Why charities should act ahead of regulation
Opinion: Throwing light on charity bosses’ salaries
This means the non-executive directors of Irish charities may continue to produce accounts as though they were commercial entities, although (as with the decision on how to remunerate their senior staff) they could elect to follow a standard more in keeping with what their most important stakeholder – the public – wants.
The appointment of an interim regulator of charities has been taken by many to indicate that new standards of transparency are just around the corner. But the civil servant in question has been careful in various public presentations to depress expectations.
Úna Ní Dhubhghaill was until recently head of the small charities regulation unit in the Department of Justice, a team that has been in place continuously since the 2009 legislation began to be prepared nearly 10 years ago. These officials, together with those in the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests, will presumably form the administrative core of the new authority, the members of which have yet to be appointed by the Minister for Justice.
According to a presentation which she gave recently in Dublin, the interim regulator’s first priorities will be: the establishment of a new office, liaison with Revenue to develop an initial Register of Charities; making contact with charities that already enjoy charitable tax relief, to verify or supplement register data; creating and publishing a register; registering new charities; developing and introducing reporting requirements; and developing delivery programmes for other statutory functions.
The register is required only to provide the public with the name and registered number of each charity, its charitable purpose, the names of its trustees, and the addresses in the State where it is registered and carries on its business.
This modest plan should surprise no one. The Minister for Justice until very recently was of the view that charity regulation was a luxury unaffordable in current economic circumstances, and he is reported as having provided a budget of just €960,000 for the operation of the authority until it becomes self-financing from the registration fees to be paid annually by charities.
Smart charities are not waiting for regulation: they recognise that transparency is at the heart of their relationship with the public, which in turn is the source of their greatest asset, trust.
Patricia Quinn is an adviser on non-profit governance. She was the founder and chief executive of Irish Nonprofits Knowledge Exchange