Pension woe sinks charity: Spirit of Enniskillen Trust wound up over £290k liability
A cross-community charity set up after the IRA Remembrance Day bombing is to be wound up over a staff pension crisis, it has been confirmed.
In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland, the High Court appointed a liquidator to dispose of all assets held by the Spirit of Enniskillen Trust.
With the recession having exposed it to a £290,000 pension liability, a judge said it should act as a warning to other charities facing potential threats of insolvency.
The award-winning trust was established in memory of the November 1997 attack on the Co Fermanagh town which killed 12 people and injured dozens more.
Government grants and international funding enabled it to employ five staff.
Final salary provisions were included under the Northern Ireland Charities Pension Scheme.
Nearly 20 other groups are believed to be still involved in the same scheme, which closed to new members in 2009.
If any participating charity ceased to contribute, its liabilities switched to the remaining members of the scheme.
In March 2011 the trust's liability was assessed as £98,000 — causing no alarm because it owned its offices at Malone Avenue in south Belfast.
Bought for £215,000 in 2000, the property's value soared before the housing crash brought its current estimated worth back down to £180,000-190,000.
By the time the trust ceased operating and made staff redundant in March this year its pension liability was assessed at £289,827.
An application was brought by trustees to have it declared insolvent and for solicitor John Gordon of Napier and Sons to be appointed liquidator for winding-up purposes.
Attorney General John Larkin QC was represented in the case, seeking to “shine a light” on what had happened. Mr Justice Deeny noted that, with hindsight, the trust should have left the scheme in 2011, paying £98,000 and amending the terms and conditions of any remaining employees.
“The trust could then have survived in altered form with the co-operation of its principal funders,” he said.
Appointing Mr Gordon as liquidator and trustee with power over the Malone Avenue property and all other assets, the judge said the case raised questions about the operation of the Charities Pension Scheme.
“This acts as a warning to trustees of charities to be alert to take active steps to address threats to the insolvency in a timely and expeditious way,” he said.
Outside the court Mr Gordon echoed the note of caution, pointing out that a change in pension legislation could lead to some experiencing deficiencies.
He added: “As far as I'm aware this is the first charity in Northern Ireland to which anybody has been appointed liquidator.”
The Spirit of Enniskillen is a youth-led charity based in Belfast that was established in 1989 by Senator Gordon Wilson following the death of his daughter Marie in the 1987 Enniskillen bomb. Since then it has been working with young people from different cultural traditions across Northern Ireland to encourage them to learn from each other.