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'excessive spending' Ex-charity CEO’s five-star Dubai stay revealed in watchdog finance report

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A file image of former Childfund Ireland CEO Michael Kiely with a local boy during a visit to view the charity’s work in Mozambique

A file image of former Childfund Ireland CEO Michael Kiely with a local boy during a visit to view the charity’s work in Mozambique

A file image of former Childfund Ireland CEO Michael Kiely with a local boy during a visit to view the charity’s work in Mozambique

A watchdog report has highlighted governance and finance issues at a children’s aid charity, including excessive spending on restaurants, travel and accommodation.

It revealed how a former CEO of ChildFund Ireland, Michael Kiely, stayed in five-star hotels in Dubai while travelling to and from Zambia.

The charity’s finance and sponsorship director Elena Lorigan brought her daughter on the trip at the expense of the charity, according to the report by inspectors appointed by the Charities Regulator.

The trip, in March 2017, cost ChildFund Ireland €6,300.

The report highlighted “excessive and inappropriate spending on restaurants, travel and accommodation” by both executives and was highly critical of the lack of financial oversight exercised by the organisation’s board.

The charity, which allows donors to sponsor children in developing nations, has received millions of euro in State funding. But the report highlighted how up to 64pc of the annual grant it received from Irish Aid was used for salaries and administrative costs.

The report was carried out by Maureen Kelly and Corné Mouton of accountancy firm Mazars, who were appointed inspectors last year. It revealed failings were found by three consultancy reports in 2017, 2018 and 2019 but many recommendations did not appear to have been implemented.

When Mr Kiely retired in December 2017, €2,774 was spent on a retirement lunch, dinner, and a gift, even though the charity had a deficit of €12,436 at the time.

According to the report, Mr Kiely’s credit card spending on restaurants was €4,265 during 2017. Of the 47 incidents identified, none was supported by an expenses claim form. He told the inspectors he brought sponsors for lunch and his “motivational style” was to bring staff for meals.

The report said that from January 2017 to July 2018, Ms Lorigan’s credit card expenditure on meals was €3,812. This included some meals with Mr Kiely after his retirement.

None of the 84 incidents of expenditure was supported by an expenses claim form.

According to the inspectors, Ms Lorigan said the meals were necessary as the office was “not very private” and it was better not to have management discussions there.

However, other staff and board members told the inspectors private meetings were possible in the CEO’s office and a meeting room.

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The inspectors asked why the Zambia trip involved three nights in Dubai at two five-star hotels – Le Méridien Dubai for one night on the journey out and the Avani Deira Dubai for two nights on the return leg.

According to the report, Mr Kiely said that on the return journey he “was feeling rather unwell” and that Ms Lorigan and her daughter were tired so he decided that they should stay an extra night. But the inspectors said the Avani Deira Dubai booking was made two days in advance of the stay.

“The inspectors therefore conclude that this two-night stay in Dubai at the expense of the charity was a planned one and not one required by a sudden illness,” the report said.

Mr Kiely said he appointed Ms Lorigan’s daughter as a junior ambassador to give books to children in Zambia, although no formal recruitment procedure was followed.

Mr Kiely did not respond to a request for comment, while the Irish Independent was unable to contact Ms Lorigan at ChildFund Ireland’s offices.

The charity said it would comment after the report is published today.

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