Charity boss Nevin Ringland paid £142k a year, almost as much as the Prime Minister
Salaries under fire in times of falling funding and donations
The head of a leading mental health charity earns almost £150,000 a year, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Nevin Ringland, the founder and chief executive of Praxis Care, is one of Northern Ireland's highest paid charity bosses.
In the last year he received £142,000 – almost the same as Prime Minister David Cameron.
His pay was branded "astonishing" by one MLA.
The details emerged following an investigation by this newspaper into the generous salaries being drawn by charity chiefs.
We surveyed 60 of Northern Ireland's best known charities and asked them to disclose the pay of their chief executive or most senior local representative.
In the majority of cases, charities responded to our requests, with 34 of them revealing their boss earned more than £50,000 a year.
At least three drew salaries running to six figures. Around a quarter of charities declined to say what their bosses were paid – despite drawing millions of pounds each year from the public.
In a time of austerity where many charities are struggling because of falling donations and funding constraints, salaries of senior executives remain under the microscope.
According to the Charities Commission, there are 6,460 charities registered in Northern Ireland.
The vast majority are small organisations, staffed by a handful of volunteers who raise money for a specific purpose.
Others are much more widely known and pull in millions of pounds every year in donations.
There are also a number of major UK or Irish charities which operate in Northern Ireland.
The Belfast Telegraph contacted 60 of the best known charities covering a wide range of interests including health, poverty, the environment and the arts asking for their chief executive's name and salary.
Where the charity is UK or Ireland-wide – for example Oxfam and Christian Aid – we asked for details of their main representative in Northern Ireland.
Over a third – 22 of the 60 surveyed – agreed to disclose their CEO's exact salary, another 23 provided salary bands.
Two responded with partial answers, indicating their senior official earned above or below £60,000, while the other 13 refused to release any details.
The highest pay disclosed was drawn by Mr Ringland, who founded Praxis Mental Health in 1981. It is now part of Praxis Care, the largest charity based in Northern Ireland, employing around 1,200 people.
According to Praxis's annual accounts, filed to Companies House, four employees also received between £70,000 and £80,000 in the year ending March 2013.
After enquiries from this newspaper, Mr Ringland confirmed he received a fixed £142,000 salary.
Lagan Valley MLA Jonathan Craig branded his salary "astonishing", adding: "I am absolutely stunned by that figure.
"It raises questions. It is something the charity should take a look at."
In a statement, Mr Ringland said: "Praxis Care has been open and transparent for many years about the salaries of the CEO and senior management team.
"This information is set out in full detail in the Praxis Care audited financial statements, which are lodged with Companies House each year."
Praxis Care is currently embroiled in a dispute with the Northern Ireland Office over its cafe in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle.
The management of the castle is being transferred to Historic Royal Palaces, leading to Praxis being told it must leave its cafe, which employs 16 people with learning difficulties.
The charity had spent £400,000 developing the facility, but the NIO has turned down a compensation request. It said the charity had benefited from extremely generous terms at the site, including an annual rent of just £1.
Other charity bosses drew salaries of more than £100,000.
These include Tim Cooke, the director and chief executive of National Museums NI, which is a non-departmental public body and a registered charity, who earned between at £105,000 and £110,000.
Peter Power, all-Ireland executive director of Unicef, receives a €140,000 salary – equivalent to £114,000.
Kieran Murphy, national director of the St Vincent de Paul Society, received between €115,000 and €125,000 (£93,647 to £101,791), while Oxfam's all-Ireland chief executive Jim Clarken received €110,000 (£89,576).
Peter McBride, chief executive of mental health charity Niamh, earned between £90,000 and £100,000, while Contact chief executive Fergus Cumiskey drew £85,714.
Some major charities such as Trocaire and Barnardo's, which provided details of senior officials in Northern Ireland, also have CEOs covering their all-Ireland or UK-wide operation.
Barnardo's top official earns between £150,000 and £160,000, while Trocaire's executive director Eamonn Meehan, who is based in the Republic, earns €118,750 (£96,700).
Our survey is not exhaustive, and comparisons should not be drawn between chief executives' salaries, since their charities' size and staff will vary widely.
The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) carries out a salary survey every three years to give guidance on pay structures across the community, voluntary and charity sector. Its chief executive Seamus McAleavey said that while NICVA provided guidance, it is up to each charity's trustees or executive committee to decide remuneration.
Under the statement of recommended practice (SORP), which determines charities' accounting practice, charities must disclose the number of directors earning over £60,000 in their annual accounts.