Independent TD Mattie McGrath has said that the failure of the Minister for Justice to act in relation to the establishment of an independent charity regulator undermines the capacity of local charities and community organisations to raise much needed funds.
Deputy McGrath was speaking amid growing fears that the charity sector is suffering from massive levels of public mistrust due to the scandals that have immersed organisations like the Central Remedial clinic and St Vincent’s Hospital Group.
“The 2009 Charities Act was specifically enacted to reform the law relating to charities and provide for the creation of a Charities Regulatory Authority and - for the first time in Ireland - a Register of Charities. It is astonishing then that from that date until now we are effectively in the same statutory position of having a gaping regulatory hole that has allowed the kinds of activities we have witnessed recently to occur. I am aware that charities in Ireland work in a complex legal and regulatory environment that may involves interacting with many different State institutions like the Revenue Commissioner, An Garda Siochana and Local Authorities but surely we could have some movement before now?
“In November 2011 at a conference in Dublin, Minister Shatter said that he could see then that we were not in a position to fully implement the Charities Act on a statutory basis; is he seriously to tell us however that over the intervening three years he has still found no way around the obstacles which existed at that time?”
The Minister for Health Dr James Reilly, when pressed about the absence of legislation in this area indicated that a Charities Regulator would be in place by the end of this year but could not be more specific than that. Meanwhile charities and other local groups and organisations have been counting the cost in terms of reluctance by the public to continue to donate to a sector whose credibility and transparency is now hugely affected, according to Deputy McGrath.
“I would sincerely hope that the level of mistrust that currently exists at the moment can be minimised and seen in the context of what are really the extraordinary levels of arrogance and greed that seem to have been operative in a few high profile charities. The real tragedy here is that the fantastic and vital work that is being carried out on a daily basis by the ordinary workers and staff in these institutions and those on a much smaller scale around the Country, must continue to be supported. We need to put in place effective accountability measures without over-burdening small charities with excessive red tape and allow them to pursue the hidden but heroic levels of public commitment that they give year in and year out,” he said.