The recently published White Paper – Supporting Voluntary Activity – recognises the need to promote the active involvement of people in community and volun tary groups as an essential component of a democratic society. The role of the volunteer is at the heart of the sector's work and, indeed, participation of volunteers is a defining characteristic of organisations in the sector.
One of the issues that emerged in the course of preparing the White Paper is how little empirical information is available on the scale of the community and voluntary sector. For that reason, the White Paper provides for an allocation of £400,000 for a research programme which will include quantifying the full extent of community and voluntary activity in Ireland, its contribution to social development, to the economy and to employment. The findings of the research programme will be important in informing the ongoing debate on the issues involved in the relationship between the State and the community and voluntary sector.
The year 2001 is the UN International Year of Volunteers. As provided for in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, a national committee on volunteering will be established this year, with participation from all the relevant interests and stakeholders. It will devise strategies and actions for supporting and developing volunteering, not just during the international year, but for the longer term. Its work will take account of the importance of proactively fostering a culture of support for volunteering in schools and third level institutions.
The international year provides an opportunity to further raise the profile of volunteering in Ireland and progress the Government's policies with regard to the development of social capital and the encouragement of voluntarism. The committee will have a budget of £1 million for initiatives to further support and develop volunteering.
The work of the committee will include examining and making recommendations on: the possibilities for recognition and accreditation for voluntary work and for training undertaken as a volunteer; measures to widen the pool of volunteers; and the range of supports needed in order to promote, sustain and develop volunteering.