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1 Debates: charity salaries, top-ups and poverty

Discussions on charity salaries, top-ups and the regulation of charities became prominent as the controversy over the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) reached a climax and also became connected to discussion on government policies against poverty, so they are taken here together. In the Seanad, Fiach Mac Conghail (ind, Taoiseach nominee) questioned a report that the the regulatory authority would be established ‘in a shadow form’ (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 3rd December 2013, 4,9).  What did that mean? he asked.  It concerned him greatly, for it sounded like foot-dragging.  Michael Mullins (FG, cultural & educational) described the level of payments to some senior managers of charities as outrageous but he was also concerned about the impact these reports were having on legitimate charities, 95% of which had not been making top-up payments.  Many charities relied on the Christmas period for much of their income to keep their services going for the coming year and he shared the sense of urgency for the need for a regulator to be appointed.  


Labhras O Murchu (FF, cultural & educational) said that whatever the current controversies, we should not punish the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Simon and hundreds of other charities beavering away every hour of the day.  This was an opportunity to publicize the good work of charities , put people’s minds at rest and ask them to continue their generosity (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 11th December 2013, 336, 338).  People needed our help urgently and immediately: they were not part of the controversies and all they wanted to do was survive and live with dignity.  Fidelma Healy Eames (FG, labour) spoke of how she was relying on the Society of St Vincent de Paul to provide €1,440 to help a man have his electricity switched on.  Without the society, ‘we will be lost because there is no heart in the ESB’.  


In the Dail, Gerry Adams (SF, Louth) described the practices of ‘lining the pockets’ of already highly paid executives as ‘grossly unacceptable’ (Dail Eireann, Debates, 3rd December 2013, 197-8; 209-210).  It had created a crisis of confidence about how donations to charities were used.  Charities needed our support, not least because of the government’s austerity policies.  The government must move with speed to create the regulatory authority.  He compared what had happened to a culture of privilege and corruption and the government’s breach of its own caps in pay for special advisors.  The Tanaiste, Eamonn Gilmore, agreed that people who donated to charity should be commended for their generosity, even in difficult times and that should not be undermined.  Gerry Adams pressed for a full inquiry, but the Tanaiste did not think this was necessary.  The HSE was making a complete analysis of §38 bodies to find out whether pay levels were compliant.  The issue was being addressed and the government was determined to resolve it.  Pearse Doherty (SF, Donegal SW) asked for the Charities Act 2009 to be commenced as soon as possible: had its board been populated yet?


Later, Finian McGrath (ind, Dublin NC) demanded to know why had the Charities Act not been implemented?  He had been gutted and appalled by what had happened in the CRC (Dail Eireann, Debates, 5th December 2013, 809-814). Patrick O’Donovan (FG, Limerick) asked the minister to address the governance of these organizations and the accountability of board members.  There was a need for public interest board members to articulate public concerns and be the eyes and ears of the department.  Audits should be published.  He raised the issue of top-ups in Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross.    Replying, the Minister for Health Dr James Reilly told them that health services were subject to the government’s pay policy and the same rules applied to managers as to those in the front line and §38 and §39 organizations had been reminded of this.  Derek Keating (FG, Dublin MW) reminded them that every board of every charitable organization had a responsibility here, not just the chairperson or financial controller or secretary.  Later on the same day, the Minister for Justice & Equality, Alan Shatter, told Michael Healy Rae (ind, Kerry S) that it was envisaged that the new charity authority come into operation in 2014 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 5th December 2013, 77-8).


The role of charities was raised in the Dail the following week (Dail Eireann, Debates, 10th December 2013, 34, 40, 67-69).  Gerry Adams (SF, Louth) first drew the attention of the Dail to the fact that 750,000 people were living in poverty and he commended the good work of the Society of St Vincent de Paul.  Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP, Dun Laoghaire) remarked on the the appeal for basic foodstuffs by the Archbishop of Dublin because the Crosscare food bank was overwhelmed.    The archbishop had spoken of how children were going to school hungry and unable to learn and how this had arisen from the unemployment and poverty resulting from austerity policies.  This country now had probably more hungry, homeless and desperate people than any time since the 1920s or 1930s.  The Taoiseach gave a detailed reply, which directly addresses the issue of poverty and role of voluntary and community organizations in response, so it is quoted here in full:


One would swear an oath after listening to the deputy that every person in the country is starving.  I commend all the groups, agencies and organizations that do so much work for people who are suffering hardship where there is a degree of poverty and hunger. That should not apply in a country like this.  It is a case of working with the agencies of government, the voluntary organizations and the families to make sure their children are fed in the best way possible. In a country like Ireland in 2013, it should not be the case that a child should have to go to bed hungry, but unfortunately that happens in a number of cases.  I think the programmes that are done through schools and in communities, such as breakfast clubs, have such a strong effect because these things are taken in hand by communities and parents – by women, in particular – with the support of many agencies and organizations.  Communities have banded together far more effectively and far more closely to deal with the extent of what has happened in the recession than they did when people assumed everybody was well off, that everybody was a millionaire and that everybody had money for everything even though that was clearly not the case.  There are serious difficulties in many homes in this country.  Where that applies, this is always a difficulty. It may be a case of an addiction, of squandering money or of not having any money.  Nobody wants to see that.  When these things are identified by the many voluntary organisations, they make a sterling effort to see they are dealt with I do not believe anybody in our country should be hungry in 2013, given the extent of what we produce. We produce enough food to feed 35m people. This is a case of understanding who needs it and in what circumstances and how effectively that can be delivered on.  It is a very strong social requirement and responsibility of the government and its agencies to ensure these problem areas are dealt with and, where possible, to change the whole nature of motivation and interest so that people can get into the world of work, better themselves and as a consequence, provide in a better way for their children.


Billy Kelleher (FF, Cork NC) raised the question of top-up salaries within the HSE and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, confirmed that the salary of the CEO had been reduced from €322,113 plus benefits (2005-2012) to an approved rate for director general of €185,350. She had requested urgent action to ensure that all §38 organizations must be fully compliant with government pay policy.


Asked by Seamus Healy (ind, Tipperary S) would he agree to proposals by voluntary organizations (Age Action, Focus Ireland, OPEN, INOU, Barnardos, NWCI and ICTU) to restore the Christmas bonus, the Taoiseach told them that this would cost €261m and we do not have that money: ‘we cannot return to a situation where there was an assumption that everything was available for nothing.  Someone has to pay at the end of the day and balance is required.  The budget maintained the state pension, carer’s allowance, disability allowances, other core weekly payments and child benefits.  Despite all the cynics and all those who said we would destroy all welfare payments, that did not happen  (Dail Eireann Debates,11th December, 393-4).


Following this, Dessie Ellis (SF, Dublin NW) proposed there be a national food bank to supplement the food banks already run by Bia and Crosscare (Dail Eireann, Debates, 11th December 2013, 411-413).  Responding for the government, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Tom Hayes, told him that his department would this year distribute €2.6m of butter, rice and cheese to 563 charities, part of the European programme going back to the harsh winter of 1987.  The European Union had proposed a new fund from 2014, which would have a €3.5m budget.  Any proposals for a national food bank in Ireland would come from charities in conjunction with food producers and retailers.  The government would do everything in its power to help alleviate a problem with food.


Michael McGrath (FF,  Cork SC) returned to the issue of top-ups to lavish executive salaries, compliance with public sector pay policy and the implementation of the Charities Act, 2009 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 12th December 2013, 630-5).  When will it be enacted? he asked.  The Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, told him that it was now intended to commence it ‘early in the new year’.  Michael McGrath spoke of the inevitability that donations would fall off.  Postponing the Charities Act had been the wrong decision.  The Tainaiste told him that §38 agencies would now be asked to sign a compliance statement, confirming that they were compliant with public pay policy and as a consequence, people could have confidence that people knew where their money was going and that it was transparent.  If agences did not sign the compliance agreement, there would be consequences for public funding going on salaries and top-ups.


Stephen Donnelly (ind, Wicklow) drew to the attention of the house the report of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) which showed that the poorest 10% of the country had been asked to give up the most in the 2014 budget (Dail Eireann, Debates, 12th December 2013).  Responding, the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore commented on the technical issues associated with the ESRI’s modeling and that it exaggerated the scale of the actual losses in the budget.  All recent budgets had a serious impact on incomes in all parts of the country, but they had maintained social welfare rates.  Social welfare had reduced poverty by 71%.  No one was attempting to argue that budget measures could be sugar coated, but the main issue was that the government’s approach was working.  Amidst rowdy scenes, Stephen Donnelly spoke of ‘how we have hit on a sensitive issue because the analysis is unambiguous.  The ESRI is the best analysis we have, a solid analysis which states unambiguously that this government in budget 2014 is asking the poorest people to take the greatest share of the correction.  That is a fact and it is a disgrace’.  It was bad social policy and bad economic policy and led to a rise in inequality.  

> See also

> Government support for philanthropy and the arts: Dail Eireann, Debates, 3rd December 2013, 278-9.

> Introduction of new authority in 2014: Dail Eireann, Debates, 10th December 2013, 258.

> Dail Eireann, Debates, 11th December 2013, 585.

> Campaign for the restoration of the Christmas bonus by ICTU, Focus Ireland, INOU, Age Action, OPEN: Dail Eireann, Debates, 4th December 2013, 532.