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1 Debates Philanthropy in the Seanad

Fiach Mac Conghail (ind, Taoiseach nominee) introduced a motion to welcome the government’s philanthropy initiative (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 27th March 2013, 375-402), during a debate attended by many voluntary organizations, including The Wheel.  He warned that maximizing private funding should not be seen as a pretext for reducing public funds and spoke of how the Seanad Public Consultation Committee had heard presentations from Deirdre Mortell of the One Foundation and how it and Atlantic Philanthropies were winding down their funding.  He described the government targets to raise philanthropic giving from €500m a year now to €800m a year by 2016 as not just ambitious but near impossible.  

 

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, told the house of the national giving campaign to be launched in the middle of this year and that he had provided €1.9m over three years, with the money to be matched by Philanthropy Ireland and used to provide support for infrastructure and the set-up costs of the social innovation fund (later, he gave the figure of €400,000 – ed). His colleague the Minister for Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht had announced the Philanthropic Leverage Initiative to bring in money for the arts and the RAISE initiative of the Arts Council of professional support to eight selected organizations for two years for a tailored fund-raising programme.  The government had also simplified the system of tax relief for charities so as to treat donations from PAYE and self-assessed taxpayers the same, with an upper limit of €1m on donations.  A certificate in fundraising had been designed and the first class of 26 had completed their course in Dublin City University.  There was a social innovation fund starting at €10m to support the growth and establishment of social innovations with the potential for having a transformative impact on critical social issues facing Ireland, including the environment and unemployment.  Structures for the fund would be in place before the end of the year, providing growth capital for the best social innovators and innovations investing in solutions to social problems and creating jobs.  He concluded by saying that philanthropy would not be seen as elitist, which had often been the case in the past, but everyone’s donation, however large, would receive equal treatment and respect.

 

Mark Daly (FF, administrative) cited the high rates of personal giving in Ireland, 89%, but the low rate of business giving, leading him to conclude not that Irish people did not want to give, but that the mechanisms and systems failed.  Cait Keane (FG, labour) described Ireland as one of the greatest philanthropic centres in the world, but that it was not officially well-developed in Ireland.  Labhras O Murchu (FF, cultural & educational) welcomed the minister’s comments and ‘I think his tone is right….It is easy to become frustrated and angry about issues today, but we cannot afford to go down that road.  We must fund ways and means of filling a gap that has occurred through no one’s fault’.  We were living in recessionary times and everybody will take some type of hit.

 

Marie Moloney (Lab, labour) spoke of how ‘during a recession, voluntarism is vital’ and how people always dug deep to find a few bob for voluntary organizations.  But she described the loss of Older & Bolder, which was now winding up, as ‘a terrible loss after all that it did for the elderly’.  She was very disappointed that it was closing.  She spoke of the work of the Parkinson’s Association, which did not get a penny from the state but did huge work on a voluntary basis.

 

David Cullinane (SF, labour) told the Seanad that the voluntary and community sector was at crisis point and facing irreversible decline and had been cut between 30% and 40%, disproportionate to other sectors.  The government was mistaken if it assumed that these cuts would not do serious damage to communities and community development.  He cited Waterford, where the Community Forum of 200 voluntary and community organizations used to received funding for €24,000 but this year was €11,000, with a part-time worker on less than half a week.  How much more will it take before it no longer exists? he asked.  He commended the role of philanthropic foundations such as Atlantic and One Foundation and any decision by the wealthy to invest in the voluntary or community sector – but the best way to provide services for what communities needed was a a progressive taxation system rather than depending on a small number of people with money to be so good as to give some of it back to their communities.

 

Fidelma Healy Eames (FG, labour) reminded senators of the public consultation session in the Seanad to which they had invited One Foundation, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and Ashoka on the topic  of helping communities.  One of the most interesting things to emerge from the day was crowd funding, a concept she would like to explore further, for we needed to use every available methodology to leverage money: ‘we live in a country of haves and have-nots.  One half of our people have no money left at the end of the week while the other half have savings’ and she wondered what could be done to leverage that money. 

 

Mary-Ann O’Brien (ind, Taoiseach nominee), while she welcomed the minister’s initiative, questioned why the charities regulator had not been put in place first.  A month ago she had published a report on the urgent need for regulation of charities to reaffirm public trust and confidence.  Her agenda was simply to improve public trust and confidence.  Several senators had already spoken about the lack of information on the sector’s financial activities and the government chose to stop funding INKEx, the only database of reliable information: why did we choose to do so when it was beginning to do the joined-up thinking that was needed?   We needed to reflect on why so many charities propped up the state in providing vital services where the state had been found wanting and cited the example of the Jack and Jill Foundation which nursed severely ill and brain-damaged children.  The minister had referred to a partnership with charities, but she challenged that word: the foundation had raised €38m, with the government giving 18%, which was a welcome donation – but not a partnership.  These were tough times and all that we were getting from the government at the moment was cuts and more cuts.

 

Winding up the debate, Fiach O Conghail welcomed the minister’s commitment to €1.9m over three years and for the set up costs of the social innovation fund and the commitment there of €10m.  Subject to Philanthropy Ireland matching that funding, we will have a social innovation fund ready to go by the end of this year.  He welcomed the minister’s commitment for €400,000 over three years to provide for a pool of €800,000 for capacity-building in the sector, which was ‘a headline piece of information I did not have before’ – but how did that align with the the commitment of the Department of the Arts, Heritage & Gaeltacht?  The social innovation fund, with a minimum amount of €10m, was what all colleagues in the sector had been seeking and was something they applauded.