That Dáil Éireann:
— the charity sector is a critical component of our civic society which must be supported to operate in a manner that puts it above reproach; and
— the recent revelations regarding the Console charity and other instances of poor governance in the sector including Rehab and the Central Remedial Clinic, among others, have diminished public trust in the sector;
— the significant shortcomings in the governance standards that have been identified yet again as part of the most recent revelations;
— that Part 4 of the Charities Act 2009 has only been commenced seven years after the establishment of the Act and following yet another scandal;
— the inordinate number of charities operating within the charity sector;
— the lack of required training for directors despite the legal onus placed on voluntary directors who sit on charitable boards;
— the negative impact of continuing revelations regarding poor governance in the charity sector on the income from charitable donations; and
— that some vital services should not be dependent on the charitable sector and should be provided by the State; and
calls on the Government to:
— undertake a critical review of the Health Service Executive’s 2014 Revised Governance Framework for all organisations funded by it;
— undertake a system-wide review of the governance and reporting procedures for public funds disbursed to charitable organisations;
— use these review findings to implement an enhanced governance code for the sector to which all organisations with charitable status are required to adhere;
— implement a mandatory training programme for those assuming directorships on charity boards;
— strengthen the legal requirements on auditors regarding reporting of financial issues of concern to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement;
— consider the provision of vital services as a public service rather than relying on the charity sector;
— tighten the guidelines pertaining to charitable fundraising in a way that will ensure transparency and the resulting public trust; and
— proceed with the establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency to which the Charities Regulatory Authority could refer cases of concern for investigation.
I am sharing time with Deputy Stephen Donnelly.
We tabled this motion as a direct result of the revelations regarding the Console charity and the outrageous misappropriation of funds which appears to have taken place. However, what has happened with Console is just the latest in a line of similar scandals in the charity sector. They all combine to create mistrust in the sector in general. This mistrust does a disservice to the many selfless volunteers and workers in the various charities.
Many are committed to giving their time in order to put their finger in the dam of often inadequate public services. The mistrust that has been fostered also does a disservice to the exceptionally generous citizens who have supported the charitable sector in their droves and who, hopefully, will continue to do so once they can be convinced that the Console case cannot be repeated. The motion is intended to add to the regulation that currently exists.
It is not just a question of the funding of these services by individual members of the public. A person contacted me to say that in his workplace, which is in the corporate sector, great pressure was put on staff to make charitable donations and that staff had money deducted from their salaries between 2009 and 2016, while the employer matched the contributions. In total, over €174,000 was involved, and they feel pretty bad about that now. This cannot be repeated because it is very difficult to encourage people to donate again when their trust has been undermined in this way. That is why we have tabled the motion. As with so many areas of public life, Governments tend to form policy and legislation on the basis of a knee-jerk reaction to events rather than proactive planning. We tend to deal with the scandal rather than prevent its occurrence in the first instance. We need to stop doing that and to become more proactive.
The Charities Act was enacted in 2009 yet it was 2014 before the Charities Regulatory Authority was established and just last week, seven years after the legislation was enacted, that the Minister confirmed she will commence Part 4, which confers investigative powers on the regulator. During his speech introducing the Charities Bill 2007, the then Minister of State, Pat Carey, said "the Government is committed to protecting both charitable organisations and the public interest by reforming the law to ensure accountability and to protect against abuse of charitable status and fraud through the legislation we have here before us today". The reason given for the seven-year delay in commencing Part 4 was a lack of resources during the recession. That is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. Rather than investing resources in a robust regulatory framework, the Government chose to continue to pump funds into dysfunctional charities such as Console and others like it. While they are small in number, they bring the entire sector into disrepute. It is this type of short-sightedness that always costs more in the long term.
Many do not realise the sheer size of the charities sector. On checking this morning, I discovered that Revenue has a list of some 21,000 charities. That is an astonishing number. Many areas of life fall under the charity sector, including schools, sports and leisure organisations, religious institutions and so on. According to a 2014 report, 50% of the sector's income comes from statutory grants. The amount of public funds going to charities is immense and one must question the effectiveness of much of the funding and whether it would be better utilised in a more streamlined sector, where it could be more accurately targeted. Let us consider, for example, charities that deal with suicide. There are currently in excess of 200 charities working in this specific field and, as a result, funding is fragmented and disjointed. An amalgamation of, or an umbrella body over, those charities would be very welcome, and is something that might be possible, although it wold take some effort to bring the sector together. It is the same with housing charities, animal welfare charities and many other sectors.
Questions also arise with regard to vital health service provision. It seems that one of the main reasons Console was left to continue in its dysfunctional state, even after serious alarm bells had been rung, was that the HSE could not risk shutting down the helpline, which is so vital at a time when people are at their most distressed. Surely this makes it clear that there are some services that simply should not be outsourced for risk of ever losing those services. We would not be against the charity sector providing services, far from it. Indeed, very valuable efforts have been made by support groups, research foundations and so on, many of which bring in important funds. Ultimately, however, this motion is our contribution to ensuring that we get greater accountability and transparency in the sector, in addition to Part 4 being brought into force from September. I hope sufficient resources will be provided so this can happen.
In the past we have seen the cases of CRC and Rehab, the top-up payments to St. John of God and, in my own area, vital services run by the Irish Society for Autism were removed. The three facilities taken over by the HSE are pretty much the entire sum of what that the Irish Society for Autism does. Will that organisation still exist as a charity in the future? I know people who sought services from it years ago and never heard anything back. Irish Autism Action was set up as a direct consequence of the dysfunction of the Irish Society for Autism. This is part of the reason why the charities sector has grown. I was reminded by somebody who contacted me about the missing persons victim support helpline. It also closed down some years ago in controversial circumstances and it had the same profile as that which has applied in the recent past to Console.
Two amendments are proposed to our motion. We are not inclined to support the AAA-PBP amendment, mainly because we think the housing sector requires tier 3 housing associations if we are to leverage funds from other institutions and increase the number of houses available. In the health sector, we support the idea that core services should be provided by the State. There are elements that fall under the health sector that could be funded, such as, for example, foundations carrying out research. However, we believe the amendment, as it is framed, is too restrictive. We do not have a particular problem with the second amendment but we feel the people are best protected by having the same basic standard across the board, while obviously reflecting size as well.