Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Wednesday, 8 Sep 2004

Volunteers and Volunteering: Presentations.

We shall proceed to the volunteers. We shall have two half sessions. The Simon Community and Victim Support were to appear before the joint committee today but due to personal circumstances cannot do so. However, they will make a written submission to the joint committee. In the meantime we will have the Volunteer Centres Ireland, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and The Wheel. Some of our members will have met Mary Redmond from that organisation yesterday. We shall deal with one group first and then the other. On the last occasion there were three sessions, this time there will be two. I shall allow the organisations ten minutes in which to make their presentations, following which I will invite members to contribute by means of questions and we shall have cumulative answers as usual.

On the last day we mentioned that the GAA did not respond. I was in contact with Seán Kelly. Has he responded?

The correspondence we got back was addressed to the county board in County Meath. We got a message back all right.

Seán Kelly said he would like to attend. Will the joint committee hold more hearings?

Definitely. We have earmarked 29 September for another set of hearings and the main sporting bodies will be——

Fine. Perhaps we could address it to the president and acknowledge the fact that he will attend.

I welcome to the meeting Ms Tricia Nolan, Volunteer Centres Ireland, Ms Angela Keegan, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Ms Deirdre Garvey, The Wheel, and Mr. Peadar Ward, the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps.

As you have been informed, we have taken on, as promised last year, the whole issue of voluntarism and examining the challenges for people getting involved, the opportunities when one is involved and the challenges in trying to keep people involved in volunteering. A number of issues were raised at one of our meetings. People were glad to get the opportunity to hear that people from other completely different volunteering sectors shared the same types of difficulties and challenges and had the same results, positive and negative. Each group will have a maximum of ten minutes in which to make a presentation following which questions will be put by members to elicit more information.

Witnesses do not have the same privilege as members of the committee. It is a formality to inform witnesses of that. I invite Ms Tricia Nolan, Volunteer Centres Ireland, to lead. She has ten minutes in which to make her presentation.

I am the manager of the Tallaght Volunteer Bureau. This morning I shall speak in my capacity as chairperson of Volunteer Centres Ireland as opposed to Volunteering Ireland. Volunteer Centres Ireland is the national network of volunteer centres operating in the Republic. I thought I might begin the presentation by explaining what a local volunteer centre does, since it is a relatively new type of organisation in Ireland. We might then look at the larger picture of volunteer centres in Ireland.

What is a volunteer centre? The Courts Service has a volunteer bureau which matches volunteers with a wide range of community and voluntary projects across all sectors of the community. In essence, a volunteer bureau acts as a local broker for volunteers. Volunteers from all walks of life will visit their local volunteer centre to look at what opportunities there are to volunteer. In turn, local voluntary organisations identify their potential volunteering opportunities and register these opportunities with the local volunteer centre. The local centre will assess the volunteer skills and match them to an appropriate opportunity while also providing support to volunteers. Obviously people do not walk in off the street to their local volunteer centre and say they want to volunteer. We proactively promote volunteering in the community through mail drops, outreaches, media websites, etc.

Volunteer centres also provide support and training to organisations in the areas of recruiting and managing volunteers in order that they can achieve best practice principles and volunteer management. The members of Volunteer Centres Ireland have found the problem is not so much one of recruiting volunteers but of retaining them. Much of the time this is down to how volunteers are managed within an organisation. Volunteer Centres Ireland also develops new projects involving volunteers, including the poorer supported volunteering projects, in targeting areas of disadvantage to increase participation rates there.

What is Volunteer Centres Ireland? Volunteer Centres Ireland is the network of volunteer centres operating in the Republic. In alphabetical order, the current membership of the network consists of Ballyfermot Volunteer Centre; Bray Volunteer Bureau; Cork Volunteer Bureau; the Drogheda Volunteer Bureau; the Dublin city area is covered by Volunteering Ireland's placement service; Newbridge Volunteer Resource Centre, which covers all of the Kildare area; Tallaght Volunteer Bureau; Tralee Volunteer Bureau; and the volunteer centres in Fingal, which cover Swords and Blanchardstown. Unfortunately, in recent months we have seen the closures of the volunteer centres in Lucan and Clondalkin due to lack of funding.

The network of Volunteer Centres Ireland was established a number of years ago to co-operate and network on any issues which relate to best practice in the operation of volunteer centres and volunteering in the Republic of Ireland. The network meets formally every two to three months to share information. Currently we are working on such issues as database development in order that we all record information in a similar manner and produce statistics, etc. that will give a good idea of the trends in volunteering in Ireland. We are looking at developing a national website so that anybody can access volunteering opportunities in their local areas. We have been looking at developing quality standards in order that all emerging volunteer centres will work to common standards and adhere to best practice through all the standards. We lobby on common policy issues, and some members may remember I met them on the recent Seeing is Believing tour when we examined the way volunteer centres work in a community. We provide support for the many emerging centres throughout the country.

Funding for these centres is ad hoc and from a variety of sources. The existing individual centres receive core funding from such sources as direct funding from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, local authority funding, and partnership money. One centre is funded by European URBAN funding and there is also health board funding, cross-Border PEACE money plus some support from local community development projects.

Even though volunteer centres or bureaux may be a new phenomenon in Ireland, with the first centres emerging in Tallaght and in the Dublin city area in the late 1990s, that is, Tallaght Volunteer Bureau and the Volunteer Resource Centre, which is now renamed Volunteering Ireland, they are commonplace in countries with a similar socio-economic make-up to Ireland. There are over 200 such bureaux in England. There are 17 bureaux in Northern Ireland, all centrally funded by government. There are 500 such centres in America. Across Europe each country has a network of local volunteer bureaux in place to help local citizens and communities participate in meaningful voluntary activity. There is a good graphic representation of our place in Europe compared to other countries and our ratio of volunteer bureaux to citizens on page 93 of Tipping the Balance.

We could talk all day about issues facing volunteering and volunteer centres but since time is short I have decided to examine two issues, one relating to infrastructure and the other to policy, which are the central tenets of the national community volunteering report, Tipping the Balance.

With regard to infrastructure, the funding to the various volunteer centres currently is ad hoc and on an annual basis only, which we believe is contrary to both Government policy and the White Paper on supporting voluntary activity. Core funding for the existing centres is from many and varied sources. Some centres have no core funding but are dependent on piecemeal funding from wherever they may source it. There is an urgent need for a centralised source of funding to be identified to support and consolidate the existing centres, many of which are in a precarious situation. This needs to be done in a structured and cohesive way in consultation with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which has responsibility for supporting volunteering, and is in line with one of the major recommendations of Tipping the Balance. The development of local volunteer centres is the central recommendation of Tipping the Balance that underpins all other recommendations.

The volunteer bureau infrastructure is the key to the further development of volunteering in Ireland. It is working on the ground but it needs to be supported. There is also a need to develop new centres throughout the country. We understand from the Minister that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs wishes to see local volunteer centres tie in to the existing structure such as county development boards, which again is in line with recommendations in Tipping the Balance. Local structures, however, still do not have a fund for volunteering. Since local county development boards do not have a budget to support volunteering, a centralised budget needs to be put in place to do this. In fact, a central budget for volunteering is already being administered by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs by virtue of its funding to Tallaght Volunteer Bureau and Volunteering Ireland. Perhaps a possible solution is to widen this budget to encompass the centres already in existence and to be available to new applicant centres.

There are many policy issues we could talk about with regard to volunteering such as screening, good practice issues etc., but in order to facilitate and progress these policy issues further there must be recognition by the Department of the role that Volunteer Centres Ireland can play in discussions on policy issues. There must be a formalisation of the relationship between Volunteer Centres Ireland and the Department in order that we can meet in a more official setting to discuss volunteering policy and infrastructural issues.

We understand that the Department is hesitant to build a new layer of bureaucracy in the voluntary sector through a large national body to oversee volunteering in Ireland but we believe the foundations for a national infrastructure are already in place through Volunteer Centres Ireland. The experience and expertise on volunteering in Ireland already exists within this network. As more centres begin to emerge, perhaps the time will come for the Department and Volunteer Centres Ireland to consider the development of a national body, taking into account the recommendations of Tipping the Balance. In the interim, however, it is vital that the Department and the emerging grassroots infrastructure that is Volunteer Centres Ireland should sit down together and examine a way forward in the development of volunteering policy and infrastructure.

I will conclude by quoting from Tipping the Balance, which brings the issue of policy and infrastructure together. When Tipping the Balance was being written, a good deal of research was done into volunteering in other European countries in order to help with recommendations for the final report on volunteering. One of the points I took from the report states:

It is very difficult to speak about the impact of policies on volunteering in a general way, particularly when policies can comprise defined projects and initiatives as well as ideological shifts in the general direction of supporting voluntary activity. However, a number of features do emerge from the different accounts, such as the importance of developing the primary infrastructure, particularly at a local or municipal level. Research in the United Kingdom suggests that a national media campaign, for instance, did little to raise awareness and had little measurable effect on volunteering levels. What really was effective though was the investment in local volunteer development agencies, that is, volunteer centres, which made a promising start at creating a local infrastructure for volunteering, though its impact was blunted by inadequate funding and a lack of strategic thinking.

Volunteer Centres Ireland recommends that the existing infrastructure be formally recognised and supported strategically through a more cohesive approach to funding and, in tandem with that, policy be developed nationally in conjunction with the members of Volunteer Centres Ireland, who between them have the unique knowledge and expertise to move forward this invaluable service to social capital.

Ms Angela Keegan

I am projects manager with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland. I wish to speak briefly about our philosophy and history in order that members can get an idea of the way volunteering developed during the years within the society, and I will conclude by talking about the issues and challenges facing the society in regard to its volunteering wing.

The society's objective is to provide information, support and help for carers and people with dementia. Our philosophy is that the organisation is to be person focused rather than service focused in the provision of dementia specific care. The organisation was founded by volunteers about 22 years ago and much of its success to date has been as a result of the excellent work they have done during that time.

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland was founded in 1982 by two volunteers who were both carers. They found at the time that there was very little support or help available to them to care for their loved ones with dementia. They held a public meeting from which they developed a support group and, with time, a service within Dublin evolved. Word spread throughout the country that this was happening and they were invited by other potential volunteers to speak at other venues, which got the movement going. From that, branches developed, they formed support groups locally for carers of people with dementia and with time, the volunteers canvassed the Department of Health and Children and undertook local fundraising to set up services. We then had the development of day centres, which started by opening one day a week and, as interest and funding grew, increased to five days a week. That is where we are today.

With the increase in funding and the increased need for staff to work in the day centres, and the home care and home support programmes that were set up, there is a need to take on permanent staff. As a result, the society today has 250 volunteers and 600 part-time and permanent care staff working in the community.

With regard to services, we have 29 day-care centres that run from one to five days per week and 27 home respite services. We provide one-on-one care to people in their homes with dementia, thus providing the carer with a break. We also try to engage and involve people with dementia in activities in which they are interested or hobbies they once had in their home surrounding. The volunteers are active in our day centres. We do not send them into people's homes. The reason for this is safety and accountability as volunteers tend not to be highly trained.

Our free telephone helpline which operates Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is run solely by volunteers. We also have the support groups with which we started the whole society. There are now 22 to 29 support groups throughout the country which run fortnightly to monthly. They are run solely by volunteers but they offer support to carers in the community who are looking after loved ones with dementia. A pilot support group for people with dementia, the first of its kind in Ireland, is run jointly by volunteers and staff.

Volunteers are very much involved in local fundraising events. The moneys they raise are put back into services locally. On a six monthly basis, the chairpersons of the various branches around the country meet the board of directors in Dublin to discuss local and strategic issues. That is where we are at today. There are challenges for the society. A few years ago we would have had 400 or 500 volunteers whereas now we have 250. We have a difficulty in recruiting branch volunteers who would be involved in the management of local activities. There is still a large number of people who want to get directly involved in activities within our various centres and information services.

Due to the increased funding from the Department of Health and Children, FÁS and other funders, there is more pressure on branches to be accountable for the funds received. Given that they have to manage funds locally they are put off by the increased bureaucracy, although they understand there is an obligation to be more accountable.

In addition, our volunteers go through a cycle. In the main they are past carers who want to give something back. They volunteer for a few years and then retire from the society and there is not the same uptake of new volunteers. There is also competition with other voluntary organisations who are also looking for volunteers. From that point of view, much of it is down to the perception of whatever volunteer charity organisation with which one is working. I guess some organisations would have a more sexy appeal than others. Therefore, we have a difficulty in recruiting volunteers.

At the same we have a clear vision of where we see our volunteering wing going in the future. We want to further develop the support side, information and fundraising. We would like to revitalise our support groups and hold more regular public meetings to destigmatise dementia at a local level. We are trying to encourage more advocacy and lobbying at local level. We are trying to build up alliances with other community groups and other resources within the community with which we could develop a partnership. We are also trying to ensure that our volunteering wing is more structured. While staff are obliged to undergo training in certain areas, due to lack of funding, volunteers tend not to take up the training because most of the money we have raised has to go into services. Those are our challenges as we see them.

Ms Deirdre Garvey

I am the chief executive officer of The Wheel. The Wheel is a national network of organisations and individuals working in the community and voluntary sector. We are a resource centre which provides information and support to our members and participants and we advocate the advancement of community and voluntary activity. For example, our newsletter has a circulation of approximately 4,000.

Today I wish to focus on my observation of developments, being chief executive officer of The Wheel and an alternate member of the implementation and advisory committee of the infamous White Paper on supporting voluntary activity. A quote by the Taoiseach from the foreword to the White Paper reads, "It would be wrong for Government to seek to control and to be involved in every aspect of voluntary activity, but there is no doubt that it can provide an enabling framework to help this activity".

That general flavour was echoed by the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, in his submission to this committee in June. The Wheel shares this view of how the relationship between the Government and the voluntary sector should be governed. When the Government produced the White Paper on supporting voluntary activity those of us with an interest in seeing voluntary activity grow and develop to reach its potential to deliver maximum public benefit, were heartened and encouraged. This factor was further increased with the establishment of the National Committee on Volunteering and the subsequent publication of its report Tipping the Balance, with which the joint committee must be familiar at this stage.

We now have an opportunity to revitalise volunteering in Ireland through an enabling framework as espoused by the Taoiseach, characterised by imaginative vision which could be realised through well thought out strategies and actions as voiced by the Minister of State. The Wheel believes that the National Committee on Volunteering succeeded in rising to that challenge with the publication of Tipping the Balance. It is important to restate that there are only two core recommendations contained in Tipping the Balance — that a national policy on volunteering be developed and that an infrastructural support be established both at national and local level and funded on a nationwide basis.

Out of those two primary recommendations there are a further 50 recommendations on specific actions that could make such an enabling framework a reality. They encompass areas such as support and development, accreditation, recognition of volunteers, regulation and best practice, employer support of volunteering, information technology, a national centre for volunteering and local volunteer centres. It is important not to get confused by the many recommendations that have come out of Tipping the Balance. My experience from the committee and from speaking with people involved in it is that those issues are being confused. I wanted to bring the two main priorities or recommendations up front.

Two years after the publication of Tipping the Balance, almost none of its recommendations has been implemented. Taken together with the lack of implementation of the broader White Paper on supporting voluntary activity, which celebrates its fourth birthday this month, the mood of optimism and hope, based largely on the idea of constructive partnership with Government, is proving increasingly difficult to maintain. I also know, having read transcripts of the hearings of this committee in June and texts elsewhere, that there are people in the voluntary sector and on this committee who, for well founded reasons, fear that creating a structured support and development environment for voluntary activity would kill what it is actually intending to grow by smothering local initiative. If anything, the submissions the committee has just heard from Ms Tricia Nolan and Ms Angela Keegan and the submissions made last June point to the fact that that is not true, that there is tremendous determination in local communities to come together in response to existing and emerging social needs.

I would like to visit some of the arguments I have heard in the last two years since the publication of Tipping the Balance concerning why the report should not or could not be implemented. First, there is "the State shouldn't interfere" argument to which I have just referred. It is clear that volunteers and voluntary organisations do not want to be controlled by the State, any more than private enterprises want to be controlled by it. Like volunteers and voluntary organisations, private businesses are not directed by the State on what they can or cannot do, produce, market or sell. However, that does not mean that the State does not have a role in promoting an environment where business and enterprise can flourish. It would be considered ludicrous if the State was to take that position — that it was a matter for the business community solely to promote enterprise. That is not the case as the State plays an active role in attracting, promoting and supporting enterprise and business.

The situation is not dissimilar for volunteering. The State has an important role to play in facilitating voluntary activity and creating an environment that promotes voluntarism. As set out in the report, Tipping the Balance, the voluntary sector expects and would welcome the State playing such an enabling role. It would actually be too convenient for the Government in recent times — although perhaps this is now changing, but in the last couple of years since the report's publication and through this time of budgetary constraint — to suddenly develop a concern and conscience about the appropriateness of involvement in volunteering policy.

Second, there is the "we are funding it already" argument touched upon by Ms Nolan. It is important to make clear the difference between the community and voluntary sector and its organisations and volunteering. The former is a structure, a collection of organisations and people, and comparisons can be made with the farming, financial and other sectors. Volunteering, on the other hand, is an activity that takes place when people come together to help others. We have already heard definitions by this committee. While the two are complementary, measures or actions to support voluntary organisations cannot be considered as direct support for volunteering. Sometimes it might be quoted that funding provided for the voluntary sector is evidence of Government support for volunteering. While this financial support for community and voluntary organisations is extremely welcome, the majority goes to support organisations to organise activities, provide services and undertake work that they are already in many cases underfunded to do. Therefore, very little is assigned for the purposes of attracting, recruiting, managing and maintaining volunteers and supporting and promoting voluntarism in general. The small fund referred to by Ms Nolan was formerly administered by Comhairle. It is now administered by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is funding three organisations: the Tallaght Volunteer Bureau, Volunteering Ireland and a project in Focus Ireland.

Third, the "forthcoming charities regulation" argument can sometimes be thrown out. Reference can be made to the proposed reform of the charities regulation as if it will directly improve the position of volunteers. Since the legislation will primarily address the regulation of charities and voluntary organisations, it will have little impact on volunteers, except for those who are members of boards of management.

It is The Wheel's position, both as an independent network supporting the wider community and voluntary sector, as opposed to purely volunteering, and as a member of the local voluntary strand of the community and voluntary pillar of social partnership, that there needs to be sustained investment within a support and development framework dedicated to growing what is called social capital. Volunteering is a way to do this. I do not use the term "growing" offhand. Social capital needs to be sown, tended to and grown before we can reap the benefits across society. Those words effectively are a new name for an old concept without getting into the old jargon. It is the concept that the "ties that bind" or the "glue that holds our society together" are possible descriptions. Volunteering is a catalyst for social capital, both in the end results achieved and in the process of the individual becoming involved.

This committee knows about the success of the Special Olympics which was an outstanding success. However, it was only a success because of the imaginative strategies, the professional planning and prompt actions taken in planning four years in advance. It was made possible through substantial funding. It is this kind of professional approach that is envisaged through the creation of a national committee on volunteering and the associated resource development.

A national volunteer centre — one of two recommendations — which would act as a central resource for voluntary activity, allied with local volunteer bureaux, would be a cost-effectivesolution to this issue. There are options available to Government as to how it could choose to pursue this course of action. There are five options outlined in Tipping the Balance. If the Government is committed to supporting and promoting voluntarism, as it has stated, but opposed to a statutory national centre for volunteering — an argument I have often heard — it should be prepared to enter into dialogue with the community and voluntary sector with a view to establishing a national centre for volunteering in another form. The opposition to a statutory national centre for volunteering would be an all too convenient red herring for Government to use to stall any progress towards the development of a national volunteering infrastructure, especially when the community and voluntary sector is more concerned with getting it established than with what form it will take. There are organisations already in place within the sector which could evolve into a national volunteer centre with proper funding and the development of a coherent and clear Government policy and approach. We have just heard from Ms Nolan and Volunteer Centres Ireland. The committee has also heard from Volunteering Ireland in another submission. The nascent structures are in place; they need to be supported and developed.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs needs to take the lead in implementing stated Government policy, but it cannot do so if it is not adequately resourced. It needs significantly more funding if it is to succeed as being the lead Department, providing a vision and road map, not just for the wider aspect of the community and voluntary sector but also for volunteering and voluntarism. Likewise, the Government needs to develop a coherent policy on volunteering, the second main recommendation of Tipping the Balance, with accompanying strategy and actions.

The Government relies on voluntary organisations which, in turn, rely on a mixture of professional staff, both paid and unpaid, to deliver vital services. The bottom line is that the Government cannot have it both ways, in so far as Ireland is evolving in ways unimaginable 30 years ago. The old ties that bound us are slipping away and have to be rewoven. Volunteers are often to the forefront in responding to complex social needs, creating the new threads that will hold Irish society together. To do this they need structured development and support. Having played an active and constructive role in partnership with volunteers and the voluntary sector to support the development of a volunteering policy through the development of the National Committee on Volunteering and the publication of the report, it would be disappointing if the Government was to renounce its important role. If it was appropriate for the State to engage with the community and voluntary sector in determining volunteering policy in 2000, how and why is it not appropriate now?

Mr. Peadar Ward

I am going to talk to the committee about the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps. I had intended to give a powerpoint presentation but in the absence of that technology I have made copies of the document. If it is possible to distribute it, members of the committee can skim through it as I move along. In that way, they will also have copies of the statistics to which I will refer.

The Order of Malta Ambulance Corps dates back to 1099, to the time of the Crusades. It was set up as an ambulance corps in Ireland — in Galway — in 1938. We are part of a large international Order of Malta network which operates throughout Europe, in addition to North and South America. The ambulance corps started in Ireland and was subsequently replicated in places such as Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, etc. Ireland was, therefore, the leader in this area in the 1930s.

Currently we have 80 units spread throughout the country. We cover six regions spread across the 32 counties. The latter is very important from our point of view. We have 130 ambulances, buses and four wheel drive vehicles. As regards volunteers, we have 2,000 adult members, namely, those who are 16 years and over, and 2,000 cadet members between the ages of ten and 16 years. A total of 60% of our adult members are under 30 years of age. It is very much a youth oriented organisation because the work involved demands a great deal of energy and resources from individuals. We are proud to say that we have captured the interest of a large section of our youth.

The average length of service of a volunteer in our organisation is 6.5 years, which is relatively high. Recent studies show that the life of service of a volunteer is inclined to be much shorter. In our situation, however, there is a requirement for training. People can join some voluntary organisations and go to work for them the following day. As a result of our requirement to train people in first aid, nursing skills, etc., there is a lead-in period of two to three months before somebody can go out into the field and do the work. It is important that we retain our volunteers for the period to which I refer. We also have people who have been members for the organisation for 20, 30 or even as many as 50 years. The length of service with the organisation is relatively high in terms of volunteering.

Members were circulated with copies of our mission statement which states:

We, the volunteers and staff of the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps, strive to make a difference in society by providing:

— Community Care

— First Aid and Nursing Services

— Youth Development

— Personal Development

in a Christian, caring and non-discriminatory environment.

It is important that people realise that our work goes far beyond the mere provision of first aid.

Our organisation is formed very much on the basis of a traditional volunteer structure. The management committee is comprised entirely of volunteers. I am the national director of the organisation and have been appointed for a term of three years. I am a full-time civil servant. All of the other senior people in the organisation are also volunteers. Our local units are comprised entirely of volunteers. People are neither employed nor receive an income at local level. Our units strive to be self-sufficient financially. This is important and I will refer to it later.

Our staff to volunteer ratio is roughly 1:1,000. Members would find it difficult to match that anywhere else in the voluntary sector. Our staff role is primarily administrative. As regards our volunteer model, many join as cadets between the ages of ten to 16 years and then proceed to the adult unit. A total of 60% progress to become adult members. Others join the adult units directly. Our members are involved in a variety of activities. Not everybody is involved across the entire range of our activities and some people specialise in certain areas of our work. Many of our members develop careers in nursing and the emergency care services and some have gone on to become doctors. To a great extent, we provide a foundation for young people who have an interest in a career in medicine.

Among our activities are nursing skills, community care and emergency care, which includes the provision of emergency ambulance support to the health boards. In certain parts of the country, such as Tramore and part of the west, we provide that emergency service due to the fact that there is a lack of statutory services available. Training features high on our list of activities, both for members of the organisation and for members of the public. We consider that training people in first aid is something similar to spreading the Gospel because of the help such people can give to others in their schools, places of work or even on the street. Our other main area of activity is youth development, which helps to increase the number of our junior members but also to provide others with many useful skills.

Our clients are those involved in the areas of motor sport, horseracing — we provide cover at 19 of the 24 racecourses in Ireland — showjumping, point-to-point events, concerts — particularly those of a large, open-air variety — sports events and the FAI and the GAA. I stated that our units are self-sufficient. We generate our funds primarily from carrying out activities of this nature for which we are paid. This is what allows us to carry out our charitable work. We depend on people in the horseracing industry, the promoters of large concerts, etc. At events where there is a charge for entry, etc., we expect payment in order that we might fund our various charitable works.

The Special Olympics were referred to. These were extremely important in 2003, not only for Ireland but for those involved in the area of volunteering. We were proud to be associated with the Special Olympics. I will not run through the statistics. However, we worked with the other voluntary organisations, including the Irish Red Cross and the St. John's Ambulance Corps, in the provision of emergency medical services and our members put in more than 12,000 hours of work during the Special Olympics. That was an enormous effort in voluntary terms. The three organisations struck a medal to commemorate the Special Olympics which were a milestone in co-operation in voluntarism and between voluntary organisations in Ireland.

Our statistics show that we provide approximately 4,000 emergency care duties and 3,000 community care works. In the past year we treated more than 3,500 people. As regards the number of volunteer hours, there were 120,000 hours of duty, 90,000 hours of training and 50,000 hours were devoted to the administration and management of the organisation.

I wish now to refer specifically to our volunteers and their experiences. The positives are that they acquire life-saving skills, which can be important to them in their places of work or in their family environments, that there is large-scale community involvement, that they enjoy self-development and self-fulfilment — there is nothing better for someone than to feel that they have helped in some way to save a person's life — and that they make career advancements. The type of skills we give people in terms of their becoming instructors or examiners or in terms of how they deal with others often prove of great benefit to them in their own employment careers.

The major negative for volunteers is that they are very much over-stretched. The latter is due to increased workloads. We have found that there is a greater demand, as a result of statutory requirements, for our services. Another negative is the reduced availability of volunteer hours. People face increasing pressures in other areas of their lives and, as a result, they cannot volunteer as much. We have roughly the same number of members that we had some years ago but since the advent of the Celtic tiger, people have less time to give.

Training and updating of skills is extremely time consuming. One of the major campaigns in which we are currently involved is the promotion of AEDs or automated external defibrillators. These are basically heart start machines and members will have seen them on television. As regards the use of these machines, there is a 90 day recertification requirement for our members. We must, therefore, have anybody we train recertified within 90 days. This is in addition to their normal duties and training and it is particularly demanding. We expect an ongoing regular commitment from these people because when we make a commitment to provide the service, we must ensure that we will be in a position to do so. Another negative is the time spent on administration and fundraising. In order to provide our services, we must engage in fundraising.

There are a number of other issues facing our organisation. These are also faced by all voluntary organisations. There has been a general reduction in volunteering in recent years. The number volunteering has decreased, as has the number of hours for which people can volunteer. There is a lack of statutory funding in respect of volunteering. I referred to AEDs. We are obliged to pay VAT on these and the other equipment we purchase for our ambulances. Our organisation is also based in Northern Ireland. We are exempt in that jurisdiction but not in the Republic.

In addition, for instance, life saving equipment on fishing vessels is zero rated for VAT as is essential equipment such as automated external fibrillators. This should be examined. We have been informed this cannot be addressed because of EU regulations. However, this tax relief was provided as a result of a specific need of the fishing industry and it can be provided for our organisation if there is a will to do so.

The increased cost of insurance, equipment, premises and ambulances is another issue facing us. An ambulance can cost between €50,000 and €130,000 and we raise most of the money ourselves. Sometimes we are fortunate and we receive a small national lottery grant towards ambulances. However, a grant of €15,000 does not go far when a vehicle costs €130,000. Full-time resources are needed.

A worrying trend recently is that certain health authorities are competing with voluntary organisations such as ours for work we have done traditionally. Voluntary organisations have undertaken certain duties during the years but health authorities have begun to take these on and that is a worrying trend for us because we earn money for undertaking these duties, for example, at international golf tournaments and open air concerts. In one extraordinary case recently, the health board not only provided a significant number of personnel and vehicles but it engaged a private ambulance service to cover its statutory duty to provide front line ambulance services in the event of road traffic accidents. This is the same as the State putting its hand in the pockets of voluntary organisations and it flies in the face of Government policy to encourage and support the voluntary effort. Health boards depend on us in many areas to support them at events and in emergencies. However, this trend has emerged recently and it is affecting the three voluntary first aid societies in different ways. If it is not stopped, enormous damage will be done. It would not cost much but if the practice does not cease, it will have a detrimental effect on voluntary activity.

The reduction in the number volunteering is an issue as are lifestyle changes relating to education, career and two income families. If a couple wishes to buy a house nowadays, both partners must work. This means they have less time for voluntary activity. People trying to rear children are also conscious of the time they can afford to give to organisations such as ours. Other lifestyle changes include an increased range of recreational activities, greater disposable income, which means people can go on holiday more often and so on, and migration from rural to urban areas. More people are moving out of areas in our traditional base and we are losing volunteers. Other volunteering issues are the fundraising requirement placed on our members, the time spent on upskilling and training and work-life balance and its competing pressures.

With regard to our development, we will seek a wider geographical spread of our units; increase our penetration in terms of AEDs in order that more heart start machines will be available in communities; increase public first aid training; encourage wider community involvement; seek FETAC recognition of a number of our training courses, which is beginning to happen; deploy community based first responder teams — prior to an ambulance arriving at an incident, trained people should be present who can employ the necessary life saving skills; and seek additional full-time resources.

We need greater public awareness of voluntarism; an improved method of recruiting those who want to volunteer; additional resources to train more people in first aid; greater co-operation and integration with Departments and services — it is most important that the competition involving health authorities to which I referred ceases; increased State support, particularly in regard to VAT on life saving equipment; additional funding; and the provision of an official background check system for our youth workers. An important element of our work involves dealing with young people aged between ten and 16.

State authorities cannot provide us with this facility currently and this is important in the context of our stringent policy on child protection. We do not have access to resources to establish whether somebody has a record or has difficulties in this area but it can be provided. Such a facility was provided for the Special Olympics. More than 10,000 volunteers were checked by the Garda on this basis. State resources are available to do this but the will to do so and the funding are not. It is most important that such checks are conducted, particularly for organisations such as ours.

It is difficult not to be patronising when congratulating groups that appear before the committee on their work. Recently we heard about those who care for people who are seriously ill. While it may be the only activity in which they are engaged, it is an act of voluntarism. More than 250,000 people are volunteers. These hearings will focus the committee on the great deal of voluntary activity taking place. The four submissions were diverse but their overall goal was the same.

I will ask a few questions and will be followed by committee members. I ask witnesses to take notes of issues that relate to them. A number of the organisations are volunteer-led while others employ salaried officials. For example, Mr. Ward pointed out that no one working for the Order of Malta is paid. This raises two issues. Is it easy to strike a balance between operating with the professionalism needed to run an organisation while maintaining the ethos of volunteering? Is there a danger of creating professional voluntary organisations, which become an end in themselves for job creation resulting in a loss of their principal focus? Where salaried positions are the norm, does the guy who works from 6 p.m. onwards wonder what he or she is doing working late into the evening while the full-time workers go home? Is it becoming more difficult to strike a balance as charities legislation and other forms of accountability come into being?

During a previous hearing, it was pointed out there was a lack of recognition of volunteers. How should volunteers be recognised? Co-operation and competition between and within organisations is another issue. One witness stated his organisation was competing against others for volunteers. For example, what is the difference between the Order of Malta and the Irish Red Cross? Could two ambulances be deployed at different locations rather than at one? That is the advantage of co-operation over competition. Mr. Ward tells us the Order of Malta is competing against statutory agencies but is there competition even within the voluntary sector?

It is claimed that there is a ready supply of volunteers who are not being asked to volunteer. Some organisations answer that claim by saying they are asking for volunteers but cannot find them. Is there another way?

The Department of Foreign Affairs has a structure in place for overseas voluntarism. The Agency for Personal Service Overseas, APSO, has now been revamped. Is there a value in expanding that existing service, perhaps on an Internet basis, so that a volunteer in Derry or in Delhi could declare his or her interest in health, political activism or another area and register his or her statistics with a central group so that any organisation working in the relevant field could access him or her?

When someone wishes to volunteer, surely that person goes directly to the specific organisation he or she has in mind. Is it more appropriate for a volunteer to go directly to an organisation or to the Volunteer Centres Ireland network? The network and its national distribution depend on funding but it does not seem to have a nationwide distribution affecting every area in the country. A number of organisations have a similar objective to the network, that is, the identification and training of volunteers and so on. There are even similarities between the network and The Wheel, for example. Is there duplication between certain groups and could there be rationalisation which would make it easier for a Department to fund groups with a similar purpose or mission?

Mr. Peadar Ward referred to the youth of the members of his organisation. This is because young people hoping to go into the medical or nursing profession see the value of the training the Order of Malta provides and that the experience enhances their CVs. The age profile of the organisation is impressive and the exception among voluntary organisations. It is my experience that the age profile of voluntary organisations is constantly increasing. The people I knew in voluntary organisations in the 1970s are still there. A group of people across the country who became involved in voluntary organisations in the 1970s seem to be still involved in those organisations. In many cases this is because they cannot find people to replace them. Are there policies for attracting younger volunteers and what difficulties are involved in this? That is very important.

Many leave voluntary organisations because they are constantly asked to sell tickets and fundraise. This problem is directly related to the question of funding from the Central Fund. If an organisation is under pressure to fundraise, volunteers will be discouraged from becoming involved. I would like to hear the representatives' views on the connection between the decline in volunteering and the pressure on volunteers to fundraise for organisations. I am convinced that weariness with fundraising is a factor in the decline in volunteering. People often tell me they would like to become involved in voluntary organisations and use their expertise but they are only asked to fundraise. They wonder why funding cannot come from the Central Fund while they do the footwork.

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland is very well organised. I have first-hand knowledge of the Rosemary Centre in Tralee. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's disease seems to be on the increase and people must travel long distances to particular centres. Ms Keegan would, obviously, say that more funding would allow for the provision of more centres like the Rosemary Centre. I am sure the organisation finds it difficult to find volunteers because caring for patients with Alzheimer's disease can be difficult. I would like to hear what difficulties the society experiences in attracting volunteers.

It is interesting that the health boards are now competing with the Order of Malta in some parts of the country. Surely it is possible to come to some agreement. If the Order of Malta is doing a job well, which it is, it should get preference over a statutory agency which is funded from the Exchequer. If the Order of Malta can provide a service, it should be allowed to do so. When a voluntary organisation does not provide a service the health board is obliged to step in but when it can it should be allowed to do so.

The issue of statutory bodies such as health boards competing with organisations such as the Order of Malta should be addressed at this early stage. Competition should not develop in a random way. I have some knowledge of the ambulance service in Tramore. This issue needs to be addressed. It appears that the statutory sector is moving into servicing the more prestigious events, such as large concerts and golf tournaments which were traditionally serviced by voluntary organisations.

A number of witnesses have alluded to charities legislation. Is it the case that some fundraising projects provide very little of the money collected to the organisation concerned? There have been cases of the law being broken by fundraisers. Are witnesses aware of any such difficulties currently?

I would welcome FETAC recognition for courses provided by voluntary organisations. While someone who wants to have a career in the health sector may acquire valuable skills in an organisation such as the Order of Malta, those skills often do not have proper certification. Such organisations could work on an informal basis to provide a career path into the formal education sector. We are all aware of members of voluntary organisations who have a high standard of skill but cannot market that skill. Has there been any worthwhile progress, or can we expect any, with regard to representations to FETAC for accreditation of the various courses?

Has Alzheimer's disease, of which we have all become more aware, become more prevalent or is it just being diagnosed more often? Has it always been there but not been fully recognised? If it is on the increase, why is that so? What areas need to be addressed and resourced in that regard?

The voluntary and community sector is a wide-ranging group and it is no longer as easy to get volunteers as it once was. What efforts are being made at central level to streamline and avoid duplication in the structures surrounding community and voluntary activity? All is fine if progress is being made but if not, what main areas need to be addressed to maximise the return to the community from the various groups in the sector?

I welcome the representatives of the various organisations and congratulate them on the great work they do, sometimes in difficult circumstances. I am down in the pecking order on questions but I ask everyone to bear with me if I sound off the wall because there is a purpose to my questions.

I will focus on Mr. Ward's presentation on the Order of Malta. He provided interesting statistics and with his help I will try to extrapolate further information and examine whether the figures of other organisations correspond with his or can help us get a handle on the overall position. The Order of Malta currently has 4,000 volunteers and a staff to volunteer ratio of 1:1,000. Assuming there are four full-time employees whose average working year is 7,500 hours, their work amounts to 30,000 employee hours per year. However, the number of volunteer hours spent on administration in the Order of Malta organisation is 50,000 hours. Therefore, almost twice as much volunteer time is spent on administration as employee time and this time takes up just short of approximately 20% of total volunteer hours. Does it include training?

Mr. Ward


Therefore, training is normal activity and not administration support. I am trying to get a handle on the proportion of time for all organisations spent on administration. I am sure the majority of people who join the Order of Malta do not join to spend their time filling in forms and that the same is true for other organisations. My approach is to examine whether there is a possible role for a central body to assist in this area thereby releasing volunteer activity — approximately 20% of the total in any one year in the case of the Order of Malta. I am interested in the views of other contributors on this.

My second concern again relates specifically to the Order of Malta which seems to have significant capital tied up in its vehicle fleet and in premises required to house it. This concern does not apply to other organisations to the same extent. How much capital is involved in terms of property owned by the organisation? The Order of Malta spends much time and effort in administration, a significant element of which would be fundraising. It raises a lot of money but must equally have a lot tied up in fixed assets, whether vehicles or property. Can the figures and proportions be provided on that?

My final question is for all four delegations. If delegates were to achieve one objective as a result of their presentation today, what would they like it to be?

I thank all those who made presentations. Does anybody know the amount provided in the budget of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for this area?

It is €270,000.

That is not large. All the delegations lamented that voluntarism is in decline but Ms Nolan indicated that she did not agree. I attended a function in Dunmore House in my constituency last night where the same complaint was made that the number of people prepared to volunteer is diminishing. To what extent is this a result of legislative requirements?

People are afraid to become involved with helping others. We have a list as long as our arm of tribunals investigating people who involved themselves in the lives of others and as a result people would now rather give a wide berth to volunteering because they do not wish to have something like this visited on them. Of course there is no question that if someone did harm to a person it should be investigated. One-on-one involvement or interaction is required in volunteering nowadays and people do not want to get involved in something such as meals-on-wheels because they do not want to enter a vulnerable person's house lest aspersions be cast on them. To what extent do these difficulties affect the numbers of people becoming volunteers and is there a way around them?

We all depend on volunteers in some way and if we examine our lives we will see that a volunteer assists us in some way. I am not a vulnerable person but I know that some people working through volunteer organisations make my life better. I am sure we all recognise that.

Our canvass team.

Indeed. The Chair made a good point regarding duplication, which is a problem. My concern is that if matters are put on a statutory basis we may be investing in capital or bureaucracy rather than in providing money for those in need or for the support of the volunteer. My only reservation about a national centre for volunteering is that it may become a bureaucracy.

A good point was made about the Order of Malta and the Red Cross, how they work and do something different from other organisations. I do not wish to diminish in any way the work and support that either or any organisation gives. However, as a Member of the Dáil responsible for the efficient use of money made available, I want to ensure that we are not adding further bureaucracy. I would appreciate if those reservations could be allayed.

I welcome all those voluntary organisations which took the time to come here and make a presentation. We all agree that voluntarism is good for everybody, particularly for the volunteer. Volunteering provides tremendous satisfaction and enhances the lives of the volunteers who feel spiritually and mentally all the better for it.

I would like to see a group and a volunteer office in each county. There should be somebody to encourage, promote and market voluntarism and to act on behalf of all the voluntary organisations by holding open days. There should be an office to which people could go.

The market for volunteers is huge and getting bigger. It is noticeable in rural Ireland that many people are retiring at an earlier age. There are many people who are actively retired and want something to do. They want to be involved in the community but they need to be canvassed to become involved. I favour a situation where each volunteer organisation would have a well paid, hands-on CEO to oversee the running of the different committees.

I visited the west coast of America recently. I saw a fantastic operation in Oakland, California, where 3,000 people a day are fed in a magnificent Society of St. Vincent de Paul shelter. One paid employee co-ordinates everything. The volunteers work only one or two hours per week and there is no problem finding volunteers. Once they are given a name, these people will be called and asked whether they would consider working for a few hours a week.

People who have never worked in a voluntary organisation often do not realise what they have been missing until they do some voluntary work. One only gets out of something what one has put into it. The notion of grabbing and taking all and doing nothing for the community does not work; those people are not happy.

For example, yesterday Longford won the title of most improved town in the Tidy Towns competition. Many of those volunteers would not have been involved in voluntary organisations until a couple of years ago. They have derived much satisfaction from their involvement and some have been quite carried away and are perhaps doing too much.

Go raibh maith agat. Some of us might get carried away. Is the Deputy finished?

I am, thank you.

There is much interest in this subject. I spoke yesterday to somebody who mentioned a figure of 11,000 organisations. This committee has had only eight or 12 organisations before it to date. I am aware that each group here today could give a response that would last half a day and that would be a justified and well spent half day but there is another group of five organisations waiting to speak. I ask the forbearance of the visitors. I suggest that each group highlight a point of concern quickly and return to the committee with a written submission on what was requested as the groups will not be in a position to answer all the questions in the time provided now.

Deputy O'Malley spoke about volunteer numbers being down. As the manager of Tallaght volunteer group with a local volunteer centre in place, our experience is quite the opposite. Every year we have an increase in the number of volunteers, those who wish to become involved in the community. The statistics show that 45% of those people are aged between 16 and 25 years. The age profile of Tallaght is quite young but that is still a large number of young people volunteering. Of the people who come to us, 56% have never volunteered before. Not only are we getting young people but there is also a new market of those who have never done voluntary work. I believe that is due to the existence of the local volunteer centre.

One of the Deputies referred to duplication of services in local volunteer centres and queried why people did not go to the organisations. There are more than 200 organisations in Tallaght registered with our centre. To avoid the need for all those organisations having to source their own volunteer workers, it is much easier for them to register their work opportunities with the centre and let us do the looking. We promote voluntary work. We support people with disabilities and encourage local businesses and people from disadvantaged areas to become involved.

Deputy Kelly stated his wish to see a local volunteer centre in every county and that is our wish also. That is the infrastructure that is needed at present.

Ms Keegan

From the point of view of training, the challenge or difficulty is that many people who volunteer to work with us are former carers. They find it difficult to accept that there is a requirement for training in certain areas because they successfully cared for a family member at home and did not require training for that work. Some people regard this requirement as an imposition while others embrace it, as is the case in our information services. People who volunteer to work in that area feel that training is of great benefit. They staff the helpline and other information services.

We have a difficulty in attracting younger people. We are working to overcome that difficulty by aiming our awareness campaigns at the younger age groups. Our present campaign is called Hero Day which is aimed at transition year students throughout the country. It aims to take away some of the taboo associated with dementia, to show it is not something that should be shied away from or is embarrassing. Hopefully, it will cause young people to take an interest.

Questions were asked about the prevalence of dementia. It is present in approximately 1% of the population but that varies from rural to urban areas. Studies have shown that County Galway has probably the highest incidence with about 1.1%. The population concentration is younger in Dublin and, therefore, the prevalence is 0.78%. The reason the prevalence appears to be increasing is because people are living longer. This is to be welcomed but it puts extra stress on our resources.

The big problem is that GPs do not tend to give an early diagnosis. I presume that is because there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, there are drugs which can improve the quality of life for a number of years in the early stages. This will also improve the quality of life for family members and others as well as for the person with dementia. The problem is that there is a label associated with a diagnosis of dementia. There is a lack of resources in place for people with dementia. As a result, I think GPs sometimes call it "confusion" for the time being because adequate resources are not available.

A question was asked about the resources required for the care of those with Alzheimer's disease. There needs to be a continuum of care. There are various needs at the early, middle and late stages and that continuum is not there. When long-term care is required, it is very difficult to find nursing home places for people with dementia because of their special needs.

I am sorry to interrupt. The point about continuum of care and some other points could perhaps be put into the submission.

Ms Keegan

I have two points to make. We have used volunteer centres to find volunteers. It has worked well in the area of support activities but not so well in getting volunteers to become involved in our care activities. We do not seem to be able to get volunteers for that area in those centres. If there was a volunteering centre in every county, we would still have the same problem of competition. People would then need to go to their local volunteering centre to push their service in order that they can push it with their volunteers. It is like a vicious circle.

I hope something comes of this and that it is not just an end in itself.

It is also our aim. We are agreed on that.

Ms Garvey

I will focus on one issue in responding — I can respond to a number of issues in writing. The bottom line is that what I want to happen as a result of this meeting is for political will to be put behind the report, Tipping the Balance, in order that it can be progressed. It does not provide all the answers and much more work is needed, but it is a valuable piece of work. It involves the community and voluntary sector significantly and needs to be moved forward. It needs the resources in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs as well as the political will to move it forward. If that happens, it will have a trickle down effect for a number of other questions in terms of researching what is going on in terms of the value of volunteer effort, understanding the difference between voluntary work and voluntarism, and the work and the other issues faced by community and voluntary organisations, which is one of the reasons that there is confusion between our two organisations. They are actually connected. There is voluntarism on one side and the community and voluntary sector on the other. Therefore, Tipping the Balance gets my vote.

Mr. Ward

One or two issues were raised over questions of competition between organisations and so on. There is certainly competition for volunteers. I suppose the type of work which organisations like ours and the Irish Red Cross do is very similar. We would certainly have competition when trying to recruit volunteers. On a general basis, I would rather say there is friendly rivalry between the organisations and we work very well together when we work on particular projects. It is important to note that we strive to stay away from the area of competition.

I refer back to the foundation of the ambulance corps in Ireland in 1938. It was set up in Galway because that was the only large city with no first aid organisation at the time. Where we can we have continued that type of policy down the line. While of course in large cities like Dublin and Cork organisations like ours will exist side by side, in general in rural areas we strive not to get into competition with our sister organisations. I think there is a general policy on that and I would not like people to think that we are on one another's doorstep. It is in the interest of all our organisations to serve the community and we must do that in the best way.

I refer to recognition of volunteers. Our own organisation and a number of other organisations have a very structured system of awards for service, excellence and so on. We pride ourselves on this. We go out of our way to recognise people based on length of service or tasks they have done. It is very important that volunteers are thanked and recognised for what they do. We try to do it as best we can within the organisation.

The question of fundraising and professional fundraisers is one on which there is much discussion. Our organisation, the ambulance corps, has never engaged professional fundraisers. However, we have now reached a stage where I feel we cannot go any further. At our general meeting, which will take place in a few weeks in Killarney, this is one of the issues down for discussion. We just can no longer continue having people diverted from their work of training and actually carrying out first aid duty. We will have to seriously look at engaging professional fundraisers as nearly every other charity in the country has gone down that road already. Regulation of the area, which is a matter for the State, is particularly important and I know people have concerns about this matter.

I thank the representatives for their time this morning. I know their time is valuable and their contributions today have been important. While I would have preferred to have had more interaction, time constraints made that impossible. This meeting has not been an end in itself. We want to engage and take the matter further. If we need further clarification on any points as we go on, I hope the representatives will oblige us by interacting with us as we keep the process going.

A second group of representatives will now address the committee and I have no problem if anybody wants to stay and listen to the second half of the meeting. I thank our second group of representatives. I realise that most of them heard almost all of the first contributions and, therefore, understand from where we are coming in our discussions on the voluntary sector. They are again from a diverse set of backgrounds. The issues relate to co-operation and competition, and how to provide support and help. For organisations like the Irish Red Cross and GOAL, which operate internationally, there is a structure of supports within the Department of Foreign Affairs, on which I would be interested to hear their comments. Are such international organisations so different to volunteering nationally that the same issues do not apply?

I declare my interest. As I come from a musical background, the feis cheoil and development of musical services and supports are at the heart of where I am coming from. As with the first group, members of the committee have a privilege that does not extend to witnesses appearing before the committee. While this should not be a problem I am obliged to inform witnesses. I ask eachrepresentative to speak for a maximum of ten minutes and if we need more information we can then ask questions. When making their contributions, I ask the speakers to consider some of the points raised in the first half of the meeting.

Mr. James Doorley

I thank you, Chairman, and members of the committee for inviting us. I appear on behalf of the National Youth Council of Ireland, which is a representative body for approximately 50 voluntary youth organisations. It was established in 1967 and exists to represent the interests of young people and youth organisations. Our body is recognised in legislation and is a social partner.

As one who has been involved in many voluntary activities and believes very strongly in volunteering, I am delighted the committee is having this discussion. NYCI has a long track record because the voluntary and youth sector in Ireland has been so dependent on volunteers. The council was very active in lobbying the Government to establish the National Committee on Volunteering in 2000. If one reads Tipping the Balance, one will see that chapter 5 deals specifically with young people and volunteering. We did some of the research in that regard on behalf of the national committee.

I wish to say a few words about volunteering from the council's perspective before I deal with the more specific issues raised. We believe in the philosophy expressed by the national committee in Australia during the International Year of the Volunteer. Its slogan referred to ordinary people doing extraordinary things and making extraordinary contributions. We very much believe in this. Volunteering should be viewed as a vital element of society, rather than merely in terms of the value of the services or activities provided. Volunteers provide many services and organise many activities which would not happen without their involvement. I suppose we feel it is much more than that, however. We feel when young people volunteer, they get the opportunity to develop social skills, learn to work with others in a team and gain knowledge and experience not normally provided in formal education settings. Our colleague from the Order of Malta explained the training they do. I am sure that young people learn many other skills as part of that training.

It is also the council's view that volunteering counteracts individualism and the consumerist idea that "everything I must do is for myself". Volunteering is about getting people to develop a sense of community, to work with others and experience the value of working with and for others. It gives young people an opportunity to learn soft skills which are valued within the employment sphere. I know that many employers value young people who have been involved in voluntary activities, shown leadership and organised activities. My personal experience is that the school system may have taught me when a battle was fought, but it may not have helped me to develop skills needed by employers such as event organisation.

As I said, the council wants and would welcome the opportunity to discuss volunteering and the contribution young people make to volunteering in Irish society. We believe there is a need to promote volunteering among young people. There is a concern about the "greying" of the voluntary sector. The concern that volunteering is becoming an activity for people who are retired was expressed, but that has not been our experience. As Ms Tricia Nolan of the Tallaght Volunteer Bureau said, the majority of young people want to volunteer, as is borne out by the research mentioned in Tipping the Balance. Young people are being turned off by the type of volunteering they are being asked to do, however. They want to do activities, of which they have a sense of ownership and in which they are involved. When they join groups, they do not want to be given tins to collect some money or brushes to sweep the floor. They might have to do such work, but they also want to do other types of activities and to use their skills.

The council would like to highlight the role of adult volunteers in the youth sector. Some 40,000 adults work with young people and youth groups. To bring it to a more local level, Deputy O'Shea might be interested to hear that a survey of 39 youth groups in Waterford has found that the groups have 15 full-time staff, 21 part-time staff and 275 volunteers. The figures demonstrate the ratio of volunteers to full-time staff. Without the volunteers, much of the work being done would not happen.

It has been shown that there is a strong tradition of volunteering in Ireland. However, there is a sense among the council and many volunteers that a great deal of lip-service is being paid to it and that it is being taken for granted. There is a danger that we will lose a great human resource. The Government needs to develop a coherent policy and strategy to promote volunteering. It is true that people have less time — they are time-poor. The State should recognise that it needs to do certain things to promote volunteering. I accept that organisations such as the National Youth Council of Ireland need to acknowledge that people have less time. We need to organise voluntary activities in a way that facilitates family and work life.

There is a great deal of disappointment and frustration in the voluntary sector as a result of the failure of the Government to act on Tipping the Balance which was published two years ago. There is a sense that very little has happened. As other speakers have said, the Government's primary role is to create the conditions for volunteering. The upcoming budget provides an opportunity for it to demonstrate its commitment to volunteers, volunteering and organisations involved in volunteering.

Not only does volunteering make sense from a societal perspective — it is great that people are volunteering and giving their time — it also makes economic sense. If one examines the youth sector, one will see that 40,000 people are providing services for young people which would not be provided if the people in question did not volunteer. It would be very costly to pay them. A 1995 survey showed that the contribution of volunteers was equal to the contribution of approximately 36,000 full-time workers. It might not have captured everybody.

The council believes the State has a role to play in promoting volunteering and supporting volunteers. Many are not aware of volunteering activities, or are somewhat unfamiliar with the concept of volunteering. We would like the Government to support a national information and promotional campaign to highlight and promote volunteering, particularly among young people. The campaign should argue that volunteering is of benefit to volunteers, others and the community as a whole.

The council has stated previously that approximately 40,000 volunteers are supporting the work of youth organisations. That organisations have 40,000 volunteers does not mean they are benefiting from free work. While it is the case that the people in question are not being paid, much expense is incurred and a great deal of support is required to recruit and retain them. One of the key issues faced by voluntary organisations is ensuring people have a positive experience when they come in the door. If their experience is negative, they will leave quickly. Some organisations have had no trouble in recruiting people, but the volunteers leave a few months down the road. We have to try to ensure organisations can retain volunteers.

The council would like a specific budget line to be put in place, to which voluntary organisations could apply when undertaking the recruitment, retention, recognition and management of their voluntary human resource. Many voluntary organisations receive funding to provide services — they may be given €20,000 to do certain work, for example — but they are not given resources to train or support their volunteers. Research shows that some groups, particularly disadvantaged groups, are less likely to volunteer. People of all groups and ages should have the opportunity and supports to volunteer, irrespective of their background, gender, disability or race. I know there have been discussions about specific pilot schemes to promote the engagement in voluntary activities of young people with disabilities and young people from different ethnic backgrounds. Such persons might need extra supports, but they have a big contribution to make.

Ms Deirdre Garvey from The Wheel mentioned the need for a coherent national approach to volunteering. We would like the recommendation in Tipping the Balance for a national policy on the part of the Government to be implemented. That would be very important. Volunteers and organisations involved in volunteering would benefit from a support and development structure in the form of a national centre for volunteering, supported by the Government but rooted in the voluntary and community sector. Tipping the Balance spoke of a statutory body, but the council is not in favour of such a body. It believes the centre should be in the voluntary sector. Patently, it has to be supported from somewhere. While we would like the Government to make a commitment on an incremental basis. we are not expecting it to happen tomorrow. A national centre would help to provide the policies, advise the Government and support the volunteering organisations.

Another important issue for volunteers is that of recognition. Most volunteers do not expect monetary reward for the work they do. As other colleagues have mentioned, however, some organisations do things to recognise the work of volunteers. The State should do likewise in an era in which people are time-poor. We are not talking about money but about recognition. Some ideas have emanated from our member organisations such as a "time off in lieu" holiday for volunteers. If somebody spends a week of their personal holidays volunteering, he or she could be rewarded with a day off in lieu, for example. A portfolio-type idea is pursued in respect of young people in other countries. A young person has a small booklet, the size of a passport, which is stamped to indicate what he or she has done, how many hours he or she has worked and where he or she has done it. He or she can then use it to show he or she has been involved in voluntary activities.

I do not believe the number of volunteers is reducing. People are volunteering differently. Perhaps the reason some volunteer organisations are experiencing difficulties is that people do not volunteer to do the same thing for life or 40 years. Many are willing to do different types of volunteering. Developed in the United States, the concept of virtual volunteering means, for example, that an accountant will do the books of an organisation without ever visiting its premises. He or she sends information via e-mail, organises everything, does the job and sends back the information. We must think creatively around the issue of volunteering.

As I stated, the State's role is to develop policy, provide national infrastructure and funding and perhaps engage in some form of promotional campaign to emphasise the value and benefit of volunteering, not only to the volunteer but also to the community and society in general.

Thank you, Chairman, for the opportunity to say a few words. As I am conscious of the time and the beautiful weather, I will not keep the joint committee for long. It was marvellous to hear the accounts of other organisations and the great work being done in the voluntary sector. We are very fortunate to be Irish. While I do not like to use the word too often, we are close to being unique in the commitment we give to others, both here and abroad. Although a number drift in and out to help in the GOAL office and so forth, we are primarily involved in sending people to the Third World. The organisation is, therefore, a slightly different operation from those of the other organisations represented here.

I remember, in April or May 1992, sponging a ride out of Baidoa, the cockpit of the famine in Somalia, on a US cargo aeroplane which had arrived to deliver some goods. I was still working as a journalist with the Evening Press and unfortunately had to return to Ireland to work. The only other person on the aeroplane which had obviously discharged its cargo was a doctor from the Arab League. As there was nobody else to talk to, he had to talk to me and we started chatting. When he heard I was from Ireland, he said it was “the caring nation”. He did not talk about beautiful women, green grass or the fact that we produce great rugby players such as Deputy Jim Glennon but spoke only of the caring nation. That was probably the most profound thing ever said to me by a non-Irish person in 27 years of involvement in the Third World because it demonstrated to me the great work of our missionaries which for some extraordinary reason remains unheralded. With due respect to those people in the United States, Britain and various other places who think they are great ambassadors and the non-governmental agencies and the people who represent them, the missionaries are the greatest ambassadors we have ever sent abroad. That statement proved to me that we have made an impression and, as an Irishman, I felt very proud.

GOAL has been involved in sending people to the Third World since we first sent, curiously enough, an Indian doctor I had poached from Calcutta to Cambodia during Pol Pot's genocide in 1978. Soon after, we sent a couple of nurses from Cork to Uganda and have been sending people to the Third World ever since. To date, we have sent approximately 1,200 people to about 40 countries. Most recently, we sent 20 people to western Darfur. Many of these extraordinarily courageous people have done a phenomenal job. In many ways the English language does not have a word to describe their bravery, about which little is known here because they are far away and Irish people are very insular in many ways. Even my own profession of journalism is insular in the manner in which it deals with such matters. We, in GOAL, have every right to be proud of the contribution the GOALies and the nation have made.

GOAL works in 13 countries. It has a staff of about 125 and approximately 2,200 local staff whom we pay which ensures they do the job well. Sending volunteers is central to our work. It needs to be understood that our volunteers must have professional skills. We are doing a professional job and the donors, including the Government, will not be satisfied unless a job is done professionally and properly. This is possible only if the people involved know what they are doing. It is not enough to have a heart and want to help the poor unless one can build a bridge or house, sink a well, help in childbirth or train somebody else to do so. Without such skills, volunteers are of no use to us. We have to turn down many with a heart of gold and the attitude of Mother Theresa who do not have the brainpower or ability to do the job because they would be of no benefit to us in the Third World.

People often say we could use local staff. There are considerable problems in this regard. Endemic corruption is the biggest obstacle to aid in practically every country in which we work. Given that the local government is totally corrupt, one needs people who are very bright and capable of getting around corruption to get the job done. Even hiring local people — as I stated we employ more than 2,000 local people — creates major problems as regards corruption and lack of education. The donor makes certain demands. What can we do if nobody on our staff has gone to school? We cannot suddenly do something about it. These are the problems one faces when working in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan or western Darfur.

It is not the people's fault they have not gone to school. They have been subjugated and terrorised by their governments. We, therefore, face a problem of getting local staff of the right quality. Once the United Nations is in town, it grabs all the top quality local people. Anybody who is educated is immediately seized upon by the United Nations. Given that larger agencies than GOAL will pay such people vast sums of money, we are in competition with a range of organisations. Nevertheless, the donor continues to demand that the job is done very well, which means we must send out quality people from Ireland, England or, if necessary, the North or South Pole. We will take anybody provided he or she has quality but getting it and being able to do the job is a very difficult task. I still believe it is easier to climb Mount Everest than to get aid to the poor.

In the 27 years GOAL has been operating we have received much praise from governments, including the US and British Governments, the United Nations and the European Union. We have also been praised regularly by our Ministers for Foreign Affairs. The GOALies have a record of doing the business. We are very proud of the impression we have made in the Third World. Since 1977, when we took £200 to Calcutta, our annual budget has grown to approximately €50 million, the bulk of which we receive from institutional donors which trust us to deliver. As most major donors do not want to get their feet wet, they subcontract to smaller organisations which go in and do the job which can be done only with quality people.

As members may have gathered, GOAL is heavily involved in advocacy. We view ourselves as witnesses. In areas such as western Darfur and Afghanistan there is usually nobody else around to tell the world what is really happening. In most cases, the government in question is kicking heads in. Somebody must have the courage to tell our Government that this is happening in order that, hopefully, it will have the moral fibre to do something meaningful about it. While this is the case in some circumstances, in most cases it is not.

It is very important that we have on the ground quality people who know what is happening and can recognise endemic corruption or that the government is terrorising its people. In turn, they will pass on this message in order that we can do our job here. Telling somebody the Titanic is sinking is more important that paddling in and out with a canoe. As organisations such as GOAL are able to save only a certain number, they will never be able to do the job alone. We see ourselves more as a catalyst and hope we can force governments to act. Thus far, I have been singularly unable to do this but we continue.

It is important to recognise the danger under which we work. In the old days, when GOAL started, it was not normal to have guns pointed at us. This type of behaviour is now prevalent and we are often the first line of defence — in western Darfur we are the only line of defence. If the Janjaweed militia decided to invade one of our camps, it could wipe out a dozen GOAL staff. Although this has not happened, there is not a single peacekeeper in the region to protect two million people in need or members of the aid community. The international community has washed its hands of Darfur because it is afraid of China and the possibility that oil might not flow from southern Sudan. That is a pathetic state of affairs. It is as bad as Rwanda and worse than what happened under Pol Pot. It is worse than any of the tragedies that have occurred because we know what is happening and still do not have the courage to do anything about it. That is the politicians' fault — including that of our Government. All governments are to blame. We should have the courage to leave the United Nations — if only temporarily — in protest at the fact that two million people are in danger of losing their lives.

Our GOALies are in danger of losing their lives. I will certainly point the finger at the Government if our people die in Darfur because I have been calling repeatedly for protection. We are only doctors, nurses and engineers, not soldiers. Why should we have to provide a ring of steel? Increasingly, this is the role not just of GOALies but of those involved in the Red Cross and all the other organisations, the Médecins Sans Frontières of this world. Many pay theultimate price. The reason we got out of Iraq recently was that it was too dangerous. The reason we got out of Afghanistan was also that it was too dangerous and the reason we will get out of western Darfur is that it will become too dangerous. That is very sad and not helpful to the poor who need our help but what can we do? As I said, we are only an aid agency but much too much is expected of us. We do not have that experience or the necessary equipment. We are just not geared for the role of being the world's policeman. The politicians have sat on their collective arse and done nothing about providing this force. There is little we can do about this other than continue to complain.

Other organisations have referred to the numbers coming to their attention. We have suffered quite a drop in the number who come to us. We are sending more money than we have ever sent but that is only because we have become a little more innovative. Probably only 40% of our aid workers are Irish, whereas previously the percentage was 90% or 100%. We are now getting people from the five continents. We would love to have more Irish workers because Irish women are tremendous performers in the field. They have a great level of common sense, commitment and dedication. They are also sensible. I do not know where they go as I do not see them around Ireland but by God they are in the Third World and they are fantastic. We are not getting them now. We would love to see that change. I think it is due to a combination of the Celtic tiger and the fact that we do not look after them well enough. We have huge competition. The big UN agencies pay huge money and poaching is the name of the game. Organisations like GOAL and Concern are deemed to be terrific training grounds. If somebody has worked with either GOAL or Concern, he or she is considered good and will be taken on. They will pay them a king's ransom. We cannot compete with this.

It is rare for me to have a crib. I did not slag Deputy Glennon that much during his short tenure on the Irish team. I am not just critical of the Government. Successive Governments have never fully recognised the gems they have in Concern and GOAL, which in one case has been in existence for 33 or 34 years and 27 years in ours. We have sent remarkable human beings to work in the Third World in the name of Ireland. It is we who have given Ireland a reputation, not the bilateral programme which has given us a lot of headaches in dealing with corrupt governments, which does not help anybody. I do not know why that ridiculously stupid policy is persisted with but sin scéal eile.

It is very wrong that Irish people and others working at the coalface are being told, "You will be given a rope to get half way down the World Trade Center when it goes on fire and if you complain, we will give you an extra little bit." That is what they are doing with us. They either want us to do the bloody job or they do not. It is getting to the stage where we will eventually throw the money back in the face of the Government and say, "Why are we giving this doctor one third of what he or she needs to do his or her job?" I feel like a Trappist monk of 99 being asked to take a vow of chastity. When will we eventually be told we are doing the job well and be given something else?

APSO was a failed entity. Despite my best efforts to close it down when I was a member of its board, thank heaven it was eventually closed down. It wasted about £15 million a year. All of its operatives were given full funding because it was Government run — another failed Government entity — yet we in the voluntary sector who are actually doing the job and praised for it, get one third of the cost. That is ludicrous, particularly when we are in competition with the big boys. That is the one thing that really upsets me. The Swiss Government fully supports the Red Cross, which it is right to do. Médecins Sans Frontières is helped so much by the French Government. Oxfam and FCF are helped by the British Government but for whatever reason, even though we are an insular nation, we love to look globally when it comes to this situation. I really find this very hard to understand and will not be satisfied by the business of incremental increases — that we are getting 10% more than last year. In response, I will refer to the rope coming down the World Trade Center. You either want the job done or you do not.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to volunteer. As far as we are concerned, we are at the end of this volunteer situation. I hope it does not become widespread but the numbers coming to us from Ireland are definitely declining. One of the reasons is that we cannot guarantee a structure for them into the future. They are not going to leave their good secure jobs in the knowledge that they do not know what will happen when they get back. I can promise them nothing because I do not have the resources. We are replacing people with a nine out of ten rating with people with a three out of ten rating. That is not fair to the people of the Third World. It will not continue because we will desist from sending anybody and the effort will diminish.

The capacity of organisations such as Concern and GOAL should be built up. That is common sense and would happen if it was a business. For some extraordinary reason, as an organisation we are told to build up the capacity of local organisations in the 40 or 50 countries in which we work. That is sensible and we do it. In some countries we have been paying the salaries of top doctors and other medical personnel for more than 20 years. I do this gladly because the quality of the people concerned is such that they, in turn, do phenomenal work for the poor. Why are we not built up in the same way? How is it that we have not got a single penny in 27 years? These are ludicrous situations which must be addressed by common sense. If we are stronger, we will be able to attract people, unlike APSO which was not able to do so. It was a failed entity. If we have proven we can do it, we should be helped. Instead, it is as if we are extracting teeth every time.

Obviously, I get annoyed when I see €400 million or €500 million being given to the most corrupt human beings on the planet. The volunteer ethic is a phenomenon. Ireland should be extraordinarily proud of the people who have come to so many organisations like ours, but in the case of the Third World we are certainly going to struggle unless there is serious thinking and intervention on the part of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

It is a great aspiration that the concept of common sense will kick in.

Mr. Tony Lawlor

John O'Shea is always a hard act to follow. I might be able to help him by giving him the names of a few good night clubs.

On behalf of the Irish Red Cross, I thank the committee for its invitation to address it on the challenge of enhancing volunteer opportunities in Ireland. I am vice-chairman of the Irish Red Cross and have been a volunteer in the organisation for the past 30 years. Our chairman, David Andrews, is a former Minister and Member of the House.

The Irish Red Cross is a private charitable organisation set up by an Act of the Oireachtas in 1938. Legislation was required to initially establish the organisation prior to what was quaintly known as the Emergency. All Red Cross organisations must sign up to the Geneva conventions and have respect for the Red Cross emblem. The organisation is charged with assisting the most vulnerable people at home and abroad. It is part of an international family of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in 181 countries.

The movement offers its services chiefly through a volunteer network comprising more than 100 million volunteer members worldwide. It is the largest humanitarian network around the globe. It is helping people in Florida who were displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Frances, assisting the Russian Red Cross with the provision of additional hospital equipment and toys in the aftermath of the horrendous tragedy in Beslan and addressing the considerable needs in the Darfur region, as referred to by John O'Shea. The Red Cross and Red Crescent approach to these crises is very much built on working with community based volunteers in addition to professional experts. Wherever there is a tragedy or a disaster, there are generally local volunteers who can be activated through the Red Cross and Red Crescent network.

Most of our volunteers are actually working in the casualty area, as is the case in respect of the Order of Malta, while most of the professional staff are focused on the overseas side. We have more than 4,000 volunteers in Ireland, distributed over 110 branches in 24 of the 26 counties. We have 30 local premises and our head office is based nearby in Merrion Square. Our staff is comprised of 16 members, of whom six are dealing with home services volunteers. The others deal with corporate financing and overseas programmes, support services, etc.

We have an ambulance fleet of 90 vehicles, half of which have been purchased in the past three years. This has been partly possible because of the support and grant assistance of the Minister for Health and Children. His Department has part-funded this programme, which we acknowledge. As is the case with GOAL, we receive some assistance in our relief operations from the Department of Foreign Affairs and its agencies, and from the public. Relief aid to the tune of many millions of euro is made available by the Irish Red Cross annually for various disaster and war zones.

We have about 20 relief staff abroad in the field, some of whom would have commenced their operations under the Red Cross. As is the experience of GOAL, the majority of our overseas delegates have a professional background in logistics, medicine, nursing, relief aid, etc. They would not necessarily have been volunteers.

In addition to our overseas activities, we are the leading provider of first aid training for the public in Ireland, providing voluntary ambulance services at many community, sports and social events around the country. We have a youth programme and provide community services for carers. We have administered, on behalf of Government, a humanitarian grant aid scheme for flood victims around the country, of which I am sure many Deputies and Senators are aware.

On the question of challenges to volunteering, in post-Celtic tiger Ireland the main issue is that we are cash-rich as a country but time-poor. In the context of adults, work pressures, family pressures, increased commuting times and perhaps, as Deputy Fiona O'Malley has mentioned, concerns about allegations or litigation associated with working as carers or leaders of young people are among the barriers which make volunteering less attractive than it has been. In the teenage category — I joined the organisation as a teenager — the school points race is a major issue. Part-time jobs, in which most teenagers are engaged, reduce their ability to engage in other activities. Sometimes peer pressure does not make it hip to be part of voluntary organisations. The twin scourges of the DVD and the demon drink do not help the task of making volunteering easy and selling it. It is not necessarily very cool among some groups. As has been stated, the main barrier to getting involved in voluntary activities is the lack of time. Also, people are put off joining voluntary organisations because of the unacceptable number of ongoing personality clashes and infighting which seems to be part of the Irish voluntary scene. Brendan Behan put it aptly when he said the first item on the agenda was always the split.

If we want to sustain the existing volunteer base, never mind increase it, a more enlightened approach to individual volunteers is needed on the part of voluntary organisations and the State. Such an approach needs to include explicit volunteer rights, clear missions with which people can identify and of which they can see the value, mentoring of new members to voluntary groups and a progressive approach to training and personal development. There also needs to be some recognition of the stress and burn-out factor affecting some volunteers, given the pressure exerted in providing services, some of which are essential if sports and other organisations are to continue providing their services.

Certainly, more support from State agencies would help. In tandem with other organisations, we would welcome the implementation of Tipping the Balance in its different guises, the broad thrust of which we certainly welcome. For example, there is no formal State programme for the provision of professional counselling for volunteers who might be traumatised after witnessing a death, mutilation or perhaps a serious accident involving a child in the event of their being part of a voluntary casualty service. There is also a need for inter-agency training in leadership, child protection principles and volunteer management which would apply across the board to many of the voluntary groups. Rather than having everyone tunnelling away individually, the tunnel could be dug collectively with some common training programmes. In this regard, we welcome the work that organisations such as Comhairle and the National Youth Council of Ireland have done in terms of joint training provision but clearly more needs to be done.

Funding for voluntary organisations from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs certainly needs to be enhanced. As we have elicited at the meeting this morning, the amounts in question seem relatively modest when one considers the scale of needs.

Just like Peadar Ward of the Order of Malta, we also call for VAT exemptions for voluntary organisations purchasing essential vehicles and equipment that have no commercial use and are purely for community purposes. This applies in other jurisdictions, including that of our neighbour. Why could it not apply here also?

In the post-11 September 2001 era, the State has not fully understood or attempted to utilise adequately the role that voluntary emergency services could play in the event of major emergencies occurring in Ireland. The landscape is changing in this regard. By definition, major emergencies will involve overwhelming State resources. Therefore, there should be greater inclusion of the voluntary emergency services in both rescue and casualty services. There is much expertise in this area that is not being tapped into adequately.

In some rural counties, particularly western counties, progress is being made on community first-responder schemes. Where these are in place, they have generally been very well supported by local communities. This reflects the fact that when people recognise a clear identifiable value in a service, they are more than willing to get involved. The roll-out of the Hanly report recommendations, if carried out, will underline the emphasis on these rural community first-responder schemes. The Irish Red Cross and other organisations are willing to get involved.

Among the opportunities available are personal training and development. We all have benefited as individuals from leadership training and other opportunities that would not have been afforded to us through our paid work or our daily lives.

I endorse Deputy O'Shea's comment on accreditation for training. State-accredited training would be useful for organisations in the context of FETAC and the casualty care area. The Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council, the body for the ambulance service, is quaintly known — not because of Fr. Jack — as PHECC. PHECC plans to accredit the voluntary services which provide first responders which will be a help. These will become the entry level qualifications for those who might want to join the full-time emergency services. The professionalism and training available are quite extraordinary and unrecognised.

The Central Statistics Office announced recently that the population had tipped four million for the first time in more than 150 years, partly due to the number of non-nationals living here, as well as the birth rate increase. In the voluntary sector we could and should do more to invite non-nationals to join our programmes and organisations. Given its international character, the Irish Red Cross is well placed to promote greater inclusiveness in this area. I thank the committee for its invitation to speak to it.

Mr. Seán Hegarty

We offer our sincerest thanks to the Chairman and members of the committee for the opportunity to make this presentation. Muintir na Tíre was set up in 1937 in an effort to build up local communities fractured by Civil War politics. Its philosophy of self-reliance and neighbourliness was underpinned by the core Christian principle "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". It has played a dynamic part in Irish society using the whole community within a parish boundary.

Muintir na Tíre introduced the first community development self-help model to Ireland which quickly spread around the country in the 1930s. It played a pivotal role in rural electrification in the 1940s and 1950s, in setting up group water schemes and introducing credit unions. It introduced the theory of community development from a social science perspective at a conference in Gormanstown in 1962 and its evolving community development practice was put into action in community councils introduced in the 1960s and 1970s. It set up Community Alert in the 1980s in response to a series of savage attacks on isolated elderly people, piloted citizens' information centres, an initiative now run countrywide by Comhairle, and pioneered community radio services. Its innovative training for trainers, piloted in the 1970s, led to the EU Leader programme in the late 1980s and 1990s. In all, it proved to be a catalyst for the emergence in Ireland of community based groups engaging in collective action to address local issues and was so described in the recent ADM report, Community Work in a Rural Setting.

This year Muintir na Tíre has two main fields of operation, namely, the network of approximately 120 community councils, rising to 200 at times, and a countrywide Community Alert programme run in partnership with the Garda Síochána. It involves approximately 1,300 groups outside the cities and large towns. These groups involve an estimated 99,000 volunteers in rural parishes, villages and small towns, many in sparsely populated areas where there is little else in terms of social support infrastructure. The 99,000 volunteers are responsible for all the work on the ground of community councils and Community Alert groups. A tiny staff of 3.5 people in head office and a team of five community development officers around the country support these groups. The work of the Community Alert groups is also supported by crime prevention officers at Garda divisional level and liaison gardaí at district level.

The work of the 99,000 volunteers includes service delivery such as crèches, day care services, voluntary housing and facilities management such as community halls, sports and leisure facilities. A couple of nights ago a Scotsman told me that all the community halls in Scotland were managed and funded by the local authorities. We are involved in community development, physical environment improvements, community safety and crime prevention, visits to vulnerable elderly people, advocacy and governance at local community level involving property, decision-making, planning etc.

While it is generally acknowledged that voluntary work can be good for one's health and spirit and offers opportunities for personal development, learning and personal fulfilment, if the work is under-resourced, tedious or over-burdensome, it can lead to stress, ill-health and burn-out. Volunteering burn-out is becoming increasingly common. Like Tony Lawlor, I have been involved in volunteering for 30 years but the burn-out has not hit yet.

Volunteering today is very different from that in 1939, 1963 or 1987. For example, there is now a significant administrative burden on volunteers. Muintir na Tíre is inundated with calls from volunteers freaked out by the complexities of the application form, an example of which I have here for anyone who wishes to look at it. The form was issued on 29 July for monitored alarms for elderly people and requires the volunteer to furnish his or her tax number, PPS number, last year's accounts, signed means-testing statements for each person plus two quotations for all equipment, all to be completed during the holiday season and submitted by 13 September. This clashes with harvest work. August was not a good month this year but happily the weather has dried up or the wheat would be lost. We must contact the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to facilitate our volunteers who are trying to complete these forms within the timeframe laid down.

The volunteers' work not only encompasses visiting people and encouraging vigilance in the community but complying with health and safety regulations, keeping accounts, complying with company law in some cases, dealing with the threat of litigation and the burden of high insurance costs, complying with the burdensome restrictions of the code for supervisors of young people, I can relate to the concerns of the National Youth Council of Ireland because we are usually charged with providing its adult leaders, otherwise they will not be allowed to start up under the present regulations, for example, Kevin Hickey from the council worked with us. These administrative burdens have major implications for voluntary organisations without paid staff. For example, community councils and Community Alert groups are entirely run by volunteers. Each responsibility mentioned is additional to the work for which they volunteered in the first instance. I refer to these as the administrative burden.

The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, stated to this committee on 19 February 2003:

I have not yet met a rural community that had not the wherewithal to get someone to do any job it needed. I wonder how churches and football grounds etc. were built if rural communities were so lacking in capacity for the last 50 years.

This statement probably reveals the reason so little progress has been made since 2002 in implementing the White Paper but it also ignores the significant changes in demands on volunteers. I have had toe-to-toe sessions with the Minister about this. Rural people have not lost the ability to do things but must now deal with the complexity of commissioning and paying for environmental impact studies, surveys and statements, dealing with architects, engineers, legal accounting and other technical and professional fields, as well as the fund-raising implications of their fees and the multi-annual planning procedure.

While the Minister has great experience of managing a co-operative in a community development sphere, it was a simpler world. Since then the 2000 Companies Act, all the new employment Acts, recent health and safety legislation as well as equality legislation have had a serious impact on the activities of community groups by increasing their administrative burden beyond anything with which the Minister had to deal in the 1980s. It is not that rural communities lacked capacity for the past 50 years, as the Minister rightly recognised, but that the situation in the 21st century places new demands on rural communities which must develop new capacities to meet those demands in order to play their part again.

The operational work of Muintir na Tíre volunteers includes running facilities such as village halls and community centres, village renewal and the Tidy Towns competition. I compliment my neighbouring town, Lismore, which won the competition this year and where 60 volunteers provided the core workforce to achieve that success. Our volunteers also focus on local area plans in villages, including my home place, Kilworth, where work proceeds on the bypass and speculators and developers have moved in to build houses at a density of 16 per acre. This has driven up the price of land to €250,000 per acre whereas we bought land for houses for the elderly for €35,000 an acre. Land is now outside the community's price range and there is no onus on the local authority to provide community centres or sites for such centres. Thankfully, through lobbying our county manager, we brought him round to our way of thinking. He went back to the developers and asked them to reconsider the last plan they had submitted, which ruled us out. If that field went, we would not have a community centre integrating and networking local activities and services, youth, civic, sports and cultural groups and social support. We act as a network in community councils. Where a youth group or the GAA is operating, we try to get people to come in, talk and organise. If a stand is to be built on the pitch, we try to get the other groups to pull back and let the GAA go ahead this year, since the cost might be €75,000. That is the sort of co-ordinating task we carry out.

On housing associations and housing for the elderly, members will be aware that the hospitals are dammed with people who cannot be released into centres after treatment. We believe every community should avail of the 95% grant available for houses for the elderly and have a unit. In that way, they could at least retain ten or 20 people who want to stay in their own community and are healthy enough to do so. Community safety and crime prevention are other tasks in which we engage.

The range of work is huge and it is also much more complicated than in the 1980s because the nature of life in the 21st century is more complex. Much of the work needs to be done day in, day out and much of it goes unsung. It is certainly not counted by economists or lauded in consultancy work carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, partnered by the local community council. It is not high profile, with the hat, T-shirt and names of the schoolchildren in the Special Olympics, the result of a tremendous effort by volunteers. It was led by those higher up in the Government and the GAA which provided a stadium, and professional back-up was provided to make it happen. However, the idea was right and it came to fruition in a tremendous success.

As I said, a member of our disgruntled community, an alert committee member in east Galway, recently stated all the hullabaloo about the Special Olympics volunteers would make one think that volunteering was a new invention. His 40 years of dedicated community involvement appeared worthless. If that man's feeling that his contribution is undervalued because it is not marked, acknowledged or celebrated is widespread among volunteers whose work is ongoing and unglamorous, future volunteering is in big trouble. I concur with the sentiments expressed so far this morning.

We will not have time to listen to the entire contribution which is on paper. Perhaps Mr. Hegarty will sketch a few points to which he would like to draw our attention.

Mr. Hegarty

We have made copies available to everyone. Perhaps some of the groups which spoke initially might be prepared to come back in to add something. I concur completely with what Ms Deirdre Garvey of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland said. I will skip on towards——

Tipping the Balance.

Mr. Hegarty

——on which we are all of one mind. We are aghast that development has not taken place. I have attended all the different fora in which the matter has been debated. It is inexplicable that it is not happening; I view it as one of the main functions of today's meeting.

I might touch on one or two themes. A great deal of research has gone into this presentation. I thank Ms Stella Coffey, our community co-ordinator, who dug out information from the Internet. When President Bush threw out his idea of volunteering in America, the volunteering organisations suddenly ran for cover. A cost is associated with volunteering that is not understood.

I will address the issues that affect our work. I have already mentioned the age profile. There has been a change in the range of skills. We are all aware of changing demographics and lifestyles. It is now officially accepted, because of the US experience, that volunteers cost money. We want to come to the Boston-Berlin approach. Regardless of whether I meet all those compatriots in different fora, we do not seem to be able to get it together. There must be a fundamental change in approach, something we got from the Internet. We have included some of it and have permission to circulate it. It is like what one does before one sprays weeds. If one adopts a system that will produce the crop and, perhaps through a rotation mechanism, not allow the weeds take hold, one need not get into the business of spraying. That is the kind of approach needed.

We move on to the recognition of volunteers. In England they use the Beacon-type approach. Here we have the Gaisce Awards. Some recognition must be given to volunteers immediately because of their declining numbers and the incidence of overload and burn-out. In Lismore there will be a celebration since it won the Tidy Towns competition. In our little place we were awarded six marks which is some recognition for us — thank God for the Tidy Towns competition. Newtownshandrum came up in the GAA club championships. Caltra came up in the football championship. There is recognition at that level, but for the day-to-day community work in which we engage, there is precious little. We suggest introducing a Beacon-type award.

I will consider the community and voluntary sectors, the White Paper and Tipping the Balance. I took over from Jim Quigley on the committee on volunteering after he died of a brain tumour. His wife still says all the blinding headaches he got through Muintir's voluntary activity led to it. When one examines the report that emerged, one sees what we have touched on and the inaction. They have already formed a sub-group of five which is lobbying for it. While we welcome the opportunity to present the story today, we would welcome action too. We look forward to this committee moving forward matters to the next stage.

There must be investment in volunteering. George Soros has said that, if he had his life to live over again, he would invest in people rather than commodities. There is a tremendous wealth of volunteering in Ireland and tremendous goodwill which must be tapped and resourced. I look to this committee to take matters in hand and to act from this day forth.

Ms Enid Chaloner

My organisation has now spent 109 years making a contribution to Irish life which is quite different from those mentioned by my colleagues. I would like to think that the feiseanna ceoil enable the artistic side of Irish life to gain recognition. They give it opportunities to develop. As I believe members have a copy of my notes, I will try to abbreviate slightly what I wrote.

We are very proud of the fact that we are now approaching our 109th festival. In those 109 years we have had one exception — 2001 — when we had to call it off because of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. As our activities take place in the RDS, it would not have been wise. That has been the only break in our tradition. The Feis Ceoil was formed by a really interesting group of people who came together in 1895. They represented such bodies as the Gaelic League and those interested in music in all its forms. It took them two years hard work, culminating in a meeting in the Mansion House in 1896 where an association was formed to mount the first Feis Ceoil that took place in Dublin in the Antient Concert Rooms by kind permission of the Royal University. We have had a competition every year since. The original aims that members will see on the hand-out remain the same, except we do not actually publish old Irish airs. I believe this will now be looked after as Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland, CMC, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and other bodies are doing those jobs extremely well.

As regards Feis Ceoil in the 21st century, we still continue to give a necessary platform to young performers from age nine upwards who all need experience in public. Not only are they provided with the opportunity to mix with others from all parts of Ireland, their performances are assessed against those of their peers. We always engage adjudicators from outside the country except in the national section area. These are all adjudicators with the highest possible qualifications and experience. Their brief is to be as helpful and encouraging as they possibly can be to all, while at the same time setting standards by choosing worthy winners. We do not run an international competition, but deliberately confine competitions to all those of Irish birth, children with at least one Irish parent and all bona fide residents in Ireland for two years prior to the competitions they enter. This final clause means that some people with strange surnames are quite legitimately entering our Irish competition. This points to the way everything is changing and is a welcome development.

Still continuing the tradition set by the founders, concerts by prize winners take place every year. In the old days these were big events, but today one such concert concludes the annual festival. A series of three takes place each autumn in the John Field Room of the National Concert Hall for which we are indebted to the vision of its director. The first one takes place this evening, by the way. There is one in St. Anne's Church, Dawson Street, on EU Day and one special prize of a solo concert in the John Field Room, known as the Mabel Swainson Award.

The administration of Feis Ceoil takes place from a little office in 37 Molesworth Street where we have been, since 1904. I circulated to committee members a description of how the administration works. The executive committee — all volunteers, independent and elected — is the governing body of Feis Ceoil. There are two honorary treasurers and a secretary for the music sub-committees that number 47 in total, also voluntary. They are the people who choose the music and adjudicators and see that standards are maintained. There is a membership secretary who might almost be regarded as being our volunteer expert. She is the person who contacts all those people. There is a concert secretary and a lady who calls herself the publications co-ordinator; this means that she does everything and really is a wonderful person. She gives time, beyond recognition, and is due enormous thanks, as are all the officers.

Only in recent times have we been able to afford an administrator of any kind. We are fortunate now in having an administrator who works for 16 hours a week, equivalent to four half-days. Everything else is done through volunteers. On the subject of volunteers, we are perpetually indebted to the many people who give of their time and expertise so graciously and generously. All jobs are done on a voluntary basis and we could not function without their help. Occasionally a young person will want work experience and we take him or her into the office and show how to stuff envelopes and lick stamps and do the necessary work volunteers do. Because of the specialised nature of Feis Ceoil all the people who are volunteers have some particular interest in the event. Some are parents of past participants, others were teachers and many have a great interest in young people and in the development of emerging talent. This is their reward. All have an intense interest in what they are doing.

As regards attracting volunteers, as mentioned by everybody else, the age profile is rising. Since we need people in some areas with specialised knowledge, we tend to seek them out rather than waiting for them to appear. The challenge now is to attract a younger age group that will in turn have the interest and dedication to continue the work begun in 1897. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our main sponsor, Siemens, to corporate sponsors and to those who contribute prize moneys and donations. Valuable bursaries are now awarded in the most senior classes, thanks to the generosity of some individuals and firms. For the past two years the RDS has awarded a special €10,000 bursary to the most outstanding prize winner of the feis. We are most grateful to the council of the RDS for making this award available. It goes without saying that this sum is of enormous help to young people on the verge of their professional careers. Many have been helped along the way by wonderfully talented accompanists who have assisted their search for success.

As mentioned, the venue in the early days was the Antient Concert Rooms, but then we moved to Middle Abbey Street. We moved to the Metropolitan Hall, the Abbey lecture hall, Scots church hall and sometimes the CIE hall. As there are 160 competitions that all need to run concurrently, we need a number of venues. In recent times we have been fortunate to work in association with the RDS, which is wonderful, as it means everything is under one roof. We are proud of our 109 year record. We feel that we continue to contribute a great deal to the musical life of our country and we have much yet to offer. The Feis Ceoil has been the early testing ground for many people who have been successful internationally, John McCormack, Bernadette Greevy and Veronica Dunne for example. A number of such people have brought their international expertise back and are now teaching young people who are winning €10,000 bursaries and in turn taking our name abroad. Although he was to win fame in another area, James Joyce was awarded a bronze medal in the vocal class. This medal was recently sold at auction in London for the sum of £21,000 sterling. Somebody has an idea of the value of the Feis Ceoil. We hope to continue our work and interest in promoting the development of music here and to see future international stars graduate through our endeavours.

The invitation to address the committee on the subject of volunteers and volunteering in Ireland was welcomed by Feis Ceoil. As has been said, the qualities required in volunteers in any organisation are interest, commitment, loyalty and a strong belief in the cause. I pay tribute to the numbers of volunteers in Feis Ceoil — in excess of 150 — who fulfil these criteria, are generous with their time and on whom we are heavily dependent. We hope we will continue to be able to attract volunteers with strong convictions concerning the place of music in our society and who are willing to follow in the footsteps of those who in 1895 had the vision to establish an association such as Feis Ceoil.

I am thinking of gathering all my Feis Ceoil medals to see whether I can make a couple of euros from them. I was listening to the radio this morning where the question was what were the characteristics that would make a good doctor. All sorts of statistics, facts and assumptions were explored. The conclusion was that a good doctor was someone who wanted to be a medical practitioner, not because of other external factors. The link here is that in volunteering, people tend to gravitate towards a type of activity or are encouraged into it because they want to be there.

I thank everyone for his or her contribution. Much time and effort has gone into all the documentation. I guarantee that anything in writing witnesses have not been able to say will be read and will be used to make progress. It has become obvious that there is much in common between different people from different sectors. The first issue on any agenda is usually the split. Political parties too are made up of volunteers and we can sympathise with what the witnesses have been saying. There is much convergence in what people are saying, and the solution must be easier because of this.

We got a great deal of very useful information this morning. As others have said, the implementation of the recommendations of Tipping the Balance is a continuing theme. Coming from practitioners in the field who stress the importance of implementing the recommendations of that report, it is something to which we can devote ourselves this year, with a view to getting the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs to move on it.

Mr. James Doorley's presentation is rooted in an area that has never been more important in our society. There must be structured outlets for young people in a society that unfortunately has crisis problems with alcohol. It is obvious to those of us who watch what happens that where good activity is organised for young people, many common anti-social habits do not develop. That presentation mentioned Tipping the Balance a couple of times.

What struck me about Mr. John O'Shea's presentation was that it is no longer possible to get the GOALies, as he termed them, from Ireland. More and more have to be recruited elsewhere. That is also something we see with the religious orders that have a base here. There are situations where members of those orders from the Third World make up the majority of overall members. As Mr. O'Shea rightly pointed out, we sent out our missionaries from this country and they often did not get the recognition and credit they deserved. Mr. Seán Hegarty brought up that point. We need a type of honours system here. It is important that people who devote a lifetime to the voluntary sector, the sports sector, or to the arts have their contributions recognised within their own lifetime.

Ms Enid Chaloner made a contribution on the Feis Ceoil and it seems to me that it is on a sound and solid footing. Highlighting the value of this event are the names of former contestants at Feis Ceoil. It is not one that we hear much about, except at certain times, but for all that it is very important.

I took a note from Mr. O'Shea's speech that referred to quality people. There are issues like the fact that two salaries are needed nowadays to provide a house, increased commuting time to and from Dublin and so on. I was pleased with Mr. Tony Lawlor's contribution. Like Mr. Peadar Ward of the Order of Malta, he is moving down the road of accreditation of the various courses that are provided by those organisations that deal in the health area. When I was a junior Minister at the Department of Health and Children, I became aware that under the community employment schemes, young and not so young people gained a high level of expertise caring for the intellectually disabled, other disabled people, older people and so on, yet they finished these courses with nothing to show for it. It was something I tried to address, but time ran out. It would have been possible with the NCVA to put in a component of 92 hours tuition over the term of the community employment scheme, in order that at least there would be something to show at the end of it. There should be an informal pathway to lead people into the education system, where they can go on and develop their skills to have them at the disposal of the community.

Those were somewhat wandering remarks, but there was so much in the session that it is hard to focus on anything except Tipping the Balance.

There is so much this morning to take in. It is a great opportunity to see the diverse works and different groups involved in the voluntary sector. Mr. Doorley spoke about trying to get volunteers into the youth sector. A common theme is that there is less time on people's hands and I know that is a factor in a complex situation. One of the issues that needs to be explored is apathy among young people from 12 to 30 years of age. Apathy is a sickness in society that we have to face and is a sickness that will discourage people from getting involved. In fact, it is difficult for young people to participate in sports and other activities, not to mind becoming leaders. There is a challenge in combating apathy in voluntarism.

I was interested by Mr. O'Shea's comment that recruitment to GOAL has gone from 100% Irish to 40% Irish. Young people need direction and there are people who would be interested in such work. More attempts should be made to connect with them. My only familiarity with GOAL is through television and other media. I know that Mr. O'Shea cannot get to them all personally, but his 20 minute contribution here was inspiring, was full of enthusiasm, ideals and anger. Young people can identify with that anger and enthusiasm. If there was more of a connection made with young people, through primary, secondary and third level institutions, possibly through the media, the sense of apathy can be turned around and people might feel they have a purpose. In addition, Mr. O'Shea's direction, influence and hands on contribution could inspire young people. Young people are easily led and they can be inspired. Positive contributions such as that of Mr. O'Shea can help.

This has been a positive meeting. I am sorry I cannot deal with all of the contributions but the work of all the organisations, from the ICA to the GAA and otherwise, is worthwhile. Volunteering is in the Irish psyche and, although there are complex challenges, I do not think it is in trouble.

I am sceptical about creating a centre for voluntarism because each group is unique and will find its own way. To have a centre would be to create another bureaucratic structure, which should not be the way forward. We are doing fine. While there are challenges for the future, we do not need another layer of bureaucracy.

I welcome the speakers and thank them for their contributions to society. Ireland has a marvellous tradition of voluntary work and I have always believed the old meitheal may have been the principal source of this. However, we live in a changing Ireland. The meitheal has gone, although its spirit still lives, certainly in some rural areas. People now live independent lives. The old dependency on neighbours, perhaps for a bottle of milk or some sugar, is gone and the door is no longer on the latch. The younger generation to which the organisations look for recruitment has grown up in this scenario. The organisations and the State should re-examine their roles. The tradition of voluntarism is not dying, quite the opposite. However, in our new society, the younger generation has become used to being fed rather than looking for its food, and the State has taken a major role in a variety of sectors of individual's lives.

There is a role for the State in educating our youth as to the value of voluntarism in conjunction with the voluntary bodies — I am thinking particularly of transition year modules. We should take another look at civics modules for transition years and ensure that modules are available in the areas of leadership and voluntarism, as this could reap rewards in the future. Coupled with an organised marketing and recruitment campaign on the part of the voluntary bodies, in conjunction with the State, this could keep the tradition of voluntarism alive. As I said, I do not believe the tradition is dying but it is in danger of demise in years to come. Nonetheless, a sufficiently clear memory of it survives with which we can regenerate and rejuvenate it.

What particular priority would representatives like addressed following today's meeting?

I am sorry I was not present for the contributions as I had to attend another meeting. The contributions will be of immense benefit to the committee. Obviously, there are many problems and frustrations which have been well expressed by the speakers at this meeting. It is clear that many people give of their time, in a way probably more then ever before. However, there has been a proliferation of organisations. I particularly note the cross-organisational involvement of many people. The same people are involved in different organisations within communities. This can lead to burn-out and to people becoming stale and frustrated, which is a problem. Organisations should be more streamlined and there should be increased joint use of facilities throughout the country. It strikes me that there is quite an overlap.

Like the GAA.

That is correct. There are some fine facilities——

Perhaps it could start giving them to the soccer lads.

That is no problem. I am totally in favour of it.

Is Mr. O'Shea trying to start another row?

Across the country, organisations receive grants to build their own centres close to each other when much money could be saved by joint use. At the beginning of this exercise, I thought we would listen to the various contributions and then produce a report. I hoped something more definite than a report might emerge because there is scope for improvement. One area where improvement is possible is training. I note the voluntary groups with which I am involved are not connecting with the national organisations and I see little evidence of systems of training of volunteers or training locations. The lack of counselling is another issue. I do not know if there is counselling although perhaps I am wrong in this. I am involved in perhaps seven or eight different organisations but do not know of training or counselling taking place. Is this because people are not doing their jobs or because they do not have the resources to do them? I am sure it is the latter.

On another point, if GOAL wanted, for example, to send medical personnel to Africa, is any system in operation whereby they could get leave of absence with pay from their jobs in order to do missionary work?

If Deputy Deenihan opted out of politics for a year, somebody else would take his place in north Kerry, and the situation he refers to is similar.

Not exactly. One cannot take leave of absence from politics without losing out.

One cannot take maternity leave from politics.

Nonetheless, nurses and teachers take leave of absence. Is this a possibility for GOAL? It is clear that the organisation is in trouble having gone from 100% Irish to 40% Irish. To return to the point made by Deputy Glennon, what priorities would the delegates wish to have addressed to help their organisations?

That is the issue to which we are moving. The concept of collective tunnelling is important. It is a simple phrase but embraces much of what we have been talking about. Many speakers have raised the issue of recognition of volunteers. No matter how this is considered, it involves someone sitting behind a desk, in a room with a carpet, computer, lighting and heating, who must take certain measures to produce the certificate of recognition, yet, without personal development being recognised, the level of volunteers continuing to volunteer could be minimised. I see this as a balance between the professionalism of voluntarism and the expense of the ongoing costs of carpets, rooms, rents etc. versus the activities on which the organisations really wish to spend their resources.

I will not open up other issues other than to ask for a conclusion. I do not intend to open up the debate further but the simplification of forms is an important issue. Perhaps the Department should put in place a person to deal with that aspect, particularly with the new legislation coming forward, because every group will have to fill in forms and one telephone call to the person dealing with them might fast-track that process, regardless of whether it is Feis Ceoil or other organisation.

The point was made about where one starts in this process. In other words, how do people get to the stage where they can participate in a feis ceoil because they have to start by learning to play the tin whistle, piano or violin? Having a background as a musician I could talk to the committee for two years about this subject, let alone two hours. This is linked to the local feiseanna but they are on the way out in many cases. A report we produced earlier this year indicated that only 8% of schools in Donegal have any involvement with the feiseanna. That does not augur well for the future of feiseanna ceoil and we should be helping the existing process. It does not make any difference whether it is the feis ceoil or anything else, people are caught up in the same problem.

In terms of the Irish Red Cross, reference was made to greater inclusiveness but what about the cross-Border dimension? The ambulance in Derry is as important to me in my area of Donegal as the ambulance in Enniskillen is to the people of south Donegal. Arguments can be made on a cross-Border basis in that regard. The argument should stand in its own right but we must remember that we are working from the perspective of an all-Ireland economy.

I will draw the debate to a conclusion by asking the representatives what they would like to see come out of this meeting in terms of their organisations.

Mr. Doorley

That is a difficult question because it is not something that can be put into one sentence. An important element for me would be some sort of national information and awareness campaign which would mean that a young person could volunteer in his or her local community. That could be the same person who, ten years later, might want to be a GOAL volunteer. We have to recognise that it is not just about the now. Research has shown that people who volunteer at a young age might leave for ten years to build a house and raise a family but they tend to return to volunteering. Some sort of recognition would be welcome, not a certificate for James Doorley — my organisation does not do that — but it would be nice if the State recognised and supported volunteering as something of which we should be proud. That type of recognition would make people more likely to volunteer and realise that it is not all hard work, as Mr. Hegarty pointed out.

The State needs to examine its other policies also because there are aspects that prevent people who are unemployed, for example, from volunteering. I could spend another two hours going through a whole range of the beneficial aspects of volunteering but among young people in particular there is a rush to get the most points possible in their leaving certificate so they can get into college. The State promotes that while expecting young people to be involved in the community. Other European countries have a gap year in which young people can volunteer.

Deputy Glennon made the point that we should examine that system because we cannot have it both ways. We cannot have young people doing well in school and having pocket money and so on and then expect them to spend hours volunteering. That will not work. An information campaign that would promote volunteering internationally but also nationally is important. From the presentations made here today it is obvious that this area is a rich tapestry. It is not just volunteering; it comes in many different forms.

After 27 years in the business I am utterly convinced about the quality issue. If we want a job done in this life, whether it is trying to get somebody like Maurice Fitzgerald on the Kerry football team or someone out to Afghanistan, and we want a result, the person has to have quality. In all the other organisations we have heard about today, and all the others we have not heard about, there are quality people. The job of the State is to tap that potential to the full. The State failed miserably in the tapping of the potential of the missionary orders, which are now history. We do not want to let the great volunteer ethic die for want of intervention by the State. There is no point in involving the State in things that are useless. It should be involved in areas where there is potential. When we have the Maurice Fitzgerald-like person, we should invest in him and not in rubbish organisations that have consistently failed and which are spending more money on themselves than on the punters they are supposed to help. That requires some work and a bit of thought but if someone can run a four minute mile we must provide the facilities for him or her to do this. That has to be done but is not being done.

Senator McHugh made some interesting comments which I was delighted to hear because it reminded me of the apathy of young people, which is an important point. The Chairman asked what I would like to see come out of this meeting and it is to convince the members to use their influence within their own parties and in turn impress upon the Government the importance of what I term activity during the gap year. We should have a facility whereby we can take young people in the 18 and 19 age bracket who are wondering whether to go to university or do this, that or the other, out to the Third World for a short period, not to work because nobody can do a job in the Third World over a short period. That is a waste of time but if we expose young, intelligent people with enthusiasm to what is happening in the world, the committee has no idea the effect it would have on them. Not alone will the GOALies of this world benefit but all of these organisations will benefit because when those young people return here they will know everything about abject poverty.

I have never heard anybody who has worked in the Third World say a critical comment about Simon, the Irish Red Cross, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or other such organisations because they are aware of the tragedies on our doorsteps. If we do that we will breed a concerned — I should not be giving a plug for Concern — society. If we have a concerned society we will get the result we need but if people do not know anything about the Third World, they are in the dark.

We could bring these young people out to the Third World for a couple of weeks. I did that with my daughter when she was about 16 or 17. I brought her to Calcutta and exposed her to the situation there regarding child prostitution and children living in appalling conditions in slums and rubbish heaps. She did nothing about it for years. She went to university and then into business but then she suddenly turned to me and said, "Right Dad, it is time for me to get stuck in", and now she is totally committed. That came about not from my rantings and ravings at home, in pubs and various other places but from the fact that she had been exposed to the Third World.

The one aspect I feel strongly about is education. Our education system is a joke but that is scéal eile. If we educated people about the Third World we would be surprised at the outcome. Mandela became what he is today because of education. We must do that and the best place to do that is at the coalface, not from a book. That is why our bureaucrats mess up in so many areas.

That is concise.

Mr. Lawlor

A specific aspect that would resonate with our organisation is the value of State accreditation in existing training programmes, many of which are very useful, well structured and well delivered but do not benefit from some form of State accreditation. Taking up the points that others have raised, any such accreditation for training, which might be the FETAC system or in the casualty area for first responders, must also have a balance in terms of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy must be kept to a minimum while the benefit of the training carries on and there is recognition outside the organisation, perhaps even carrying on into one's professional life.

There has been much discussion about transition year and the gap year. The Irish Red Cross and other organisations in the field are actively involved in many secondary schools in first aid training at transition year level. That is an ideal opportunity to do that and it might help to open up the mind to other forms of service in terms of caring for people in an emergency and awakening a social conscience. Every weekend we have the tragedy of deaths in road traffic accidents but simple actions could be taken to save lives, such as opening airways, which could be taught to the thousands of students who do transition year. If education is for life, that would be a simple step to take. Anyone who participates in first aid training at transition year level or otherwise will gain knowledge of which perhaps many young people are not aware. They will learn about the vulnerability of the body, including that of the skull and the spine, and the fact that some injuries suffered in road accidents are irreparable. The State could help to raise awareness in that regard.

Recognition of voluntary work was mentioned by many. There is a need for greater recognition of voluntarism. President McAleese could perform a useful role in that regard, as her predecessors could have done. We have a constitutional hang-up about awards and titles, perhaps for historical reasons. We may want to deal with that issue and consider some system that would reflect and recognise the work of volunteers.

In terms of the cross-Border aspect mentioned by the Chairman, we work closely with the British Red Cross and would like to do more in that area. We involve its members in some of our exercises and events and vice versa. I hope the cross-Border dimension can be strengthened by the organisations. That is also an important objective.

Mr. Hegarty

I worked in dairy research in Moorepark for 29 years, for ten of which Joe Walsh was there. I was in the canteen when he introduced his first document on the small farmer. Initially I skipped over the preface to the document on systems thinking, but now I understand the point he made about not being able to get anything done when he was Minister. He entered politics and wanted to get something done in the same way as anyone who enters a voluntary organisation wants to get something done, but for some reason or another one cannot seem to achieve what one wants to get done.

We are trying to build community spirit. I am a member of the National Crime Council which examines public order and other issues. It all comes back to having a community, building a sense of community and a commitment to community into life. A television programme broadcast the other night showed how a recipient of a Morrison visa learned about community when he went to America. We want to teach people about having a sense of community at home. That is the aspect about which I was enthused when the systems thinking was picked out.

As a result of the complexity of the issues and the statutory measures involved in the voluntary work in which we are engaged, we need to stand back and take a fresh look at it in a manner similar to Tony Humphreys's work on lateral thinking. We need to have fresh thinking on it. I recommend that the committee explores that area. One can download information but one needs to examine the systems. One can analyse the problems that exist and come up with a solution, but one can find that in ten or 12 years' time such a solution may have created another problem. A fundamental review of the area is required. I would like a new systems thinking on the area to be initiated.

Ms Chaloner

Most of these projects, the details of which I have heard this morning, have been the result of the dreams of a dreamer. Without people like John O'Shea we would have a serious situation. Whether it is in the Irish Red Cross, the Feis Ceoil or some other area, what is needed will require imagination initially and volunteers to support it. I would very much like to think there would be a possibility of honouring people who have developed these organisations. They should be given recognition, help, where possible, and all the support they can be given for the needs they serve.

I appreciate this has been a long session but it was necessarily long because while we gave each individual a short time to contribute, there are many groups we want to reach to ensure we get the views of as broad a spectrum as possible. We have been doing that during the course of the last number of meetings. I thank the representatives for their time.

If issues arise as we move forward, I hope the representatives' organisation will remain open to interaction with us. If representatives think of a point they would have liked to make as they go out the door, they should feel free to make a written submission. We are asking organisations that do not come before the committee to make a written submission. If the representatives know of a community organisation or volunteer group that is fighting this corner or is interested in this issue, they should feel free to let it know that we are interested and want to keep the issue of voluntarism at the front of the Government's agenda. That is part of our role and will be part of our remit over the next number of months. I thank the representatives for their contributions.

Mr. Hegarty

Can I make a commercial point? A book on Muintir na Tíre by Fr. Mark Tierney of Glenstal will be launched in the Excel Centre in Tipperary on 22 September. It will cover the first 70 years of our organisation.

The joint committee went into private session at 1.25 p.m and adjourned at 1.30 p.m. until 2.15 p.m. on Wednesday, 15 September 2004.