Minister's failure to stop closure of Benefacts 'another state failure of transparency, data collection and analysis' - Mairéad Farrell TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure & Reform Mairéad Farrell TD said Minister McGrath’s failure to continue to the funding for Benefacts, the data collection, publication and analytics non-profit organisation is inexcusable.
Due to the termination of support from its lead Government funder, the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform, its 7-year project to transform the transparency and digital accessibility of Ireland’s €14 billion non -profit sector will cease in February and the workers will lose their jobs.
Teachta Farrell said:
“The new year has just began and already it seems that another failure of transparency is happening on Minister McGrath’s watch. It’s already acknowledged that our FOI regime is in crisis.
"His new proposed Protected Disclosures regime was roundly criticised in the Finance Committee’s report that was published before Christmas.
"And he is now allowing the outstanding and independent non-profit organisation Benefacts, which has provided open, transparent and expert analysis of a sector worth €14 billion, to go to the wall and their workers to be made redundant.
“This move makes absolutely no sense. It’s another own goal by this government. The likes of Revenue, TUSLA, the CSO and many Government Departments have all used Benefacts data, research and analytics services.
"Benefacts has even provided the Minister’s own officials with detailed information on pay and pensions in the sector.
"Benefacts is the data source relied on by Ireland’s official statistical authority, the CSO, whose detailed submission to his own Department points out that without it there is a significant gap in their ability to prepare the National Accounts.
"It provides important annual reports on the sector as a whole. Previously this state was threatened with a fine by Eurostat for failing to provide adequate data on the non profit sector, that was until Benefacts came along.
“It is generally accepted that this state needs to drastically improve its approach to data collection, publication and analysis.
"It’s something the incoming Information Commissioner acknowledged himself when he appeared before the Finance Committee before Christmas. This state has a Data Sharing and Governance act (2019) that’s been passed but not enacted.
"The pandemic funding we received from the EU is partly to go to setting up a shared government data services centre, and yet here we have an organisation that has been a leader in this, which could provide expert advice on this, and it can’t get the Department of Public Expenditure to continue the very small level of funding it receives.
"The cost of funding for Benefacts is minimal relative to the State’s outlay of €7bn. It’s grant is around €1.5 million, which in terms of DPER’s gross funding allocation for 2022 is less than 0.1%.
“Minister McGrath has been calling for greater transparency with regard to the charitable causes that the national lottery donates to. Is he not aware that this information has already been gathered, and is being published by the very organisation that is under his remit, doing so for free and about to go to the wall?
"There have been claims that this organisation, by providing services which could be considered of a commercial nature, poses a procurement risk. This is said to be acting as a deterrent for other Departments taking on its funding.
"This is completely ridiculous. Benefacts poses no more of a procurement risk than the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) or the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) which also provide services of a quasi-commercial nature.
“I am calling on Ministers McGrath and Smyth to intervene immediately. Benefacts has become one of the largest social enterprises in the state, a type of organisation which would seem to be in line with this government’s agenda.
"It also engages in expert data analysis and transparency including important annual reports on the sector as a whole, services it gives for free.”