Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Charities proliferate because Governments dodge their dutiesSeptember 26, 2012 - 8:16am
The Labour Party Senator who wants more effective regulation of charities is right about one thing – there are too many of them. But John Whelan seems content to ignore the reason for their growth in numbers – it’s because successive Governments have abdicated their responsibilities and left them to somebody else.
It is down to charities like the Society of St Vincent de Paul to keep bread on the table for those that the Government has forced to live below the poverty line; COPE looks after those who have nowhere to live or who are victims of domestic violence – and Galway Hospice is one of the organisations that looks after the sick to make their end of life more comfortable and compassionate.
Barnardos looks after the welfare of children, and – if they are sick – charities like the Jack and Jill Foundation provides the respite care that the state refuses to.
Despite the fact that suicide is bordering on a national crisis, it is left to charities like Console or Pieta House to provide care and counselling for those vulnerable people who can get little or no help from state agencies unless they present themselves during normal office hours.
We could go on – but the bottom line is that this country is backboned by volunteerism; both because we’re lucky enough to live in a nation where people still care for each other, but equally because the state is happy to abdicate its responsibilities to any group or individual who has the generosity of spirit to offer help.
So when Senator John Whelan – a member of a body whose future is rightly under threat because of its fairly pathetic contribution to the national cause – decides he wants to sort out the charitable sector with more effective regulation, he might be better off looking at why we need so much charity in the first place.
He may have a point that 7,800 charities operating here is too much, but he’s utterly wrong to equate that with the fact that they collectively take in €6 billion a year while mentioning that some of that comes from state funding and grants.
It is precisely because the HSE doesn’t do its job that we rely on charities like the Hospice Movement to offer the care and compassion the state does not to people at the end of their lives.
It is because the state doesn’t have a proper plan or adequate facilities for those who are homeless that charities are part funded to pick up the slack.
There may well be a lack of accountability among some charities, but the vast majority of them – certainly the ones we all know; the ones run on a professional basis – are utterly transparent.
Indeed many of them have a constitution that limits the amount that can be spent on administration to the point that working for them is as much a vocation as a job.
And while admittedly the revelation of an investigation into allegations of missing money at the Irish Association of Suicidology might seem to lend credence to his stance, the fact is that this was reported by the body itself because of its own checking mechanism.
So for Senator Whelan to tar all charities with the one brush – and to imply that there’s something shadowy going on that can be sorted by stricter regulation – is hugely insulting to people who have given far more service to the public than he has.
His mealy-mouthed concession that ‘the charitable sector occupies a place of central importance in our society and economy’ contrasts rather starkly with the tone of his overall proposal.
He wants regulation so that the state can be saved some money; but he conveniently forgets that the state already saves even more by allowing others to do the job that they should be doing.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.