The Issues & Our Advocacy Work
Challenges Impacting the Work of the Sector
We work with our members to raise awareness of the challenges facing the community, voluntary and charity sector and the changes needed for the sector to thrive.
We will continue to work closely with our members to advance all issues pertinent to charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises through our campaigning and advocacy work and we will continue to raise the issues important to you including
- Regulation and compliance
- Insurance costs,
- Partnership and collaborative working
- Freedom to advocate
- And many more issues.
Read more about our ongoing representative advocacy and lobbying work.
What is Advocacy?
Advocacy is the act or process of supporting a cause. Within civil society, advocacy means taking action to help people express their needs, secure their rights and represent their interests. There are self-advocates and representative advocates, who work with and for the people they support.
For many of our members, advocacy means raising awareness of the needs of marginalised or disadvantaged groups, promoting improved provision, greater inclusion, equality and social justice.
There are different approaches to achieving advocacy objectives, principally:
- Internal activities: Participating within official policymaking spaces (engaging with politicians, civil servants and policy influencers), writing submissions to government, holding face to face meetings, sitting on government committees, etc. Lobbying forms a part of this as it involves influencing specific legislation or a policy process, such as the annual budget.
- External activities: Public and media campaigns as well as more direct activities such as protests or occupying spaces.
Do you want to start advocating for your organisation or your service users’ needs? Here are some useful resources to get you started:
Explore the issues, and how we are responding to them, in further detail:
Active citizenship is quite simply doing anything to express values or to achieve something for the common good.
Anyone in Ireland, regardless of nationality or residency status, can be an ‘active citizen’, and that is how we in The Wheel understand ‘citizenship’. Active citizenship can be done individually, but more often it is about collective activity and working together as part of community organisations. Often, people engage in this kind of activity through community and voluntary organisations which support active citizenship.
In Ireland, we compare favourably with our peers in terms of the rate at which we volunteer, but we don’t compare so favourably in our participation in democratic decision-making processes. Citizens’ juries, participatory budgeting and local community development groups are examples of ways in which governments can better engage people in the way that decisions are made. We need a strategy to maximise active citizenship and to more fully engage people in decision-making processes that shape their lives.
Furthermore, a person’s ability to be an active citizen is not always guaranteed. Some people are better able to participate than others are, so redressing economic, social and political power inequalities across Irish society is required to foster meaningful active citizenship for everyone. Addressing such power imbalances must start with ensuring (as argued by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice) that all people enjoy a minimum essential standard of living and have an income sufficient to live with dignity. But even when people are materially able to participate, much more needs to be done to ensure people can meaningfully participate in our democracy.
In November 2019, The Wheel, in collaboration with Carnegie UK Trust, published the Participating People report. The report is the culmination of a series of consultations known as The People's Conversation, which examined the barriers to actively participating in society in Ireland. This project has seen hundreds of people take part in engaged discussions about what needs to change to create a truly inclusive and participative Ireland, and produced four influential reports: Citizens Rising, Money Matters, A Two-Way Street and Powering Civil Society.
This final report draws together the thinking from all of this work and presents a blueprint of actions to support a more inclusive Ireland with a vision for active citizenship and a more enabling state. It focuses on active citizenship and how as citizens we can more proactively shape the society around us. The report comes at a time where active participation is more vital than ever. In recent years in particular, we have seen the power of ordinary people shaping the society we live in.
We launched the Participating People report with a special event at which some of Ireland’s leading change makers participated: Fr. Peter McVerry, lifelong campaigner in homelessness and poverty and founder of the Peter Mc Verry Trust; Salome Mbugua, Head of Operations and Strategy with AkiDwA and chair of the working group on Ireland’s Third National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security; Stephen Teap, Cervical Check campaigner and member of 221Plus Patient Support Group; and Molly Redmond, Student Climate Strike Activist with Fridays for Future.
This esteemed panel participated in a lively conversation with Dil Wickremasinghe (who recorded the event for her popular Insight Matters podcast). The conversation explored their personal journeys, motivations from moving from passive to active participants in shaping society as well as their insights and hopes for shaping our future through empowering people. You can read about the report launch here.
National Volunteering Strategy
Volunteering is also a form of active citizenship. It is through volunteering that people engage and work to achieve something for the common good, contributing to our democracy and to the formation of civic-minded citizens of the future. The actions of young people campaigning on climate issues is another example. The state has provided some very important recent innovations in participatory democracy such as Citizens’ assemblies and Public Participation Networks (PPNs) through which people can participte as volunteers in shaping public policy.
The Department for Rural and Community Development (DRCD) published the National Volunteering Strategy 2021 - 2025 in December 2020. The Wheel welcomes the publication of this strategy and advocates for the full implementation of the objectives therein, to support, resource and foster a vibrant environment for volunteering in Ireland. You can read more about the suite of strategies being developed by DRCD under the heading of Key Strategies for the Sector (further down this page).
The European Civic Forum – Stories from the Lockdown
In May 2020, The European Civic Forum launched the call for nomination Stories from the lockdown. The initiative was aimed at discovering and collecting inspiring stories of activists, associations, movements or groups of citizens who were organising during the crisis. Stories from the Lockdown was aimed at groups that were working around themes of solidarity and making policy proposals to ensure rights are at the centre of the response amid the COVID-19 crisis and in the context of a restricted civic space.
The Wheel was nominated for a Stories from the Lockdown award based on our work during the lockdown, together with a coalition of partners, to advocate for the €40 million Stability Fund for Charities and Social Enterprises implemented by the Department of Rural and Community Development. The fund is a symbol of important recognition by government of the vital work being done by organisations across civil society to support the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Wheel was delighted and honoured to be selected (out of such diverse, important and moving applications) as one of the seven laureates for this year’s Civic Pride Award. The Wheel nominated ICCL for their work in the area of monitoring human rights during the pandemic.
What We Are Working On?
In addition to our research work with Carnegie UK Trust, The Wheel’s public policy team continue to promote the development of active citizenship in Ireland through a range of channels.
We advocate for an increase in initiatives to better engage people and communities in democratic decision-making processes and in designing and controlling public services (such as participatory budgeting and greater use of citizens juries and citizens assemblies).
We believe more participatory governance processes and structures are needed across all public services if people are to fully participate in democratic decision-making. It’s time now for government to establish participatory governance framework (a set of rules and guidelines) to guide public authorities and state agencies in engaging with citizens and civil society organisations. Such a framework would empower people, singly and through organisations they are affiliated with, to be more active citizens able to participate directly in deliberations around public services and public policy generally.
We also believe that civil society organisations should do more to encourage and empower people to be active participants in organisational governance by modelling democratic, transparent and accountable practice in their own day to day activities. The community and voluntary sector should practice what it preaches in enabling people to shape the work of all of our organisations!
Social Value Ireland
Social impact measurement is an increasingly important field in Ireland and internationally. Social Value Ireland was conceived and is coordinated by The Wheel working with Quality Matters and Whitebarn Consulting. Social Value Ireland is affiliated to Social Value International.
The purpose of the SVI network is to support organisations and individuals to better understand good practice principles in working to maximise social impact and to capturing the impact of their work with a view to growing social value and creating better and more effective interventions.
While potentially very meaningful, social impact measurement is not always simple or easy. Working out the most appropriate methodologies, finding the time to develop strong data sets and using this information to arrive at practical ways to improve what we do, involves skills that requires continual development. The network aims to be place where interested professionals can find information and learn from experienced practitioners and likeminded peers.
More info can be found here - https://www.socialvalueireland.ie/
The promotion and development of active citizenship is included as a key ask in all of our recent campaigns including: Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community; Budget 2020: Investing in Communities; Local and European Elections 2019: Community Matters; and, General Election 2020: Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland.
Additionally, we believe that showing the impact of the work of the sector, and those who participate and volunteer through it, will be key to securing the supports and services the sector needs to thrive. To this end we are planning a campaign to commence late 2021 to demonstrate the value of the sector’s work.
Part of this will involve focusing on the vital role which charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises play in promoting Active Citizenship. As the organisations working most closely with marginalised communities, community and voluntary organisations have a key responsibility to understand and highlight the barriers to active and full participation in society. Civil society organisations are well placed to support and empower people and to advocate for the broadening of access to participation in all walks of active citizenship.
Britain officially exited the European Union on 31 January 2020. But what does this mean for community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises in both the Republic and Northern Ireland?
The years between 2016 and 2020 were shrouded with uncertainty as we waited to see what kind of Brexit we would get, and the impact that this would have on the charity, community and voluntary, and social enterprise sector on both sides of the border.
While the disastrous “hard” or “no deal” Brexit has been avoided for now, the future remains uncertain. A deal was approved by the UK parliament, but still needs to be accepted by the European Parliament. On 24 December 2020, the UK and the EU agreed to implement the deal on a temporary basis to allow the European Parliament time to review it and decide whether to make it permanent. The European Parliament was expected to finally ratify the treaty on 24 March 2021. However, recent disagreements between the UK and the EU, especially in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol, are further delaying the process and sparking further debate.
The result is that the full impact is not quite being felt yet. It is easy to overlook this potential threat to our sector, especially as a global pandemic dominates our focus, but this would be a mistake. Brexit is far from done, and remains a very real concern for the charity, community and voluntary, and social enterprise sector across the island of Ireland.
Currency fluctuations, disruption of cross-border activities, loss of funding due to economic fallout, and loss of collaboration opportunities with UK counterparts were just a few of the concerns that the sector has in relation to Brexit. Our member survey for 2020 revealed that 55 per cent believed that Brexit would have a direct impact on their work. Preparation is key but with limited time and resources, it is difficult for the sector to invest in fully preparing for the unknown. Moreover, the last year has been completely consumed by dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, which has had a devastating impact on both funding and service delivery.
On top of all of the economic and operational concerns that our members have in relation to Brexit is anxiety about the impact that it will have on vulnerable communities along the border and in Northern Ireland. Sector organisations have played an important role in promoting peace, reconciliation, and community development in this region, and Brexit threatens to destabilise and undo much of this work. As with all decisions that are made at policy level, it is communities and the organisations that support and represent them who will deal with the fallout, and will be left to pick up the pieces if things go wrong.
The Wheel welcomes the Government’s focus on the many facets of Brexit for the Republic of Ireland, and its efforts to prepare Ireland to weather any potential storms. We continue to work closely with Government to represent the needs of the sector in relation to Brexit, and to support the sector through this process.
A Summary of Brexit Concerns
Following engagement with our membership over the last three years and with our peer organisations in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, we have developed a list of concerns around Brexit for the community and voluntary sector generally.
The Wheel welcomes recent reassurances around the continuation of the Interreg and PEACE cross border programmes, but significant uncertainty remains around the long-term future of other vital programmes such as these.
All-island organisations face concerns around the development of further divergent regulatory requirements, which would add further costs and overheads to already-stretched resources.
Particularly for community-led organisations located near the border, Brexit will be an every-day potential disaster if people are prevented from crossing the border and engaging in activities together. This kind of cross-border activity is a key part of the daily work undertaken by community groups.
Many community-led organisations work with partners in the four jurisdictions of the UK and in other EU-based countries to draw down funds from European Programmes and to influence policy and thinking at EU level (e.g. Horizon 2020, Interreg). Brexit will create the following problems for them:
- As the UK jurisdictions will not be eligible, such organisations will have to carry the extra costs and learning curve / time needed of having to reach out to non-English speaking countries to find partners for transnational programme applications, as most funding applications require multiple partners in different countries. This will inevitably result in decreased funds coming to Ireland from these programmes, which means reduced services and that will affect communities and people.
- Without our UK-colleagues at the various European tables and forums with us, the strength of the voice of community-led organisations from rural areas at the policy-making tables of Europe will be significantly weakened. (This will have a significant impact across the private sector too.)
There will undoubtedly be implications, over time, on citizens’ rights as health and social care services that are organised cross-border become more complex and thus costlier.
Collaboration between people and organisations in ROI and Northern Ireland (and UK) for the public benefit (e.g. joint medical research, cooperation on security, protection of vulnerable groups) must be protected and enabled to continue and to develop.
What are we working on?
The Wheel is working closely with our counterparts NICVA (Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action) to identify opportunities for collaborative approaches to shared island challenges. We are also working closely with Government in initiatives to involve civil society north and south in responding to the many shared challenges our island faces.
Historically, Irish civil society has relied on the UK for partnerships and best practice models. Similarly, throughout the EU, the UK would have often been the go-to English-speaking partners for European funded projects. With Brexit, there is now a partnership gap for both Ireland and the other EU Member States.
For Ireland, it is important to start looking towards the wider EU for collaboration and inspiration and to fully capitalise on our status as an EU Member State and the many opportunities this provides for funding and development.
To support this, The Wheel is delivering an EU funding capacity building programme funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs called Access Europe. This 3-year programme provides information, training, and advice around all aspects of EU funding and policy relevant to civil society. Organisations can sign up for free and receive monthly updates about funding deadlines and free events and training.
Another key feature of Access Europe is partnership. Between 2021 – 2023, The Wheel will be focusing on creating opportunities for Irish civil society to connect with counterparts and stakeholders in Ireland and throughout Europe through a purpose-built partnership brokerage platform and networking events.
Below we have gathered some useful resource points around the impact of Brexit on community and voluntary organisations in Ireland, both from Government and from civil society sources. Please click on any of the headings to access these resources.
Getting Your Business Brexit Ready: Practical Steps (2019):
Brexit and You (2019):
Brexit and You: Northern Ireland:
Report of the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development – Brexit and the Border: The Impact on Rural Communities (2019):
Ireland and the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union: The Government’s Approach (2017):
Preparing for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Contingency Action Plan Update (2019):
Community and Voluntary Sector Resources Relevant to United-Kingdom-based Organisations:
National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO):
Brexit and the Voluntary Sector: Preparing for Change (2018):
The Impact of a No-Deal Brexit on Charities: NCVO Briefing (2019):
Charities and Brexit: Regardless of the Outcome, Preparation is Key (2019):
Northern Irish Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA):
Advice for community, voluntary and charitable organisations in Northern Ireland:
NICVA summary briefing on UK Government Brexit paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland:
Full set of Resources from The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action available here:
Brexit and Ireland
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission:
A Union that Strives for More - My Agenda for Europe
Mason, Hayes and Curran (business law firm):
Brexit: Charities and Not-for-Profits (2019):
Brexit Implications for Irish and UK Charities:
Brexit: Tax implications and VAT reform:
Media reports about charities shape the public’s attitude towards our sector. A few negative headlines about a handful of organisations have the potential to cultivate negative attitudes and pre-conceptions about charities.
News coverage of current affairs is predominantly negative. Studies suggest that most people have an inherent bias towards negative news, and that journalism may be shaped by this "negativity bias". A survey of 1,000 Irish adults conducted in April 2020, found that media coverage influenced 49% of people’s views on charities. The majority of respondents (41%), said that media coverage worsened their view of charities, while just 18% reported that media reporting improved their attitude toward charities.
That is not to say that all media coverage of charities is negative, and there are plentiful examples of positive and constructive media coverage of the sector's work. Read about our #CommunityResponseIRL campaign where we collaborated with members and the National media to fill the airwaves, our screens and the newspapers with as many positive community news stories as possible throughout the first few months of the COVID-19 crisis.
What are we working on?
The Wheel works with media professionals to encourage accurate, balanced and fair media reporting of our sector.
We do this by:
actively monitoring the media;
amplifying positive media coverage about charities;
challenging erroneous and unbalanced reporting;
briefing journalists and making good quality information available to media professionals;
issuing regular press releases;
partnering with publications to publish special features;
writing opinion editorials for the national press; and
providing media training to nonprofit organisations.
The community voluntary and charity sector has many positive stories to tell and practical solutions to offer. However, this is not always reflected in the media. We encourage our members, and indeed all nonprofits, to engage with the media in a positive and constructive manner. Our team is on hand to offer, advice training and guidance.
We continually seek to raise awareness of the value of the work of the sector and broad societal impact it has through campaigns such as #CommunityResponseIRL and through our annual Charity Impact Awards.
In particular, in 2021, we will be focusing on raising public awareness and understanding of the work, impact and societal value which charities, community and voluntary organizations and social enterprises bring to communities all over Ireland, as well as in an International context.
We will be working with other leaders within the sector to progress on this important work and look forward to working with organisations across the entire charity, community and voluntary and social enterprise sector over the coming months.
Explore some of our most recent campaigns here: Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community; Budget 2020: Investing in Communities; Local and European Elections 2019: Community Matters; and, General Election 2020: Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland.
Ireland’s climate is changing in line with global patterns. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), six of the 10 warmest years ever recorded in Ireland have occurred since 1990. As things stand, our climate will continue to warm with possible increases of 3o to 4oC towards the end of the century.
Likely impacts of climate change in Ireland are:
Sea level rise
More intense storms and rainfall events
Increased likelihood and magnitude of river and coastal flooding and water shortages in summer in the east
Adverse impacts on water quality
Changes in distribution of plant and animal species
Effects on fisheries sensitive to changes in temperature.
As the threats from climate change increase, so does the need for urgent action to address them in order to reduce the impact on our economy, society and environment. Globally, scientists warn that we must limit global warming to 1.5°C if we are to avoid the wort effects of Climate Change. this will require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of the economy and society, in terms of how we live, work and travel.
Climate Change poses serious risks for communities across Ireland. We believe that community & voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises have a critical role to play in taking the necessary actions to achieve a low-carbon future and to mitigate the impacts of our changing climate. We have seen the rise of student-led activism and more and more communities are committing to a low-carbon future.
The government recognises that taking ambitious climate action is necessary to ensure a sustainable future both nationally and globally. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 commits Ireland, in law, to move to a climate resilient and climate neutral economy by 2050.
In the Programme for Government, the Green New Deal commits Ireland to an average 7 per cent reduction each year in overall Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from 2021 to 2030. The Government published the Climate Action Plan (2019), which sets out actions to achieve EU emissions reduction targets by 2030. Under the Climate Bill, the Climate Action Plan must be updated annually.
In addition, all Local Authorities in Ireland have signed up to the Local Authority Climate Action Charter, which requires them to provide robust leadership in advancing Ireland’s climate and sustainability commitments at the local and regional level.
Over the coming decade, the government aims to achieve the following:
Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30%
Reaching a target of at least 32.5% energy efficiency
Delivering 70% renewable electricity.
The Programme for Government also commits to developing a new model of engagement with citizens, sectors and regions as an early priority for government. In 2018, the Citizens’ Assembly discussed climate change and presented its report and recommendations to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action.
Ireland has also signed up to the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s response to the serious environmental, social and economic challenges facing EU citizens. This aims to put the EU on a more sustainable path through transformation of our economy and society and protecting and enhancing our natural capital. It has significant implications for investment and public financing and for production and consumption decisions. More information about the implications of the European Green Deal for Ireland is available here.
Climate Change is one of the areas addressed by the Department of the Taoiseach’s Shared Island Initiative. The National Economic & Social Council has published a consultation paper as part of a wider dialogue and engagement on the all-island dimensions of climate and biodiversity. Read the paper here.
What Are We Working On?
In addition to seeing climate change, and the need for climate action, as a defining issue now and into the future, we recognise that the social, environmental and economic impacts of climate change cannot be considered in isolation.
We have developed an online Sustainable Communities Toolkit to support communities to take climate action within a framework of wider sustainability measures.
The Wheel is committed to the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we are members of Coalition 2030, working in collaboration across civil society in Ireland to ensure Ireland keeps its promise to achieve the SDGs.
Coalition 2030 is an alliance of civil society organisations working together to ensure Ireland keeps its promise to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both at home and abroad.
With 17 Goals and 169 individual targets to be measured, reported on and met, new partnerships are needed – partnerships which bring together citizens and organisations from across the country, from across sectors and from across the various strands of Government. If we are to reach these goals, collective collaboration will be needed, requiring a whole- of-government and whole-of-society approach. Coalition 2030 is working to form and engage in such creative partnerships.
Analysis of how Ireland is faring in achievement of Goal 13, which is around taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, shows that we are falling behind our EU neighbours.
Many of the charities, community and voluntary organisations and social enterprises that deliver essential services for the state receive funding through commissioning.
In recent years, government has changed the way it operates across a range of sectors such as health and social care, children and young people, and education. Community and voluntary organisations who provide services and supports used to receive grants from government. Now some statutory funders are moving to “commission” services which sometimes involves inviting organisations to bid to undertake the work.
This has led to a confusion in some areas that commissioning means competitively tendering everything that governments used to fund by grants, when in actual fact commissioning just means agreeing the outcomes required. This is a highly relevant issue for many of our members who now have to tender for contracts to provide services that were previously funded following a negotiation to agree the funds required.
Many of the charities, community and voluntary organisations and social enterprises that deliver essential services on behalf of state receive funding through commissioning. For these organisations to continue playing their key role in health, community and social services, government needs to ensure that commissioning models fully support the community-based nonprofit approach. To achieve this outcome, there needs to be thorough reform of funding processes in health and social services (as highlighted in the IRG Report). You can read more about The Wheel’s work towards developing sustainable funding models, and how this is linked to commissioning processes, under Sustainable Funding (further down this page).
Commissioning should be understood by funders as a strategic approach to meeting identified needs and not as an instruction to procure or competitively tender for services. Statutory funders should understand that, according to the Public Procurement Directives, funders can choose how they fund voluntary organisations to deliver health and social services. When commissioning, outputs/outcomes set for services should include the financial and non-financial value inherent in those services. Service specifications should be developed in consultation with service –providing organisations and the people and communities concerned. Finally, if and when competitive tendering approaches are used, contract-awards should be small enough in scale to enable community and voluntary organisations to bid for and deliver the service.
Let’s Commission for Communities!
In 2016, The Wheel, in collaboration with Clann Credo and the Community Foundation of Ireland, published Let's Commission for Communities, a report focused on the value of the community and voluntary approach to human, social and community services.
Let's Commission for Communities identifies the societal value that the community and voluntary approach delivers: the energy, endeavour and commitment displayed and the funds contributed. The report makes strong recommendations for government about what is needed if we want to continue to benefit from a thriving community and voluntary sector.
This report was published because we believe that an apparent drift in policy towards a commissioning model focused on minimising public-spending may compromise the quality of services and threaten the viability of the community and voluntary sector itself. We believe that commissioning can be approached in a positive way that supports communities and that a priority for public policy should be to create an enabling ecosystem to sustain the community and voluntary sector in the years ahead.
While the policy landscape around commissioning has developed since the publication of this report, it remains The Wheel’s blueprint for what positive and mutually beneficial commissioning processes should look like.
What are we working on?
Both Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and the HSE, have made significant changes to the way they undertake commissioning in recent years. Engagement in these development processes has been a particular area of focus for The Wheel, as it impacts on a large number of our members and has wider implications for the relationship between the state and the sector as a whole. In our 2019 members’ policy survey, only 14% of responding organisations said they had been consulted on the development of commissioning processes, while 54% said that they expected their work to be impacted by funders’ moves towards the commissioning of services.
The Wheel is represented on the Tusla Commissioning Advisory Group, which brings together representatives from community and voluntary organisations funded to deliver services with those working on new commissioning processes in Tusla and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. This platform provides an opportunity to shape commissioning practice and provide feedback to Tusla on general matters. The Wheel has been working alongside the other members of the group (Prevention and Early Intervention Network (PEIN), Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Barnardos, ISPCC, Sonas (Freedom from Domestic Abuse); Family Resource Centres; Faroige; Daughters of Charity) to progress issues around Tusla’s commissioning strategy and roll-out, area plans and needs-assessments, service agreements and funding.
The Wheel is also a member of the Health Dialogue Forum chaired by Peter Cassells and charged with improving the relationship between the sector and the Department of health towards implementing the recommendations in the IRG Report. The topic of commissioning will form a key element of the work of the forum as it advances over 2021.
Developing outcomes-focused commissioning strategies across government along the community-based, nonprofit model has been a key ‘ask’ in all of our recent campaigns: Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community; Budget 2020: Investing in Communities; Local and European Elections 2019: Community Matters; and, General Election 2020: Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland.
The COVID-19 crisis brought about a host of extraordinary challenges that have impacted every community, business, family, and across our society.
Ireland reacted swiftly to the challenges and the country’s first response was to prioritise public health and wellbeing, deprioritising the immediate needs of the economy to bring the virus under control. Ireland’s national network of community and charity organisations played a key role in this response; they were well-connected, trusted, and ideally placed to provide flexible and immediate support where it was needed most.
The importance role played by established community and voluntary organisations —those already embedded within their communities — was clearly evidenced in the crisis, and both Government and the public have widely acknowledged the vital role charities played throughout the period. Thousands of organisations mobilised, adapted and collaborated with each other and local and national Government to ensure services continued to reach the most vulnerable in every part of the country. The sector responded in this way in the face of the single greatest ever reduction in earned/fundraised income.
The sector is the unseen force powering our communities, driving positive social change, and giving people a voice, while providing vitally important supports and services.
For an inspirational snapshot of how the sector responded to the crisis, visit our #CommunityResponseIRL page.
The Wheel worked hard to support and advocate for the sector throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Find out more about How The Wheel Responded.
A strong, active, diverse and independent community and voluntary sector forms an essential part of a healthy democracy.
Independent community and voluntary organisations provide an essential ‘public’ space where, in addition to providing services and supports, citizens and communities can participate in shaping decisions which affect them. Furthermore, charities are under an obligation to take whatever action they deem necessary to advance their charitable purposes. This often involves advocacy on behalf of the communities they represent to shape emerging policy.
This advocacy role played by community and voluntary organisations is particularly important in underpinning participative democracy. It is vital that charities and public benefit organisations are free to advocate to advance their charitable purposes.
Reform of the Electoral Acts
Some civil society organisations are being impacted by the requirements of the Electoral Acts (operated by the Standards in Public Office Commission) as they relate to prohibiting certain types of campaigning activity by what are deemed ‘third party’ organisations (groups that are considered by the Standards in Public Office Commission to be engaging in political activity) in the context of electoral (or referendum) politics.
Read more about the details of the Electoral Acts and the need for reform on our campaigning partner’s Irish Council of Civil Liberties website.
One important development occurred when Amnesty were deemed to have been in breach of the Electoral Acts for receiving a donation from a US based philanthropist, and were ordered to repay the funds, which had already been spent. While Amnesty successfully challenged the decision of the Standards in Public Office Commission, they had to risk their reputation and incur significant exposure to costs and risk by going to the High Court to make their case. This drastic course of action (which would simply not be possible for smaller charities) indicates the potential threat the Electoral Acts present to civil society voice in Ireland. Read the background to this complex issue in this opinion piece we published in the Irish Times in December 2017.
On 8 January 2021, The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, TD, and the Minister of State with Responsibility for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, TD, published the General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill which provides for a range of significant electoral reforms including,
The establishment of a statutory, independent Electoral Commission for Ireland
The modernisation of our electoral registration process
The regulation of online political advertising in the run-up to electoral events
Amendments to electoral law which will assist in the holding of electoral events if Covid-19 restrictions are in place.
The Electoral Commission will be independent of Government, reporting directly to the Oireachtas. It will take on several existing statutory electoral functions from the outset, including responsibility for the registration of political parties, the work currently carried out by Referendum Commissions, Constituency Commissions and Local Electoral Area Boundary Committees. In addition, it will have responsibility for the regulation of online political advertising during electoral periods, oversight of the Electoral Register, and a new public information, research and advisory role in relation to electoral matters. These functions will give the Commission a central role in our electoral system from the outset, bringing together a broad range of responsibilities.
The Commission’s membership will be comprised of a mix of public officials experienced in carrying out electoral functions and experts selected via a public competitive process, bringing a breadth of relevant skills and experience.
The modernisation of the Electoral Register will see the simplification of forms and the registration process, including an online option, a rolling (continuously updated) register, a move to a single, national Electoral Register and the introduction of provisional registration for 16-17 year-olds which would become active at the age of 18.
The Bill will provide that online paid-for political advertisements commissioned for use during electoral periods will be required to be clearly labelled as such. The advertisements will display specified information by way of a transparency notice, linked to the advertisement in a transparent and conspicuous manner. The transparency notice will include information on who paid for the advertising, details of any micro-targeting which was applied and the total cost of the advertising.
The General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill 2020 can be found here.
Freedom to Advocate
A strong, active, diverse and independent community and voluntary sector forms an essential part of a healthy democracy. Some civil society organisations are being impacted by the requirements of the Electoral Acts as they relate to prohibiting certain types of campaigning activity by what are deemed ‘third party’ organisations (groups that are considered to be engaging in political activity) in the context of electoral (or referendum) politics.
What are we working on?
The Electoral Acts have had the unintended consequence of restricting advocacy by community and voluntary organisations.
The Wheel is working as a member of the Civil Society Voice campaign (with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Transparency International and Frontline Defenders) to ensure a focus is maintained on securing amendments to the Electoral Acts to ensure that civil society organisations are not prevented from advocating to advance their purposes. You can see Transparency International’s paper on reforming the Electoral Acts here.
The Wheel produced a key piece of research that explored the independence of the sector, including many advocacy and voice-related issues named in this section. The research was based on a series of interviews with key personnel in the statutory, charity and business sectors and contains many interesting observations about the importance of an independent community, voluntary and charitable sector, and what needs to be done to ensure its continued health.
Subsequent to publication of the Independent and Interdependent report, and between 2013 and 2016, a group of civil society organisations, including The Wheel, came together under a project called the Advocacy Initiative. This project explored what might need to be done to ensure that social justice advocacy organisations can make the biggest impact in their advocacy towards a fair and just Ireland. It resulted from a strong desire across the community and voluntary sector to debate the role and future of social justice advocacy in Ireland.
The initiative’s overall objective was to contribute to better social justice outcomes, by reframing the relationship between the state and social justice advocates. It was also interested in exploring the idea that in the then economic and political climate of cutbacks there was a threat to advocacy. The Advocacy Initiative’s legacy website pulls together resources from across the community and voluntary sector both in Ireland and abroad in the area of social justice advocacy.
We have advocated for electoral act reform consistently in our advocacy and campaigning work, and we welcome the recent commitments in the Programme for Government to Electoral Reform - “Establish a fund to support political and electoral research by academics and researchers.” - Page 120 of Programme for Government: Our Shared Future.
It is vital that the charity, community and voluntary, and social enterprise sector can continue to support and advocate for people in every community in Ireland.
Reform of the Electoral Act has remained an ‘ask’ in all of our recent campaigns: Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community; Budget 2020: Investing in Communities; Local and European Elections 2019: Community Matters; and, General Election 2020: Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland.
The cost of insurance premiums has reached crisis point for many members of The Wheel and we are working hard as members of the Alliance for Insurance Reform to keep pressure on Government to address this key issue.
Insurance remains a key and sometimes existential issue for community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises and The Wheel has taken a leadership position on this with Ivan Cooper, our Director of Public Policy, working on the board of the Alliance for Insurance Reform and members of The Wheel actively engaging with the Alliance’s campaign to great effect.
The unsustainable rise in insurance costs is having a very serious effect on many organisations in the sector. Many members have seen insurance premiums for employer and public liability insurance increase by up to 400% in recent years, with some members having to close services because they cannot pay the premiums. Some particular types of organisations, such as community centres and childcare facilities, are struggling to keep their doors open in the face of rising costs.
From a position where there was no real reform or hope of real reform 4 years ago, we are now looking at 2021 as the year where meaningful and impactful reforms might be implemented and insurance costs might get reduced to affordable levels and stay that way. But that depends almost entirely on the response of the Government and the Judiciary to the issue over the next few months and active campaigning by policyholders will be essential in ensuring that.
Right now we are waiting on updates from the Judicial Council on recalibrated levels of damages for minor, fully-recovered personal injuries; and from Government on issues such as rebalancing the duty of care, reform of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and getting detailed commitments from insurers on the reductions we can anticipate from all the reforms taking place.
If insurance costs are impacting on your ability to provide the services you want to, or even threatening the future of your organisation, please engage with the Alliance directly, either through their very active Twitter and Facebook accounts or better still, by telling your story publicly. Contact Peter Boland, Director of the Alliance for Insurance Reform at email@example.com
What are we working on?
The Wheel is working as a part of the Alliance for Insurance Reform (AIR) to ensure that community and voluntary organisations can continue to carry out their vital work. The Wheel supports calls for the prevention of exaggerated and misleading claims being pursued and settled, consistency in the calculation of awards at realistic levels, and transparency on how premiums are calculated and claims are settled.
First steps to addressing this include:
The Judicial Council taking actions to bring awards into line with international norms
The establishment and resourcing of a Garda insurance fraud unit
A cut in unfair personal injury awards
A rebalance of the duty of care
Lower premiums from insurers.
These measures would ensure that charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises can afford to operate into the future.
The Alliance has drawn serious focus onto the issue of insurance costs at Government level over the past year, holding meetings with the Ministers responsible for insurance.
The impact of rising insurance costs is included as a key ask in all of our recent campaigns including: Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community; Budget 2020: Investing in Communities; Local and European Elections 2019: Community Matters; and, General Election 2020: Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland.
The Wheel’s own General Election 2020 Manifesto – Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland – particularly highlighted the impact of rising insurance costs on the community and voluntary sector, and the issue became a key priority for a number of political parties during the election and much progress has been made since on the issue.
Ireland’s charities and community and voluntary organisations make a big contribution to our national life, but they could do so much more if we had an environment that fully supported their work. The more integrated strategic approach currently in evidence by government will support the sector to realise its full potential.
Charities, community and voluntary organisation and social enterprises have long urged government to produce a comprehensive development strategy for the sector that is underpinned by a sustainable funding model. For many years, The Wheel has advocated for a cohesive whole-of-government strategic plan that demonstrates understanding of the sector’s value and the way in which government can best support its work.
Department for Rural and Community Development Strategies
That is why we in The Wheel were delighted to acknowledge The Department for Rural and Community Development’s (DRCD) very welcome suite of three strategies for the charity, community and voluntary, and social enterprise sector. Two were published in 2019: Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: A five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland 2019–2024 (published August 2019) and the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland (published July 2019). The final one – the National Volunteering Strategy 2021 - 2025 was published in December 2020.
The Wheel welcomes the recent progress made in this area. Taken together, the above strategies indicate great potential for addressing the major issues facing the sector and will if implemented in full enable more effective and efficient provision of services and supports across a range of areas. We believe that these strategies if realised will greatly assist the sector to increase the immense social and economic value created by community and voluntary, organisations, charities and social enterprises across Irish society.
It is therefore crucial that these important strategies are fully resourced in order to facilitate successful implementation. In order to ensure this, adequate funding must be allocated and ring-fenced. Furthermore, the required funding should be additional and not taken from existing funding streams for the sector, which already support crucial work with the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society.
Finally, as government is the biggest single funder of the work of community and voluntary organisations in Ireland and because statutory funding is increasingly awarded through commissioning’ processes, we need to ensure that commissioning models are consistent with the new strategies (in relation to multi annual funding for example). You can read more about how commissioning affects community and voluntary organisations here (link to commissioning page).
The Report of the Independent Review Group established to examine the role of voluntary organisations in publicly funded health and personal social services or IRG Report was published by the Department of Health in February 2019 and addresses many of the concerns that have been expressed by our members in recent years. The recommendations made in the IRG Report include:
Agreement on a list of essential services
official recognition of the charity, community and voluntary sector through a charter
introduction of multi-annual budgets
improved dispute-resolution mechanisms
establishment of a forum for dialogue between the sector and the Department of Health
simplification of service agreements
avoidance of duplication in reporting
a system to manage deficits and
provision of governance training and supports for smaller organisations.
The Wheel believes that the IRG Report maps out solutions for a more efficient, effective and fruitful relationship, which would enhance person-centred service provision across a range of fields. The recommendations have potential application not only to the Department of Health but to several other areas of government policy, including community and rural affairs, education and children. \
The role of community and voluntary organisations in providing essential social services was thrown starkly into relief during the crisis period. Therefore, it is important, in this period of flux and complexity that the relationship between the state and voluntary organisations is defined by the flexibility and partnership shown throughout the crisis and the role of the sector is acknowledged through the full implementation of the recommendations in the IRG Report. As with the DRCD strategies, successful and thorough implementation of the recommendations will require adequate resourcing from government. The recommendations in the IRG Report are being considered and advanced through the Health Dialogue Forum that The Wheel is a member of (Chaired by Peter Cassells) - and you can find out more below about this process.
It is clear from a look at these strategies 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 often fall down on implementation - we cannot allow this to happen with these crucial strategies
What We Are Working On?
Representation on Strategic Implementation Groups
The Wheel has been centrally involved in drafting and shaping the key strategies for the sector.
We are represented on the strategic implementation groups for the three major strategies recently being developed by the Department of Rural and Community Development: 1) The National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland and 2) Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: A five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland 2019–2024, as well as the working group for 3) the National Volunteering Strategy.
These provide important spaces for The Wheel to advocate for its members and the development of sustainable funding models has been and will continue to be a priority for discussion.
We are also represented on the Awareness Strategy Subgroup of the Social Enterprise Strategy.
In addition, you can read the numerous submissions made by The Wheel regarding the three DRCD strategies here (link to submissions). We will continue to work alongside our members to ensure that these recently-developed strategies are implemented and fully resourced.
Representation on Independent Review Group Dialogue Forum
The Wheel is also represented at the Dialogue Forum established by the Department of Health on foot of a recommendation included in the IRG Report and we believe that a well-functioning Forum can drive the implementation of the IRG Report, delivering real progress on the Report’s recommendations and on related issues in Sláintecare. It is the stated intention of all the participants (including HSE board representatives, as well as senior management in the HSE, the Department of Health, HIQA and the seven voluntary sector networks and federations taking part) to achieve real positive change through this process. Furthermore, the development of a charter, through the Forum, as recommended under the IRG Report, would give official recognition to the status of the voluntary sector appropriate to its role as a provider of essential social care and health services.
The work of the Dialogue Forum is extremely important to progressing the many issues identified in the IRG Report. The Dialogue Forum has now met twice, agreed its terms of reference and considered a draft report from the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) on what the Forum should focus on and how it can best make progress. You will find full notes of the first meeting here and the second meeting here. The Department of Health is also hosting a webpage dedicated to the work of the Dialogue Forum where all relevant documentation is available.
In May 2019, Catherine Day, co-author of the IRG Report, addressed members of The Wheel’s HSE Members’ Network. We continue to hold regular meetings of the network to keep members up-to-date on this area of government policy, which is changing rapidly. You can join The Wheel’s HSE Members’ Network to stay informed about progress in relation to our work in this area.
The development and full implementation of the recommendations of the IRG Report and the three DRCD strategies has been included as a key ask in all of our recent campaigns: Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community; Budget 2020: Investing in Communities; Local and European Elections 2019: Community Matters; and, General Election 2020: Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland.
Going forward, 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 and focusing on how we can communicate the work we do, and how it impacts on individuals, families, communities and society as a whole to broader audiences, in a more effective manner. Keep an eye on The Wheel’s correspondence in the coming months for news of this campaign.
The introduction of greater general regulation in the charity, community and voluntary, and social enterprise sector has been a positive step in underpinning public trust and confidence, but it has resulted in significant increases in often unfunded workloads for community and voluntary organisations. There is a need now to better support organisations in their work to comply.
The State has rightly made a big investment in recent years in regulation and compliance processes, including the establishment of the Charities Regulator, which The Wheel welcomes and indeed campaigned for over many years. Charities understand the importance of transparency and are working to attain the highest standards of governance demanded by the Governance Code
Depending on the work they do, community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises must comply with many legal and regulatory requirements.
These include those related to the Charities Regulator (and the Charities Act); the Revenue Commissioners; the Companies Registration Office (and the Companies Act); the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR); the Register of Lobbying (and other requirements of the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) such as the Electoral Acts); Garda Vetting; the Health and Safety Authority; HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority); Employment Law and – if funded by statutory agencies – the specific service-agreement dictated compliance requirements set by departments and agencies such as Tusla, the HSE and Pobal.
Funding compliance work
Complying with these demands requires a lot of work by charities - but there has been no equivalent statutory investment in charities to support their capacity to comply with the new requirements, or with the ever-increasing quantity of reporting and compliance obligations facing publicly-funded community and voluntary organisations more generally.
These requirements often far exceed those placed on private-sector service providers who operate in the same fields. Many community and voluntary organisations are struggling to provide vital services and supports as already-insufficient resources are increasingly being diverted to fulfil regulatory and compliance requirements for which no funding is provided.
Reducing duplicate reporting
In addition, many organisations are required to duplicate reporting information across state bodies, which is inefficient and adds a further and potentially avoidable burden on organisations’ limited resources. Resources are also drained from government departments, agencies and regulators as they process duplicate information from community and voluntary organisations. For example, a community and voluntary organisation providing services in a range of areas might have multiple Service Agreements/Arrangements with different departments and agencies, as well as additional compliance requirements related to finance, tax, fundraising, insurance and external grants.
Supporting Trustees in their governance workload
Finally, The Wheel is aware of the increasing pressure being placed on board trustees, who volunteer their time to ensure that charities can carry out their work. Trustees are responsible for extensive governance and regulatory compliance, while shouldering significant amounts of risk due, often times, to This is making it increasingly difficult for community and voluntary organisations to recruit appropriate and diverse board members. Resourcing and empowering boards to discharge their governance responsibilities would allow charities to work more efficiently and effectively, and to recruit board members.
‘Charity Passport’ Research
In October 2019, The Charities Regulator published research undertaken by Indecon which examined these interrelated problems in details. The Report into the Potential for a Charity Passport Facility for Charity Data in Ireland looked at several comparative international systems for addressing duplicate reporting to state bodies around the world, focusing particularly on the ‘charity passport’ approach. The Report demonstrated the confirms the crisis of duplication in regulatory requirements identified by The Wheel and the charity sector for many years.
The Report also states that: “Complying with reporting requirements of funding agencies represents a cost for many charities. This should be recognised as an integral part of the provision of services on behalf of the State, and some allowance for this cost should be considered in concluding funding agreements. There is international recognition of the necessity to ensure charities have adequate resources to meet such requirements. As a result, many funders internationally provide grants to cover non-profit such costs.”
What We Are Working On?
Advocacy and Campaigns
Establishing a streamlined, responsive regulatory landscape is a key priority for The Wheel and forms an important part of our work. We advocate for a commitment by government to provide for the cost of compliance in funding agreements developed by government agencies or departments. We also recommend a thorough review of compliance and regulatory requirements across government in order to streamline procedures, eliminate duplication and make better use of resources. This is in line with the recommendations of the Charity Regulator’s Report on Charity Passporting.
The ‘avoidance of duplication in reporting’ is one of the key recommendations made in the Report of the Independent Review Group established to examine the role of voluntary organisations in publicly funded health and personal social services or IRG Report, which was published by the Department of Health in February 2019. The IRG Report addresses many of the concerns that have been expressed by our members in recent years and The Wheel is working as part of the newly-established Health Dialogue Forum to ensure its implementation. Read more about our work on the IRG Report and the Dialogue Forum under Key Strategies for the Sector (above).
Regulation and compliance feature strongly in a range of our submissions to government. Notably in our submission to the Charities Regulator on the Indecon report, and in our recent submission in October 2020 to the new statement of strategy for the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD).
The streamlining of regulatory and funding-related compliance requirements and the full provision for the costs of compliance is included as a key ask in all of our recent campaigns: Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community; Budget 2020: Investing in Communities; Local and European Elections 2019: Community Matters; and, General Election 2020: Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland.
Regulation and compliance remain a key area of discussion in several of our Member Networks.
Our various and targeted member network meetings hold the dual purpose of allowing us to keep members up-to-date with our advocacy work and policy developments; and to address the main issues that are impacting our members. For example, at the most recent Tusla Members’ Network our members had the opportunity to engage with Eifion Williams, Service Director of Tusla, on matters around relating to commissioning, compliance and administrative burden and funding arrangements. The most recent HSE Member’s Network , we were joined by Peter Cassells, Independent Chair of the Health Dialogue Forum, who shared his insight into the work of the Dialogue Forum, an importnat space where the challenges for HSE funded services, including the administrative burden of compliance requirements, can be raised and hopefully addressed.
We continue to hold regular meetings of all our networks. You can join The Wheel’s Member Networks here to stay informed.
There are over 30,000 community, voluntary and charitable organisations in Ireland and collectively they generate a turnover of €14.2b per year.
Of this €14.2bn, these organisations raise over half of this income (more than €8.3bn) themselves, providing a very significant subsidy to the cost of public services. The remainder of the funding comes from statutory sources in the form of grants or service-contracts (sometimes called service agreements or service-level agreements).
Despite carrying out essential and ongoing work on behalf of the state, many community and voluntary organisations in receipt of statutory funding face serious financial precarity problems.
Much of this is related to uncertainty of income streams beyond annual allocations. The benefits of multi-annual funding are acknowledged by Government and employed for several current funding schemes and for capital funding schemes for physical infrastructure. Many private-sector and international funding bodies also recognise the importance of forward-planning for charities engaged in delivering vital services and supports to the public, and provide funding in this way.
A coherent, long-term funding strategy for the sector is required. It should be linked to additional resources to support collaborative work and mergers where appropriate. Commissioning and service delivery policy should follow a needs-driven approach. Government should not operate on the assumption that “bigger is better
Many of Ireland’s health, social and community services originated in and are delivered by autonomous, community-based, nonprofit organisations. The vast majority of these organisations are charities and all of them are run (governed) by volunteer board members/charity trustees. There is thus a mutual inter-dependence between the state and the community and voluntary, charity and social enterprise sector when working together to provide essential social services. It is crucial, therefore, that statutory funding arrangements support community-based, nonprofit and partnerhip approaches. If the community and voluntary sector is to continue playing its key role in health, community and social services, then Government needs to ensure that future funding is on a sustainable footing.
Charities need to be able to plan from year to year, so where government is funding the work of charities through a grant or service-agreement, then funding should be allocated on a multi-annual basis so that charities can plan their work efficiently – it is very difficult to plan strategically if funding is renewed annually. Additionally, many health-service-providing charities funded by the HSE saw their grant allocations frozen in 2009 and many are now losing staff because they cannot afford to remunerate staff at a professional level. We need Government to resolve this issue and restore the funding cuts so that charities can remunerate staff adequately.
Many charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises that provide services funded by the State face significant challenges posed by the precariousness of that funding.
Much of this is related to uncertainty of income streams beyond annual allocations. Multiannual funding facilitates longer-term planning, better staff recruitment and retention rates, and improved outcomes, with an average funding cycle of three to five years deemed appropriate. These benefits have been acknowledged by the Government and the approach is currently employed for capital funding schemes for physical infrastructure, and for some programmes that support community and voluntary organisations. The Department of Rural and Community Development included multiannual funding for the sector as an objective in Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: A five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland 2019-2024 (published August 2019).
The Wheel also emphasises that funding should also be provided on a full-cost-recovery basis, taking into account the need for organisations to fund core costs, pay staff adequately, train and develop staff, and make provision for pension contributions where appropriate. These changes should be applied across departments and agencies, covering areas such as education, health, social care and rural affairs, in order to avoid complexity for organisations with multiple funding streams and service agreements.
VAT Compensation Scheme for Charities
The Wheel and many of our members have long campaigned for - and welcomed - the introduction of a VAT Compensation Scheme for Charities. The Scheme is intended to compensate charities for VAT they have paid on goods or services using fundraised income (not statutory income). To maximise the sector’s impact in liaising with Government, The Wheel and Charities Institute Ireland formed a joint working group to engage with the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners on the implementation details. We were delighted that, as a result of this engagement, Government provided for the long-sought VAT compensation scheme in Budget 2018 and has continued it in subsequent years.
Our public policy work now is aimed at ensuring that the operation of this scheme is simple and that the size of the fund is sufficient to recompense charities for a significant proportion of the VAT they pay on goods and services purchased with privately donated funds. Applications for the VAT Compensation Scheme for Charities totalled close to €40m in 2019, demonstrating the extent of the negative impact on charities of the EU anomaly that prevents charities reclaiming VAT. However, the very welcome VAT Compensation Scheme introduced by government still provides only a €5m rebate against the €40m claimed.
Denmark, which has a similar population size to Ireland and a similar charity structure, provides a €20m rebate under its rebate scheme. The Wheel advocates for the current scheme to be incrementally increased in line with Danish rebate levels to provide a proportionate rebate to charities on independently fundraised income and for the Charities VAT compensation scheme to be extended beyond its initial 3-years and funding increased to meet demand.
Philanthropic giving is an important income source for many charities that carry out vital work across communities in Ireland. We believe that measures should be developed to promote a culture of larger donations and to develop structured-giving vehicles that enable investment in causes targeted at the public good.
The exit of Atlantic Philanthropies has highlighted an increasing vacuum in funding from philanthropy and the lack of a coherent policy to encourage major giving.
Less than 1% of donations in Ireland are more than €5,000, very significantly below international levels. The 2013 Minimum Donations Scheme, while benefiting charities through an improved tax regime on donations, has not boosted major donations. Intended to be cost neutral, it has instead produced a saving to the exchequer of up to €50m since 2013, according to estimates by Philanthropy Ireland.
The Wheel supports the introduction of a direct tax incentive for Major Gifts and Donors, additional to the current charitable tax relief scheme and as recommended in the 2012 Forum on Philanthropy Report (the only recommendation not yet activated). This tax incentive should have a minimum level no lower than €5,000 and be capped at €1m. Tax relief should go directly to the donor where major-gift donations are made to grant making foundations, trusts, donor-advised funds, and charities opting into such a new Major Gift Scheme. The Wheel also proposes that all relevant stakeholders should be involved in the development of a coherent policy and finalising the next philanthropy strategy. This will ensure an effective and meaningful set of initiatives are agreed and rolled out.
Furthermore, The Wheel proposes that all relevant stakeholders should be involved in development and finalising of the next philanthropy strategy, to ensure an effective and meaningful set of initiatives are agreed and rolled out. Where major-gift donations are made to grant making foundations, trusts, donor advised funds and charities opting into such a new Major Gift Scheme, tax relief should go directly to the donor.
What We Are working on
The development and full implementation of sustainable funding models for charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises is a key priority for The Wheel and directs much of our advocacy and campaigning work.
Representation on Strategic Implementation Groups
We are represented on the strategic implementation groups for the three major strategies recently being developed by the Department of Rural and Community Development: 1) The National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland and 2) Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: A five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland 2019–2024, as well as the working group for 3) the National Volunteering Strategy. These provide important spaces for The Wheel to advocate for its members and the development of sustainable funding models has been and will continue to be a priority for discussion.
Representation on IRG Report Dialogue Forum
In addition, sustainable funding is one of the key recommendations made in the Report of the Independent Review Group established to examine the role of voluntary organisations in publicly funded health and personal social services or IRG Report, which was published by the Department of Health in February 2019. The IRG Report addresses many of the concerns that have been expressed by our members in recent years and The Wheel is working as part of Dialogue Forum to ensure its implementation.
Pre-Budget Submission 2021
Sustainable funding models feature in a range of our recent submissions to government. Our pre-Budget submission (Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community) in particular identifies what government can do to better support the vital work of the community and voluntary sector.
Finally, we understand the development of commissioning models to be an important part of the move towards sustainable funding. Many of the charities, community and voluntary organisations and social enterprises that deliver essential services on behalf of the state receive funding through commissioning. For these organisations to continue playing their key role in health, community and social services, government needs to ensure that commissioning models fully support the community-based nonprofit approach. To achieve this outcome, there needs to be thorough reform of funding processes and commissioning must be understood by funders as a strategic approach to meeting identified needs and not as an instruction to procure or competitively tender for services. Read more about commissioning processes and our work in this area.
Sustainable funding models, incentivising philanthropy and increasing the Charities VAT Scheme have been key ‘asks’ in all of our recent campaigns: Budget 2021: Recovery Through Community; Budget 2020: Investing in Communities; Local and European Elections 2019: Community Matters; and, General Election 2020: Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland.
Going forward, 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. The Wheel worked to capture the impact of the sector throughout the onset of COVID-19, in the Community Response IRL campaign, we also worked with sector partners in the National Dialogue Forum to precipitate a report by the National Economic Social Council (NESC) that captures the role played by HSE-funded services throughout the crisis. The Wheel is also currently developing a sector wide campaign that demonstrates the value of the sector’s work in our society.