Wednesday, 27th March 2013
I welcome the Minister. I endorse everything my colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail has said, and thank him for all his work in the lead-up to the debate. I am honoured to second the motion on behalf of the Independent Group because, given the experience of each one of us, we all have tales and testimonies we could share with the House. The Senator started by showing us the figures from the Irish Nonprofit Knowledge Exchange of the number of people employed and the number of volunteers involved in community and voluntary organisations. That made me think of jobs. We regularly hear from the Government that one cannot create jobs but one can create the environment to sustain jobs. In the same say, the Government cannot create philanthropy but it can create an environment to encourage and sustain a culture of planned giving to charities and NGOs. What we are about is trying to ensure that the Government creates that environment and sustains that culture of planned giving. The report on the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising is a good start but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s update on how the recommendations are being implemented and, therefore, I do not want to pre-empt that. I have a fear that after the report is published each Minister will go back to his or her own Department and look within their own Departments. The reality is that as cuts are increasing, organisations are going from Department to Department. I could list several organisations that are funded by a multiple of Departments and the Departments do not know that they are funding organisations to do the same thing.
I wholly endorse what Senator Fiach Mac Conghail has said about the need for proper and consistent data and evidence. Before I was appointed as a Senator I did not know too much about the arts. I was a spectator in the arts and that was about it. However, I was very involved in the community and voluntary organisation sector. What we have found striking in the past two years is that the challenges and the landscape are akin. The challenge for civil society organisations and for charities is to realise that while our missions may differ, the environment in which we are working is similar. I will not begin to mention the challenge if the Government introduces, which I hope it does, a ban on alcohol advertising for sports organisations. There is an increasingly challenging environment without the recession and we also see the exit of the philanthropists, mainly Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation.
The reality is that many of the non-profit organisations that I know from the children and youth sector are involved in delivering essential public services across the length and breath of the country. The advocacy initiative is developing a report. One of the issues it raised a few weeks ago was the chilling effect. It made me think because a few weeks ago I shared, thanks to The Irish Times and the Irish Daily Mirror, my critique on the development of the planned new child and family support agency. Following publication, I was surprised by the level of correspondence and telephone calls I received from organisations. They wholeheartedly agreed with me but they did not wish to speak about it publicly. The new agency has a budget of €545 million, more than €100 million of which will go to organisations and NGOs to provide services, but as it cannot yet define or outline what these services will be organisations are on tender hooks. These organisations have direct first hand experience of working with most vulnerable children and could be invaluable advocates. On the other hand, I have a very positive example from my own experience, before becoming a Senator, having been chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance. At the end of 2006 we managed to negotiate with the Minister’s Department for multi-annual funding and from that we were able to leverage funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation. This comes back to my point about the Government creating a culture of planned and sustained giving. All too often organisations only find out in quarter one or quarter two of the year of expenditure what funding they will receive from the State.
No business could operate in this way. How does the Minister leverage funding from corporate organisations, philanthropists and others, when the Government is not creating that culture?
The Government needs to co-ordinate between the various Departments. We do not have information on how much funding the State gives in total to NGOs and charities. The Charities Act 2009 needs to be fully implemented. No doubt my colleague, Senator Mary Ann O’Brien will say more on this.
The Government should not limit how it can support the work of charities and NGOs in other works, obviously, through developing philanthropy and creating that culture but also through looking at the use of public buildings such as school buildings, which, in my experience of youth work organisations, are locked up every evening. In many cases, we cannot access school buildings and must hire commercial buildings. If one looks at the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012, the different rates being charged throughout the country to arts, sports and youth organisations do not create a even field. On a positive note, as I like to be positive as well, on the property tax I made the case in December last that charities that hold properties for hosting and accommodating activities for children and young people should be exempted from the property tax and I am happy that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, accepted my amendment and introduced the exemption to the property tax Bill.
The Government needs to create an environment to encourage and sustain a culture of planned giving to charities, and it does so by leading by example. It needs a co-ordinated approach to funding. Currently, there is a dearth of accurate and robust data on which to base public policy. This has been proven repeatedly and Senator Mac Conghail has really made the case for this. The State needs to be able to publicly and transparently account for how much it gives to each NGO and organisation. It needs to do that in a multiannual way, ensuring that outcomes are delivered on. It needs to invest in organisations to allow them to leverage and plan for their outcomes.
This debate today is a first step in looking at how we ensure that the challenges ahead can be faced together. I am concerned that everything happens within a Department, for example, one would assume that it is the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, under the youth service grant scheme, that gives most funding to youth work in Ireland but it is still the Garda youth diversion project. Do we wait for the problems to happen or do we invest early? By investing early the Government instills confidence, saying, “This is what it is about”. It means that when the Minister goes to organisations, he can ensure that the Government must have a way of having structured vehicles for major giving. It must have a social innovation fund so that we can have this transformative impact and change that we all want.
I read that we can decide governments through the ballot box but philanthropy is a way that the public can decide what it wishes to support and where it wishes to see social impact.