By Frank Connolly.
Fresh from his latest, and unfortunate, altercation with the Law Society celebrity solicitor, Gerald Kean, has landed himself in the thick of it again. No doubt motivated by the best of intentions, Kean has joined the trustees of soup kitchen, the Cork ‘Penny Dinners’, where his friend Caitriona Twomey has ruled the roost over many years. Kean of course has been associated with many charities over the years and, when he is not promoting himself, his bejewelled partner, and his lavish Wicklow mansion on the pages of the Sindo, he has managed to maintain a lucrative practice from his offices on Upper Pembroke Street in Dublin.
In September, the High Court dismissed an appeal against a finding of professional misconduct arising out of Kean’s handling of a former client’s case. Justice Nicholas Kearns upheld a finding of professional misconduct made by a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) against the solicitor over his handling of a case brought by Christopher O’Neill. Fortunately for Kean, the court said it would not impose a fine of €20,000 for misconduct which had been recommended by the SDT.
Kean was also for some years during the lengthy and brutal Pinochet regime the honorary consul for Chile in Ireland even though, according to himself, he never once visited the Latin American dictatorship. When the reviled general was arrested in England in 1998 in connection with a Spanish-led investigation into human rights abuses, some of his advisors called on Kean to help. Sure enough, the solicitor kindly introduced a delegation of Chileans to the then foreign minister, David Andrews, who did not look kindly on their request for assistance for the embattled Pinochet, or his possible refuge in Ireland. The dictator remains subject to a global investigation into his vast hidden assets, led by the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon which has apparently failed to uncover any significant riches.
After a heated emergency general meeting on 6th November of the volunteers who run the Cork Penny Dinners, a charity set up by concerned Catholic, Church of Ireland and Quaker religionists in the late 19th Century, the absent Kean was among a new board of trustees appointed “as part of a major restructuring of the charity” according to a report in the Irish Examiner. He is joined by new chairman and businessman, Jim Urquhart, who defended the exclusion of a number of people from the EGM at the charity’s somewhat dilapidated premises and kitchen at Little Hanover Street in the city. There has been an angry and vocal reaction from some former volunteers who claim that those who managed to get in were not allowed by Urquhart to ask questions or to query the credentials of many of those present and permitted to vote for the new board.
Among those who was permitted to attend and the only one allowed to make a speech was solicitor Martin Archer who castigated efforts by a group of people who, he claimed, had made an attempt to establish a new governing board without notifying members as required under the code of governance of the charity. He also cited other alleged breaches of the code before promptly resigning his position as legal advisor to the Penny Dinners.
What is at stake here is not just the reputation of one of Cork’s most popular charities which feeds the needy, down and out and impoverished of the city with the help of generous retailers and volunteers but the estimated €1.5 million held in its various accounts. According to Urquhart, the finances of the charity are “absolutely sound” and a Garda investigation had found “nothing wrong” with their administration. This inquiry followed complaints by volunteers some time ago over the handling of the Christmas collection, among other matters, leading to a number of recommendations as to appropriate business practice.
Following the departure of Archer, and those of other long-standing trustees, the incoming board appointed South Mall solicitor, David Donegan, (who is listed with Urquhart on the board of Cork -based company, Family Business Ireland) to keep a legal eye on the affairs of the charity. No doubt he can call on Gerald Kean to help him if the financial waters prove too choppy in the future. •