Pulling plug on database 'may cost €200m'
Charity register:It was intended to shed light on one of the most opaque sectors in Irish society – a single searchable database on the 8,000 non-profit organisations registered in Ireland.
The inkex.iewebsite, built and operated by the Irish Nonprofits Knowledge Exchange (INKEx), went live in November 2011, on time and within budget.
The project’s €1.2 million costs had been pledged through a combination of government, philanthropic and corporate grants.
Once fully operational, INKEx planned to trade as a private entity, selling information on the sector to statutory and philanthropic bodies along the lines of the successful GuideStar model in the US.
However, barely a year after its launch the site is now defunct, and INKEx has ceased trading, at a potential cost to the State of €200 million over the next five years.
A message on its homepage reads: “We have suspended publication of the website pending the conclusion of discussions with funders.”
Starved of Government funds, its founder, Patricia Quinn, was forced to liquidate the organisation in June.
She said petitions to several Government departments for more funds had fallen on deaf ears. Ms Quinn, a former chief executive of the Arts Council, said the decision to pull the plug on the project was “extremely short-sighted” and would cost the State more in the long run.
Her team spent two years collating and digitising a mountain of data on Irish non-profits; everything from programmes and services to income sources and executive remuneration.
The establishment of a charities register remains one of the key elements of the now-deferred Charities Act, which is designed to improve regulation and transparency across the non-profit sector.
Ms Quinn said the database would have allowed public policy-makers a greater overview of the reach and extent of services and “a greater insight into what works”.
She said a single repository of information on the sector would also have significantly reduced the huge level of double-processing involved in the administration of public grants.
Currently multiple State bodies carry out due diligence on prospective grantees in isolation from each other. INKEx estimated that a one-stop shop for assessing charities would save government €200 million in double-processing over five years.
“There are important questions to ask, like whose lives are being affected by the services? Is there a material change in their circumstances? Is it progressive, is it sustainable? Are we gradually reducing the number of homeless people on the streets or are we just making homelessness less unbearable?”