January 31 - Aims of charity act more important than ever, says Collins

The revelations of grossly inflated pay levels and lump sums at the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) are all the more dispiriting against the backdrop of ordinary people’s generosity, Fianna Fáil Deputy Niall Collins told the Dáil.

The revelations of grossly inflated pay levels and lump sums at the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) are all the more dispiriting against the backdrop of ordinary people’s generosity, Fianna Fáil Deputy Niall Collins told the Dáil.

Speaking during a debate on a Sinn Féin Private Members’ Charity Bill, he said the litany of unwarranted payments deeply shook the confidence of the volunteer army that sustains the charity sector.

“There is something rotten in the culture of a body that allows such greed to fester and grow,” he said. “The issue cannot be allowed to slip into petty political point-scoring, as it is much more important than that.

“Members must move to address the fundamental problems with the corporate governance of these bodies.

“A failure to confront these issues will undermine fatally the confidence of the public in the good work that they do. This will devastate the capacity of the sector to undertake the vital fund-raising that keeps them going.”

When Fianna Fáil passed the Charities Act in 2009, it represented a milestone in the development of the regulation of the sector, he said. Its aims are all the more important now, in the light of the shocking information on the activities of the CRC.

“The purpose of the Charities Act is to reform charities law to ensure greater accountability, protect against abuse of charitable status and enhance public trust and confidence in charities, with increased transparency in the sector, he added.

Limerick Fine Gael Deputy Patrick O’Donovan said the days of a person sending someone out with a bucket to collect a bonus to top up a salary of €368,000 or €370,000 must stop.

Speaking during the same debate, he said while some deputies described their shock at the Minister Alan Shatter’s decision to wind down a particular aspect of lottery funding, some of the figures revealed on the low net profit margins of some of these schemes pose questions of which the Oireachtas has a duty to get to the bottom.

“I agree with the calls for an examination of the use of these schemes since 1997, since that in itself leaves many unanswered questions,” he said.

“Charities across the country will be distressed by what has happened in their sector over the past several days.

“When one sees individuals before an Oireachtas inquiry giving evidence that falls between the-dog-ate-my-homework excuse and that which was given by a certain individual in Dublin Castle once upon a time when he tried to convince the country he found money in a suitcase which he then carted around O’Connell Street, is it any wonder people thought they would get away with it?”

The Sinn Féin Bill was defeated by 80 votes to 43.

Noonan exploring options for German bank to support SMEs

The Government recognises SMEs are the lifeblood of the Irish economy and play a crucial role in employment growth, Finance Minister Michael Noonan told the Dáil.

Since March 2011, he said Government policy has concentrated on ensuring viable micro, small and medium-sized enterprises have access to capital, equity and debt funding from more sources.

Minister Noonan said the potential new arrangement with German bank KfW represents a continuation of the Government’s concerted focus on ensuring that viable SMEs have access to finance in a manner that supports economic recovery and employment growth.

“The very fact that an announcement was made to the effect that Chancellor Merkel and the German Government were instructing KfW to assist in financing SMEs in Ireland was one of the helpful factors in accessing the market at low interest rates, as it affected market sentiment at our exit from the bailout,” he said. “There has already been a benefit.”

Various models are being examined at official level, he said. “The matter has not come to the political level yet, but a paper is being prepared that will come to me shortly. Upon consideration, there must be a delivery vehicle in Ireland to get the money to the SMEs. The precedent is how EIB funds are delivered to SMEs. The EIB has lent €250 million to the main banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland, which decide in their normal lending processes who to lend on that money to. Perhaps something similar could be done. We will also introduce the NewERA legislation shortly, in which regard the strategic development fund and the NPRF may have a role. We are exploring different delivery possibilities.”