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1 Debates: Charities, top ups and regulation

The Seanad debated the situation in the charities sector (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 4th February 2014, 521-548).  Lorraine Higgins (Lab, Taoiseach nominee) spoke of how people were sickened as a result of recent scandals, such as those that had engulfed the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) and charities had lost 40% to 60% of their incomes since then.   A regulator was essential and she drew attention to what she called the ‘pretty appalling’ practices of Victory Outreach: somebody somewhere had to stop it.  She commended the work of organizations like Dochas and The Wheel in trying to improve standards in the not-for-profit sector.  Mary Ann O’Brien (ind, Taoiseach nominee) spoke of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator as a model for Ireland, for Scotland had a similar size of population, with 23 staff looking after 23,000 charities – ‘it can be done quite cost effectively’.   The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government had launched a code of good practice in 2012, but it was a case of putting the cart before the horse, for 80 signed up with 80 pending.  She supported the introduction of the Standard of Recommended Practice (SORP) whereby salaries must be transparent from the CEO to the person with the bucket in the street.  She wanted to see how much went into administration and how many were earning over €75,000.  She recommended there be education and training on governance for anyone involved in a charity.


Mary Moran (Lab, Taoiseach nominee ) described recent events in the CRC and Rehab as very damaging to the voluntary sector.  People felt that they had been misled about where their money would be spent. She had made numerous enquiries to local providers for accounts but her enquiries had gone either unanswered or only partially answered.  She had found the lack of transparency at local level very surprising.   She should not have to chase down facts and figures like that.  She wondered had the charity sector lost the run of itself here, for in Britain the chief executive of the Salvation Army was paid £10,500 and still managed to run a top organization.   


Denis O’Donovan (FF, agricultural) raised the issue of charges for registration under the Act.  Charities should pay €100 to €200 a year according to their size and some of the larger ones could pay €1,000.  In Northern Ireland the regulator cost about £1m to run and such an organization should be as self-sufficient as it can be.  Denis Landy  (Lab, administrative) attacked the ‘disgrace’ of Rehab and the CRC: ‘what we have is a gravy train for some of the charitable organizations’, sweetheart deals and people feathering their own nests, with ridiculous and scandalous salaries, with bonuses and expenses and organizing their own retirement packages.  Fidelma Healy Eames (ind, labour) described the actions of the chief executive of Rehab as despicable in not reporting her salary when people were outside in all weathers shaking buckets.


David Culliane (SF, labour) said that we still had to bear in mind the way in which in our society charities were having to meet very basic needs.  He asked how many senators had people in their clinics who could not afford heating oil or food or gas or electricity bills and had turned to the Society of St Vincent de Paul for help?  Charities were filling a gap which should be the responsibility of the state.


Responding to the debate, the Minister for Justice & Equality Alan Shatter told them that organizations involved in both charitable and commercial activities, or hybrids, must understand that commercial activities did not exclude them from ethnical obligations.  While some charities demonstrated high standards of governance and transparency, the picture was far from uniform across the sector.  He intended to appoint the board of the new regulatory body by easter and an interim chief executive by the end of the month.  As for charges, they would not be a major burden but cumulatively they should be self-funding.


In the Dail, the Minister for Justice & Equality, Alan Shatter, told Dominic Halligan (ind, Waterford) that the office of the new Charities Regulatory Authority had been given an indicative resource allocation for the year of €960,00: he intended to have staff in place by the end of February (Dail Eireann, Debates, 13th February 2013, 87-8; 92).  Charities would in time be required to meet some of the costs of its operation through a modest, proportionate fee and the regulation of charities would become largely self-financing in due course.  Fees would not be payable before 2015 at the earliest.


Cait Keane (FG, labour) raised the abolition of the poor box, for which charities had benefited €2m in 2012 (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 5th February 2014, 563).  The Law Reform Commission had recommended that it be put on a statutory basis in 2005 and she welcomed that but she did not want it to go into central administration and be added to the lottery or something like that, because it was a good fund and very many good charities had benefited from it.

> Rehab lotteries figures: Dail Eireann, Debates, 4th February 2014, 184-5.

> Appointment of charity regulator: Dail Eireann, Debates, 5th February 2014, 538-9; 6th February, 806; 11th February, 341-2.

> Compliance of s.38 bodies and salary of Rehab CEO: Dail Eireann, Debates, 13th February 2014, 707-8.