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Sinn Féin bring Charities (Amendment) Bill before Dáil during PMB - Mac Lochlainn

21 January, 2014 - by Pádraig Mac Lochlainn


Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, Pádraig MacLochlainn TD, introduced the Sinn Féin Charities (Amendment) Bill in the Dáil during Private Members Business. Below is the text of Deputy MacLochlainn's contribution.

 

Charities (Amendment) Bill 2014

Sinn Féin PMB

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD

21/01/2014

A Ceann Comhairle, Sinn Féin are using our Private Members Business tonight and tomorrow night to debate our recently published Charities (Amendment) Bill 2014.

As most of the 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 31st 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 just 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 the 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, who 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 here 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 CRC 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 that it is now doing untold damage both to the charities themselves but also to all of the vulnerable people who depend on them.

In 2009 Fianna Fáil published this 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 but instead they rested on their laurels, allowing scandal after scandal until it got so big 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 motion 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 which so many of our most marginalised people depended on has meant that more and more people were relying on charities for their very survival. 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 PAC Committee 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 were facing a 10% dip in their donations even before the scandalous revelations about the CRC this week.

Of 150 charities surveyed they 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 have received concerned phone 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 over 80% that the Government had not done enough to implement the Charities Act 2009.

The second aspect of our bill is regarding the inclusion of the ‘advancement of human rights’ in the definitions under ‘charitable purpose/ 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 you will know, human rights advocacy is afforded charitable status in the North.

Despite the fact that existing human rights NGOs 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.

It is clear to us in Sinn Féin that if we hadn’t put this on the agenda now then we may have been waiting until the end of the year or even until 2015 before any moves were made.

As I have already stated, we welcome the Ministers most recent commitment to the establishment of a Charities Regulatory Authority by Easter but we need more. We need the 2009 Act fully implemented to protect Charities and restore public confidence in the sector.

The damage which has been inflicted on this sector is immeasurable and we as legislators need to move quickly to help these charities as soon as possible.

We are calling for all party support tomorrow night on our motion.

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