The Irish Countrywomen’s Association spent €300,000 on legal fees last year – more than 20 times what it had been the year before.
The $297,723 bill came after premium firm Mason, Hayes and Curran was hired to help the ICA work its way out of a number of corporate governance and charitable law concerns.
In the most recent annual accounts of The Countrywoman’s Trust CLG, as viewed by the Irish independentthe largest and oldest women’s organization in the country, showed how its legal costs increased dramatically in 2022 compared to the €13,678 it spent on legal and professional costs the previous year.
The expenses were listed as an “exceptional item”.
“The company incurred significant legal costs during the year in relation to legal structure and the Charities Regulator, corporate law, employment law and governance issues,” the ICA’s financial statements said.
Last year, this newspaper revealed for the first time that the ICA had been criticized by the regulator for a number of issues related to its legal structure and an unusual fee arrangement.
Mason, Hayes and Curran, a firm with experience in charity law, was hired to help the ICA deal with the controversy.
In its board report for the year ended December 2022, the ICA said its national board of directors “worked extensively in 2022” to convey to the charity regulator why the ICA existed as two separate legal entities.
“The Board has been in discussions with the Charities Regulator since November 2021 to address this and related regulatory issues and ensure full compliance with both corporate and charitable law. This will remain a priority through 2023,” the report said.
In considering “regulatory compliance risks” facing the ICA, the executive report said the organization was aware that non-compliance with the Charity Law would “jeopardize the future of the organization.”
“To manage this risk, the organization employs suitably qualified professionals and seeks advice from experts in the charitable sector,” the organization said.
A treasurer’s report shared with members earlier this year also sought to warn that legal fee spending for 2022 was high.
“I would like to emphasize that very important work on the legal structure is being done by the board that should have been done in a number of years.
“We have faced a large amount of work that we as a board are determined to complete,” said the treasurer’s report.
The ICA has been embroiled in controversy for months after three women were found to have been removed from the national board of directors.
Patricia Madden, Carol Grogan and Joanne Dunphy Allen were removed without reason and the unusual decision was kept secret from the majority of members.
All three had previously expressed concerns about the corporate governance of the ICA.
A number of controversies arose in the wake of the women’s departure, including over the sale of Daniel O’Donnell tickets, criticism from the Charities Regulator, unusual payments to a senior member and the sale of fine art.
Earlier this year, the ICA issued its first and only lengthy statement on the pending issues saying it was conducting an internal audit to make itself “more effective and efficient”.