Charity Chief Tells Of Terror After ‘CIA-Style Raid’ On Office

The chairwoman of the Council of the MS Society of Northern Ireland last night urged trustees to come clean about the reasons behind its suspension.

{mosimage}Josie Byrne, from Downpatrick, said that she and many others were ” frightened” when officials moved into the Resource Centre on Thursday.

“It was like the CIA,” she said.

“Seven or eight men walked in and took over the building.

“The director was escorted off the premises, there were people taking computers. It was very distressing.”

The trustees of the Multiple Sclerosis Society said the decision to suspended the NI council was because of a breakdown in communication between the local council and the governing body.

Mrs Byrne, a former nurse and MS sufferer for 19 years, said, however, that it goes much deeper than that.

“One of the trustees wanted to hold a board meeting in Northern Ireland, ” the 51-year-old claimed.

“We estimated that it would cost £10,000 – money we could use for medicine – and we didn’t think that would be the best use of charitable funds.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, MS Society chief executive Simon Gillespie said: “I don’t want to go into those details, but what I will say is that we had a board meeting in Scotland and it was an incredibly beneficial experience.

“The board meeting is one issue. What happened was that council officials in Northern Ireland then instructed others not to co-operate with employees across the society and that triggered the board into action.”

Mr Gillespie also confirmed that there was “no timetable” for the resolution of the problem and that it would take “months rather than weeks”.

He added: “I’m obviously sympathetic to members, but they didn’t want to work with us. We need to have a meaningful engagement.”

Mrs Byrne, a mother-of-three, said that staff and volunteers, many of whom are MS sufferers, were finding it difficult to cope under the circumstances.

“I’ll never get over this,” she said.

“The MS Society here has 2,000 members. Our board is MS-driven. I am the first chair with the disease and half of our entire committee have MS or they’re carers of MS.

“This is going to affect everything. Staff don’t know whether they are coming or going and we are going to have difficulty fundraising.

“One of the things the MS Society does is get people treatment.

“We also help people who have been newly diagnosed or help others to cope with a serious diagnosis.”

She added: “There’s no need for this. How are we supposed to continue?

“I’ve given up so much for this and I would do it all again.

“I’m not worried about me – I’d ask the trustees to think of all MS sufferers.”