these changes are quite far-reaching, and some elements need to be cleared by Office of the Attorney General and the Parliamentary Counsel regarding the manner in which they are done. I would welcome input from the Houses of the Oireachtas and I would be happy to bring the draft regulations before the relevant committee at the appropriate time if that were the feeling of the House in that regard.

This is a major restructuring and it is more important that it be done properly than done with undue haste and end up being a failure.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister believe it can be done in the next 12 months?

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister, Department of Defence; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy on the role of the volunteers in the Irish Red Cross Society and the wonderful work they do as well as the impact of the Red Cross internationally. As previously discussed in the Chamber, it would have been impossible to advance all this in the absence of a chairman being in position to lead the executive as considerable work needs to be done there. I assure the House there will be no untoward delays in moving it on.