Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Regulation of Charities
Question 47: To ask the Minister for Community; Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will indicate the consultation that has taken place with the charities sector to date regarding the implementation of a new regulatory framework for the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19059/10]
An inclusive, consultative approach has been adopted by my Department from the outset of the initiative to introduce a regulatory framework for charities in Ireland. In fact, the original Charities Bill was published only after an extensive public consultation process. As Deputy Ring is aware, this consultative approach continued during the passage of the Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas when many amendments were made to the Bill on the basis of views expressed by Members of both Houses and by the charities sector. I have no doubt that this open, consultative approach taken at all stages of the development of the legislation and its passage through the Oireachtas helped to improve the Bill substantially and contributed to the fact that the Act was broadly welcomed.
Now that the legislation has been enacted, I am committed to further consultation with the charities sector, especially in respect of of the financial and activity-related information charities will be required to provide to the proposed charities regulatory authority on an annual basis, a matter of considerable interest to the sector.
This process has already started in the framework of a wider consultation process being conducted by the Accountancy Standards Board, ASB, for the UK and Ireland relating to the future of UK and Ireland generally agreed accounting principles. The outcome of the Accountancy Standards Board process is likely to inform the approach taken to financial reporting for charities in Ireland as well as the UK. To ensure that Irish charities could have an input into the process, my Department co-hosted a conference in Dublin Castle in January 2010 with expert speakers from throughout the UK and Ireland. It was attended by more than 150 delegates from throughout the Irish charity sector and I understand it was regarded by the speakers as one of the most successful conferences of the entire ASB series.
It is intended to continue this work with the sector, especially in respect of future financial and activity reporting by charities under the Charities Act, through a targeted consultation process that will commence later this year.
Separately, and parallel to the statutory framework provided for in the Charities Act, my Department has committed funding to the charities sector to implement and monitor codes of practice on charitable fundraising. There has been extensive engagement with the sector since my Department first provided support for this project. An implementation group comprising representatives from the sector, persons with a public and donor perspective and professional support from the legal and accountancy professions has been established. Two national briefing sessions were held this year in Dublin and Cork to disseminate and promote the materials relating to the codes among the charities sector. I understand that both these sessions were well attended. These are just two examples of my Department's positive disposition towards consultation. Officials in my Department also interact with charities on an ongoing basis in respect of the Act.
The Minister, Deputy Pat Carey, was responsible, as Minister of State, for bringing the Charities Act through the House and will recall that I, as Fine Gael spokesperson, and Deputy Wall, as spokesman for the Labour Party, put significant work into the legislation. We had many briefings and met many groups throughout the State whose concerns we conveyed to the Minister. Deputy Wall and I were grateful that he dealt with many of our amendments on Committee Stage. It is now time to develop the process further. We read regularly in the national newspapers about the uncertainty surrounding some of those apparently collecting money and goods for charity. In some cases it has been discovered that money and goods collected are used for other purposes. Irish people are very generous and will always subscribe to worthy causes. We must all be confident that money and other types of donations to charity are used for the purpose indicated.
How many departmental officials are working to progress this legislation? Of the approximately 7,500 charities in operation, how many have thus far been included on the register? Does the Minister have the necessary funding to ensure the provisions of the Act are implemented so we can be sure that people collecting money or other items on behalf of charities are genuine? We do not want any more situations such as those with mass cards and clothing collections where donations were found not to be going to charity.
I thank Deputy Ring for his comments. The departmental unit has always been small, comprising a principal officer and two additional officials. As I pointed out when the legislation was being debated, it took four years in the United Kingdom, for example, for a framework to be developed. Consultations are ongoing in this regard together with the development, for instance, of the guidelines for best practice and the Guide Star project. It will probably take some time before we are ready for the commencement orders for the various sections of the Act. However, the resources required will not be extensive and it is expected that they will be accommodated within existing departmental resources.
When does the Minister expect the consultation process to be completed and the regulator to be in place? I accept it took time in other jurisdictions for similar frameworks to be established and that there is a significant amount of law to be dealt with. Is funding available within the Department to allow charities to access the register on-line?
We expect to provide an on-line facility. Among the jobs currently under way are the gathering of key data for the 7,500 holders of a charity number prior to establishment day, the dissolution of the Office of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland, the preparation of up to 25 sets of regulations, the appointment of the board and staff of the charity appeals tribunal, development of information technology systems, development of protocols for dealing with other statutory bodies likely to engage with the authority, development of the authority's website, and the preparation of forms and documentation required for the establishment day. Taking all of that into account, we are aiming for the end of next year for the establishment of the new authority.