HSE criticised for using law to hold money meant for children’s cancer charity

The Health Service Executive (HSE ) has been criticised for using legal technicalities to deprive a children’s cancer charity of a €300,000 donation made to it by another organisation.

Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton raised concerns over the controversial transaction earlier this month, when she asked the Minister for Health to establish how the charitable donation had been absorbed by the HSE.

The controversy relates to a donation made by another children’s charity, Boys Hope Girls Hope, which was in the process of winding up in 2009. It liquidated its assets and donated the proceeds to charities working in the same area.

It agreed to give €300,000 generated by the sale of a property to CD Helping Hands – now called Hand in Hand – to support the charity’s work in providing assistance to families affected by childhood cancer.

It was decided that the HSE would act as an intermediary to manage the funds and release it to Hand in Hand over a three-year period. However, no money was provided to the charity until 2011, when it received just €50,000 of the total amount.

A senior HSE official met with the charity last Friday and presented legal advice it had sought in respect of the funds, claiming that it was entitled to retain the money. No further meeting has been scheduled.

It is understood that the legal advice presented by the HSE referred to the possibility of using the Statute of Limitations to prevent Hand in Hand from asserting a legal right to the donation.

Deputy Naughton said that the manner of the HSE’s engagement with the charity was shameful, and described its attempt to justify the appropriation of the donation with legal technicalities as morally bankrupt.

“Hand in Hand is an excellent charity doing incredible work, but it has struggled enormously in the absence of this funding. It is in a precarious financial position now, to the extent that its continued existence is threatened unless this situation can be resolved,” she said.

“I find it repugnant that the HSE’s response to my concerns has been to seek legal advice outlining how it can keep the money. The cost of that legal opinion alone could have been used to support the good work of Hand in Hand.

“Does the HSE really propose to explain to children and families affected by childhood cancer that they can no longer avail of a service because of the Statute of Limitations or some legal technicality?” asked the Galway West TD.

“They need to come back to the table with Hand in Hand and approach this situation from a moral perspective – not a legal one – and reach a solution that will support the vital services that the charity provides.”

In a letter dated May 4, 2009, former director of Boys Hope Girls Hope John MacNamara wrote to a HSE manager, referring to the terms of the donation and enclosing a cheque for €300,000.

“I attach a cheque for €300k payable to the HSE PCCC (Primary, Community and Continuing Care ) as you requested,” he wrote.

“You will have received a copy of [another director’s] letter of March 6 setting out the terms of this donation to fund CD Helping Hands Charity. In particular these terms include a commitment by you to donate €50k per annum to this charity.”

A memorandum of understanding signed by the HSE and the children’s charity in 2009 refers to a fund of €450,000, of which up to €150,000 could be drawn down each year for three years until 2011.

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