Charities will pay unless regulation is fast-tracked
Tragedy in CRC debacle is that so much good work depends on public trust in our charities
Chairman and interim chief executive of the CRC, Jim Nugent, after a Public Accounts Committee meeting in Dublin to examine top-up payments at the CRC. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
There were so many jarring and blood-boiling moments during the appearance of Central Remedial Clinic board members at the Public Accounts Committee this week that it’s hard to pick one that is seared most into the public memory.
There was the casual way the use of charitable funds for topping up inflated six-figure salaries and pension pots was explained away. There was the slavish fixation on “entitlements” and “contracts” to explain why top-up funds could not legally be reduced.
Whichever aspect is the most objectionable, the assembled CRC representatives did a damn good job of demolishing public confidence in what – until very recently, at any rate – would have been among our most trusted institutions.
As of today, few people – rightly or wrongly – feel they can fully trust where their money is going when they donate to a charity. We have no regulator. No oversight. And no effective way of scrutinising what they do.
The great tragedy is that charities are an essential part of society – especially in a country such as ours which prides itself on the charitable work done at home and abroad over the years. In the most severe economic recession in a generation, charitable giving has continued at a surprisingly high level.
But when household budgets are under such acute pressure, it is hardly surprising that many are thinking long and hard about how much they are going to give, and to what cause.
That is why it is so important that the donating public should be sure that any charity soliciting funds really is what it claims to be, and does not abuse its status or raise money in morally or legally dubious ways.
If the public is to be assured of the integrity of the charities allowed to solicit donations, donors must have easy access to all the information they need about an organisation before they give money: information about how much staff are paid, administrative costs, how much funding comes from government.
It is the responsibility of the charities, and the fundraisers who work for them, to be transparent.
And it is now up to the Government to fulfil its pledge to establish a charity regulator who can finally provide proper oversight for this much-neglected area.
There was one striking moment during Wednesday’s 5½-hour shambles at the Public Accounts Committee which cut to the heart of the problems posed by the CRC debacle.
Board members were asked if they appreciated the fact that they were custodians of public money and had a moral duty to the State, the taxpayer and people with disabilities to ensure it was spent appropriately.