Statements on the Charities Sector

February 4th, 2014

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout speaking on the issue of the Charities Sector: Statements. Seanad Éireann

I hope not to use all my time. I agree with what my colleagues have said, so I will not repeat, in particular, what my colleague, Senator Mary Ann O’Brien, has said. It is important to instil confidence and trust and also that there is ease of access to information. Senator Feargal Quinn gave us some examples from the US. I wish to pick up a point raised by Senator Mary Ann O’Brien in regard to the use of SORP and compliance and the proposal that all salaries above €75,000 be declared. We have had a huge focus on chief executive officers. I have seen organisations finding a way to skew this by employing their chief executive part-time but having other officials within organisations at much higher salaries on a full-time basis.

I wish to add to what Senator Mary Ann O’Brien said by proposing that we would know all salaries above €75,000. When I talk about salaries I am talking about the remuneration package, any health insurance benefits, pension benefits and anything extra, such as cars, that are not in the normal cut and thrust. I would also like to know how much time that person is giving to that job, whether it be 100% or 50%. In that way we should know pro rata what is their salary. We have seen organisations appear before various committees which have worked only part-time for a public service and part-time for a private service and yet seem to be able to get a multiple times salary for that work.

I am somewhat concerned over the use of the term “charity”, which is being used quite broadly. My real concern is over the use of public money and how the State is funding organisations. Regardless of whether an organisation is set up as a private company or a charity, I want to know that that public money is going to good use. I want the same scrutiny to apply to them and I do not want a public company to hide behind company law and claim that as a public company it does not need to declare this.

I have a concern where the State is funding 100% or 90% of some services. In those cases should the State not run the service rather than it being called a charity? I believe there is an historical legacy for us here. We have organisations which started with really good purposes – traditionally religious organisations providing services mainly in the medical field. They have now professionalised and are running organisations with multi-million euro budgets. However, if we question their work they will rely on that historical legacy to get them out of trouble. I have a major issue with that because the same yardstick should be used regardless of the service provided. There is an issue with the State funding some organisations which historically get an increase of 2% or a reduction of 5% on the previous year. It is just up or down with the normal trend and all organisations are dealt with by way of the same measure. There is an issue where no tenders are sought and no responsibility on the State to outline what service it is expecting for its money. Let organisations come in and bid to provide those services.

Did the Minister know that the new Child and Family Agency will fund 700 organisations? I still do not know what all those organisations are. We have a responsibility and we have an opportunity to change it.

The Minister is moving as quickly as he can on the issues of the regulator and the board. While the regulator needs to be resourced it needs to be given the teeth such that if it has a concern it can address it. I have come across statements at committees or in the media which I have read repeatedly and tried to understand what they are telling us. It is like a secret code and it is necessary to parse the words. I still do not know if I understand what they are telling us or if they are telling us the truth. When the regulator is set up, some organisations will rush to compliance, but I am worried about agencies that believe they will swing around to compliance or use such terms. If the regulator is not getting the information it needs about these organisations, we need to be sure we will be able to back it up.

I totally agree with my colleagues and simply wanted to add those comments.

Written Response