Categorized | Charities in focus

Charity chief ‘s vulgar outburst offends workers

By Michael O’Farrell

Investigations Editor

A FORMER Government spin doctor now working for embattled charity Goal has denied that a derogatory comment that sparked an internal inquiry at the charity was either racist or sectarian.

In January, the charity’s director of communications David Leach – once an adviser to former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore – was overhead saying ‘f***ing black bastards’ by several colleagues during a phone conversation at Goal’s Dublin HQ.

One of those present – Goal’s media officer David Adams – immediately raised the matter with Mr Leach.

Mr Adams, who represented the Ulster Democratic Party at the political negotiations that led to the Belfast Agreement of 1998, interpreted the comment as being sectarian rather than racist.

However, in an organisation such as Goal, with international staff present, his immediate concern related to how such staff would feel if they heard the comment.

Mr Leach, who was appointed as the Labour Party’s General Secretary by then Tánaiste Joan Burton in 2014, immediately apologised to Mr Adams and offered an explanation, saying his comment was not intended as racist or sectarian.

Mr Leach said he had been speaking with a GAA associate about problems a hurling team he trained were having with an individual from a rugby club who was ‘black against the GAA’.

Though Mr Adams believed the comment had been sectarian, he let the matter rest – partly because he was about to take redundancy from Goal. However, another member of staff, who interpreted the comment as racist, made a formal complaint via a whistleblower email address the charity had recently set up.

The establishment of a mechanism for whistleblowers to make complaints is one of a number of improvements the American overseas aid organisation USAID insisted Goal introduce in the wake of continuing controversy over alleged mismanagement of funds.

David Leach, director of communications with the international aid charity Goal.

David Leach, director of communications with the international aid charity Goal.

That ongoing USAID investigation led to the resignations of Goal’s CEO Barry Andrews and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Edgar, while other staff have been made redundant and a merger with Oxfam is being negotiated.

The anonymous email complaint was received by Goal’s programme quality adviser Fiona Gannon, and was also copied to general manager Celine Fitzgerald.

‘We consider this a serious issue and will investigate this matter and follow up with you,’ Ms Gannon replied.

‘Thank you for reporting the issue.’ Later that day Ms Gannon wrote back to the complainant: ‘I can confirm that I have spoken with David about this matter and I am satisfied that he has an explanation for the event that confirms to me that there was absolutely no racist intent in his statement, although I appreciate that overhearing that comment might have given that impression.’ ‘Please be assured that if we felt that there was any racist comment we would treat this very seriously indeed,’ her email added.

Unsatisfied with this answer, the complainant asked for an explanation of how the comment was not racist.

In response Ms Gannon detailed the explanation she had received from Mr Leach: ‘He described that he was having a discussion with a friend from outside of Goal and connected with his private interests as he coaches a GAA junior team. They were discussing a parent of a junior player who is very anti-GAA, described by David as “being black against the GAA”.’ ‘This is, I take it, an expression commonly used in Cork,’ she added.

‘When he referred to this person as a “black bastard” that is what he was talking about. His explanation seemed genuine to me.

‘He was aware in hindsight that his comments could have been interpreted differently, and was deeply apologetic about that.’ Doubting the use of such a phrase in Cork – where Mr Leach is from – the complainant spoke to associates in Cork and wrote back to express his dissatisfaction with Ms Gannon’s investigation.

When contacted by the Irish Mail on Sunday this week, Mr Adams, who has now left Goal, confirmed he felt the comment to be sectarian from the outset.

Speaking to the MoS this week, the original complainant expressed concern that the possibility of the comment having a sectarian meaning rather than a racist one appears to never have formed part of Goal’s inquiry at all.

‘Is sectarianism considered to be more acceptable in Goal than racism, homophobia, or misogyny?’ they asked.

In a statement last night, a spokesman said Goal has ‘a strong and robust complaints mechanism process that ensures that all complaints are investigated thoroughly, fairly and in confidence’.

‘Goal does not condone racist, sectarian or any other form of discrimination by any member of its staff,’ the statement added. ‘If the organisation genuinely believed that any member of staff engaged in any such discriminatory behaviour, this would be dealt with in the strongest possible way.’ ‘This is an expression commonly used in Cork”His explanation seemed genuine to me’

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