An Update On Key Issues Facing the Sector

Posted on
5 Jul 2019
by Ivan cooper, Director of Public Policy for The Wheel

We have been very busy since the Taoiseach’s address at Summit 2019 in May, working with members to identify solutions to the many pressing issues facing the sector: the lack of appreciation for the vital work done; the inadequacy of current funding levels; and the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of current approaches to contracts, compliance and regulation. We believe that when the sector is fully appreciated for the huge value it contributes, the services and supports it needs will be forthcoming.

In line with this belief, we are gearing up for a series of Autumn campaigns

In line with this belief, we are gearing up for a series of Autumn campaigns: transforming appreciation for the work of the sector; delivering new, sustainable funding models; and re-thinking contracts, compliance and regulation so they prioritise responsiveness, flexibility and innovation. These are the hallmarks of the community and voluntary approach, helping us to carry out vital work for those we represent and support. We are looking forward to our members actively participating in these campaigns and will be in touch with more information soon.

We took the opportunity to raise all of these issues and more at the National Economic Dialogue (NED) hosted by Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform on 26/27 June in Dublin Castle (more here).

We also welcomed Catherine Day (author of the Report of the Independent Review Group established to examine the role of voluntary organisations in publically funded health and personal social services (read here) to the June meeting of our HSE Members’ Network. The Wheel is now working with the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies, the Not for Profit Business AssociationDisability Federation of Ireland and the Voluntary Healthcare Forum on a joint approach towards implementation of the IRG report’s recommendations. These include:

  • a forum for dialogue between the sector and the Department of Health;
  • development of a charter for a new relationship;
  • agreement of essential services;
  • simplification of service agreements;
  • avoidance of duplication in reporting;
  • multi-annual budgeting;
  • a system to manage deficits; and
  • provision of governance training and supports for smaller organisations. 

All of these recommendations – and many more contained in this excellent report – have been widely welcomed in the sector. We will be campaigning hard over the coming months to ensure they are implemented.

While many government departments and agencies fund and support the work of community and voluntary organisations, the Department for Rural and Community Development (DRCD) leads on cross-cutting policy for the sector. DRCD have been very busy in recent months applying the finishing touches to two key strategies: the 10-year strategy for the community and voluntary sector and the National Policy for Social Enterprise 2019–2022. We have been centrally involved in drafting and shaping both of these key strategies which – along with the IRG report – will provide the developmental framework for the sector in the years ahead. 

The two strategies build on the Programme for Partnership Government commitment (p. 131), which we secured, to “produce a coherent policy framework and develop a strategy to support the community and voluntary sector”. The strategies include a range of initiatives around multiannual funding, streamlining compliance requirements, and increasing supports to social enterprises and community and voluntary organisations. We are looking forward to the strategies being published soon and implemented in the Autumn. DRCD is also working on a new Strategy for Volunteering which is expected towards the end of the year.

It is clear from the above that many of the most pressing issues raised by our members have been acknowledged in these key strategies and reports.

It is clear from the above that many of the most pressing issues raised by our members have been acknowledged in these key strategies and reports. The sector has moved from having a dearth of clear thinking to having many strategies and recommendations about our future. The challenge now is to turn ambitions and good intentions into practical changes to our day-to-day reality. Ensuring that the strategies and reports are implemented coherently will be key. It is often observed that we have no problem developing good strategies in Ireland, but that we fall down time and again on implementation! So we will be re-doubling our efforts in The Wheel to keep a clear focus on Government implementing and resourcing these positive strategies

As I mentioned earlier, we believe that showing the impact of the work of the sector will be key to securing the supports and services the sector needs to thrive, and we are planning a campaign around demonstrating the value of the sector’s work. Part of this will involve all of us getting better as organisations at capturing and demonstrating the impact of our work. To this end we have been working with Medtronic to develop a framework that will enable organisations to measure social value and the role they pay in society in a tangible way. We would like to invite all organisations interested in learning more about this framework – or indeed interested in taking part in a pilot we are planning. Register your interest with Elizabeth Bolger, Director of Programmes at The Wheel (

We are continuing to campaign strongly as members of the Alliance for Insurance Reform for Government to urgently address the unsustainable cost of insurance premiums. This was one of the issues we raised at the National Economic Dialogue (NED), and it was subsequently acknowledged as being a big issue. You can learn more about this campaigning work here .

We also noted at the NED the urgent need for action for Health Act Section-39-funded health and social service organisations to have funding increased to a level sufficient to enable them to retain staff. These organisations are seeking equity in pay and conditions between their staff and statutory counterparts providing similar services.

One or two other matters of interest include, firstly, the review of the Community Services Programme currently underway in DRCD. Over 350 organisations currently benefit from this €45M programme that enables organisations to employ staff to deliver community services, so the programme is very important. We are working to ensure that the reviewed programme continues to focus on high-quality community services, and we have been appointed to the Advisory Group to the review.  You can view our submission to the review here. Please email me ( if you would like to join our CSP network and be kept informed of developments in this space.

There is also a review of the Community Employment Social Inclusion Schemes underway at the moment too (being led by a cross-departmental group), so there is a lot of potential change coming in relation to how all of these community services and activation schemes work together in supporting quality services. The Wheel also made a submission to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on this review, which can be viewed here.

The Charities Regulator is undertaking a study looking at the feasibility of introducing a Charity-Passporting system

Additionally, the Charities Regulator is undertaking a study looking at the feasibility of introducing a Charity-Passporting system to reduce the duplication of reporting by charities to the many different funders and regulators to whom they must account. You can read our submission to the charity passporting consultation.

The advocacy work carried out by community and voluntary organisations is key to advancing their causes, and protecting this role is critical to a healthy democracy. We are working as members of the Coalition for Civil Society freedom to push for reform of the Electoral Acts, reducing the risk they present to vital advocacy work. Currently the Electoral Acts mean that advocacy organisations could find themselves being instructed to cease advocacy or even repay funds used for advocacy work, even though their advocacy has nothing to do with elections or referendums (which is what the acts were originally designed to protect). A recent article about how the Acts are affecting residents’ associations can be found here. You can learn more about what needs to change, and how those changes can be achieved in this article by The Wheel’s CEO, Deirdre Garvey.

Finally, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are relevant to all of our work and to the future sustainability of life on Earth, so it’s incumbent on all of us in the sector to lead by example and work to advance – and keep the spotlight on – the SDGs. We are working as members of the SDG 2030 Coalition to keep Government attention on meeting the targets. I would encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to review the SDGs, see how they relate to your mission and look at how you can raise awareness of the SDGs through your work. I would also encourage you to consider joining the SDG 2030 Coalition to support its work.