Dáil Éireann - Volume 639 - 10 October, 2007

Charities Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe: Prior to the adjournment of this debate I stated my belief that this is a good Bill and I compliment the officials and [537] others who helped put it together during the years since the Costello report in 1990. It has been a long time in gestation. I like the Bill, which has broad support from those involved in the sector. We should use the goodwill of the House to ensure the Bill becomes an excellent Act and that the changes, tweaking and amendments required are fully considered and placed in the legislation. That is why I strongly recommend to the Minister that when the Bill is on Committee Stage, those involved in the sector, the main organisations and the charity regulation study group which produced an excellent submission on the Bill, be invited to come before the Oireachtas committee to discuss their views and outline their concerns and proposals for change. Those changes might be considered technical in some instances, in other instances they may be more than technical. This is not something that is of peripheral concern or a consideration of minor importance because this is a huge sector. According to the Trinity study last year, the sector, which probably also includes the community and voluntary sector, has a total economic value of €2,500 million. That is an enormous sum of money. It is estimated that more than 60,000 people work in the area as employees, professionals, semi-professionals, volunteers and part-time workers. Given that it is a huge sector it is important that we get it right. What is significant is that those involved at the coalface are unanimous in seeking change and want to see a good Bill in place. They are actively working and encouraging all of us with an interest in the area to ensure the legislation is brought to a successful conclusion.

According to the Revenue Commissioners, last month the total number of charitable bodies registered for tax exemption was 7,211. This figure has increased from 5,800 in four years. Therefore, it is a growth area. Some 80% of these charities have a spend of less than a couple of hundred thousand euro and have to be taken into account. Any regulatory framework has to keep an eye on smaller charities without stifling them.

A good point was made by the Minister of State on the changing nature of fund-raising. In the old days there were raffles, quizzes, garden fetes and so on but this has changed over the years. The changes that have already taken place include more sponsored events, legacies, telethons, direct debits and the development of the philanthropy sector which is getting bigger by the year. Fortunately as wealth increases I encourage this trend. There are the university foundations and much of the funding for the third level sector comes from what would be technically a charitable source. From that point of view, it is important that the regulatory framework is flexible.

In many jurisdictions, attempts have been made to provide proportionate and appropriate regulation for fund-raising. Many of those [538] attempts have failed because they have been overly bureaucratic and too specific. What is needed is a balance between an element of self-regulation, good codes of practice, and a good regulatory framework, that is flexible enough to allow for changes and new developments. There is need for a decent input from the Oireachtas to help achieve that outcome.

Looking at the specific points raised I do not intend to go through the submission from the study group. The Minister of State is already aware of it and his officials will have studied it. All I ask is that consideration is given to what appear to me to be legitimate points of concern. That is the reason I would like to see these people come before the Oireachtas committee with a view to teasing out those points. If there are responses from officialdom, lets us hear them and let us all work together to ensure a worthwhile outcome.

There has been no adequate explanation as to why the promotion of human rights has been excluded but, apparently, it was included in the original draft. Given what happened in Rangoon the week before last, if a group was raising money to help the human rights situation in Burma or in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, where people were similarly treated, it should be regarded as a worthy objective that would be approved in every way possible, particularly in light of the weak and rather lily-livered response of the West to the regimes that treat their people so disgracefully in both those countries. That issue needs to be teased out fully.

While all types of fundraising should require permits we should look again at how this issue is controlled. The detail and the practical application need to be worked out. The best system is probably through the regulator, the Garda and the sector. Given the way it is shaping up, it appears the Garda will have to process a much greater number of applications and notifications every day. As one who had a substantial interest in the work of the Garda Síochána during the past three years and an appreciation of what it was doing, we want the force to be more involved with core duties. Dealing with applications of this kind would not be regarded as core duties. My idea would be to lighten the workload as much as possible. If we are inviting people to come before the Oireachtas committee, I would also like to hear the views of the Garda Commissioner and his officials who look after this area. The fact that there are 28 different Garda divisions, all of which operate autonomously, needs to be dealt with.

The intention is to ensure uniform regulation of public collections. It has been mentioned to me that the application for a 12-month conditional non-cash permit, followed by notification to the Garda of an intention to exercise the permit and a requirement for further permission, will cause [539] quite a number of problems. The practical application of that approach needs to be teased out. A possible solution is to set up a consultative panel, as provided for in the Bill, to work out the practical issues and not to try to lay down the specifics of every activity in legislation.

There are a couple of issues about which I am concerned. I endorse the comments of my colleague, Deputy Ring, in regard to fees. I do not want the sector to have to pay fees out of moneys collected from a generous public to underpin a regulatory bureaucracy. That would be going against the goodwill of people who support charities. There is a provision in the Bill for dealing with this issue but there has been no clear explanation of how it will be implemented. When replying, perhaps the Minister of State will give an indication of what he has in mind.

There is another issue of concern to those who do not want over-interference from the Government. Deputy Ring raised the issue of responsibility to the House. I am in broad agreement with him in regard to the responsibility of Ministers to the Oireachtas. On the other hand, if this is to be an independent authority, we have to look at section 14 which gives the Minister the entitlement to give written directions to the authority requiring it to comply with Government policies. That is an issue I want teased out.

Section 13 specifically states that the authority “shall be independent in the performance of its functions”. How can it be independent in the performance of its functions while at the same time being subject to compliance with Government directions? This among many other issues needs to be teased out.

I wish to refer to an island-wide approach. Northern Ireland has new draft regulations and in the new era of North-South relations we should consider what is being done. There may be a facility, perhaps through one of the new structures being established, to discuss the question of a common North-South approach. At a minimum we should not ignore the draft Northern Ireland charities order of 2007.

Let us work on making this landmark legislation. Let us make sure that everybody is on board. Let us have further consultation on it. With a continued input of that nature from all sides we will end up with very good legislation indeed.

  Deputy Jack Wall: I welcome this important and necessary legislation. That it has taken so long to come before the House means that a dedicated staff put the Bill together and the two Ministers of State involved, Deputies Noel Ahern and Pat Carey, took care and attention to ensure that representatives of all charitable organisations had an opportunity to make submissions, which were considered when drafting the legislation. [540] Obviously not everyone is satisfied; it is never possible to achieve that. However, I am sure that consideration could be given to Deputy Jim O’Keeffe’s proposal to invite some of the groups to appear before the committee before the later Stages of the Bill. With the present state of the committees I am not sure whether it is possible. It might represent a new way to consider legislation in terms of combining all our assets. We need all the possible assets for a Bill of this magnitude, which will play a major part in everybody’s lives.

4 o’clock

We want the Bill to go through the House as quickly as possible and want to help in every way to ensure it is feasible. Obviously the interesting interpretation of the Bill by the various charitable groups has led to a considerable amount of representations. While it is the intention of us all to have the Bill brought to fruition as soon as possible we must also be very careful that all the concerns of the various interested bodies are investigated and determined. Irish people are world renowned for their generosity, which can be noted on an almost daily basis by groups or families nationally or internationally expressing their thanks to the Irish people for the generosity that has helped them to alleviate a big or small tragedy that affected their loved ones or themselves. Many tragic circumstances ranging from earthquakes, flooding, tsunamis right down to a house fire, which can be such a tragedy for a family, have seen the Irish people play their part. As Deputy Jim O’Keeffe has said, a Trinity College research document has estimated the value of such generosity at €500 million for fundraising in Ireland, which is an unbelievable figure, with the voluntary sector in general generating €2.5 billion. One can clearly see that we all agree to having the transparency provisions of the Bill approved and introduced as soon as possible.

Charity affects everyone in this great country of ours and can be broken down into three different sectors — the donors, the employees in the sector and the recipients. In too many instances recipients depend on the work of charitable organisations to have a better standard of living when the Government of the day has fallen down in its commitments to those less well off than we are. A case in point is the wonderful work being carried out by the Women’s Aid group, which provides a service to women who are battered, beaten and in many cases sexually assaulted by husbands, family members, loved ones etc., yet the phone service the organisation provided was under-funded by the Department of Health and Children and the HSE such that two of every five calls went unanswered. This terrible tragedy that a woman in her darkest hour of torment could not access a friendly voice went on for more than three years before the HSE provided a paltry [541] €70,000 to meet the cost of a telephone staff that could meet the demand.

I highlight this example to show that many of these groups would do far better by working with the people for whom the funds are raised rather than running raffles or roulette tables and standing on street corners, etc. In those instances the Government must consider providing funding. The cake can only be divided out so much. If, in cases where funding should be provided by the Government, money is being taken out of the cake by those trying to provide a service it means that other people will obviously lose out.

This is only one of many cases that, sadly, we could mention where the Government has fallen down in its commitments to groups which end up dependent on the work of a charity to have a decent standard of living or integration into normal society which so many individuals and families crave. The field workers or employees at the coalface are the flag-bearers of many charities that in many instances operate without Government funding. This wonderful work that in so many cases is voluntary without personal gain raises one the often-asked questions of the effectiveness of charities to provide a service considering the administration costs vis-à-vis the value of what is happening at the coalface.

We must ensure that these wonderful people, whom we see every day in so many segments of society, some of them unknown in the amount of work they do including organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and others, are not undermined by a lack of transparency regarding the financial transactions or workings of the charity in which they are involved. The legislation should ensure that their positions are verified now that such organisations will be required to prepare accounts and be registered thereby ensuring that the ordinary person on the street can see that the money he or she gave was used effectively.

Among the representations we have received, representatives of The Wheel have been very vocal and persuasive. Its director of advocacy, Ivan Cooper, has done a considerable amount in helping us to make this case today and on Committee Stage. Representatives of The Wheel asked one very important question on how we would handle spontaneous community fundraising, for example, in cases of a house fire, a personal family tragedy or a major tragedy in a particular area. Having searched the Bill I do not see any provision for such funding. While we will obviously review the matter on Committee Stage, I would like the Minister of State to indicate how it will be handled. I do not know whether such spontaneous fundraising happens in the cities, but we certainly have it in rural Ireland. I do not say this against the previous Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, but the current [542] Minister of State has the best of both worlds. As he has a background in a rural community and now represents a densely populated part of the city, he knows what I am talking about. He knows that spontaneity must not be dented by the legislation. Amendments must be made to ensure transparency while ensuring the spontaneity associated with community involvement is not affected.

The Bill sets out to address the many concerns expressed over the years by the public who are very concerned about the effectiveness of the many millions of euro they donate to thousands of charities in the State and who wonder about this. For example, The Wheel states it has 760 charities on its books. The legislation could cause major problems for these charities when it is enacted. Deputy Ring is correct that charities should not have to bear a cost as a result of the legislation. I cannot figure out how the departmental officials who drafted the Bill concluded that charities must make payments. The word “charity” implies giving to those to whom an organisation’s focus is directed. A charity should not have to give to the State. I cannot understand how a charity can be expected to maintain its operations while complying with the legislation.

For example, under one of the Bill’s provisions, if a charity does not provide its accounts up front and has to hire an external auditor to examine its books, it will have to pay the auditor’s fees. While legislation is required, we must not lose sight of a central issue — the charities that are run in many instances on a voluntary basis by people who perform above and beyond the call of duty to provide for the less well-off. We must never deviate from that. I have known the Minister of State for a long time and I hope he will examine this provision so that a scenario will not emerge where money will be taken from a charity by the Exchequer when it could be used for the benefit of those for whom it was collected. The moneys raised by charities are donated for the specific purposes with which the charities are identified and not to be given to the Exchequer. I hope that a major initiative will be taken by the Minister of State to overhaul this provision, which will be discussed again on Committee Stage.

We have received many submissions and the Minister of State referred to the advocacy issue raised by Barnardos. That organisation considers this a problem because it would affect fundraising and so on. However, did the Minister of State say the provision will not be included in the legislation?

  Deputy Pat Carey: I will come back with a variety of responses.

  Deputy Jack Wall: The Wheel also highlighted this issue and given that it represents 750 charities, this is a cause of major concern. The Wheel [543] believes that the statutory organisation should remain entitled to seek inclusion in the proposed register. The Wheel is of the view that there is a need to protect the identity and independence of charities so that they are not all encompassed by the legislation.

I refer to the Minister of State’s contribution and his comments on costings resulting from the legislation. The issue also arises in the context of the taxation of small charities. I am involved in a small voluntary organisation in Castlemitchell, Athy, but because it is a limited company, we must submit accounts. The company is run by an entirely voluntary group of directors and we try to attract small businesses to an old school that was given to the community. An annual profit of approximately €3,500 is made but the auditor’s fee for doing the accounts is similar and nullifies what we gain.

A mechanism should be provided so that the accounts of smaller charities, in particular, could be verified in a way that will not result in a major cost to them. If that happened, the legislation, which everybody agrees should be implemented, would be more humane. The Jewell report also highlighted this issue. Volunteers who run small charities, especially those in receipt of low levels of funding, say this proposal will increase their workload. At a time when many volunteers are leaving such organisations, I wonders whether this proposed strict regime will further inhibit people from volunteering for charities and other organisations to the detriment of both rural and urban communities. It is great to make provision in legislation to ensure accounts are submitted and audited so that everything is transparent. However, if a number of charities cease to exist because people are no longer willing to volunteer and put their shoulders to the wheel to ensure the success of such organisations as a result of the red tape involved, it will be to the detriment of our society as we go forward.

This intricate Bill raises many other issues and we will table many amendments on Committee and Report Stages. Everybody wants it implemented and I hope we have a good, honest debate on Committee Stage. I also hope the Minister of State will give a good hearing to the issues we have raised on this Stage and that he will accept a number of our amendments.

When the Ceann Comhairle served as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, he introduced a Bill relating to the Red Cross. He proposed the establishment of an authority to oversee the Red Cross and I asked him to ensure the authority would be answerable to the House. He took that on board and said he would include a provision ensuring the authority would have to answer questions posed by Members of this House. Too many authorities have been established under various Acts which are not answerable to the Oireachtas. [544] When I raised this issue with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in the context of the authority overseeing the inland waterways at a committee meeting during the previous Dáil, he stated that even though a provision was not included in legislation to insist the body replied to questions from Oireachtas Members, he always insisted that a written reply should be given to Deputies who tabled parliamentary questions.

All we seek is a secure mechanism whereby written replies will be provided to Deputies. The Ceann Comhairle, who was then the Minister responsible, included a provision in a Bill relating to the Red Cross to ensure this would happen. It is important, especially for Opposition spokespersons, that such a facility is in place. One can be asked a question by a constituent at any time where the only means of obtaining the answer is through a parliamentary question.

I look forward to Committee Stage of this Bill. My colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, is particularly interested in aspects of the Bill, as are other Labour Party colleagues. We will be positive in our contributions and will help in every way in ensuring this important legislation goes through the House as quickly as possible.

  Deputy Mattie McGrath: I propose to share time with Deputy White.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Deputy Mattie McGrath: This is my first time to speak in the House and I take the opportunity to congratulate the Ceann Comhairle on his elevation to high office. I wish him well in his term.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House on this important Bill. The updating of regulations relating to the diverse charities sector will create a framework for both national and local organisations involved in all areas of social, economic and civic life in the State. Without such organisations, there would be a significant additional cost burden on the Exchequer. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, and his predecessor, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, for bringing this Bill forward.

There are more than 19,000 community and voluntary organisations sustaining our civil society. These bodies require support as well as regulation. With two thirds of Irish adults — or more than 2 million people — engaging annually in the social, cultural and humanitarian activities offered by our community and voluntary sector, it is no surprise that the sector contributes more than €2.5 billion to the economy each year and employs more than 63,000 full-time and part-time staff. In south Tipperary, I have been involved with many voluntary organisations such as voluntary housing schemes, community alert projects, the Ring a Link rural transport scheme, voluntary [545] naoinraí and other child care projects, community employment schemes and many others. I pay tribute to all these organisations, many of which rely on volunteers.

I am conscious that many Deputies are or were previously involved in community and voluntary organisations throughout the State which operated with the benefit of charitable status conferred by the Revenue Commissioners. This status has afforded several financial benefits to organisations with specific defined charitable objectives. All these organisations enrich the life of local communities and frequently are established by forward looking volunteers where a need is identified by local people that has been neglected by the public sector.

Under this legislation, charitable status will be dependent on an organisation having charitable purposes only and being for the public benefit rather than having any particular legal form. Charitable purposes will be fully defined for the purposes of the law for the first time in primary legislation. They encompass the prevention or poverty or relief of poverty or economic hardship; advancement of education; advancement of religion; and any other purpose that is of benefit to the community.

Included in the latter category are the advancement of community welfare, including the relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill health or disability; advancement of community development, including rural or urban regeneration; promotion of civic responsibility or voluntary work in the community; promotion of health, including the prevention or sickness or relief of sickness, disease or human suffering; advancement of conflict resolution or reconciliation; promotion of religious or racial harmony and harmonious community relations; protection of the natural environment; prevention of suffering or relief of suffering of animals; advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or sciences; and the integration of those who are disadvantaged and the promotion of their full participation in society.

The community and voluntary sector is estimated provide more than €2 billion to the economy, with more than 60,000 full and part-time staff and tens of thousands of volunteers, many of whom have distinct legal responsibilities in governing their organisations. There was previously an ad hoc approach to different aspects of the work of charities. It is important that this Bill will consolidate all these different aspects into one framework. Society is changing and this should be reflected in how the State defines what charities are and how they are supported and regulated. Much of the public discourse will be about ensuring fundraising aspects of charities are properly controlled, including eliminating financial improprieties and fraud.

We must be careful to support rather than discourage spontaneous community fundraising. [546] There is uncertainty in terms of the implications of the Bill for people who organise or take part in spontaneous community fundraising in response to disasters, such as the tsunami crisis. The Bill must clearly set out the registration exemptions that will apply in regard to permits in the case of exceptional, once-off community responses to urgent need. If this is not done, there may be uncertainty around people’s willingness to organise such responses for fear of falling foul of the law. This would be a terrible additional consequence for those already affected by a tragedy.

In Britain, the Charities Act 2006, which includes exemptions for local, short-term collections, could provide a model in this regard. The relevant provisions in this legislation could be adapted to recognise the Garda as the relevant authority rather than the local authority as is the case in Britain. Under this Act, a public charitable collection is exempt from registration requirements if it is a local, short-term collection, the promoters notify the local authority in whose area it is to be conducted within a certain timeframe of particulars relating to the collection, the appeal is local in character and the duration of the appeal does not exceed the prescribed period of time.

The Bill we are discussing today should also be about enabling charities to work in an environment without unnecessary bureaucracy. The provisions of the Bill should act as a help and not a hindrance to the broad range of work that only charities can undertake, which can involve public, private and voluntary resources. I agree with my colleagues that no expense should be incurred by a charitable organisation under these new provisions other than perhaps a nominal fee for registration.

We must protect the identity and independence of charities by ensuring that State agencies are not included in the register of charities. Otherwise, there will be confusion in the public mind about the status of charities versus State agencies. Charities are independent organisations established by members of the public in response to an identified need, the response being recognised as being for a charitable purpose and for the public benefit. In the world of charities, it is the independence of the board and the way it is elected by volunteers that is important. Charitable activity should be independent of State direction or control, yet there are many State bodies, such as the HSE, on the list of charities operated by the Revenue Commissioners.

To avoid any confusion in the mind of the public between what is a charity and what is a statutory agency, State-owned or controlled entities should not be included in the register of charities. Public bodies or organisations, the constitutions of which contain clauses that confer on Ministers powers to control appointments to their [547] boards, should be excluded. It is recognised, however, that State agencies that are included in the Revenue Commissioners’ list of organisations eligible for charitable tax exemptions, such as the HSE, should continue to be eligible for relevant tax exemptions. Perhaps a special tax exemption could be created for such bodies or agencies so they would not be required to seek inclusion in the register of charities to continue benefiting from these tax exemptions.

On the definition of charities and charitable activities, I agree that the purpose should pertain to activities of benefit to the community. I propose to the Minister to extend the range of activities in section 3(8) to include and explicitly mention the provision of social housing for disadvantaged groups. A similar reform in the UK looks to establish a charities framework with social housing included as a charitable activity.

There are over 500 voluntary housing associations in Ireland providing social housing approved by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. They provide up 20,000 homes for low-income families, the homeless, older people and people with disabilities. Housing associations now provide up to 30% of all new social housing and in the recent national agreement, Towards 2016, the Government has agreed that housing associations would provide 6,000 new homes between 2007 and 2009. Therefore housing associations are a significant part of the community and voluntary sector, with over €300 million in turnover from capital and revenue sources this year.

The provision of social housing from approved bodies in the voluntary and co-operative housing sector is a significant charitable activity in Ireland. Currently, voluntary housing associations work on a charitable level and must have approved status from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy’s time has expired.

  Deputy Mattie McGrath: The benefit for housing associations in having charitable recognition has been to receive various forms of tax exemptions relating to their activities and this should continue. We must remember that not all charities are the same. In conclusion, I ask the Minister not to include unnecessary and cumbersome duplication of dual reporting for charities in this Bill.

  Deputy Mary Alexandra White: I begin by congratulating the Minister of State on his recent appointment to the Department. I congratulate him also on the presentation of this Charities Bill to the Dáil early in its lifetime. I look forward to [548] working with the Minister of State in the months and years ahead.

The is an important Bill which the Green Party broadly supports. It is long overdue and contains many features which both the Green Party and the voluntary sector have been calling for for a long time. As a party which has championed the causes of the voluntary sector and been highly supportive of its role in the social partnership process, we are pleased the sector is broadly supportive of this Bill.

I welcome the proposed establishment of a new regulatory authority for charities and the proposed creation of a register of charities for the first time. The outlining of what legitimises a charitable cause’s status is vital and it will, in addition to a regulatory authority and charity appeals tribunal, go a long way in ensuring Ireland remains free of fraudulent charities. It will also ensure transparency and public accountability from the voluntary sector.

Several other aspects of the Bill are vital. The transferring of functions of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland to the new regulatory authority will make for sensible streamlining of the oversight of charities and advocacy groups, and the role envisaged for a clear consultative process between the new authority and stakeholders in the sector will do much to ensure good relations between the State, community and voluntary groups.

There are, however, several aspects of this Bill which remain problematic and I look forward to working with the Minister to ensure that concerns with the legislation will be addressed as it passes through the legislative processes in the House. The wording of the exclusion of organisations whose purpose is to advance a political cause causes a problem. I accept the motive behind the wording may have been well intentioned but it is problematic for the clause excluding political groupings to include the word political “cause”. Many political causes taken up by charities have the sole aim of advancing such issues as human rights, civic participation or social justice. These are ideals we all espouse in this House and the wording of this exclusion potentially endangers their inclusion.

Linked with this issue are the omissions in section 3 of the Bill, which were contained in the heads of the Bill in April 2006. Among the purposes spoken about by others that are of benefit to the community and were listed in the heads of Bill were the advancement of human rights, social inclusion and social justice, citizenship and the effectiveness and efficiency of charities.

The Green Party shares the concerns of the voluntary sector that by not including these purposes in the legislation, it might diminish the standing it has in the eyes of the State and possibly result in the unintended exclusion of such [549] organisations from the register, particularly vis-à-vis other purposes that are of benefit, and in turn public thinking. The advancement of human rights, social inclusion and social justice are pursuits worthy of equal recognition to those listed in the relevant section.

Several other aspects of the Bill must also be examined in forthcoming Stages because of the danger that the Bill, as it stands, may produce a bureaucratic culture in the area of charity management. This in turn will run the risk of discouraging people from engaging in voluntary activities aimed at helping the community.

The uncertainty surrounding the Bill’s implications for spontaneous community fundraising must also be addressed. People have spoken of the Asian tsunami some years back, which led to people spontaneously fundraising. In Kilkenny, one of my constituents underwent multiple transplant operations and the people there responded in extraordinary style to fundraise for her.

The issue of the regulatory authority’s role in terms of facilitation alone or facilitation and supporting better administration, and the question of a graded approach to the annual reports and accounts — which charities will need to submit — must be examined. It is important that what charities must do to comply is completely clear. It is also vital that the Government recognises the need to consult charities and the voluntary sector if it is to bring them along in the journey towards greater accountability and transparency. I have no doubt this will happen.

The issue of the regulator being Exchequer-funded or partially funded by charities and community and voluntary organisations must also be addressed. If we are going to establish a regulatory authority to monitor charities and voluntary groups we cannot ask such groups to pay for monitoring. Another potential pitfall which must be examined is the matter of dual reporting by charities to the Companies Registration Office and to the charities regulator. The explanatory memorandum of the Bill states that dual reporting is being examined in consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Companies Registration Office. We await progress on this issue of minimising the burden of dual reporting in due course.

The issue of fundraising permits and the active monitoring of organisations’ and persons’ use of them, particularly in terms of other groups being unable to run charity events because of dormant permit holders, may require attention in a future Bill. I recognise it is a complicated matter but it is another issue where we must work hard to ensure the act of doing good for a community and the public is not stifled by a lack of imagination from lawmakers and enforcers.

The issue of providing special legal structures for charities may also have to wait for another [550] legislative day but the occasion of the Charities Bill’s Second Reading provides us with a reminder that the legal constraints facing charities must be legislated for. I am sure the Minister will agree it is important for the voluntary nature of the work of charities to be recognised in the Bill by making a clear distinction between statutory charities and voluntary sector charities.

Why must these technicalities be addressed? Greater accountability and transparency must not cause paper mills and bureaucratic headaches in every parish hall or sports club throughout the country. When legislation similar to this was passed in England, a decline in the level of voluntary activity was observed. We have strong levels of voluntary participation in Ireland and they are the lifeblood of our communities.

Ireland has long been recognised as a generous, energetic fundraising nation. In Carlow last week, a volunteering day for the local community was superbly attended by charities and voluntary fundraising groups. Voluntary, charity and advocacy groups must not be overburdened by reports, accounts, procedures and codes.

I welcome the Second Reading of the Charities Bill, which will ensure greater accountability and enhanced public trust in charities and community or voluntary organisations. I look forward to working with the Minister in the coming months to resolve issues of concern in a positive and constructive manner. As Edmund Burke once stated, stubborn resistance to innovation impedes progress. This is an innovative Bill and it represents progress.

  Deputy John Deasy: I wish to share time with Deputy Barrett.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I understand Deputy Deasy will have 12 minutes and Deputy Barrett eight minutes.

  Deputy John Deasy: It goes without saying that elements of this legislation are overdue. Ireland is unique within the European Union in that it does not have a charities register. There is no legal obligation on organisations not registered as companies to publish their accounts. I have had experience of people who masqueraded as bona fide charities and I agree that, in general, reform is necessary. I support the reforming measures in the Bill.

Where I may depart from my colleagues on this issue is in respect of the establishment of a new authority. Why do we assume that matters would improve purely on the basis of the setting up of such an authority? Why can we not equally assume that the Government has not been reforming in this area and simply has not done its job? I am not convinced that a new authority is necessary.

[551] Reform is overdue, as are the specific reforming measures contained in the legislation. On many occasions, however, we seem to view reform almost as a reason for making government bigger. In my opinion, the act of creating an authority and a tribunal to accompany it is not, by its nature, reform, nor are developments of this nature always the solution. I understand that if the legislation is passed, the Minister could, under statutory regulation, make policy in respect of charities. Whenever a problem arises, in some instances the accepted response does not necessarily deal with the issues at hand, nor does it make government leaner, more streamlined or more efficient. On foot of the fact that Ireland is a rich country and, by extension, has a rich Government, we tend to create new bodies or authorities or new managerial levels within organisations. It emerged earlier today that in the HSE there is one manager for every six employees.

I am not convinced that this reforming measure can be dealt with by the Department sponsoring this Bill. When the legislation was first announced, the justification put forward in respect of the proposed authority was that no central body exists. That does not necessarily mean that we should automatically have an authority or a regulator. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill refers to an annual budget of €4 million being set aside. The Minister of State did not indicate how this money would be provided. He referred to different jurisdictions but did not identify any of them or outline any of the foreign models the Department has examined. He also referred to people working in the Department who are dealing with charity-related issues. There are obviously many individuals in the Department who have a great deal of experience in dealing with such matters.

The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states that the “issue will be subject of further discussions with the Department of Finance at the appropriate time”. This is a problematic and vague statement. It is similar to constructing something and then figuring out the cost after the fact.

My interest was peaked when the Bill was published as a result of the comments made by the senior Minister at the Department, Deputy Ó Cuív, not two or five years ago or when he was a county councillor, but last week, in respect of the HSE. Many Deputies might agree with him, particularly in light of their day-to-day dealings with the HSE. The Minister stated: “I’ve always been sceptical of the model that divorces the running of all these agencies from Government control.” Now, however, his Department is putting forward an item of legislation that proposes the creation of a new agency. Obviously the Minister is not that sceptical of the model because we are [552] engaging with it today. It is one thing to be outvoted or outnumbered in Cabinet in respect of a particular issue. In fairness, the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, never held the post of Minister for Health and Children. However, he is the line Minister responsible for dealing with this matter. One cannot have it both ways and it was abject hypocrisy for him to make a statement such as that which he issued last week and then set about creating a new agency this week.

Why could the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, not deal with this matter? He has experience of charitable issues and why could he not deal with it within the Department. The Minister of State has not provided an answer in this regard but he must do so. He must also make it clear why his Department should not continue to deal with charitable issues rather than transferring responsibility for them to a new agency which will cost the Exchequer €4 million and which will ultimately cost charities a great deal of money because they will be taxed. The establishment of agencies of this nature always leads to people and organisations being taxed.

Let us be clear what the legislation does, particularly in the context of what the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, stated. The Bill provides for the transfer of all jurisdictions issued in the Attorney General, by statute or common law, in respect of charities. The authority’s powers will be quite extensive and harsh. It will, for example:

. . . have the power to institute investigations; to call for documents and search records; to enter premises on foot of a search warrant; to impose sanctions, including intermediate sanctions; and to co-operate on an administrative basis with foreign statutory bodies on law enforcement matters. There will also be significant penalties in place for offences under the legislation.

When I first read this, I thought I was looking at the terms of reference of the FBI. However, when I re-examined it, I realised that the latter does not have unilateral power to impose sanctions. There is, therefore, a difference of sorts.

The Law Reform Commission issued a report on this matter in December 2005. The Minister of State indicated that the report was issued last year. That is not the case; it was published well over 18 months ago. I am aware of this because I read it on the Internet last night. The Law Reform Commission recommended the introduction of a new form of legal structure for charities. It did not make any definite recommendation in respect of a regulator or a new authority. The Minister of State glossed over those facts. His Department has had a great deal of time to peruse the 55-page report the Law Reform Commission compiled. That report contains some quite detailed recommendations and suggestions. For example, it suggested an entirely different [553] legal framework when it comes to charities. A number of reports relating to this matter have been issued in the past 16 years and the Minister of State must explain why the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations were not taken into account before the legislation was drafted.

I welcome the reform elements of the legislation, which are long overdue. Many charities have been the subject of fraud. As already stated, we are making government bigger and when one takes that route, one must consider the necessity of what one is doing and the cost implications to the Exchequer. It may be a bad example — most Deputies will understand from where I am coming in respect of it — but I was elected seven or eight years ago and I have seen government replicate and grow inordinately. Even if one contacts a local authority engineer these days, the chances are that the project about which one is inquiring has been contracted out to a consultancy firm and is not being done in-house. Government continues to grow and, in many cases, there is no good reason for this.

We need to ask ourselves whether outsourcing government work or creating new bodies necessarily makes government better. The Minister of State should provide a clear explanation as to why it is absolutely necessary to create a stand-alone authority such as that envisaged. It was interesting to hear other Deputies almost pleading with the Minister of State to have replies issued to them when the new authority is established. When we table questions relating to charitable organisations or charity in general in the future, the position is unclear as to whether we will receive replies. We should not be doing this. The Minister of State must explain why responsibility for this matter is being outsourced from the Government. It is not as simple as introducing legislation and creating a new authority. The Government has neglected this area and failed badly in respect of it for a long period. The Minister of State knows it is not as simple as that. He must explain why he, as Minister of State with jurisdiction over charitable issues, cannot do it within his own Department with his own staff and within his own budget.

Deputy Jim O’Keeffe raised an interesting point when he discussed one section where the authority is described as independent and another section which states that the authority is subject to ministerial or Government direction. The Minister of State must explain that because there is a real contradiction in respect of those two sections.

I am glad my party has refrained from giving an absolute decision on this Bill. We all welcome the reform measures within it. However, before any support is given unconditionally to this Bill, the Minister of State must explain why he could not deal with this within his own Department with his own staff and budgets and why we con[554] tinue to put these new authorities together. It does not necessarily mean that Government will get better. Sometimes it just means it will get bigger.

  Deputy Kathleen Lynch: In the course of Deputy Deasy’s speech, which I did not wish to interrupt because he was clearly in full flow, he used hypocrisy as a political charge. It is important to state that we would prefer if he did not use this word in that context.

  Deputy John Deasy: Okay.

  Deputy Seán Barrett: I join with others in congratulating the Minister of State on his appointment and wishing him every success. If somebody has to be in government, I am delighted that he is one of those people because he has shown commitment as an ordinary backbencher and chairperson of an Oireachtas committee.

I welcome the purpose of this Bill, which is to enact a reform of the law relating to charities to ensure accountability and to protect against abuse of charitable status and fraud. Some of the key aspects of this Bill provide for a definition of charitable purpose for the first time in primary legislation. I welcome this development and I also welcome a register of charities, with which all charities operating in this State must register. I welcome updating the law relating to fundraising, particularly in respect of collections by way of direct debits and similar non-cash methods.

However, I do not welcome the creation of another quango, which was noted by my colleague, Deputy Deasy. I am appalled that we seem to have lost faith in the Civil Service. We have a very good Civil Service which, down through the years, accounted very well for every penny spent belonging to the public, which served successive Governments, irrespective of colour, and which answered questions in Parliament.

People tell me they are shocked when they switch on their televisions to see an empty Chamber with nobody able to answer questions on certain issues. Is it any wonder when every day of the week, we are handing away more and more power to unelected people? Since I returned to the Dáil, not a day has passed but some issue is raised about the HSE. It is stated that the HSE is doing this and that and when one asks a parliamentary question, one gets a nice letter back from the Minister telling one that she has no responsibility for it but will pass it on to the HSE. The people did not elect the HSE, they elected the Minister and me, and they want answers.

Every day we pass on responsibility to quangos, which is another nail in the coffin of democracy. These are people who have been appointed and have had strong powers vested in them but who never have to answer to anybody. [555] I tabled a parliamentary question for written answer yesterday about how many civil servants were currently in the Department of Health and Children and I received a reply which stated that there are 592.92 whole-time staff employed in that Department. I have yet to find out who the poor unfortunate referred to as “.92” is but that is another day’s work. What are 593 civil servants in the Department of Health and Children doing when everything has been handed over to the HSE? Yesterday, we were told that there is one manager for every six employees in the HSE.

This is about charities and volunteers who are mainly going out and collecting money but, most of all, it is about the public putting its hands in its pockets to support whatever cause it fancies or feels it should support. When the public gives its money, it wants to be guaranteed that this money goes to that particular cause. It does not want to be told that 25% of the money is going to this new regulatory authority to keep this new bureaucracy going. It wants to see the money going to the causes it supports. It does not want any more of this stuff.

I have every confidence in the ability of the Minister of State and the officials over there in the pen advising him to carry out the functions of this legislation, which I support. There is no need for this stuff. If we must transfer some officials or civil servants from the Department of Health and Children who are no longer required because of the HSE to the Minister of State’s Department, that is fine.

  Deputy Michael Ring: Fine.

  Deputy Seán Barrett: It does not increase the cost to the Exchequer. What we are doing here is crazy. It would be far better to give the money the Minister of State is spending on setting up this regulatory authority to charities and let the Minister of State, the civil servants beside him and others in his Department deal with this issue.

I am a member of the Lions Club, which organises a Christmas collection for hampers. The response outside supermarkets is enormous when we ask people to put food into the basket. The reason for this is that people see that they are giving a tin of beans or peas which is going to some unfortunate family to make Christmas a little better. Ask them to give money and they will have doubts about it. Ask them to give money where charities are subject to this nonsense and they will become sceptical. I do not think this is good for the voluntary sector.

We are then told that charities must produce audited accounts and keep records. Maybe that is necessary to some extent but must the Lions Club of which I am a member keep accounts and have them audited? Will we be able to carry out our [556] annual collection? All this seems to be going beyond what is really necessary.

What we should be doing in this country is reviewing all the quangos we have to see whether we can bring as much as possible back into the Civil Service, get real value for money and let people come in here and answer questions. I do not want to be writing to the chief executive of this new authority to find out about something when it is easier to table a parliamentary question, knowing that the Minister responsible is keeping an eye on what is happening. We are told in various sections about a chief executive and his or her powers, including his or her power to employ people, the transfer of people from other agencies and a superannuation scheme, all this nonsense.

I am sincere about this and am not making any political points because this is serious legislation. By all means, let us have a register and proper accounting, and see that people can be assured that when they give money, it will go towards the right purpose, but let us not fall back into setting up another authority every time there is a problem.

  Deputy Mary O’Rourke: I thank the Minister of State for introducing this legislation and praise him and his predecessor, Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, who put in a considerable amount of work on the matter for a long time, for their diligence in this area.

5 o’clock

While the Bill is necessary on many fronts, I share some of the concerns raised by Opposition Members about the number of regulatory bodies to be established. There will be a charities regulatory authority and charity appeals tribunal. I note from the copy of the Minister’s speech circulated in the Chamber that they are all spelled with capital letters. I am always doubtful when I see bodies spelled with capital letters. I take it they must be taken very seriously. The charity appeals tribunal, which will be similar to the Small Claims Court, of which I approve, means an appeal can be quickly heard. However, there is a further stream of capitalised terms in the speech such as the “Agreed Codes of Good Practice”.

This is fine and dandy and needed to be introduced into legislation. There is no doubt that the charities sector, through no fault of the groups responsible for collecting, has run into some disrepute. Whenever I encounter a charity collector outside my local Dunnes Stores on a Friday morning, I always ask to see his or her identification. Some collectors are affronted and others are not. While I am sure it is for a good cause, there are cases where one does not know. Some collectors take up a position at the door to the shop, making it difficult and somewhat intimidatory when one is pushing a trolley. I do not know if such encounters are covered by the Bill but I [557] hope when the Minister of State replies he will address this point.

I am glad the Minister of State is not increasing bureaucracy in the charities sector, an option which is exercising the Opposition. Too much bureaucracy is not a good thing, something I would like to see in capital letters. The over-bureaucratisation of an activity such as charity collections would be incorrect.

Ireland has a great level of voluntary activity. In Athlone, we recently established a hospice group, for which the level of support is enormous. I hope the group, however, will not be caught up in form-filling and attending the regulatory authority. A bureaucratic aspect will make it uncomfortable for some groups. The Irish people have a strong generous streak. After the Asian tsunami on St. Stephen’s Day 2004, all Members will recall the swift manner in which people responded. Being an island nation, the idea of such a ferocious flood may explain part of our generous response.

Political parties have been excluded from the Bill, which is correct. The Fine Gael and Labour parties will empathise with the tradition of church gate collections. Each party has a specified Sunday, a licence is granted by the Garda and a party will have its collection. I recall these collections since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Is the Minister of State aware that some bishops are objecting to collections for political parties outside their church gates? I can understand their objections if the collection is on church grounds, as it is their property. However, if it is on the footpath outside the church, it is not the bishops’ but public property. The collectors, with their tables and posters, are therefore fully entitled to be there. Will the Minister of State address this at the conclusion of Second Stage?

My nearest bishopric, much of which covers my constituency, was recently rapped by a well-known bishop on this matter. While he was not convinced all charities should not be collecting, he was not impressed by the presence of political parties outside his churches.

  Deputy Ulick Burke: A belt of the crozier.

  Deputy Mary O’Rourke: In 1830s and 1840s, Daniel O’Connell set up the Catholic and repeal rents which was collected outside church gates. At the time, the Catholic church was very involved in politics, something I am not on for at all — we have enough trouble as it is without that involvement. The O’Connell collection was the first step on the march to democracy. It meant people could affirm their allegiance to a political party and be proud of so doing at a place where most of the population was going for Sunday worship — perhaps that is not the case now as receipts from the national collection show. I do not understand how today’s church gate collec[558] tion can be deemed offensive. I believe it is an affirmative process and should be applauded for its involvement of people in politics. I was dismayed that any bishop could take it upon himself to deem political party collections outside church gates as unworthy.

  Deputy James Bannon: Deputy Mary O’Rourke misinterpreted the bishop. He was very annoyed at the wastage by the Government and then it having the cheek to stand outside church gates and collect money.

  Acting Chairman: Deputy Bannon’s slot to speak is next.

  Deputy Mary O’Rourke: That is extraordinary. The bishop is really getting involved in politics if that is what he is going on about.

  Deputy Michael Ring: Did not politics abandon the church?

  Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Will the Minister of State take this matter up with the church authorities? It did not come out as a blanket denunciation or order against church gate collections. The Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, whose bishopric is in my local area, has not broken his silence on this matter. Members from political parties vow their allegiance to those parties. Daniel O’Connell’s Catholic rent of a penny a month established a tradition which still continues. Why can we not carry on the 200-year old tradition of church gate collections?

I will support this legislation and the Minister of State, as will all the Fianna Fáil Party. However, I am concerned that with this legislation we might throw out the baby with the bathwater. With the charities regulatory authority, the appeals mechanism, the agreed codes of practice and so forth, the process may become cumbersome and could daunt, say, a small GAA club in County Westmeath or County Longford grappling to raise some funds for a playing field or hall.

I hope and trust that the common sense of the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, will ensure that it is not overwhelmingly obtuse for those who seek to make a case for charitable status. On balance, the appeals mechanism is a good one. When I was involved in consumer affairs we set up the Small Claims Court. One constantly hears cases on the radio concerning people who have had a bad holiday, or got a bum steer as regards something they have purchased — involving small amounts of money, so that no solicitor is keen to get involved. One can go into the Small Claims Court without a solicitor and make a case. One can say, in effect, that one has purchased a carpet for €589 and that it is faulty, seek recompense and one’s case will be heard. More [559] interestingly, the judge does not go on and on and neither does he or she wear a wig, but just gives a decision there and then and the claimant has redress. That is very good, so I hope the appeals mechanism initiative will work out, as I believe it should.

By and large Ireland has benefited. A legislator might get four letters in a week from various organisations. Quite rightly, they write to us looking for subscriptions towards what they are doing because we go to their doors and look for their votes. They are fully entitled to write to us. We get at least three or four imploring letters per week. The legislator reflects on the case, the people involved, the worthiness of the cause and then decides how much to give. I hear people giving out about this but I do not believe it is a cause for disquiet. Rather, it should be followed up on and admired. Sometimes when one attends a community meeting where funding is being sought, one hears the stock line “This country is awash with money and we are just seeking €400,000” or whatever. When I hear the doleful economic forecasts, however, I resolve the next time I hear the country is awash with money to respond, “Oh no, it is not; so there is no point in caterwauling about it all the time and you must live within your budget”.

Well done to the Minister of State for following on from what his predecessor, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, had done. I hope, at the end of the Second Stage debate, he will reply to my point about the political parties. We do not intend to stay away from the churches. However, I should like to know if we are entitled to be there so long as we are on the public path. I can understand that one cannot be on church property. If they get all shirty about it, there is nothing much one can do about that. However, surely, one is entitled to be on the public path or roadway.

Is there some way in which all this regulation cannot be put forward as a type of quasi-smothering of the enormous spirit of voluntarism which is so evident throughout the country? It keeps many clubhouses going and many facilities in being in rural communities in particular. People have hopes and aspirations and when a club in a small rural area unveils a plan to do something, that plan keeps its members coming. They get someone to draw up a plan, and decide how to make money, with pub quizzes and all types of different activities. I trust such initiatives will not be stifled by the bureaucratic nature of the regulatory authority. I hope that whatever number of persons the Minister of State intends to appoint to the authority, six or nine, they will not decide to poke their noses into everything and cut out much of the good work that already is being done in Ireland.

[560]   Deputy James Bannon: I propose to share my time with Deputy Burke.

  Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Deputy James Bannon: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, and wish him well in his new portfolio. Last year we had Senator O’Rourke versus Deputy Cassidy. In 2008, probably, it will be Deputy O’Rourke versus the bishop. Watch this slot.

  Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Oh, for God’s sake. He is not going for election, I hope.

  Deputy James Bannon: The purpose of this Bill is to enact a reform of the law relating to charities to ensure accountability and protect against abuse of charitable status and against fraud. It will enhance public trust and confidence in charities and increase transparency in the sector. An oft-quoted proverb regularly trotted out in reply to requests to people to part with money is, “Charity begins at home”. Perhaps it is misquoted, however, because the proverb in full is more explicit and generous and does not warrant abbreviation, namely: “Charity begins at home, but should not end there.”

That is a very different slant on matters and a hard hitting message for the complacent. This is not to take from the hard working individuals and organisations whose efforts have been the backbone of charitable fundraising over many years. Nonetheless, the legislature could be accused of extreme complacency. This Bill is the first charity legislation in more than 40 years. I believe the last legislation was in 1961. The Charities Bill 2007 will introduce a definition of “charitable purposes” into Irish law and clearly define charity in all its guises and what its parameters are.

There is a tendency in the study of social sciences, social policy and sociology to take refuge in a lack of definition. For example, the concept of poverty is difficult to define. This may be so in academic circles, but not so difficult for those experiencing it who are often at the mercy of a Government which appears to ignore the vulnerable in our society. This Bill is welcome in that its purpose is to put in place a statutory definition of a charitable organisation and a charitable purpose for the first time in primary Irish legislation. This, through the advancement of community care, will give a definition, too, to poverty or economic hardship. The Bill’s purpose is to enact a reform of the law relating to charities to ensure accountability, which is what we all want to see. It will seek to protect against the abuse of charitable status and against fraud.

At present, there is virtually no regulation for the 7,500 or so charities in the State. Some prominent charities have been associated with fraud and scandal over the years and there has been no [561] legal requirement until now to provide donors with financial information, aside from that demanded under company law. This has militated against reputable charitable organisations, which have been tarred with the same brush as those seeking to defraud. We are all aware of the dubious perception that to give to a relief programme is merely to provide expensive cars and other perks for aid workers. Nothing could be further from the truth for those whose lives have been given over to the pursuit of the greater good and whose work from the smallest local efforts to the largest global aid projects have helped to lessen the suffering of the poor and afflicted.

Indeed, many members of my family were members of religious orders and worked in various parts of the world. I have granduncles who worked for charitable causes in Australia, South America and Africa and have uncles who gave their entire lives to serve communities in Africa and many other parts of the world.

A 1999 survey found that only 50% of respondents perceived charities to be honest and almost one third were concerned about honesty and accountability. Half those asked said they were tired of being asked to contribute to one charity or another. Currently, anyone can set up a charity collecting money and is exempt from registering or filing annual reports. This legislation will update that, which I very much welcome.

Currently, there is no register of charities. Even if charities wish to register, they cannot do so because there is no register of, or regulatory body for, charities. Like my colleague, Deputy Barrett, I believe this should be in-house and worked on by Government. There is a large number of quangos in this country. As Deputy Barrett said, there is the Department of Health and Children versus the HSE and the National Roads Authority versus the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There are quangos under the remit of every Department. The people who elect us are fed up with what is taking place. The national Parliament is handing over powers to bodies even though we have a fine Civil Service and fine parliamentarians who are well able to look after the interests and affairs of the country.

What galls the public are the quangos and those faceless bureaucrats and their behaviour. This issue comes up time and again at public meetings. Faceless bureaucrats do not even answer the telephone. Almost every quango has answering machines. One never seems to meet anybody. One can have an expensive telephone call as a result of being left holding for several hours. It is time the Government addressed this issue.

Human contact is very important for people. Loneliness has crept into society. People cannot get to speak to another human being at the other end of the telephone and must leave a message [562] on an answering machine with their request. This issue must be addressed urgently.

We talk about volunteerism and looking after people in society. One is not looking after people by having such a system in place. It does not help society or foster comradeship and the neighbourliness to which we were accustomed over the years. That type of system is not of benefit to Ireland. We have always had a unique culture in which there was great interaction between people. I would like this issue to be addressed in the not too distant future.

Many people give to charities. I read in a recent survey that the figure stands at 90% of the population, which is heartening. However, these people do not know to where their money goes and if it ever gets to the people for whom it is intended. There is the thorny question of how much goes on the salaries of professional fundraisers, leaving little after the overheads have been accounted for from the money which people have signed over in standing orders or donated in other ways.

A major question in regard to funding must be confronted with running costs of approximately €4 million for a charities regulator. Who is expected to meet this cost? Will the already hard-pressed charities being forced to take on new financial obligations have to contribute to the cost of the new body? If so, surely this flies in the face of charity. I hope the Minister of State will address this issue when summing up.

  Deputy Ulick Burke: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and welcome the Minister of State and wish him well in his Ministry. I welcome many of the proposals in this Bill. Will the Minister of State explain why it was necessary to change the contents of the Bill from the heads as originally published? There are many areas in which there are omissions. I have heard it said that perhaps we are introducing this Bill now and leaving out the more contentious and difficult areas for the time being and that we will deal with them at a later stage.

Many of the organisations which have welcomed the Bill have sought legislation to regulate and introduce transparency to charitable organisations and their fundraising methods for a long time. Indeed, approximately 85 submissions were received in response to the initial request made. Perhaps the Minister of State could consider the possibility of a single umbrella group representing the endless number of charities. Many bodies are umbrella groups for a number of organisations. It is important when dealing with this legislation and discussing how it will be applied to have a single agreed umbrella body for all charitable organisations.

Many people in this country have been involved at local level in organisations or perhaps at national or international levels. Many people [563] have been involved in providing urgent responses, whether at local or national levels. I fear that the duty and onus placed on the trustees of organisations is so great that it will result in some people withdrawing from supporting, or finding an alternative route to support, charities. The intentions behind the legislation are welcome but if it has that effect, it will be counterproductive. I hope that will not happen but I can give one instance where it may. I refer to duty of care. The Law Reform Commission report, Charitable Trusts and Legal Structures for Charities, states:

In the consultation paper, the Commission considered the duty of care and standard of care required of charity trustees. The Commission was mindful of the need to ensure that the standard of care required was not set so high as to discourage individuals from becoming involved in voluntary activities, but at the same time would ensure that public confidence in the charity sector is maintained by providing that funds donated to a charity are properly applied for the purposes of the charity.

The document further states:

The proposed statutory duty of care which would apply to all charity trustees is framed as follows:

A charity trustee must, in exercising functions in that capacity, act in the interests of the charity and must, in particular:

(a) seek, in good faith, to ensure that the charity acts in a manner which is consistent with its purposes and

(b) act with the care and diligence that it is reasonable to expect of a person who is managing the affairs of another person

We are heading into a minefield in this area. If trustees or ordinary people in communities are to be subject to restrictions, impediments and onerous charges when raising funds for charities, their involvement would present a serious difficulty.

Key aspects of the Bill will provide for a definition of “charitable purpose”, a regulatory authority to secure compliance, a register of charities and dissolution of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland upon establishment of the new authority. Many Members have queried how the regulatory authority can be independent if it is responsible to the Minister. They also asked whether a response to a parliamentary question on a particular charity would be received from the Minister, the Minister’s secretariat or the authority itself, as is now the case in respect of the HSE.

The example of the HSE has been highlighted frequently. It is necessary to reconsider this matter and the submissions that were made in the [564] first instance that referred to the appointment of an ombudsman as an intermediary. Doing so would be far less expensive than what is proposed and would be far more effective in that one person would have the supports to enable decision-making. We must congratulate the current Ombudsman on the magnificent and effective way in which she carries out her work and produces answers effectively. There is a need to reconsider the proposal to have another independent regulatory body. I have heard many contributions on this from all sides of the House and I have a serious preference for having an ombudsman as an intermediary.

I hope we will have the opportunity on Committee Stage to tease out many of the difficulties people have with the proposals, despite now having legislation that will give confidence to the public. Transparency in respect of charities has been queried many times. Transparency and other assurances are especially important when NGOs are dealing with overseas aid, which involves considerable public funds.

Certain charities’ fundraising methods give them an advantage over others. For example, Trócaire, which has done tremendous work, makes collection boxes available during Lent through the church. Charities should compete for funds in the same way as every other body, be it religious or secular. I have no preference for any individual organisation because they are all doing fine work, but I ask the Minister to comment on the methods certain charities use to raise funds.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael Kitt, who is a colleague in Galway East, and I wish him well in his Ministry.

  Deputy Chris Andrews: I wish to share my time with Deputy Charlie O’Connor.

  Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Deputy Chris Andrews: I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, on introducing this Bill and on his promotion. He will be good for communities around Dublin and he has certainly been good to Finglas. I am glad there was sufficient foresight to share him with the rest of the country. I also congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael Kitt, on his promotion. He has challenging times ahead but he has certainly set off in the right direction.

I welcome this legislation, which has been in the pipeline for a long time. Much preparation and consultation has been carried out with the various stakeholders and I am delighted to see it includes many important proposals concerning the organisation of charities. Charity work in Ireland has a long history and many charities, [565] such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, originated in the 1800s. A number of Irish charities, including Trócaire, GOAL, Gorta and Concern, almost enjoy global status and I commend them on their hard work and success.

There is a proliferation of small local voluntary organisations. I read today that up to 63,000 people are employed in this sector in Ireland, both on a part-time and full-time basis. In my constituency, Dublin South-East, a local group from the Grand Canal area, which is not too far from here, set up a committee to raise money for a special care unit for babies and recently presented a cheque for €34,000 to the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street. This is a great example of the civic-mindedness, generosity and teamwork that exists at community level in every town and village in Ireland.

On foot of our long-standing tradition of charitable work, it is incumbent on the Government not only to provide relevant supports where appropriate, but also to provide a clear and stable regulatory framework for this growing field of work. I am delighted the Charities Bill will do this and make it easier for volunteers to become involved in charity work in the future.

As already outlined, key aspects of the Bill include the definition of “charitable purpose”, a new regulatory authority, a register of charities, an annual activity report by charities to the new authority, a charity appeals tribunal and dissolution of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland.

This Bill represents the Government’s commitment to modernising the charity sector. Everybody will agree that an element of modernising is required. The Bill, together with the Charities Acts 1961 and 1973, will put in place a composite regulatory framework for charities. Having contacted representatives of a number of charities to discuss the legislation with them, I assure the House that it has been broadly welcomed. Most importantly, the Bill will serve to improve the public perception of charities. A certain degree of cynicism about charities has developed over the years, possibly as a result of changed methods of collection, such as what I call plastic bag collections. When plastic bags are posted through our letterboxes, the implication is that the clothes put in them will go to charities. The bags are sometimes associated with businesses which have very little connection with charity. I hope this Bill will clear up many of the negative feelings about charities which are inspired by such operations. I accept that many legitimate charities operate in this manner, but businesses which imply they are charities are causing problems.

This Bill will regulate against fraud and make it easier for charities to become established. It allows for new fundraising methods, such as collection of promises of money by means of direct debit, to be used. Those of us who walk through [566] the city centre on a regular basis are familiar with the so-called “chuggers”, or “charity muggers”. I am not comfortable with this type of collection by charities because its professional nature just does not feel right. While I do not like it — it is almost aggressive at times — I accept that a case can be made for it.

I would like to discuss two specific aspects of the Bill — the charities regulator and the definition of “charitable purpose”. It is proposed that a charities regulatory authority be established to act as an independent regulatory body for the charities sector. The principal role of the authority will be to increase public confidence in charities through effective oversight of such organisations, to encourage better administration of charitable trusts and to provide guidance to charitable organisations, including through the development of codes of practice, which are extremely important. The authority will also have the power to institute investigations, call for documents, search for records, impose sanctions and enforce penalties. While it is important that there is a carrot, there also needs to be a stick.

The authority will act as an excellent point of reference and support in overseeing the charities sector as a whole. I would like to put forward some suggestions for consideration, however. I agree with some speakers that we should be concerned about how the authority is run and who will run it. Such matters will be teased out on Committee Stage. If I had a choice, my preference would be for the authority to be run in-house. The regulator should strengthen its independence. We should bear in mind the costs of regulation and the burden of compliance costs, particularly for smaller organisations. We cannot afford to impede the work of organisations like the one I mentioned in the Grand Canal Street area, which organises a fund for Holles Street Hospital. We have to keep it simple and workable. While the charities sector has become more professional, we do not want it to become over-managed. We do not want regulation simply for the sake of it — we want effective regulation that will protect charities and donors. I would like the regulator to be established as soon as possible — the sooner the better for everybody involved

I would also like to comment on the Bill’s proposed definition of “charitable purpose”. I welcome the inclusion in this Bill of a definition, as it had previously been a matter solely for the Revenue Commissioners. It has to be a good thing that “charitable purpose” is to be fully defined in primary legislation for the first time. Section 3(1) of the Bill defines each of the following as a “charitable purpose”:

(a) the prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship;

(b) the advancement of education;

[567] (c) the advancement of religion;

(d) any other purpose that is of benefit to the community.

Like many representatives of charities and non-governmental organisations, I am concerned that the promotion of human rights is not explicitly mentioned in this definition, particularly in an age in which human rights abuses are reported in newspapers on a daily basis. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, to consider on Committee Stage the inclusion of a reference to “human rights” in the definition. I will certainly support such a move on his part.

Given that human rights are being abused in places like Burma, Darfur, Iraq and North Korea, it is vital that we protect charities which try to promote and protect human rights at home and abroad. Having signed up to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and many other international human rights treaties, Ireland should reflect its human rights policies in primary legislation. If it can be done in Scottish and English legislation, why can it not be done in Irish legislation? The protection of animal rights is mentioned in the Bill, but human rights are not. I would like to seek clarification on this point. I ask the Minister to address it.

We need to support, rather than discourage, spontaneous community fundraising. There is uncertainty about the implications of the Bill for people who organise or take part in such fundraising in response to disasters such as the tsunami crisis of 2004. As I understand it, all charitable groups of all sizes will have to register with the proposed charities regulatory authority. I am concerned that this provision could act as a deterrent to fundraising. This legislation does not clearly set out the requirements or exceptions which will apply to permits in the case of exceptional one-off community responses to urgent needs. If this matter is not clarified, people might not be willing to organise such responses because they might be afraid of falling foul of the law, which would be a terrible additional consequence for those who have already been affected by tragedy. This aspect of the Bill should be considered further on Committee Stage and exemptions should be made for local, short-term collections.

I welcome the Charities Bill 2007, which will put in place a much-needed framework for the organisation of charitable services in Ireland. While that framework may need to be examined further, it is pleasing that the Bill recognises the long-standing and ever-growing tradition of voluntary work in Ireland. This legislation will increase public confidence in charities and protect charities and donors. We have to safeguard the independence and strength of the proposed charities regulatory authority. We need to revise [568] the Bill’s definition of “charitable purpose” to include a reference to “human rights”. We should ensure we do not deter those who wish to engage in spontaneous fundraising such as that carried out to raise funds for the Giraffe incubator, to which I alluded earlier. We also need to consider the role of voluntary advocacy groups.

  Deputy Charlie O’Connor: I am pleased to share time with my good friend, Deputy Chris Andrews. I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution on the Charities Bill 2007, which I warmly welcome. I will attempt not to try the patience of the Chair other than to mention that while listening to Deputy Barrett’s excellent contribution, I thought for a moment I had strayed into a health debate. I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Like other speakers, I applaud the efforts of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, in his new position. He is badly missed on our corridor — his office used to be on the same corridor as my office — since his promotion, with which I was delighted. I am glad that Deputy Carey has been able to leave Finglas, as Deputy Andrews mentioned. The new Minister of State has already been to Tallaght on two occasions, which is something that pleases me. While his remit as Minister of State with responsibility for drugs policy is an important part of his job description, it is good that he is concentrating some of his energies on the community aspect of his portfolio.

As someone who comes from a community work background, I have often said that I was not born a politician — I was a happy community worker before I strayed into politics after getting interested in various things. I am happy to be a local politician in the south west of Dublin. We should always remember our backgrounds in community work and it is good to be able to do so in a debate like this. I acknowledge the presence of the recently appointed Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development, Deputy Michael Kitt, who is aware of my interest in his area of concern. He has been given the hard task of succeeding my hard-working colleague in Dublin South-West, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, whose work in that role I was always happy to support.

I hope Opposition colleagues will support this Bill because it is good legislation. I note the purpose of the Bill is to reform the laws currently relating to charities and to create a composite regulatory framework through a combination of new provisions and retention of old ones with updates where appropriate.

Charitable purposes will be defined for the first time in primary legislation. Discrimination of eligibility for certain tax exemption on funds applied for charitable purposes will, however, remain exclusively the function of the Revenue [569] Commissioners. The Bill will provide for the establishment of the charities regulatory authority which will have strong powers of investigation and co-operation with law enforcement, but it will also operate in a supportive manner, giving guidance where necessary. The existing function of the board of the Commission for Charitable Donations and Bequests will transfer fully to the new authority when this is established.

A key function of the new authority will be the establishment and maintenance of a register of charities in Ireland which is to be welcomed as there is no such register at present. Registration will be mandatory for all charities operating in Ireland. It will be an offence for a body not on the register to claim charitable status or to operate or fundraise in Ireland. The legislation governing fundraising, which dates from 1962, will be updated to include the regulation of collections and promises of money, that is, collection by direct debit which have up to now been outside the permit system.

Charitable organisations will be required to provide annual returns to the authority on activity and accounts information on a gradual basis, depending on the size of the organisation. This information will be available to the public. Aspects of the Bill relating to annual reporting and accounts by charities already subject to the Companies Act are under discussion with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Companies Registration Office to ensure that the potential for dual reporting is maintained. The Bill sets out the circumstances in which a person ceases to be qualified to hold a position of charity trustee. A register of disqualified persons will be available to the public.

I noted with interest the remarks of my colleague, Deputy Chris Andrews. It is appropriate that the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, is present. I come from a generation which used to drop pennies into the box for the black babies — this description might not be allowed today. As a very small child I was aware that I did not want to go to school without a penny for the black babies and this has formed my view about charities.

I have been associated over the years with John O’Shea and Goal and their great work over the past 30 years as a result of my involvement with the community games. I regarded it as good use of the goodwill of sports stars who were prepared to give their time, expertise and name to ensure that moneys were collected. It should not be forgotten that charity begins at home, with many demands in all our communities. Other colleagues have referred to their constituencies so I will mention Tallaght where I am always happy to offer practical support for the various charities in my constituency, including the children’s hospital in Tallaght which I am keen to promote at every opportunity.

[570] I usually spend time on Tuesdays reading the Tallaght Echo and the Tallaght Voice but I also read The Irish Times yesterday. I refer to an excellent article by Ivan Cooper from The Wheel about this legislation. It provides an insight into the legislation and is written in an easy to read style. He made some valid points. I am pleased The Wheel, like other organisations, welcomes the publication of the Charities Bill 2007. It has noted that community and voluntary organisations working for charitable purposes have been urging the Government to regulate charities for many years. The Wheel makes the point that a range of important issues will need to be addressed if the Bill is to provide a supportive regulation in order for charities to thrive and make their contribution so that Ireland is a better place in which to live.

Ivan Cooper stated that what he describes as the long-awaited passage through the Oireachtas of this Bill is important in that the Bill when enacted will ensure that charities remain entitled to engage in all types of campaigning and different activities relating to furthering their legitimate charitable purposes. He notes that working to promote human rights and social justice are explicitly named as charitable purposes. He states that charities must also be financially supported to rise to the additional demands that working in a regulated environment will impose. The Wheel makes the point that voluntary organisations must be able to plan if they are to be a source of innovation in public service delivery as per the Towards 2016 national agreement.

I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, is present. He has a busy schedule dealing with the Government’s drug programme, which is part of his remit. I appreciate his work in that regard. I have already acknowledged that he has visited Tallaght twice as Minister of State and I urge him to keep coming. Deputy McGrath would also be very welcome in Tallaght. I am pleased to see him in the House. He is nearly as well known in Tallaght as I am through all his exploits. I suspect he is probably one of the best known Deputies in the whole country.

  Deputy Michael P. Kitt: He is a good Galway man.

  Deputy Charlie O’Connor: The Minister of State has community responsibilities and I wish him well in that regard.

  Deputy Joe Costello: I wish to share time with Deputy Arthur Morgan.

The Labour Party has been asking for a charities Bill for a considerable time. The perception was that the public regarded proper accountability, transparency and credibility as being lacking in the operation of charities. The perception was that some organisations were good, some [571] were bad and some were using an inordinate amount of their income for administrative purposes, that money generously donated by the public took a long time to reach the intended recipients and some money may never have reached the people in dire need of it.

Ireland and the Irish people have always been generous in their contributions to charitable causes. This is one of the positive virtues of this nation which is to be commended and no obstacle should be put in the way of maintaining this generosity due to a perception of a lack of transparency, accountability or trust. It is important that a mechanism is provided on a statutory basis to ensure business is operated in a proper fashion.

6 o’clock

I am pleased there is a definition of what constitutes a charity, although I am not sure I agree with all the areas specified. It is important to have a regulatory authority and a register of charities. Most importantly, the charity must provide an annual report. That is a key issue. As with all bodies that are established on a statutory basis, it is essential that there is an appeals mechanism so charitable organisations which believe they have not been treated fairly by the regulatory authority have an opportunity to make their case to a higher and separate authority.

The most important provision relates to the annual report. The report should be a clear statement of audited accounts, what has happened in the course of the year, where and how the money was collected, how it was disbursed in terms of administration and what proportion was directed where it was intended to go. That level of accountability and transparency will be an enormous benefit to the public.

What will happen to the church gate collections? Will we be able to continue to hold them? Any form of political activity is specifically excluded from the Bill so I do not know how the Deputies who hold annual church gate collections will account for them. Will they simply have to account to the parish priest or will they have to go to a higher forum?

I am concerned about a matter which was brought to my attention by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. Under section 3(8), the list of matters that are included in the broad definition of “benefit to the community” where that is the purpose of a charitable organisation, there is no express reference to the advancement or promotion of human rights, social justice, equality or diversity. These are huge issues in Irish society and for new immigrants. It is strange that human rights should be excluded. There is surely no better charitable cause or benefit to the community. The equality issues that are part and parcel of human existence and where difficulties occasionally arise should be specifically covered by the legislation.

[572] I am not sure what the situation of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties is under this legislation. Will it be covered by the new definition of a benefit to the community? Will Amnesty International be covered by it? Will any of the bodies promoting the rights of migrants in the community be covered in terms of charitable status? It would be a shame if they were excluded. It would be appropriate to put down an amendment to section 3(8) to effect this change. Section 3(8) states:

In this section “purpose that is of benefit to the community” includes:

(a) the advancement of community welfare including the relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health, or disability,

The subsection covers a range of other areas, including the advancement of conflict resolution or reconciliation, the promotion of religious or racial harmony, protection of the natural environment, the advancement of arts, culture and so forth and the integration of those who are disadvantaged and the promotion of their full participation in society. However, it does not specifically cover human or civil rights or equality issues. These should be included. That would be expected of us under the European Convention on Human Rights as well as under our broader international commitments under the United Nations Charter.

I have reservations about the exclusion of all political issues and of groups whose principal object is to promote a political cause. There are different views on that provision. However, there should be an amendment to include human rights and civil liberties. That would enormously improve the legislation.

The legislation is welcome. I hope the regulatory mechanisms do not become too bureaucratic but if the legislation provides the accountability and transparency that is intended, the House will have done a good day’s work.

  Deputy Arthur Morgan: I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, comhghairdeas mór and wish him well with his new portfolio. He faces a huge challenge, although he has made a good start by getting out and about and meeting the groups involved. Long may that closeness with the people at the coalface continue. The Minister has been most sincere in that endeavour. He has a huge area of responsibility, which is not unconnected with the spate of shootings and ludicrous murders that has been visited on Irish society in recent times. The drugs problem lies behind those events. It is a huge challenge.

I am tempted to comment on the ludicrous suggestion that the Army should be deployed on the streets. It conjures images of sandbags built up on the corners of roads, barbed wire and gun [573] battles between the Army and the drugs gangs. A better way of dealing with the issue would involve communities coming together with the agencies involved and the Garda to put these people off the streets long before it reaches the gun fight stage. However, that can be discussed at another time.

Sinn Féin welcomes the introduction of the Charities Bill. The legislation has been long promised and is overdue. Until now, the charities sector has been largely unregulated. The Bill has been widely welcomed by community and voluntary organisations. It is in the interest of these and other charitable organisations to have proper regulation of the sector. Sinn Féin welcomes the proposed establishment of a charities regulatory authority and the fact that charities will be obliged to register. This is vital to ensure accountability and to protect against abuse of the tax related exemptions granted to charities or fraud by those purporting to be charities.

Prior to the introduction of the regulation proposed in the Bill, there were real concerns regarding the integrity of some charities and about how much of the money given to charities went to those for whom it was intended. Sinn Féin believes it is vital that once the charities register is up and running, the Revenue Commissioners should make compliance with registration a condition for getting tax exemption status. The Minister should clarify whether this will be the case.

Regarding proposals to exclude from the register organisations which primarily promote political causes, concerns have been raised that this is both unworkable and unfair and will potentially result in some organisations being unfairly excluded as it is impossible to identify what constitutes a political cause. This seems to be a valid concern when one considers the recent incident of the censoring by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland of Trócaire’s campaign on gender equality. A number of other diverse concerns are raised by groups likely to be affected and it is hoped these will be teased out on Committee Stage.

In many cases, charities deliver services which should rightly be delivered by the State and fill gaps in the State’s provision of social services. While charities have a role in society, it is not acceptable for the Government to offload social services to the voluntary sector and charities. The explosion of charities in recent years is a symptom of the increasing inequality in our society. In many cases, the growth of charities facilitates the State in negating its role in the provision of housing services, the elimination of poverty and the provision of facilities for the elderly, young people and the disabled.

Charities undertake ever more responsibility for services which should rightly be provided by the State. However, charities still receive the majority of their funding from the State. [574] Estimates indicate that approximately 60% of income generated by the charities sector comes from the State. In supporting the valuable work done by many of these organisations, we must recognise that they are no alternative to reforming the State.

It is also a fact that charities or charitable organisations such as rotary clubs allow the wealthy to feel better about being wealthy in an unequal society. They allow them to feel good about their benevolent gestures while feeling secure that these acts should be enough to prevent the disadvantaged from challenging the establishment and demanding their rights. While recognising the good work that many of these groups do, we must not forget that it is the role of the State to concentrate its efforts on delivering many of these services for its citizens.

Politicians and others who pride themselves on their support for various charitable organisations should better use their time and position to ensure the elimination of poverty and the delivery of proper services by the State. The public should recognise the irony of any member of Government or Government party patronising charities which exist because the ideologically-driven policies pursued by the Government have brought about an increasingly unequal society. We need a rights-based approach to eliminating the inequalities in society.

I agree very much with the comments of a Catholic theologian carried in today’s newspapers regarding those prominent individuals who engage in philanthropy while at the same time avoiding paying their fair share of tax by availing of tax exile status. He is right when he states: “In a fair society, justice comes before charity.” Philanthropy is no replacement for the delivery of public and social services by the State nor for the implementation of Government polices to bring about the elimination of poverty.

Another area I feel requires debate is that of tax relief for charitable donations. However, this is a separate matter from the Bill. I will conclude with a heading I saw in a newspaper many years ago which stated: “Damn your charity, we want justice.” Internationally, this is the cry of many people. I hope a global effort is made to ensure that charity is no longer required but rather that justice will replace it. I look forward to teasing out the issues involved in the Bill on Committee Stage and I hope the Government will take a practical approach to ensure it improves as legislation. I welcome this process.

  Deputy Michael McGrath: I wish to share time with my namesake, Deputy Finian McGrath.

  Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Deputy Michael McGrath: I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Pat Carey, on his appointment [575] as Minister of State and I wish him well in his new post. He hit the ground running and did a tour of the country over the summer meeting various local drug task forces and community groups. His is in a challenging portfolio and he has my full support in tackling those challenges.

The Irish people have time and again been proven to be among the most generous in the world in terms of making donations to a broad range of charitable causes. We are not slow to respond to the call for help whether it is providing foreign aid to Third World countries or helping to fundraise for local community projects. All Deputies know of many examples of fundraising in their communities which help deliver real progress. People may not know that this year as a Government we will provide more than €800 million in overseas aid.

There has never been more fundraising in Ireland than there is today or more competition for our generosity. Therefore, the introduction of the Bill is timely and appropriate. I warmly welcome the introduction of the Charities Bill 2007, which for the first time will provide a comprehensive and composite regulatory framework for charities in Ireland. It is important that the charities sector is regulated, so that bona fide charities can go about their work without a cloud of suspicion hanging over them.

I wish to put on record my appreciation for the work of so many volunteers throughout Ireland who give up their time for charitable causes. Whether it be standing at a church gate collection or carrying out essential administrative work, these volunteers are the backbone of the charitable sector in Ireland today and long may it continue.

The principal benefit of the Bill is the accountability it will bring to the work of charitable organisations. This will enhance public confidence and trust in the sector, and should address any concerns among the public about where their donations actually end up. This is a key point. Often the reluctance or unwillingness of people to give money to organisations is because they simply have no assurance of whether the money ends up going towards the intended beneficiary or how much of it does.

The term “charity” has taken on a broad and disparate interpretation and I am pleased the Bill provides a definition of “charitable purposes” for the first time in primary legislation. It is true the definition is broad and inclusive. However, given the wide range of charitable activity in communities today, deciding whether the work of a particular group falls within the definition of “charitable purposes” will be a difficult task.

Section 3 provides that “charitable purposes” includes “a purpose that is of benefit to the community” and it proceeds to provide a number of broad descriptions of what is of benefit to the [576] community. Aside from obvious charitable organisations such as GOAL, the Society of St. Vincent De Paul and the Simon Community, other groups which may be affected by the Bill also spring to mind such as senior citizens groups, groups associated with fundraising for hospitals, church renovation committees, community associations, youth clubs, Lions clubs, active retired groups and even residents’ associations.

Almost every voluntary or community group in the country carries out some element of fundraising as part of its work. It will be a challenge to differentiate the groups for whom fundraising is their core business and those for whom it is merely ancillary to what they do. We need to consider the extent to which this Bill is intended to regulate the thousands of community and voluntary groups throughout the country. It might be worth considering the examination of whether fundraising is a group’s principal activity.

The establishment of the charities regulatory authority is a welcome initiative. We need a specific authority to regulate this area. However, as many Deputies stated, we cannot allow the authority to become a bureaucratic institution which deters and discourage charitable work. I know the Minister is anxious that the new regulatory regime should not be viewed as an obstacle to the work of charities and I am delighted the new authority will have a supportive role and will not merely be a watchdog.

Many community-based charities do not have substantial resources and we cannot impose onerous administrative requirements on them. I am pleased the new authority will produce an annual report, which will be laid before this House, providing a degree of transparency across the charitable sector that we have not witnessed before.

The register of charities will provide a central public register of charities in Ireland. I hope this register will be accessible to the public in a practical way such as being placed on a website to be established by the regulatory authority. At least the public will now have a benchmark to assess the bona fides of a charity which comes knocking on the door.

I note taxation issues concerning charities will continue to remain a matter for the Revenue Commissioners. The commissioners already grant charitable tax exemption under the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 and other statutes and the regulation introduced in the Charities Bill should assist the Revenue Commissioners in their adjudication of the charitable nature of each organisation applying for tax exemption.

This Bill will especially enable us to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the unincorporated charitable organisations which will also be required to submit an annual report to the regulatory authority or such other mechanism as the Minister or the authority will decide. This requirement will act as a deterrent to bogus [577] charities and protect against abuse of the goodwill of the public. Incorporated charities are already subject to the provisions of the Companies Acts and the reporting requirements of the new authority will introduce a level playing field among all charities. It is important that the reporting requirements are simple and straightforward and that the administration does not become an undue burden on charities.

The Law Reform Commission has recommended a new legal structure for charitable organisations, the charitable incorporated organisation. The Minister is correct in not delaying the regulation of the sector pending examination of the significant issues involved in this unified structure, recommended by the Law Reform Commission.

Having read the briefing paper prepared by The Wheel, the national network that supports charities, to which Deputy O’Connor referred, it has made a valid point on the issue of spontaneous community fundraising. We do not want a situation where the regulation of the charitable sector prevents this type of fundraising, which often takes place on the spur of the moment, immediately after a tragic event of some kind. These groups are ad hoc and respond to an unforeseen need which has arisen in a community. All Deputies will have experience of the obstacle on community activity that insurance has become. We do not want regulation to become a similar obstacle to community fundraising.

The Bill is warmly welcomed as it provides an appropriate and responsible regulatory environment for charities in Ireland today. The new regime will enhance public trust and confidence in the charitable sector and will, hopefully, result in an even greater level of generosity to charities by the Irish people. I look forward to discussing some of the details of the Bill in the weeks ahead.

I commend the Minister on bringing forward the Bill and look forward to seeing its progression in the weeks ahead.

  Deputy Finian McGrath: I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this new legislation, the Charities Bill 2007. I welcome and congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, on his recent promotion and wish him well in his new job.

I welcome this important Bill as there has been a need for many years to regulate charities. I am one of those who has been pushing this agenda. Before going into the details of the legislation it is important to commend and thank the many worthwhile charities and voluntary groups in this country. They have played and continue to play a leading part in Irish civic life. It is essential that we all put this on the record and thank the voluntary workers in charities on the ground. They are serving their country well and we commend and thank them for their efforts.

[578] However, charities have a duty to be honest and straight with the public. They have to be accountable because in many cases they deal with vast amounts of money and public trust is a huge issue. It is not acceptable to have charities with huge sums of money in their accounts. This is public money collected from citizens of the State and it should be spent on the issues for which it was collected. Politicians regularly get hammered on trust and accountability, and rightly so. However, charities too have to step up to the mark. Is it acceptable that some charities have huge sums of money in their accounts or own huge valuable properties while those they are supposed to help are often left behind? I hear this regularly in my constituency.

I speak as one who has been a voluntary worker for a number of charities over 20 years. I entered politics through the voluntary and community sector. I have seen situations about which I was not happy and it is up to everyone to be straight and honest with the public. That is the reason I welcome the Bill today. I ask some of our so-called rich kids to stop using charities as a cover-up to present a positive image to some of their activities. It is time for the likes of Bono and Denis O’Brien to stay in Ireland and do their work here, pay their taxes like everyone else and stop using charities to bolster their egos. If they are serious about making a contribution to Irish society, they should pay their taxes like everyone else and support our charities. Let us look at Chuck Feeney who wants no reward and donates hundreds of millions to the poorest of the poor as well as giving major donations to education institutions here. People like Chuck Feeney should be honoured by this country for his role in giving to Ireland and in the peace process.

Let us have a proper honours system also for our own people. It might reduce the sad scenes of Irish citizens accepting knighthoods or MBEs from the British. Let us grow up and have our own awards and honours systems. Chuck Feeney should be first on that list. I am always saddened when Irish citizens accept honours from monarchists. All democrats should back the call for a proper honours system for people who do great things for our people, the poor, the disadvantaged and our country. The political parties should stop bickering, work together on this matter and support the introduction of a new honours system.

I thank all Deputies and members of the public who donated money and sent text messages to me when I was involved in the charity, “You’re a Star”, three years ago. We helped to raise more than €80,000 which went directly to a project for children with disability. I thank and commend all my cross-party colleagues in the House who regularly donate money to worthwhile charities and causes. The public who are often cynical about politicians should be aware of this reality. Many Members make substantial donations regularly to [579] charities. I thank and commend my colleagues for their work on this issue.

The purpose of the Bill is to enact a reform of the law relating to charities to ensure greater accountability and to protect against abuse of charitable status and fraud. It will also enhance public trust and confidence in charities and increase transparency in the sector. The key aspects of the Bill will provide for a definition of charitable purpose for the first time in primary legislation, establish a new regulatory authority to secure compliance by charities with their legal obligations and encourage better administration of charities, establish a register of charities in which all charities operating in the State must register, provide for annual activity reports by charities to the new authority and update the law relating to fundraising, particularly in relation to collections by way of direct debits and similar non-cash methods. These key aspects of the legislation are positive and progressive developments.

In regard to charities, the centre for non-profit management at Trinity College estimates that the voluntary sector generates an annual income of about €2.5 billion, with about €500 million of that coming from fundraising. According to figures from Trinity College, approximately 60% of the income generated by charities comes from the State. There are about 700 people directly employed as fundraisers. Trust is a key issue with the public and the taxpayers. There are many cases where rip-off merchants are involved and all this will be dealt with in the legislation. That the not-for-profit sector accounted for 8% of Ireland’s GDP would not be known to many people. While big brand charities such as Oxfam, UNICEF, Goal and Concern are often most recognised by the public, many of the charities operating in Ireland are very small. According to the research conducted by Trinity College, half of all responding organisations had an income of €40,000 or less in 2003. The college’s research showed that less than 10% of organisations earned an average income of €738,205 or more in 2003, while a further 10% earned an income of €1,300 or less. It is clear there are huge as well as smaller charities. Incidentally the smaller charities make a massive contribution also.

Legislation will ensure clarity on accounts. For the numerous charities in Ireland, the new Charities Bill will change the way they operate when it is passed into law. One of the key changes will be the establishment of a charity regulatory authority, a regulatory body for charitable organisations.

All new charities will now be required to apply to this body to be registered as a charitable organisation. Existing charities will be given six months to register, which I welcome. The registration process will require the charity to supply [580] three years of accounts, the charity’s constitution and details of how it intends to raise funds.

Section 3 defines ‘’charitable purposes’’ for the first time in primary legislation. A purpose is regarded as charitable if its aim is the prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; or any other purpose that is of benefit to the community.

“Purpose that is of benefit to the community’’ includes the advancement of community welfare, including the relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health or disability. It is very important that we support the organisations that campaign for people with disabilities. It also includes the advancement of community development, including rural or urban regeneration and the promotion of civic responsibility or voluntary work in the community. I commend all those involved in the voluntary sector and I send my best wishes to our team at the Special Olympics in China, who have done magnificent work in this area. We should all support them.

It also includes the promotion of health, including the prevention or relief of sickness, disease or human suffering and the advancement of conflict resolution or reconciliation. I raised the issue of conflict resolution during my talks with the Taoiseach on my programme for government in my so-called deal. I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on the €25 million allocated to the fund to assist with resolving conflicts throughout the world. Again Ireland is showing itself as a leading light in the area of conflict resolution. This is also mentioned in the legislation.

“Purpose that is of benefit to the community’’ also includes the protection of the natural environment; the prevention or relief of suffering of animals; the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or sciences; and the integration of those who are disadvantaged, and the promotion of their full participation in society. We have many voluntary groups in Dublin North-Central in Marino, Coolock, Artane, Beaumont, Clontarf, Raheny and Donnycarney that are doing excellent work. They are a small band of people in their own community who do magnificent work. I take this opportunity to thank those involved in voluntary groups including residents and sports groups who give of their time regularly. We all know how valuable time is. We all know there is a problem now with the idea of active citizenship and we need to give consideration to this area because of the great contribution of those people. I commend the people in Dublin North-Central on the excellent work they do in the voluntary and community sector.

It is important to focus on and prioritise the disadvantaged in our society, who will always be a priority for voluntary and community groups whether they are the sick, elderly, disabled or dis[581] advantaged. It is up to the State sector to complement the voluntary groups. There are many examples in my constituency where a considerable amount of money is going into disadvantaged areas. Many Deputies want to know what is in the deal with the Government. These are all issues in the deal with the Government. I want to ensure that Deputy Terence Flanagan knows that so that he can spread the word particularly in Raheny. It is very important that we support the disadvantaged in our society.

I welcome this progressive and sensible legislation that gives priority to charities. It will also ensure that the public has trust that there will be honesty and accountability in dealing with charities.

  Deputy Terence Flanagan: First, I wish to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, on his new role. I wish him well for the future. I congratulate him on the publication of the Bill.

It is estimated that there are more than 19,000 community and voluntary organisations working for charitable purposes in Ireland and that the sector contributes more than €2.5 billion to the economy each year. The sector employs more than 63,000 full-time and part-time staff and is very important for the economy. It is imperative that this industry is appropriately regulated, as charities themselves would be the first to admit.

While I welcome the Bill’s publication, it is necessary for the Government to support charities as promised in Towards 2016 by providing additional resources to assist the sector in meeting its obligations in a new regulatory environment. The Bill will help to reform the law relating to charities in order to ensure accountability and to protect against abuse of charitable status and fraud. We are all aware of many charities that are household names. However, there are many other charities which I am not sure are even legal. Adopting the Bill will enhance public trust and confidence in charities and increase transparency in the sector. This Bill, along with the Charities Acts 1961 and 1973 and the Street and House to House Collections Act 1962, will provide a strong regulatory framework for charities. The Bill will also streamline the many authorities that regulate a charity’s work and will clarify the duties attaching to directors and trustees.

Key aspects of the Bill that I welcome include: a definition for the first time of “charitable purpose”; the establishment of a charity appeals tribunal; a new regulatory authority to secure compliance by charities with their legal obligations and also to encourage better administration of charities; a register of charities in which all charities operating in the State must register; and that annual reports will need to be supplied by the charities to the new authority.

The Bill, when enacted, should ensure that charities remain entitled to engage in all types of [582] campaigning and advocacy work related to furthering their legitimate charity purposes and that working to promote human rights and social justice are specifically named as charitable purposes. I welcome that the charities regulatory authority will have the power to institute investigations, to call for documents and search records of all charities, to enter premises on foot of a search warrant and to impose sanctions on Irish charities and foreign-based charities with administration bases in Ireland. I also welcome the significant penalties for offences.

At present, we have no central register of public charities and a key function of the regulatory authority will be the establishment and maintenance of a register of charitable organisations. The public will have access to this and will be able to check the facts and figures of any charity about which they may be unsure. It should ensure that we can eliminate all the bogus charities. The authority will also have the power to remove from the register a body that has infringed the law. It will be an offence for a body not to register, to claim it is a charity or to operate or raise funds. No doubt the key purpose of the register is to promote transparency and the register will enable the public to confirm the bona fides of charities, thereby limiting the scope for fraud. The Bill also provides that all charitable organisations will be required to make annual reports, which will be accessible to the public apart from those in respect of private trusts that are not funded by donations from the public, which is fair enough.

Some of my concerns would include the funding for community and voluntary organisations. We need a new framework for the statutory funding of voluntary organisations, which should provide multi-annual funding for the direct and indirect or hidden costs of running such organisations. The funding should also be index-linked. We also need to improve the tax incentives for donations to charities and voluntary organisations so that all donations are tax effective as opposed to the current system whereby only donations greater than €250 per year can be made in a tax-efficient manner. Hopefully, the Minister of State will re-examine this issue.

He also needs to put in place an infrastructure of support for the voluntary sector in Ireland similar to that provided by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to the business community. This new support organisation should target the needs of voluntary organisations and provide training, advice and supports in the area of board management, governance, leadership, general management and financial management.

I thank all those volunteers who give of their time freely and they should be commended on all the great work they do. I was delighted to be involved in the Special Olympics. It was one of the best things I did in my life. One gets more [583] back from giving than anything else. We should all support and enable voluntary activity in Ireland to be conducted in a purposeful and strategic manner. This will be achieved when community and voluntary organisations are funded appropriately, regulated sensitively and supported comprehensively. I support this legislation and I ask the Minister of State to take note of my concerns.

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I congratulate the Minister of State who laboured long and hard before receiving his just reward on his appointment. I have no doubt he will be successful, which will be to the benefit of the House and the State.

I welcome the legislation, which has a great deal of merit because it proposes to put in place regulations to cater for various charities. Many Members have mentioned the significant work carried out by charitable organisations. Significant amounts are raised by voluntary groups at local and national level and they have done a great deal to alleviate the burden of the taxpayer as much of the money is devoted to causes that ordinarily would be the responsibility of the Exchequer. We should remind ourselves of this. I hope the legislation does not replace the voluntary spirit among the public and recognises the necessity to ensure that continues. It would be hugely negative if the spontaneity involved in volunteering for which the Irish have become famous is interfered with or if regulations inhibit or impede volunteerism.

Notwithstanding that, the amounts raised by charities have increased and this has created temptation. It is, therefore, important and right that regulations should be introduced. Previous contributors referred to the establishment of another quango. While I worry about how bureaucratic the system might become, I ask the Minister of State to ensure the minimum imposition results from the increased bureaucracy. I do not have the greatest respect for bureaucracy because by its very amorphous nature, it tends to damp down the spontaneity and voluntary spirit that exists and it has usually done more damage and been more costly than if the status quo had pertained.

Local spontaneous fundraising is usually for a good cause. For example, if a house burns down and the family do not have insurance, people will rally round for such an extremely good cause and engage in instant action. Benefit nights for families who have lost a member tragically are a regular occurrence. I recognise the need for a statutory basis for the operation of charities but the Minister of State should be careful not to go overboard because if he does, people will be turned off and they will say if that is the way the Government wants it, then it should deal with these issues itself. I refer to the issue of charitable [584] tax status, which will generate interest in the future. The definition of “charity” in the tax code is an important issue and I hope the bureaucrats do not decide when the regulatory system is established that local causes do not qualify for charitable status. That represents my greatest fear. I would like the Minister of State to take my concerns on board so that local spontaneous efforts to raise funds do not lose charitable tax status as these efforts will always be needed.

Ireland has enjoyed a great deal from volunteers over the years and that has been a trait of our communities and individuals. However, as we have become more affluent, the tendency has been to leave more voluntary activities to the statutory authorities. For example, organisations are educating people as to what they can do most efficiently in regard to donations that have tax benefits. Good charities write to people from time to time seeking donations for very good causes. Occasionally, a charity highlights the tax status and benefits that could result from contributing to its cause. When I read the explanation for this, I tend to be less helpful than if I had free rein to do my own thing. Volunteering has two sides to it. When one is asked to volunteer in whatever capacity, that should be at one’s discretion.

  Deputy Tom Hayes: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Like every other speaker, I congratulate the Minister of State and wish him the best of luck.

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: He is a nice guy.

  Deputy Tom Hayes: He worked hard on the backbenches over a long number of years and everybody was delighted that he was promoted

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Even Vincent Browne.

  Deputy Tom Hayes: We should all welcome the opportunity to contribute to Bills that touch on something central to Irish life and which improve the quality of life of our people. Irish charities have contributed a great deal throughout our history and their role is no less important today. Many volunteers give of their time and income to charities and this should be encouraged above all else. The legislation should mean people can contribute in a safe and fuss free manner. We want charities to be as professional as possible but it is crucial that giving to charities does not become bogged down in paperwork and bureaucracy. I am extremely concerned because when a new body or agency is established, it usually leads to more paperwork. By its nature, involvement in charities means people give of their time voluntarily at nights and weekends. It is important that, while checks and balances are [585] needed, the legislation ensures the need for paperwork and bureaucracy is kept to a minimum. Many changes introduced by legislation in the past have resulted in additional form filling and work. When the Bill proceeds through its final Stages, I appeal for the bureaucracy and form filling to be kept to a minimum. Otherwise, our work today and in coming weeks on this legislation will be of little use.

There is some concern that the Bill will merely serve to set up yet another quango. I would like more assurance from the Government that this will not be the case. It is important that this House does not allow a quango to be established in this instance. Unlike so many other State agencies, the charities regulatory authority should not be based in Dublin but elsewhere in the State. Decentralisation is something we have all welcomed and supported, although we had hoped it would progress at a faster rate.

  Deputy Martin Mansergh: It was welcomed by some but not all of the Deputy’s colleagues.

  Deputy Tom Hayes: It is easy to welcome something that is not happening.

  Deputy Martin Mansergh: It is happening in Tipperary.

  Deputy Tom Hayes: It has not happened yet.

  Deputy Martin Mansergh: What about the Private Security Authority?

  Deputy Tom Hayes: Deputy Mansergh is trying to change the subject of our discussion. The issue he has raised can be discussed at another time.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Tom Hayes should be allowed to speak without interruption.

  Deputy Tom Hayes: I ask the Minister to consider establishing this authority outside Dublin. The Private Security Authority in Tipperary town, where 30 people are employed, was not established as part of the decentralisation programme, but we welcome it.

  Deputy Martin Mansergh: It was a bonus.

  Deputy Tom Hayes: I am sure Deputy Mansergh agrees it has been extremely successful.

  Deputy Martin Mansergh: I absolutely agree.

  Deputy Tom Hayes: The charities regulatory authority could likewise be based outside Dublin and could be similarly successful.

Fundraising activities have become part and parcel of our lives. We have a long history of involvement with charities and voluntary organis[586] ations based in Third World countries. I have visited some of these places and seen at first hand the impact of the contributions made by Irish people. It is important that we, as the second wealthiest economy in the world, should lead the way in terms of assistance to developing countries. Regulation in this regard is welcome, whether it involves flag days in schools, for example, or collections outside supermarkets. It is important that we support the activities of volunteers whether they are based at home or abroad. We must make it easier for the many people who engage in such wonderful work on an ongoing basis.

  Deputy Michael Moynihan: I propose to share time with Deputy Mansergh.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Agreed.

  Deputy Michael Moynihan: I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his appointment to office. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, on his appointment. He will do an excellent job in steering this legislation through the House.

This Bill provides for the dissolution of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland and the establishment of a charities regulatory authority. The former was the body to which organisations had to present their requests to relinquish title on property and so forth. The processing of documentation in such cases was a long and cumbersome process as a result of the backlog with which the commissioners had to contend. I am aware of several cases where there have been lengthy delays in processing applications in regard to community and parish halls and facilities based in school campuses and diocesan properties. It took a huge amount of time and effort on behalf of local communities to go through that process.

Much has been said during this debate about the effort expended by voluntary workers in communities throughout the State. I hope that an effort will made to streamline the bureaucracy involved for community organisations when the new regulatory authority assumes the powers of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland. It will be very much welcome if the new body is easier to access and facilitates the speedier processing of documentation.

I welcome the Bill, which provides clarity in regard to the regulation of charities. It is useful to place such regulation on a statutory footing in terms of what organisations must do in regard to accounts and so on. Every Member sees at first hand in his or her constituency the work that is done by charities. Speakers have referred to once-off fundraising efforts in response to particular tragedies. Other charities raise funds for community projects such as sporting facilities. I [587] acknowledge the fantastic work undertaken by volunteers throughout the State and in my own area in particular. I have heard some people put forth innuendo to the effect that these volunteers must be enjoying some personal material gain from their activities. The vast majority, however, give up their time for no payment and receive no material gain.

All politicians have a duty to encourage people to become involved in voluntary organisations in their local communities. As other speakers observed, there is much to be gained in terms of personal satisfaction in giving of one’s time for charitable purposes. There is a difficulty, however, particularly in some of the sporting organisations, in getting young people involved in the management and committee structure. I and other Members frequently tell secondary school students about the importance of getting involved in their communities and seeking to effect change in so far as they can. It is important to put forward one’s point of view whether through a residents association, sporting organisation, political party and so on. It is only by using one’s voice that one can hope to have one’s views acted upon.

7 o’clock

Some Members voiced concern about the establishment of another quango. However, the purpose of this legislation is to impose order on the sector and to eradicate any quangos that may have developed. The new authority will be easier to access and deal with and will provide a centralised regulatory framework. The provisions in regard to how charities maintain their accounts will be helpful.

Debate adjourned.