Ex-CEO says McVerry Trust Board restricted contact with Regulator

The board of the Peter McVerry Trust instructed the then CEO of the charity not to engage freely with the Charities Regulator about governance issues at the troubled Trust, correspondence seen by Prime Time shows.

In a letter sent to then-CEO, Francis Doherty, in September 2023, McVerry Trust chairperson Deirdre-Ann Barr wrote, “I confirm the Board’s instruction to you not to issue any communications, correspondence or commentary to any regulator or other stakeholder without prior sign-off and approval from the Board or me as Chair of the Board.”

“Exceptions to this are communications in relation to ordinary course operations matters.”

Two months earlier, Mr Doherty had written to the Charities Regulator and the Approved Housing Bodies Regulator, alerting them to serious financial and debt issues at the charity.

He had taken up the role of CEO from Pat Doyle, who was the charity’s Chief Executive Officer for 18 years until May 2023.

Mr Doherty resigned two weeks after he received the letter from the chairperson. While the board was within its rights to demand that all communications be cleared with it, Mr Doherty said the order made his position as CEO “untenable.”

In his resignation letter, he stated “…despite the progress I have made, and the immediate financial challenges I have overcome as CEO, I have been left in an untenable position by the Trustees …a gagging order has been put on me restricting me from talking to stakeholders about the organisation’s financial situations.”

Mr Doherty also indicated he was shocked when the scale of the charity’s financial difficulties became clear to him on becoming CEO.

“When I took up my role on 1st June I found the organisation in serious financial trouble, with insufficient funds to meet creditor, payroll and Revenue commitments. In my four months as CEO I developed and began to operationalise a financial stability plan. I have reduced trade creditor liabilities from €9m to €6.9m.”

Former CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust Francis Doherty

The letter from the chair of the board containing the instruction that he receive board approval before corresponding with regulators praised Mr Doherty in the performance of his CEO duties.

“We have faith in in your ability to work with us to deliver on the organisation’s goals,” the September 2023 letter from the board chair said.

The chairperson wrote that it was the board’s position “that there should be ideally one line of communication from the organisation in consultation with Carr Communications and with all statements approved by the Board in advance.”

“The Board and I want to be very clear about our expectations of you in your role as CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust,” the letter said, before adding that Mr Doherty should focus on the day-to-day running of the organisation and assisting the board with the current financial issues.

It added further that “The priority of the Board is to secure the future of the organisation so that we can continue to deliver on our charitable purpose.”

“Any investigation and consideration of the actions of previous personnel… is a decision for the Board to take. Our collective priority at this moment in time is stabilising the organisation, working with our funders and engaging with the reviews/inspections.”

The Peter McVerry Trust declined to comment on the letter from the board and Mr Doherty’s interpretation of it as a “gagging order”.

Mr Doherty was asked for comment on this story but declined to do so.

Over the last two weeks, Prime Time has reported on a number of governance problems at the charity.

As revealed on June 6, a €4.73m donation from the Capuchin Day Centre For Homeless People, best-known for running a busy soup kitchen in Dublin, was diverted for purposes other than for which it was intended.

Capuchin money that was given to the McVerry Trust with the proviso that it only be used to purchase specific properties was spent on tax and other debts, and operational costs, in breach of a legal agreement with the Capuchins.

READ: Internal files reveal breach of trust at major housing charity

Separately, new figures provided to Prime Time show that €1.25m in taxpayers’ money was used to fund a contract given by the Peter McVerry Trust in breach of public procurement rules.

As Prime Time previously reported, the contract was given by the homelessness charity to Kildare-based Passenger Travel Solutions, but funded by the state’s Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE).

Passenger Travel Solutions is co-owned by Alan Bollard who is known to the former CEO of the McVerry Trust, Pat Doyle. Mr Doyle led the charity from 2005 to 2023. The breach of procurement rules meant that other companies would have been denied the opportunity to bid for the contract, possibly at a lower cost to the charity and, therefore, the State.

The figures, supplied by the DRHE the charity’s main funder, show that it paid a total of €1.25m from October 2018 to June 2024 for a bus service that transports residents to and from a McVerry Trust emergency accommodation centre in Kildaren. The fee for the transport service was included as part of a wider agreement that the DRHE has with the McVerry Trust to operate the 100-bed facility at Kerdiffstown near Naas.

The annual totals paid for the transport service, ranged from €199,700 for each of 2022 and 2023 to €260,191 in 2019. In the six months to June 2024, the DRHE paid €66,500 for the bus service.

Currently, the threshold over which a service or contract offered by a public body (or a predominantly publicly funded body) must be tendered, is €50,000.

At the time the PTS service began in October 2018 the threshold was €25,000.

The DRHE said that the charity has recently “agreed to begin a formal tender process for this transport service.”

The co-owner of Passenger Travel Solutions, Mr Bollard, is also a tenant of the Peter McVerry Trust. As Prime Time reported on Tuesday, he and his partner have a 25-year lease on one of the charity’s homes at a rent of 80% of the market rate.

It is not clear how Mr Bollard qualified to be a tenant of the homelessness charity as public records show that he owned his own home until shortly before he moved into the McVerry Trust property in late 2016.

MORE: McVerry Trust tenant awarded bus contract without tender process

As a charity for homeless people, the McVerry Trust provides accommodation for people on the social housing list. People who live in their own homes do not qualify to be on that list. Those who are allocated accommodation are typically waiting years.

The McVerry Trust and its former CEO Pat Doyle declined to comment about the tenancy, but both separately stated that they were cooperating with the regulators’ investigations. Mr Bollard declined to comment, when asked how he qualified for a tenancy with the charity.

While there is no suggestion that Mr Bollard has done anything inappropriate, the case raises concerns about the governance of the Peter McVerry Trust.

The charity declined to comment on questions relating to governance, however, it told Prime Time it “has implemented new organisational policies and procedures and it remains focused on delivering its services within its resources.”

The McVerry Trust, which recently received a €15m bailout from the state, is one of Ireland’s largest homeless charities, with total income in 2022 of €62m. According to its 2022 annual report, it employed 530 whole-time equivalent staff supporting 4,425 people across adult services and in family homeless accommodation in that year.

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive provided over €19m to the charity in 2022, representing almost half of the €43 million it received in state funding that year.

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