Donal Nugent, journalist

A respected voice on the rights of children and an organisation with roots deep in the country – a plaque on Dublin’s Dame Street commemorates the birthplace of founder Dr Thomas Barnardo in 1845 – Barnardos holds a distinctive place among NGOs in Ireland.

More than 60 years after setting up here, demand for its services has also far from peaked. The Central Statistics Office’s 2022 Survey on Income and Living Conditions found that 15.2% (190,000) of the country’s children were at risk of poverty, while the number of children and parents who benefited from Barnardos’ early intervention services in 2023 was 26,000, up 25% on the year before.

‘When you are forming contractual arrangements to deliver a service, they have to be watertight’

All about impact

Martin Hannigan FCCA, director of finance, IT and governance, takes a lead role in ensuring that the charity delivers those services effectively and where most needed. ‘Impact is the key,’ he says of the decision-making process. ‘In the private sector, a finance team will look at cost/benefit. In an NGO, it’s impact. Sometimes, the only way to get a sense of that is “touch and feel” – seeing what’s happening on the ground. We saw recently when we had to close a service temporarily because of a building issue, the impact on people in that community was immediate and the relief when it reopened was huge.’


Director, finance IT and governance, Barnardos Ireland

Joins Dublin Simon Community Homeless Services, rising to head of finance and corporate services

Consultant, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

Consultant and project manager, Baxter Healthcare

Experience also tells him that the finance role in the NGO sector can never be a siloed one. ‘You are involved in everything from governance, to legal, to IT. You have to be sure that whatever area your organisation is getting into, there is adequate funding and support to maintain it. When you are forming contractual arrangements to deliver a service, they have to be watertight.’ This is where the ACCA qualification comes in, he adds proudly. ‘I use my whole toolbox of experience in this role, and everything is called on every day.’

Indeed, Hannigan’s advice to any young ACCA member sizing up career choices is ‘Don’t be afraid to consider an NGO. They are great places to get a very broad level of experience and the feedback and rewards are great.’

He also stresses the opportunity for more senior members. ‘I know from experience how difficult it is to keep refreshing boards so I would encourage ACCA members to get involved at that level,’ he says. ‘Your skills are in demand and the experience is deeply rewarding.’

The bigger picture

Barnardos’ 56 service locations across the country put a firm emphasis on the positive, through initiatives such as the early years intervention programme and its popular breakfast clubs. But there is no sugar coating the issues facing many in these disadvantaged communities. ‘We are very much a trauma-informed organisation,’ Hannigan says. ‘Each centre has to be able to deal with some of the extreme difficulties the children and adults availing of our services may be experiencing. These can be include domestic violence, depression, bullying and bereavement as a range of the services offered.’

Barnardos Ireland by numbers

Service locations

Total employees

Year Barnardos opened

Number of children and parents supported in 2023

Fundraising income in 2023

Expenditure in 2023

Prior to joining in 2023, Hannigan spent 15 years working with the Simon Community and he says the challenges around housing and disadvantaged areas form a common thread across both charities. There may be no magic wands to solve them, but there are certainly things that could be done better.

‘Not enough thought is being given to the additional services a community needs’

‘There’s money to build in a lot of cases, so from a capital perspective that’s not the issue,’ he says. ‘What would help, from my experience, is reform around the planning process.’ He is quick to add, however, that this isn’t simply about fast tracking house building. ‘One of my concerns, where we see large-scale home building at the moment, is not enough thought is being given to the additional services a community needs. I can already see demand is going to mushroom for our services in some of these new communities if the government doesn’t plan for the bigger picture.’

Hitting the net

Leaving Ireland after school in the late 1980s, Hannigan joined tobacco company Gallagher in the UK, where an aptitude with numbers soon saw him rise to a management accounting role. Here, his ACCA journey began and while most members may recall the day they qualified, not all will do so with his clarity. ‘I got my results on 17 August 1996. I remember it vividly because, later that day, I went to see Manchester United play Wimbledon and watched David Beckham chip in what is often regarded as one of the best goals ever scored.’

‘It’s jaw dropping sometimes to see the impact we can have; this is what keeps me in the sector’

Spells with GSK, EY and Baxter Healthcare followed, where his expertise in the development of shared services brought extensive travel. With the arrival of his first child in 2006, it was time for something more stationary and he found an opportunity with the then Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (now the Department of Rural and Community Development). It was here that he got to see first hand the work of some of the country’s most progressive charitable organisations. ‘I realised there was a lot more going on in the sector than I expected,’ he says. ‘It was a bit of a wake-up call as to the issues out there.’

After almost two decades with frontline NGOs, Hannigan says it’s the passion he sees around him daily that keeps him motivated. ‘The people you work with aren’t doing it for the money; they are here because they love what they do. It’s jaw dropping sometimes to see the impact we can have; this is what keeps me in the sector.’

Some welcome public recognition for their work came last year when Barnardos Ireland was named winner of the Published Accounts Awards in the larger NGO category, praised for ‘ease of reading’ and ‘a strong and honest narrative to support the figures’ in its reporting. As with the day Hannigan became a member of ACCA, the award proved that there’s nothing quite like hitting the back of the net to make all the hard work worthwhile.