Father of Creeslough victim ‘infuriated’ by Irish Red Cross


THE father of Creeslough tragedy victim Leona Harper has said he has been left “infuriated” by the Red Cross over the charity’s handling of remaining funds raised in the wake of the 2022 tragedy.

Hugh Harper claims he has made efforts to contact the Red Cross to find out precisely how €144,000 is going to be spent after being led to believe that it would go towards sports clubs and counselling training.


“I thanked the Red Cross for what they’ve done at a public meeting last year. They told the people in that room that whatever money is left would be disbursed and the account closed,” Mr Harper told the Donegal News.

“I walked out of that meeting content and happy in the knowledge that the money would be used to help people who needed help.

“To hear now that they still have €144,000, and that they have taken it upon themselves to decide how that money was going to be spent without any input from any of the families directly affected, that has annoyed me,” added the grieving father.

“A Red Cross representative came to my family and stated that the money would go to Letterkenny Rugby Club and other clubs.

“They then came back to us and said they couldn’t do that, without explaining why, but said they’d give money to the rugby club so they could train up a bereavement officer. That didn’t happen,” claims Mr Harper.

Fourteen-year-old rugby player Leona was one the ten people who died in the Creeslough explosion on October 7, 2022. A Garda-led investigation into the tragedy is ongoing.

“You can understand my frustration that after €13 million has been handed to Creeslough, this pitiful amount of €144,000 couldn’t go to those directly affected in Mulroy College and Letterkenny Rugby Club, and other clubs outside of Creeslough,” expressed Mr Harper.


“I’m certainly not looking for the money. It should be used to buy a site that the whole community from Creeslough, and outside of Creeslough, can use.

“This way, people who didn’t get money from the Red Cross, who I believe should have, they’ll at least benefit from something. At least it would be somewhere to go and sit down,” said Leona’s father.

When the Donegal News reported last February that €144,000 remained in the Red Cross Creeslough fund, Mr Harper said he immediately contacted Charities Minister Joe O’Brien.

“I was in a real temper to think that our little girl’s face and other faces were used to encourage people to donate to the Red Cross. I was in a real rage with the minister and I put my points to him.

“He came back to me a couple of weeks later and told me the money was being ring-fenced for the families affected by Creeslough. I thought then they could buy that piece of land in Creeslough.

“We went back to the minister to ask a series of questions to try and find out who, how and when the trust could be accessed. He replied that the questions had been noted, or words to that effect.

“Now the Red Cross are saying that they’re still thinking of doing something else with it, and they haven’t contacted our family to ask; what would you like to do with it?,” according to Mr Harper.

“Minister O’Brien oversees the Irish Red Cross, so if there’s apparently poor communication between him and the charity, what chance is there of good communication between the charity and us?” asks Mr Harper.

He was speaking out in response to an article we published on Monday which outlined how the Red Cross intends to manage the remaining funds.

The charity said it would be allocated towards ongoing trauma support, youth development initiatives, and miscellaneous matters that may require financial support in the coming year.

The Red Cross said it would be “transferring both responsibility and funds to a local structure.”

That’s not good enough, according to Hugh Harper.

“They’ve handed out 90 percent of the money, or whatever,” he said.

“ You don’t drop the ball now, walk away, and leave a mess behind you. Nobody else should have to tidy up their mess.

“Also, the Red Cross will not be allowed by me to forget about the people outside of Creeslough who have been directly affected.

“That’s absolutely no disrespect to the people of Creeslough.

“There are people directly affected who I feel are nearly being forgotten about.

“Neither I nor my family are looking to benefit from any money but the people inside and outside of Creeslough cannot be neglected.

“We’ve sat back for too long and people have made decisions for us, be those right or wrong.

“That has to stop. I can’t be certain which families the Red Cross has been in contact with but the communication with us has been poor,” insists Mr Harper.


Irish Red Cross responds to claims:

The Irish Red Cross has issued the following in relation to the claims made by Mr Harper:

1.At all times, since the tragic explosion of October 2022, The Irish Red Cross has, as a humanitarian organisation, placed the bereaved and other beneficiaries of this fund, at the centre of our focus.

2.As an emergency humanitarian organisation we were able to channel the funds to those affected which were in four groups:

3. Bereaved families and those who were injured;

4. People who lost their homes and possessions;

5. people who lost their jobs ;

6. people who suffered trauma through witnessing the tragedy, and/or responding to the emergency with humanitarian selflessness.

7.The funding distribution was commenced within days. AT Christmas 2022 additional substantive funds were dispersed. In 2023 a methodology was designed and agreed for distributing the remaining funds in the fairest possible way, meeting the significant needs of bereaved families and injured people. In that way, we distributed the vast bulk of the funds. All along, we were continually giving out money to those in need. There was never a question of unnecessarily holding back funds.

8.The understanding with the community and those consulted with, was that any remaining monies following the dispersal of money, in particular to the families and bereaved, would be allocated to tragedy-related community projects (not geographically limited to Creeslough.

9.This chimes with the opening of the appeal fund by the Irish Red Cross, when it seemed clear that there would be a need to provide both immediate and longer term supports to the people and communities affected by the tragedy. And it is in that context that the remaining residual 7% of the funds are being planned for. Charity Law, and governance standards require appropriate funds oversight as well as a reliable process for distribution. Sometimes that can take longer than expected because we are dealing with a community that has been traumatised. Equally, the IRC has an obligation not to assign the funds for any service/offering that others (e.g. HSE, Tusla etc) will fund. It has taken longer than anticipated to assess the proper added value that the publicly donated funds can make due to a range of delays not within the IRC’s control.

10. Charity Law and best practice in governance requires the IRC to come to its own decisions about where best to allocate the remaining funds and to inform that we have engaged significantly with the community, with the families and with other stakeholders throughout this process and have been fully transparent about every stage of the process.

Three consultation meetings were held with the Community (October ‘22, February, and May 2023), along with meetings with bereaved families and others.

Subsequently, a significant number of contacts with local and regional community associations and statutory authorities took place to understand how the IRC might best ensure effective use of the remaining funds.

11.We believe that working with existing community service-providers is the best path to enable Irish Red Cross to achieve the most effective use of the remaining funds, in line with established principles for humanitarian action and best practice in charity governance.

We have been actively engaging with stakeholders to develop a model based on supporting local community organisations to become the effective channel to deliver ‘long-term assistance’ as promised.

12.The Irish Red Cross has had significant amounts of engagement with all the families including the Harper family.

As recently as March 2024 a detailed letter was written to the Harper family outlining all these details along with other information. All of the questions posed to the Irish Red Cross have been answered in full with explanations provided.

13.At no point did Irish Red Cross commit that the money would go to the Letterkenny Rugby Club (or other club) so they could train up a bereavement officer. No commitments of any kind were made because the consultation engagements were listening exercises with different stakeholders. These and many others ideas were floated by different members of the community, but it was for the IRC to determine what expenditure it would make based on the need and also what others were doing.

14.The Irish Red Cross has demonstrated its full commitment to the people and communities affected by the Creeslough tragedy and it is a sign of this commitment that we have taken the time to identify the most appropriate process for the remaining funds. The length of time is not particularly unusual in our experience in terms of post-tragedy emergency events. We are mindful of the need to ensure the publicly donated funds are spent well.

15.The Irish Red Cross does not intend to walk away from the Creeslough community – indeed our volunteers are embedded in that community.

Additionally, we have donated the value of €60k into the fund’s management ourselves last year along with a further €10k during this year also. Additionally and as previously communicated, we have taken zero percent out of the fund to cover our costs.


We are currently in active discussions with various community group representatives to decide on the best methodology for evaluating projects and allocating the remaining funds, and will complement this with a visit during July.

The areas identified thus far from the community are: i: Ongoing trauma support; ii: Support for youth development; A recognition mechanism of some description. We anticipate being in a position to communicate to all stakeholders the details around the implement of this final phase by next month.

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