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 Header Item Prison Committals (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2014: Messages from Select Committees
 Header Item Charities (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Private Members]: Second Stage

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 827 No. 1

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] That would not mean that she could not continue to express her views, it would simply mean that she could not continue to break the law in circumstances giving rise to the potential to endanger others.

  While I deeply regret that any individual of this age should find himself or herself in prison, I find it extraordinary that Deputies would condone the activities of individuals entering on to runways-----

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris The Minister is condoning-----

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter -----endangering the lives of passengers-----

(Interruptions).

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter -----and endangering their own lives and apparently encouraging that type of activity as some desirable protest. It is extraordinary.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace It is about the principle-----

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt That concludes the Topical Issue Debate.

Estimates for Public Services 2014: Messages from Select Committees

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Select Sub-Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimate for Public Services for the year ending on 31 December 2014: Votes 29.

  The Select Sub-Committee on Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimates for Public Services for the year ending on 31 December 2014: Votes 33 and 34.

  The Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimate for Public Services for the year ending on 31 December 2014: Vote 25.

  The Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimate for Public Services for the year ending on 31 December 2014: Vote 30.

  The Select Sub-Committee on Children and Youth Affairs has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimate for Public Services for the year ending on 31 December 2014: Vote 40.

Charities (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Private Members]: Second Stage

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I move: "The the Bill be now read a Second Time."

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I understand the Deputy is sharing his time with Deputies Martin Ferris, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Jonathan O'Brien, Sandra McLellan and Michael Colreavy.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn That is correct.

  Sinn Féin is using its Private Members' business tonight and tomorrow night to debate our recently published Charities (Amendment) Bill 2014. As most Members of the House will already be aware, this Bill seeks to amend the Charities Act of 2009 by ensuring that all the provisions of that Act are fully enacted by 31 May 2014. It also seeks to add the "advancement of human rights" on to the definitions of charities eligible to be registered, as outlined in the charitable purpose section or section 3 of the 2009 Act.

  I want to take Members briefly through the purpose of the 2009 Act before going on to discuss our Bill. The original purpose of the Charities Act 2009 was to reform the law relating to charities. It aimed to ensure greater accountability, offer protection against abuse of charitable status and fraud and also to enhance public trust and confidence in charities and increase transparency in the sector. The Act provided for the creation of a new charities regulation infrastructure, a charities regulator, a register of charities, consultative panels to advise the regulator and a charity appeals tribunal, and the Act laid down, for the first time in primary legislation, a definition of charitable purposes. The Act meant that organisations, which wished to present themselves to the public as charities, or fundraise directly from the public for charitable purposes, will have to seek and secure inclusion in the new register of charities.

  What we in Sinn Féin have produced is a short and simple Bill which is of the utmost importance not only to charities but also to the public in what has escalated to a crisis following the Central Remedial Clinic scandal. Our Bill seeks to ensure that the 2009 Act is fully implemented once and for all.

  Since the foundation of this State charities have been unregulated. The effect of this is now doing untold damage both to the charities but, more important, to all of the vulnerable people who depend on them. In 2009 Fianna Fáil published a shiny piece of legislation claiming to regulate the charities sector but never implemented it, thereby failing the charities and public confidence in them. Labour and Fine Gael have had almost three years to rectify this by fully enacting all the provisions contained within the Act but instead they rested on their laurels and dragged their feet, allowing scandal after scandal until it got so big that they had no option but to agree to the establishment of a regulatory authority. I thank the Minister for finally listening to the charities sector and Sinn Féin on this one. Unfortunately the failure to act on this issue over the years is what has created the scandal we are now witnessing. The next logical step is to support our Bill tomorrow night and ensure that the entire infrastructure arising from the original Charities Act is fully implemented by May of this year.

  Despite the fact that it is welcome and certainly a step in the right direction, the establishment of a charities regulatory authority by Easter in isolation is simply not enough. We need all provisions of this Bill enacted and we need it done as soon as is possible. The most vulnerable in our society are already suffering massively due to the deeply unfair and unjust cutbacks implemented by this Government. The failure to fund many schemes, on which many of our most marginalised people depended, has meant that more and more people were relying on charities for their very survival. Economically and in terms of the protection of people's rights, the charities sector has often had to step in and do what the Government has ceased to do.

  The scandals which have erupted have, understandably, had a hugely negative effect on public confidence which has led to a dip in donations to charities. The recent revelations of generous salary top-up payments and gold-plated pensions paid from charitable funds at the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts hearings are proof that the sector needs regulation urgently. In a survey by The Wheel it was found that one in five charities around the country was facing a 10% dip in their donations even before the scandalous revelations about the Central Remedial Clinic this week. Of 150 charities surveyed, it found that 53% have suffered a drop in fundraising, 97% believe public trust has been lost and 54% believe the damage may be permanent. The survey also revealed that one in four has received concerned telephone calls or correspondence from donors or members of the public and 14% of volunteers, fundraisers or staff have been subjected to negative or abusive comments. It was also widely agreed by more than 80% that the Government had not done enough to implement the Charities Act 2009.

  The second aspect of our Bill relates to the inclusion of the "advancement of human rights" in the definitions under "charitable purpose" in section 3 of the Charities Bill 2009. This should never have been left out in 2009 and is seen as a serious omission. In other jurisdictions it is widely accepted that the advancement of human rights is a charitable purpose. There is also a knock-on effect in the failure to include this; for example, the principle of equivalence, which lies behind the Good Friday Agreement and which has directed much of the legislation in this area, is undermined as a result of this omission because as most of Members will know, human rights advocacy is afforded charitable status in the North.

  Despite the fact that existing human rights non-governmental organisations are protected, organisations established in the future to protect human rights will not be afforded charitable status. In addition, existing NGOs will encounter greater difficulties in raising funds because they will not meet the criteria set out in the legislation. The omission of human rights as a charitable purpose is a systematic and concerted assault on the human rights architecture of this State.

  The Minister will bring in a Bill to amalgamate the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority later this year. There have been concerns around the significant cuts to funding, particularly in terms of the Equality Authority where the chairman stood down because of the huge cuts and the inability of the authority to do its job. This State is internationally respected in terms of our human rights track record in developing countries. We are a world leader in terms of our contribution per capita to overseas development and in respect of what we donate to charities. That is something we in Ireland do well. It was a serious mistake not to establish the regulatory authority and also not to implement all of the provisions of the Act. We have an opportunity to debate this matter tonight and tomorrow night. The Minister has now taken an measure in this area and he could support this Private Members' Bill.


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