As I looked back at the past year in preparing for this AGM, it was surprisingly difficult even to think about the non-Covid world we enjoyed until early 2020. Stress, anxiety, disruption, confinement and, for substantial numbers of people, tragedy could become the motifs of 2020 if we are not strong enough to balance these with the positives in our public and private responses: commitment to the safety of people around us, dedication to doing the right things, hard work in the common good, community spirit. And so I begin by saying that very much of our day to day work, valuable as it is, takes second place to the achievement of keeping St Joseph’s House free of Covid 19, thanks to the sacrifices made by our service users and our staff. I appreciate that some of our boarding staff also supported SJH during the lockdown. Others worked to maintain contact with boarders and to try and reduce the sense of isolation created by lockdown. With care and vigilance, hopefully normal life can now begin to return, as we move forward carefully with a busy agenda across CIDP and key initiatives for SJH and elsewhere in the organisation.
Having an organisation that functions well, with good leadership, strong teams, clarity of purpose and a focus on outcomes gives us momentum and an appetite for success. Our Board has been strengthened and broadened by the appointment of Rosemary, Dominic, John and Andrew, and I thank each of you for the immediate contribution you are making to CIDP. I also thank Grainne and Peter for your acceptance of second terms, and all of the Board for your active participation in the governance and direction of our organisation, both at Board and committee levels.
This is John Lamont’s final meeting of his second term, and I would like, in particular, to put on record the enormous amount you have done for CIDP, placing considerable experience and expertise in the health sector at the Board’s disposal, chairing our Finance Audit and Risk Committee, Steering the St Joseph’s House decongregation project, and being an “all-rounder” on all aspects of our business. It has been a tough journey from the time you joined the board in September 2014 at a period of great difficulty, to the informed board and accountable organisation we have today. I wholeheartedly thank you, John, for all the service you have given here: you quickly saw what CIDP should be, and your commitment and energy have been key drivers of our journey over the past 6 years. I am delighted that you will maintain your association with the Deaf community, both through membership of the Board of NDVSLC and through continued involvement with the SJH Steering Group.
This is also the final AGM during Keith’s tenure as our CEO, and Board Secretary. Keith still has time to serve with us, and things to finish, but at this point I want to acknowledge that however strong and visionary we may be as a Board, it’s our organisation which delivers for us, and the CEO who leads, guides and manages the whole operation. We have been blessed that a 6-month troubleshooting term turned into several years of highly constructive partnership, under which we have seen major changes for the better across our activities, and have confidence that good governance at board level translates into effective, ethical and accountable operation across the organisation.
Life is never straightforward in the not-for-profit sector, and we have to face the sharp warning from the auditors in our 2019 accounts, identifying “the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt on the group’s ability to continue as a going concern.” We depend on the continued support and funding of the HSE, and at the time of writing the Trustees’ annual report, as evidenced in the run down of our own modest reserves from asset sales, the HSE had not committed to providing the necessary funding to manage and complete the decongregation project. Provisional steps towards further engagement from the HSE were interrupted by the Covid crisis. However, at the start of this month, July, we had a positive acknowledgement of the need to re-start the work towards full decongregation as soon as possible, and assurance that the HSE “will continue to work with CIDP to bring the closure of St Joseph’s to fruition”. We are back into a process of detailed engagement, and can expect this to be robust and questioning, but the Covid crisis has underlined for everyone the unsuitability of the congregated setting for the majority of our service users.
Board members carry responsibility for our direction of travel, and we have stretched ourselves and our organisation in a number of directions in recent years. With the decongregation project coming back on track we are in good shape more generally, and you are very familiar with the key priorities for 2020 set out in our TAR. But alongside exciting initiatives, such as our re-branding, developing our new strategy, and building new opportunities in third level education and potentially in housing, we have a spotlight on our own role as we prepare to assess our compliance in 2020 with the Charity Regulator’s new Governance Code. This is quite demanding, and CIDP is a complex and multi-stranded organisation. It is important, therefore, that board members look closely at how we apply the principles of the Code in everything we do. That is a responsibility we have to take very seriously, individually as well as collectively. As Chair, I thank you for being active, inquisitive, vocal, constructively critical, vigilant and engaged: these are the ways we do our job; these are the ways we support CIDP and its service users, and they are also our best support to the CEO and staff in maintaining a positive and productive working environment.