The Wheel Reacts to the Programme for Government

The Programme for Government sets out a very ambitious set of objectives under a wide range of headers, many of which will have impacts on the work of community and voluntary organisations in the years ahead.  Although on the face of it lacking a clear statement of a grand vision for the community and voluntary sector in Irish society, the programme contains proposals that have the potential to positively transform the role of community and voluntary organisations, and put them at the heart of our society, in the years ahead.

Download the Programme for Government document here. (pdf, 2.7MB)

It is only potential however – if our sector cannot see the opportunities and work with the new government to ensure that these opportunities materialize positively for community and voluntary activity, then they have great negative potential too.  That is the case in any period of transformational change, and it is certainly the case now.

How these proposals are managed out will undoubtedly have profound implications for all of our work and for the people we serve.

While it is very positive that that during this time of recession and deep unemployment the Government acknowledges (on page 57) “the vital role of the community and voluntary sector working in partnership with local communities, State agencies and local authorities” there is, as already noted, a lack of a clearly articulated grand vision for the central role the community and voluntary sector plays - and will continue to play - in innovating solutions to our pressing social and economic challenges.

The Wheel will be working to ensure that the new government addresses this gap and develops a vision for our sector that:

  • Puts voluntary and community activity at the heart of Irish life.
  • Involves Ireland’s 7,900 charities and community and voluntary groups in social dialogue.
  • Delivers a comprehensive strategy to support and enable voluntary activity.

You will be aware that Phil Hogan TD has been appointed as Minister for the Environment and that the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs is to be disbanded, with the Community division being transferred across to the Department of the Environment.

The Wheel has continuously argued that Government should involve our sector in the badly needed process of public services reform and democratic renewal.

Full details of what this means for our sector are unclear – but I would like to reassure you that The Wheel will be monitoring the situation closely, and will be making contact with the Minister, and with any Ministers of State that may be appointed in the coming days, to meet with them and brief them on the role of the sector and the developmental agenda facing our members.

I would like at this point to draw your attention to some especially important

Commitments - which The Wheel welcomes and supports in principle (if they materialize positively) - from the Programme for Government that have the potential to positively impact our sector in the way I have suggested.

The Programme for Government notes that:

  • Public service is, and must remain, about serving the public, not making a profit. It is about serving the common good.
  • Government is too centralised and unaccountable and there must be a real shift in power from the State to the citizen.
  • Citizens have a basic right to key information on the performance of key services.

Amongst the very large number of wide ranging proposals, Government:

  • Will put resources into the hands of citizens to acquire services that are tailored to better suit their needs and less expensive for the taxpayer.
  • Will open up the delivery of public services to a range of providers where appropriate.
  • Will give schools, hospitals andother public service bodies new freedoms – within strict budgets and new accountability systems – to set their own staffing needs, automate routine processes and adapt work practices to local staff and customer needs.
  • Will establish a Constitutional Convention to consider comprehensive constitutional reform.
  • Will promote the development of a vibrant and effective social enterprise sector, will instruct agencies to view social enterprises as important stakeholders in rejuvenating local economies, and  will continue support for social innovation projects for young people trough education, community and voluntary structures.
  • Is committed to a fundamental reorganisation of local governance structures to allow for devolution of much greater decision-making to local people and will give local communities more control over transport and traffic, economic development, educational infrastructure, and local responses to crime and local healthcare needs.
  • Will move many of the functions currently being performed by agencies – such as community employment and enterprise supports – back to local government.
  • Will establish a new model of financing social interventions – called Social Impact Bonds that share audited exchequer savings with charitable and voluntary organizations.
  • Are committed to the 0.7% of GNP target for Overseas Development Aid and will seek to achieve this by 2015.
  • Will seek to capture some public good from NAMA by identifying buildings that have no commercial potential, and which might be suitable as local facilities for art and culture.
  • Will conduct a Comprehensive Spending Review to examine all areas of public spending and to develop multi-annual budget plans with a three-year time horizon.
  • Concrete mechanisms to improve performance, using a range of external standards and benchmarks, and to deal with persistent under-performance.
  • A new approach to government which empowers public servants by devolving more power.
  • Recognise the important role of Credit Unions as a volunteer co-operative movement and the distinction between them and other types of financial institutions and will establish a Commission to review the future of the credit union movement and make recommendations in relation to the most effective regulatory structure for Credit Unions, taking into account their not-for-profit mandate, their volunteer ethos and community focus.

The Wheel has continuously argued that Government should involve our sector in the badly needed process of public services reform and democratic renewal.

The Wheelbelieves that this Programme for Government, while being far from perfect, and accompanied as it inevitably will be by much pain and further budget cutting, presents a genuine opportunity to move citizens and communities closer to the heart of decision-making: and that has to be a good thing. 

Can we take the opportunity?

Download the Programme for Government document here. (pdf, 2.7MB)