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The Summary: by Judith Tierney

BACKGROUND INFORMATION OF CLOSURE OF VINNIES GYM AND CONFISCATION OF EQUIPMENT AND MEMBERS BELONGING

By JUDITH TIERNEY

Judith Tierney, the wife of Jim Tierney, summarizes the complex and interwoven intrigue of repeated actions of fraud and bullying of paid staff and VOLUNTEERS of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Cairns, Far North Queensland.

The Summary: by Judith Tierney

Postby russellm_rastko » Sat Jul 03, 2010 4:08 am

BACKGROUND INFORMATION OF CLOSURE OF VINNIES GYM AND CONFISCATION OF EQUIPMENT AND MEMBERS BELONGING

By JUDITH TIERNEY

An offer was made to the Society of St Vincent De Paul for the use of a completely outfitted gym and boxing facility. The rationale behind this proposal was to offer the marginal members of the Cairns community the availability of activities and facilities that were not accessible to them on a day to day basis.

The in-depth discussions of this proposed venture took place between Jim Tierney the sole owner of equipment, Tim O’Connor, the Queensland St Vincent de Paul State President, and myself, Judith Tierney, then a volunteer member of the Society.
The concept was Jim’s and was itself an extension of a similar programme he conducted in NSW. This concept of enriching personal care and confidence, keeping young people off the streets and away from crime and drugs, was born of his personal experiences as a youth in Liverpool England. He particularly tended towards a Catholic organization as it was a Catholic priest who supported this in Liverpool.

The State President saw this as a way of the Society offering greater help to the poor and disadvantage which is its charter. There are many world reports supporting the benefits of physical activities in assisting both youth and other marginal groups.
It was a completely new venture for the Society and was supported by the State council, the State governing body. Jim very forcefully stated many times that it would not be a money making venture, but as the Society raises moneys primarily to assist the poor this was said to be a suitable activity to be involved in. There was to be no discrimination on colour, creed, physical or mental disabilities. It was decided a gold coin was to be given by those able, but none would be turned away unless under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These discussions and final arrangements were made person to person with a hand shake and taken on trust.
St Vincent de Paul Society is after all a good Christian organisation.

The equipment was transported from NSW and stored in an empty building belonging to the Society in Innisfail. After much time and hard work by volunteers a suitable building was found. A group of young people belonging to another group spent all day loading the tons of equipment onto a truck, then on arrival in Cairns unloading this equipment. The only Society volunteers to assist on this day were Jim and myself.
Jim then spent, unassisted, 4 months assembling, arranging and erecting all the equipment. The gym was opened too much funfair by Bishop James Foley.
All officials of St Vincent de Paul both local and from Brisbane attended. (For your information attached is a disk showing the facilities of the gym and some participants.
A short time after the opening a visit was made to Australia by the International President of the Society José Ramón Diaz-Torremocha from Spain. His only visit outside capital cities was to Cairns. A direct result of the gym programme, which he stated (see disk) would be taken worldwide.
At this time I became the Diocesan President for Cairns. It was brought to my attention that a group of young men were using a condemned building in Ravenshoe as a make- shift gym. With the support of the Tablelands society members, I proposed to the State Council that a similar gym programme be established on the Tablelands.

Plans were drawn up, with advice from Jim re: the construction of a suitable extension to a shop building owned by the society in Ravenshoe. The State council made available $100,000 for this project. Planning permission was obtained; Jim set about collecting the necessary equipment and purchased a boxing ring at his own expense.

On a visit to the Tablelands to see progress, I found the building that had been constructed did not resemble the approved plans in any way. It had been constructed in such a way that would make it impossible to use as a gym. I asked the Tablelands society officials to explain, the answer was, “We are not having that pommie bastard coming up here telling us what to do.” The State Council then put the money on hold.
I do not know what the eventual outcome was. I was at a much later date told this was where the Society stored the equipment after the Cairns gym closed. I do not know if this was true.

The first signs of disharmony began when the instructors were told to falsify, by increasing the numbers of only indigenous persons attending, so enabling the Society to claim for grants. There were 3 paid qualified gym instructors. Jim stressed to Brisbane state office, by referring to one group alone was not in keeping with the original agreement. Also at this time there was a high degree of bullying (by paid staff) of both volunteers and female paid staff members here in Cairns. Some of those being bullied approached Jim asking advice and support, both of which were freely given. Jim believed then and still does that his support was the catalyst in the closing of the gym.
I share his belief of this and had personal experience of the bullying and harassment.

I should point out at this stage that as the Society is a volunteer organization, persons who are supposed to be in charge are elected by their peers for periods of 3 years. And so those who were involved in the establishment of the gym largely had been replaced by the beginning of any discontentment. The State president had changed (this is a volunteer position) the General Secretary (paid staff) had changed hands and name to become the CEO, one Peter Maher. It was apparent from early on that the main focus of the highly paid senior staff members was the making and storage of money. This is totally the opposite of the Society ethos.

Unannounced one day a man arrived at Vinnies Gym saying he was being paid by the Society, directed by the CEO Peter Maher to provide a report on the viability of the gym concept. September 2005 Jim received a phone call from one of the instructors saying Peter Maher, other staff from Brisbane, and the local police, arrived at the gym telling him he had half an hour to remove any personal items and be off the premises as the gym was closing.
Another instructor asked Peter Maher what they should tell a group of people from Endeavour which was due to arrive? His answer (remember this is a paid CEO of a so called charity) “life’s tough”.  

I am really at a loss as to how to explain the disbelief, distress and often anguish this sudden closure caused to so many people. No consideration was given to the clients who attended. They were as stated before, from Endeavour, Mental health services, homeless, indigenous groups, young and older persons unable to afford commercial gym fees, the lonely, the sad and the otherwise unwanted. I must say other members of the community also supported the gym (paying full fees), teachers, police officers and people who just cared. No one was made to feel unwanted regardless of how they looked or acted. No one paid any attention to unusual behaviour or someone talking to themselves unless they indicated they needed help or assistance.

To go back just a little, at the time the viability report was requested, to ease my own mind I phoned the then Cairns Diocesan President, Jerry McAuliffe to ask if the gym was in danger of closing, his answer was ‘No.’ I explained that people with varying degrees of both mental and physical disabilities often did not handle sudden unannounced changes well. Such circumstances would often exacerbate their conditions and require increases in medication and sometimes hospitalization. I made this statement with advantage of more than 30 years working in mental health areas.
He insisted that the gym was not to close, but if any changes were to be made ample time would be given, allowing opportunities to explain any changes and perhaps arrange some alternative. This sadly was not to be.

Jim was contacted and told he had 3 days to remove anything he wanted. This was a physical impossibility. Clients attending had left personal items (often expensive) in the gym. Equipment belonging to the Federal Police was there also. Many community groups had raised money for the project. Cairns City council had given a grant, Lions club; ALH (hoteliers) had raised several thousand dollars which provided facilities for the homeless people. In the space of a week all items in the building were removed to an undisclosed place. To this day no one outside the society executives knows what happened to the equipment. Bishop James Foley asked the diocesan president Jerry McAuliffe if the society would return all equipment to the Cairns community if he (Bishop Foley), paid for the transportation and provided a venue for its use. He was told this could only happen if Jim was prepared to sign an “AS IS” document. Which he was not prepared to do. He based this decision on the fact that irreplaceable personal autographed photos of world boxing champions were removed from the walls with a crow bar, he was told this by a person who was paid to remove them in just this way. So the condition of approximately a million dollars worth of equipment was very suspect.

This is the story surrounding the closure of Vinnies Gym. Many attempts have been made by Jim, myself, people who attended the gym and persons of the general community to establish why the closure, and more importantly “where the equipment is.” It is imperative that items be returned to rightful members and the Federal Police.

Responses have ranged from ‘given to an indigenous group’, ‘in storage,’ ‘not prepared to say’, ‘and long gone.’ Mr Warren Pitt then the Communities Minister was asked why? His response was it was not being used for the reason it was established.
As mentioned before the people of the Society who were involved in the setting up were not the same people involved in the closure. There was no dialogue between the two, so the second group did not know the rationale behind the programme. Jim has attempted redress through every avenue. He has records of ALL correspondence, copies of statutory declaration from gym instructors regarding the numbers.



Following are names of persons who then held senior position and now do.

Queensland State President on opening of gym Tim O’Connor, followed by Mike McKeon, now John Campbell.
Cairns Diocesan President, Ann De Loren, Judith Tierney, Marc King, Jerry McAuliffe.
Cairns Diocesan Administrator (paid) Maree Fell.
Queensland General Secretary (paid) Tom Barry. This position changed on Mr Barry’s retirement to become CEO who is Peter Maher (paid).

Documentation can be provided for any of the above on request.


Judith Tierney.

6th June, 2010.
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Re: The Summary: by Judith Tierney

Postby russellm_rastko » Wed Oct 20, 2010 11:22 am

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