Cantillon: Powerlessness of Charities Regulator comes to light

Sector a mess as key parts of Charities Act updated in 2009 are still not in place

Key parts of the Charities Act are still not in place, although the Minister belatedly promised to activate them by September in the wake of Console

Key parts of the Charities Act are still not in place, although the Minister belatedly promised to activate them by September in the wake of Console

 

As the dust settles on the Console fiasco, one issue has been thrown into sharp relief – the absolute powerlessness of the Charities Regulator.

The failure to pass an updated Charities Act until early 2009 was, in itself, a disgrace, exacerbated by the refusal of the then government to activate the regulator provided for in the legislation until 2014.

The priority attaching to preserving the integrity of the charities sector was illustrated best with the explanation that straitened economic circumstances meant funds could not be made available to fund the office.

When eventually a regulator and board were put in place, they bent to the task to setting out its policy framework and, crucially, of getting an estimated 4,000 charities to register. The deadline for registration was April 2015. Only 200 of an estimated 4,000 charities due to do so had signed up by that date.

In the meantime, the bad news piled up for the sector – CRC/Rehab, Console, St John of God are only the higher profile among a series of issues emerging in the sector.

Even as Console unravelled, the regulator explained, he was working to “persuade” charities to register so that the office could get up to running speed.

What is wrong with imposing a proper deadline and making quite clear – register by this date or you lose charity status with the Revenue and the ability to approach the Garda for permission to fundraise.

Meantime, key parts of the Act – Part 4, which empowers the regulator to investigate complaints rather than just passing them on, and Part 6, which deals with funding and governance of charities – are still not in place, although the Minister belatedly promised to activate them by September in the wake of Console.

Small wonder the charity sector is a mess, despite all the marvellous work undertaken. And if charities don’t want to make their work even more difficult than it now is, they really need to get their house – and that of the regulator – in order.

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