Other Questions. - Proposed Legislation.

Joan Burton


97 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made to date by the implementation group on the White Paper, Supporting Voluntary Activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3675/03]

The White Paper on a framework for supporting voluntary activity and for developing the relationship between the State and the community and voluntary sector was published on 13 September 2000. The White Paper marked the start of the Government's long-term strategy to develop and support the community and voluntary sector. It sets out the rationale for developing the relationship between the State and the sector and the principles which should underpin this relationship.

A unique feature of the White Paper was the establishment of an implementation and advisory group, IAG, to oversee implementation of the White Paper's recommendations. This group is co-chaired by senior officials from my Department and from the Department of Health and Children. It consists of six members from the community and voluntary sector and six from the statutory sector. My Department provides the secretariat to the group.

The implementation and advisory group was established on 20 July 2001 and has met on 16 occasions to date. Much of the detailed work of the group has been carried out by sub-committees formed to examine specific issues and report to the main group. The group has devised a detailed work plan to assist in implementing the recommendations. Matters considered by the group to date include the multiplicity of funding sources through which the sector must operate; the designation of voluntary activity units in relevant Departments; the development of training and supports in the sector and support for federations and networks; accreditation of training in the sector and the establishment of good practice standards in both the community and voluntary sector and the statutory sector.

In relation to the federations and networks scheme, it was considered necessary to re-advertise this scheme because of issues which arose in the course of processing the applications and which it was considered could give rise to legal challenge. This will take place in the coming weeks and all applicants have been advised to that effect.

Additional information

With regard to the training and support scheme, last week my Department invited tenders from consultants to assist in expediting the assessment process. All applicants will be advised of the outcome of their application as soon as possible following conclusion of that assessment.

The White Paper also included a commitment to reform the law on charities and charitable fundraising. In January 2002, consultants were appointed to assist in this process by preparing a review of the literature on Irish charity law and a study of the regulatory environment in other jurisdictions. The work of the consultants has been completed and their report is being examined in my Department. A broad public consultation accompanied by publication of a consultation document is envisaged prior to formulation of legislative proposals. The community and voluntary sector will be consulted through the implementation and advisory group in considering legislative reform. The White Paper provides for a formal review of the workings of the group after three years.

Does the Minister of State not agree that, in the context of the implementation and advisory group, and particularly in regard to the fiasco with the federations and networks scheme, there needs to be a re-think about some of these issues? People are adjudicating on schemes on which they could potentially have an interest. Should another type of model not be contemplated?

I am very concerned that so many areas have been transferred to consultants, such as the federations and networks scheme and the training and support scheme. There is already a consultants report in regard to the multiplicity of funders.

This brings us back to the matter of the strategy statement and what is an enabling Department. Looking at reports to date in regard to the IAG gives one cause for concern. Is the situation being reviewed within the Department?

While I share the Deputy's concerns in some respects, the White Paper made commitments to the voluntary and community sector. The IAG was an exercise in doing more than consult. Often when one is dealing with the community there is a sense that consultation is rather hollow and more than that is required. The IAG was intended to involve this sector to a greater extent than heretofore. That is why the word "implementation" was included in the title. While people may have different interpretations of that, what happened proved the point that one cannot really be both a scheme applicant and adjudicator on it also. It is a very fine point.

We want to work with the community and we are committed to the principles contained in the White Paper in that regard. However, there is always a point when matters are for executive decision. The federations and networks scheme will be re-advertised. We are bringing in a consultant to assist us with the training and supports scheme.

The bottom line in the Minister of State's reply is that consultants are again being brought in. Can he justify the number of consultancy groups that are being brought in at a time when community employment schemes are being wound down? The schemes would give greater value to these groups than outside consultants that cost thousands of euro.

In the case of Monaghan County Council, €12 million was paid to consultants for one job and we have still not seen any gravel on the roads or a sod turned. Have we not gone overboard with consultancy groups at a time when CE schemes are being wound down and people at the lower end of the spectrum are not allowed to work?

I share the Deputy's concerns about consultants. On this occasion we are more or less doing it at the behest of the community sector, which wants to see an independent assessment process. The IAG was perceived to be that but now that we are moving away from it we need to replace it with something that can be seen to be an independent process. The consultants are coming in to assess the 540 applications and they will make recommendations to the Department. It is not really a case of a team of consultants on this occasion. Their purpose is to wade through the applications and draw up criteria and make recommendations to us on which ones to choose.