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Adjournment Debate. - Regulation of Fund Raising.

Wednesday, 12 June 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 466 No. 7

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Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill Zoom on Máirín Quill Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for selecting this topic for discussion and the Minister of State, Deputy Burton, for coming in to reply. I would have liked the Minister for Justice to reply, but I am aware that she is in Northern Ireland on very important Government business and I respect that.

Charities are now big business. Despite an estimated annual turnover in excess of £300 million, the sector is totally unregulated and any group that appears to be concerned about a particular cause can set up as a charity and embark upon a programme of collecting money. Inevitably, the lack of regulation will lead, and I fear has already led, to sharp practice, trickery and [2046] fraud. Accordingly, I call on the Minister to put in place as a matter of urgency a proper national system of regulation and registration.

I wish to highlight a case which causes me grave concern and which was reported in a “Prime Time” programme on RTE about three weeks ago. I speak of the fundraising activities of what is called the All Ireland National Children's Hospice. To date that organisation has raised in excess of £1 million. It operates out of two premises in Cork city, one in Limerick, one in Kilkenny and one in Dublin. It has applied for and been issued with collection permits in each of these areas. The promise is that a hospice for sick children will be built to provide care for seriously ill and dying children. There is, however, no evidence that such a building has been put in place or is about to commence, nor is there evidence of any such building in the course of planning or preparation. Despite that fact and that it has never been recognised by medical authorities here, permits have been issued to that organisation up and down the country.

In the case of Cork city, 58 collection permits were issued, an average of one every five days. I understand from speaking to the chief superintendent in that city that all future permits are frozen. Why was that organisation issued with such a large number of permits when there was no evidence to demonstrate that a hospice was being put in place or that a hospice-type service was in the course of delivery or preparation. Was no one responsible for checking that the collectors represented a bona fide charity? Are those who organise charity collections accountable to anyone? What happens the donations they receive? What has been done with the £1 million collected by this organisation? I call on the Minister to initiate a full investigation into these matters and report back to the House.

There is a legitimate hospice in Cork city, St. Patrick's established by the Irish Sisters of Charity. That hospice has given, and continues to give outstanding [2047] service to people in the Cork city and surrounding areas. Some 40 per cent of its funding is raised on a voluntary basis. Can anyone imagine what it could do with the £1 million in question? How can this very worthy charity or any other legitimate charity continue to fund-raise successfully if groups such as the All Ireland Children's Hospice Organisation are allowed to continue collecting money while delivering nothing to the public.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Ms Burton): Information on Austin Currie Zoom on Austin Currie I thank Deputy Quill for raising this issue. Indeed I understand that she has been attempting to raise it on the Adjournment for some considerable time and I am glad to respond to the concerns which she mentioned.

The Deputy will, of course, appreciate that it is not open to me to comment in any detail on allegations of wrongdoing in relation to particular fund-raiding projects. It is, though part of my responsibilities to ensure that the legislative framework within which fund-raising takes place is as effective as possible in avoiding abuses. This is clearly an area which must be kept under constant review because when abuses take place — in other words where funds donated are misappropriated — not only are the notional beneficiaries deprived but that abuse gives rise to circumstances where the willingness of the public to donate to other charitable causes is called into question.

I am of course, aware of the case which has led the Deputy to raise this issue. Indeed, I have studied the initial report which my Department received from the Garda about the charity in question. A further report is awaited. The House will appreciate that I am constrained in what I can say about the case while that further report is awaited. I assure the House, however, that, if the Garda investigation at issue concludes that there has been a breach in the law, then, as a matter of course, the DPP will [2048] be consulted as to whether a prosecution should be initiated.

I can, however, inform the House about the approach which is being taken to the wider issue of charities legislation generally. There is a commitment in the Government policy agreement to overhaul existing legislation in the light of what has become known as the Costelloe report. I was very pleased on my appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Justice to be given specific responsibility in this regard. It is an area of social policy which I have examined in detail and it might be useful for me to outline in broad terms the type of issues which are being examined carefully in the context of the proposed legislation in this area.

Putting it simply, we want to achieve a situation where members of the public have confidence when they donate to charities while, at the same time, avoiding needless demands being placed on charitable organisations in terms of record keeping and so on. It is in this context that we are examining relevant areas of the law including: registration, accounting requirements, licensing of the various forms of fund-raising, professional fund-raisers and supervision and investigation by the registration authority.

In an effort to assist the process of bringing legislation in this area to fruition, some time ago I established an advisory group on charities. This group is made up of representatives of various charitable organisations and they will report to me very shortly. When that report is available to me, I hope to refer the matter to the Dáil Select Committee on Legislation and Security to allow Members of that committee to consider the issues involved.

The House will be well aware that there are clearly complex issues involved, but I think it will be clear from what I said tonight that the Government is determined to tackle these issues and, equally, it wishes all Members of the House to contribute to their resolution.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 13 June 1996.

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