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Other Questions. - Charities Legislation.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 76. Mr. Quinn Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  when the promised consultation document will be pub lished to encourage public discussion on the nature of the legislative changes required in regard to charities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24467/02]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern): Information on Noel Ahern Zoom on Noel Ahern The White Paper on Supporting Voluntary Activity published in September 2000 recognised the need for a more modern legal framework for charities and stated the Government's commitment to ensuring the introduction of comprehensive legislation on regulation of charities and charitable fund-raising. The commitment to reform is restated in the programme for Government.

My Department engaged consultants early this year to undertake an examination of aspects of charity law, including a review of the literature on the law and a study of the regulatory environment in other jurisdictions. This review was finalised in recent weeks and is being considered by my Department.

Following consideration of that study I intend to commence work on the preparation of a consultation document which will serve to facilitate a public discussion on this important subject. The charity law review and the valuable work done in earlier reports will provide an important resource for this phase of the reform process. I am committed to consulting as widely as possible to ensure the production of legislation which will be both comprehensive and appropriate. The consultation document will be published at the earliest date consistent with a detailed consideration of the complex issues involved in reform.

In addition to this public consultation process, the White Paper on Supporting Voluntary Activity provides that the community and voluntary sector will be consulted on the legislation through the implementation and advisory group that was established by the Government to oversee implementation of the White Paper's recommendations.

Proposals for legislative reform in regard to charities and charitable fund-raising will be brought forward as soon as possible following completion of the consultation process.

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea Zoom on Brian O'Shea I thank the Minister of State for the comprehensive reply. Obviously there has been movement since the previous occasion on which he answered questions in the Dáil.

Does the Minister of State envisage that the consultation document will be published in the first half of next year? What type of document does he think it will be? It is important that the document is not filled with jargon and is comprehensible to people with a vested interest in the area as regards the charities in which they are involved.

The Commissioners for Charitable Donations and Bequests do not have statutory powers to keep a register of charities. Will the Minister of State consider this work being commenced [886] immediately on a non-statutory basis so that, along with the consultation, we would have an idea of the overall number of charities in the country? We have seen high estimates but I am unaware of any definitive figure in this regard.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern Zoom on Noel Ahern The consultants' report is being examined in the Department and I expect it to be published by summer. It is complex and we need time to examine it and work with interested groups. We want to make it as simple as possible and that is why, in addition to the public consultation phase, there will be consultation with the community and voluntary sector through the implementation and advisory group on the White Paper. We want to reach everyone and not just those directly involved.

What the Deputy said about the commissioners and the current set-up is true. One of the results of proper legislation will be regulation and control. At present, the only form of registration is with the Revenue Commissioners. I am not sure about trying to expand the role of the commissioners at this stage. There have been so many false dawns in regard to doing something proper in this area that I am inclined to think it would be better to proceed with the public consultation and pass the legislation to deal with the area properly. I do not know if what exists at present can be built upon. I hope we can proceed to the public consultation phase by summer.

Mr. Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle I presume the Minister of State is aware of the publication of a report by the Law Society on charity law reform. It is a comprehensive document which, I presume if the Minister of State or the Department had been aware of it earlier, might have done the job of a consultants' report and saved the Government a significant amount of money.

Will the Government respond formally to the document? Does the Minister of State understand people's anxiety about the need for reform of charities legislation because of the uncertainty of ensuring in terms of bequests and ongoing donations, that the money is delivered to charitable organisations that are bona fide and is used for the purposes to which the donator feels it should be used?

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford Zoom on Seymour Crawford Is the Minister of State satisfied there is sufficient control of charities? There are many of them and I have been led to believe some have been established in this country solely because there is no control and that this creates a chance for ripping people off. I have also been led to believe that young people are often used to raise funds that do not go in full or nearly in full to the charities specified.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern Zoom on Noel Ahern I am aware of the Law Society report to which Deputy Boyle referred and have welcomed it. It is a useful contribution to the debate and I met representatives of the society some weeks ago to discuss it. The Law Reform [887] Commission has the area of charities legislation on its programme. Whether it manages to issue a report in time is another issue. All these reports are welcome and will form part of the general information in making decisions.

There is anxiety about the lack of control. The only control is registration with the Revenue Commissioners. That is why we wish to engage in this process and implement proper legislation in the area. Charities have changed hugely but existing legislation is antiquated. It refers to collection buckets and such matters. Life has moved on and the area needs proper legislation.

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