Paul Kelly, former CEO of the Irish charity Console, was found dead in his Co Kildare home on February 9

The death of Paul Kelly, the former chief executive of Irish national suicide prevention charity Console which shut down following a huge scandal four years ago, has been described as “a personal tragedy."

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It is understood that Kelly was found dead in his home in Co Kildare on February 9, just days after Irish authorities decided to charge him in relation to the scandal which led to the liquidation of the charity.  

A nationwide scandal erupted in June 2016 when it emerged that charity founder Mr. Kelly, his wife Patricia, and son Tim, had run up charity credit card bills of almost €500,000 to pay for a luxury car, foreign holidays, designer clothes, and tickets to major sporting events.

The scandal caused enormous damage to confidence in the charity sector in Ireland and has led campaigner David Hall, who was called in to rescue Console’s services in June 2016, to call for a thorough investigation.  

It emerged earlier this month that the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) had received the go-ahead to charge Mr. Kelly with over ten breaches of company law and fraud during his time at the charity.

It’s not clear at the moment if Kelly — whose wife Patricia and son Tim were also suspected of using company credit cards to fund a lavish lifestyle — was aware he was to be charged with fraud offenses at the time of his death.

The Kelly family, who were the board members of Console, were accused of taking the money from the charity – which ran Ireland’s only national suicide helpline – between 2012 and 2014.

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A Garda spokesman said the incident was “being treated as a personal tragedy” and no further comment would be made on Mr. Kelly’s death.

Console was shut down after a ‘Prime Time’ investigation on RTE television in June 2016 unearthed a major scandal over how the charity, set up by Mr. Kelly in memory of his late sister, was spending funds.

Mr. Kelly was forced to resign as CEO after the financial irregularities were unearthed and he was also ordered to hold back a 2014 Irish People of the Year award.

Mr. Hall stepped in to wind the charity down and to try to save the services being provided by staff around the country, including the 24/7 suicide helpline, which was transferred to another charity, Pieta House.

He said the scandal had resulted in a “plummeting of public confidence” across the entire charity sector in Ireland, which made it difficult for many of them to fundraise in recent years.

Mr. Hall had to deal with a chaotic situation in which counseling was needed for 376 clients, 60 part-time counselors had not been paid for three months, and the 12 frontline staff felt betrayed by the Kelly family.

He told IrishCentral on Tuesday night that Mr. Kelly’s death raised many questions. He wanted to know why the ODCE had taken so long to bring charges against him and whether the body had enough powers.

“The staff felt betrayed. The worst encounters were with the families of people who had taken their own lives who had turned to fundraise for Console and felt that the memories of their loved ones had been tarnished by this behavior,” said Mr. Hall.

“It was a tragedy for the staff and clients of Console. The charity sector received a significant backlash. It’s a personal tragedy for the Kelly family, but there is no doubt lessons can be learned. Why did it take the ODCE so long? If the regulator didn’t have enough powers, why weren’t they changed? I don’t know why it has taken three and a half years. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

He said the big issue with Console was that family members had access to the charity’s credit cards while members of the family made up the board. As Console was being liquidated, he moved swiftly to transfer frontline services to Pieta House and protect service users as much as possible.

“The changeover went as well as it could under the circumstances, but there is obviously a sadness there in relation to Mr. Kelly taking his own life and an anger about the circumstances in which family members had access to the charity’s credit cards.”

He said he really hoped lessons would be learned from the tragedy and that such abuse of charity funds could not occur again in Ireland in the future.

“There needs to be some review or investigation in relation to the circumstances around the ODCE investigation. If they need more power and resources to protect the entire sector and frontline services, then that needs to happen. This scandal, and subsequent tragedy, has caused big collateral damage to the entire charity sector,” he added.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you are encouraged to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 in the US, or Pieta House in Ireland.

--  *A digital journalist based in Galway, Ireland, Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or on his website   

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