Report says many voluntary organisations operate out of self-interest
Review of voluntary sector criticises vested interests and lack of scrutiny
Charlie McCreevy: had referred to voluntary organisations and the sector as the “poverty industry”
Voluntary organisations that exist simply to perpetuate themselves are known within the public service as the “poverazzi industry”, according to a senior civil servant of at least 10 years’ standing.
The civil servant was one of several individuals interviewed in confidence to find out what they really thought of the voluntary sector.
A report titled In Other Words was commissioned by the Advocacy Initiative, which is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies. It was set up three years ago to help such organisations lobby the Government effectively for change.
The civil servant did not name the organisations about which he was talking but said there were some that had a vested interest in not solving the problems they were set up to resolve.
“I remember asking a particular project what they would do when they had sorted out the problem that they had been set up to address – and they had absolutely no notion,” he is quoted as saying.
The civil servant said the phrase “poverazzi industry”, which echoes that of Charlie McCreevy who referred to the “poverty industry”, is “cynical, maybe, but truthful too”.
Interviews for the report were carried out by researchers from organisations including Barnardos, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Refugee Council.
According to the report, there was “clear consensus” that the community and voluntary sector’s credibility, influence and power had suffered with the demise of social partnership with one expert adviser saying the sector was seen by “some elements of government as a vested interest”.
A civil servant said there was very little critical scrutiny of the way the sector was run, a “huge sense of entitlement” and “a huge unwillingness to be subject to any regulation”.
Those interviewed were also critical of unreasonable expectations, with one politician saying it was “enormously frustrating that in the context of a country that is totally broke, the voluntary sector hasn’t come up with any solutions and large sections of the sector just seem to see social justice advocacy as just advocating for more money for their organisations”.
There was praise, too, for the sector, with most interviewees acknowledging that community and voluntary organisations had an important role in formulating policy.
One semi-State official said the sector “can stop governments and the public sector and civil servants in particular doing stupid things which they are probably unaware of and that is a role which shouldn’t be sneezed at”.
A civil servant said good organisations could lobby effectively for change within the government and could make it harder for ministers to formulate adverse policies.