Charities Regulator publishes Inspectors’ Report into BirdWatch Ireland

09 November 2022 Press Releases

  • Investigation arose from concerns raised with the Charities Regulator
  • Findings include insufficient board action to ensure adequate financial controls and procedures, and use of restricted funds for purposes outside their designated projects
  • Charity’s trustees¹ have updated Regulator on actions taken to address report findings and have committed to addressing any outstanding governance issues. 

The Charities Regulator has today published an inspectors’ report into Irish Wildbird Conservancy CLG T/A BirdWatch Ireland (Registered Charity Number (“RCN”) 20008963). The report follows a statutory investigation into the charity arising from concerns raised with the Charities Regulator. The findings include insufficient action by the charity’s board of trustees to ensure adequate financial controls and procedures were in place, and the use of restricted funds for purposes outside their designated projects. BirdWatch Ireland’s trustees informed the Charities Regulator that they are committed to addressing the findings in the report and have updated the Regulator on their progress so far.

Commenting on the findings, Helen Martin, Chief Executive, Charities Regulator stated: “The Inspector’s Report highlights the important role and responsibilities of charity trustees. They must be fully informed on applicable legal and regulatory requirements and work together effectively. This is a key principle of the Charities Governance Code which emphasises the crucial relationship between trustees and a charity’s senior management.

“Furthermore, the Report underlines how important regular board meetings are, as this is where charity trustees exercise their collective authority.  It also highlights the difficulties that can arise for a charity where there is inadequate board oversight and essential internal controls and associated policies and procedures are non-existent, not adhered to, or are not fit for purpose.”

Ms Martin added: “The Report also emphasises the importance of ensuring that restricted charity funds are treated appropriately and only used for the purpose for which they were provided to the charity.  Trust and confidence underpin Ireland’s charity sector and donors and funders must have certainty that the money or grants they give are used for the intended purposes only. The Inspectors’ report contains points of learning for all charities, and we would encourage anyone involved in a registered charity to read the full report.”

Concerns were raised with the Charities Regulator in relation to BirdWatch Ireland in March and September 2019.   The charity duly engaged with the Charities Regulator during 2019.  In early 2021, as part of a review, the Charities Regulator followed up with the charity, and during that engagement a matter of further concern was identified. In August 2021, the decision was taken to appoint inspectors to carry out an investigation under Part 4 of the Charities Act 2009.  The Charities Regulator received the inspectors’ final report on 28 October 2022 and a decision to publish the report was taken pursuant to section 66(3)(c) of the Charities Act 2009.

The report sets out a summary of factual findings which include the following:

  • Insufficient action taken by the board of BirdWatch to ensure adequate financial controls and procedures were in place and adhered to within BirdWatch;
  • An inappropriate structure in BirdWatch for financial governance and oversight, where the person in the CEO role had most of the approval authority and responsibility for internal control;
  • A lack of sufficient oversight of funding arrangements, contracts and budgets for projects and a lack of compliance with the terms of funding agreements, resulting in cash from restricted funds being spent outside of their designated projects;
  • Evidence of the lack of provision of timely and accurate financial information to the board. 

BirdWatch Ireland was furnished with a copy of the inspectors’ report and given an opportunity to provide an update on the matters referred to in it.  The charity’s board of trustees subsequently provided a detailed update to the Charities Regulator outlining actions already taken and those that are ongoing and have committed to addressing the findings in the inspectors’ report. 

“BirdWatch Ireland continues to engage with the Charities Regulator and as part of that engagement our Compliance and Enforcement Unit will follow up with the charity to ensure that any outstanding actions required to address matters referred to in the Inspectors’ report have been implemented,” Ms. Martin said.

The full report is available at www.charitiesregulator.ie.

To report a concern about a charity, please visit the Charities Regulator's website.

-ENDS-

Editors notes:

¹ Trustees are the people who ultimately exercise control over, and are legally responsible for, the charity. If the charity is a company, these people may also be known as board members. In an unincorporated association – an association that has a legal form with a governing document – they may be known as committee members.