Prior to the adjournment of this debate I stated my belief that this is a good Bill and I compliment the officials and 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 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 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.