Charities Bill 2007: Report Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 666 No. 1

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Debate resumed on amendment No. 4:

In page 9, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

““EEA Agreement” has the same meaning as it has in the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993;

“EEA state” means—

(a) a member state of the European Communities (other than the State), or

(b) a state (other than a member state of the European Communities) that is a contracting party to the EEA Agreement.

“establishment day” shall be construed in accordance with section 11;”.

—(Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and
Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy John Curran.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue Amendments Nos. 4, 33, 37 and 38 are related and are being discussed together.

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran): Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran The last day we dealt with the Bill these amendments were discussed but the amendment before the House was not put.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins The amendment is agreed.

Amendment agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue Amendment No. 5 is in the name of Deputy Wall, amendment No. 10 is related and amendments Nos. 5 and 10 may be discussed together.

[27]Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

“(a) A body which is part of the executive branch of Government,”.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that core public bodies are excluded bodies under the Bill and, therefore, do not constitute charities. The Minister of State undertook to examine this matter on Committee Stage.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring Like Deputy Higgins, I tabled an amendment on this matter because the charities are concerned about it. The health board and Pobal are State agencies. Charities are concerned about what will happen to those agencies. As I said on Committee Stage, I had hoped we would have two different bodies——

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins Yes.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring ——and that the State agencies would not have the same status as charities. The Minister of State said on Committee Stage he would examine this matter. It is not the case that I do not want the HSE or Pobal to be eligible for tax exemption, but I do not want there to be any confusion between genuine charities and State agencies which are under the control of the Minister and the State. The Minister of State might clarify the position. We want two separate agencies. Charities work on the ground day to day while State charities are under the control of the Minister, and the latter should be under a separate agency.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran These amendments were raised on Committee Stage from the perspective that the independence of the charitable sector might be undermined by not excluding statutory bodies from charitable status altogether. It is the case that some statutory bodies currently enjoy eligibility for charitable tax reliefs on foot of decisions by the Revenue Commissioners. The proposed amendments would result in such bodies losing their existing entitlement to certain charitable tax exemptions, which is not the intent of the Bill. I am surprised that amendments were proposed that would affect in a negative way the status of a charity. The Bill is silent on the organisational or legal structure that any charity should have so as not to be too prescriptive and to leave it to charities to choose the appropriate structures for themselves.

The Bill is consciously framed so the sole matters to be taken into consideration when making a determination as to whether the organisation is charitable are the following — the purpose of the organisation and whether there is a public benefit. If statutory bodies meet the criteria to the satisfaction of the new authority, I see no reason they should not be accorded charitable status. The status of the organisation, for example, whether it is incorporated, a trust or a statutory body, should not be the issue in making such determinations, as many voluntary charities also get a considerable amount of State funding.

In a recently published research report by the Centre for Non-profit Management in TCD it was revealed that over two thirds of non-profit organisations in Ireland receive funding from the State. This does not in any way undermine the independence of those charities or the charity sector as a whole.

As well as opposing these amendments from a policy perspective, Deputies will be aware that in other Government Report Stage amendments to be moved, existing organisations that already have charitable tax exemptions — this will include some statutory bodies — will be automatically deemed to be registered as charities. These amendments, if accepted, would also directly conflict with this approach. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendments.

[28]Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins The purpose of the amendment was to achieve clarification, certainly not to have any malign effect by way of exclusion of the bodies. The amendment is not being pressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue Amendment No. 7 is a technical alternative to amendment No. 6 and amendment No. 15 is related. Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 15 may be discussed together.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, to delete lines 22 and 23 and substitute the following:

“(a) a political party, or a body that promotes a political party or candidate,

(b) a body that promotes a political cause, unless the promotion of that cause relates directly to the advancement of the charitable purposes of the body,”.

The definition of an excluded body currently in section 2(1) provides that a body, the principal purpose of which is to promote a political party, candidate or cause, cannot qualify as a charity. The existing wording in the Bill was designed to allow charities to engage in valid political work as a means of achieving their charitable purpose rather than as a primary purpose in itself.

On Committee Stage, there was much debate on the issue of charities and their interaction with political life. While there seemed to be a general acceptance that charities should not support a political party or a political candidate for election, the discussion mainly centred on the reference to political cause. I have reflected on this matter in the intervening period and I agree with my predecessor, the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, who considered it inappropriate that charities should be predominantly engaged in political activities. Their aim should be to achieve their charitable purpose by engaging in activities that directly help their targeted beneficiaries on the ground. However, one must be pragmatic and recognise that there are times when a charity might reasonably consider it necessary to engage in what might be regarded as political activities as a means to furthering its charitable purpose, though such activities must never become the primary objective of the charity in their own right.

Since Committee Stage, in consultation with my legal advisers, we have developed the wording presented. The proposed wording separates political candidate and party from political cause and, thus, provides greater clarity for charities.

Under the Government amendment, charities will not be permitted to support either a political candidate or a party. This is only fitting. They will be permitted to promote a political cause but only one relating directly to their charitable purpose. A charity must take care not to become a political organisation, however, and should always remain focused on its charitable purpose, which must be, by definition, its only purpose. Should the authority form the view that an organisation is no longer an exclusively charitable organisation but has become de facto a political organisation, the Bill would permit the authority to strike such an organisation off the register.

Although they are aimed at achieving a similar outcome, Government amendment No. 6 provides greater clarity than Deputy Wall’s proposed amendments Nos. 7 and 15. Therefore, I cannot accept them. I commend amendment No. 6 to the House.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins With the greatest respect, I suggest the Minister of State’s amendment does not clarify any matter but rather makes it far more difficult. I intend very [29]much to facilitate the Minister of State and the Government in some of these amendments which are technical and, like Deputy Ring and others, we are anxious to improve the Bill.

However, this is one of those fundamental issues. The fundamental issue that arises is that, first, it is extraordinary to suggest it is possible to delimit and confine a political cause within a charitable purpose. I will give a practical example which might be of assistance. In doing so, I indicate, lest there be any difficulty about it, that my daughter works for Trócaire as a campaigns officer. For example, on a day like today, if one was to run a campaign against slavery, it is an issue that would arise in regard to trade, debt and so forth or in regard to bondage, bonded labour and so forth. It is not clear whether that comes within the Minister of State’s definition — it may well do so.

We ran into difficulty previously as to where advocacy begins and ends. The issue arose particularly with a campaign concerning young girls in regard to a Trócaire advertisement, which was struck down by an intervention in regard to advertising by RTE. The advertisement had to be withdrawn and restructured. Effectively the Government amendment construes “political” as meaning “party political”. Deputy Wall’s amendment went very far. It went with the Government regarding the issue of political party and political person. It is fundamental that we cannot concede on the issue of cause.

What has the general sense given to “cause” included? It includes matters such as climate change, sustainable development, aid, trade, debt, slavery, child labour and so forth. If I accepted the Government amendment No. 6, it would always be suggested that a body had overstepped its reach regarding charitable status in collecting and that it should not take on a particular cause. What it is not stating is even more important. It is not stating that a body can do all the advocacy it likes as long as it is within the framework of the existing status quo. It cannot go beyond the status quo of its expressed compassion or charity and go into the realm of justice.

I have been involved in the general development area for a long time, and I do not say this about the Minister of State’s party. I remember in the days of Bishop Casey when Trócaire was campaigning in Central America and elsewhere. Many people stood up in this House and asked whether this was what the organisation was established to do. What it did for human rights was crucial and the broader tasks of advocacy are very important. In order to save considerable time on this issue of advocacy expressed in its more general sense, I must insist on the right to protect cause, even though I am conceding political party and person. I will also do the same on a later amendment on human rights. I am doing this by way of housekeeping.

I spoke on Second Stage and having spent a long time considering the matter with the various bodies that made representations, including the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and many others, I have decided that these are very important points. I also believe that the Minister of State can achieve what he has said he wants to achieve by conceding on this fundamental single word, “cause”. That is all that divides us and it is extraordinarily inflexible not to yield on it.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I agree with Deputy Higgins. I tabled an amendment on the matter on Committee Stage. It was the one matter on which we all received considerable lobbying because charities are concerned. Only one word divides us. Even at this stage I ask the Minister of State to reconsider it. Charities are doing a job and if they want to advocate for some kind of policy on a matter that is affecting people here or in another country, they should have the right to lobby for that. They should not need to be concerned that by doing that they would lose their charitable status because the Government of the day does not like the policy of the agency. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider. We do not want to divide the House on the matter but charities are very anxious that it be clarified. We do not want the Bill to result in charities looking over their shoulders wondering when Big Brother or the Government will [30]step on them some day. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the matter. Deputy Higgins has outlined the case very well and I support him.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I recognise that this matter was raised on both Second and Committee Stages. It has been considered. It is not an easy area with which to deal and has proved somewhat complex. Based on the legal advice we received, I believe the amendment as tabled is a good way to achieve what we set out to do. Section 2(1) states that “a political party, or a body, the principal object of which is to promote a political party, candidate or cause”, is excluded from being regarded as a charitable organisation. I believe most people are happy with that.

The relevant wording in the Bill was designed to allow a charity to engage in valid political work as a means of achieving its charitable aims, but not as its primary activity. The authority will ultimately decide whether the objective of an organisation is the pursuit of a political cause and any decision taken by the authority in this regard may be appealed to the charity appeals tribunal or to the High Court. The amendment we have tabled represents a good outcome. We have taken legal advice and we must stick with the amendment as it stands.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins This is a fundamental issue. There is a parallel in the history of legislation. In 19th century Britain, for example, some people were interested in charitably dealing with the victims of child labour, including children being sent up chimneys. However, the campaigns that were important were those that outlawed child labour rather than the ones that were delimited in terms of some kind of philanthropic intent, however well merited.

I appeal to the Minister of State to recommit the Bill in respect of this amendment. The Minister of State would lose nothing by conceding the word “cause”. However, we are expressing confidence in those NGOs that have approached us. NGOs, charitable organisations and others have enough to do. They will not deliberately seek to go beyond their main work. It might be said that we need to protect them from themselves. By saying that, the Minister of State would be saying that he is putting the boundary around what they might do. I prefer to operate on the basis of trust.

There is a philosophical problem regarding this matter. The activity in the charitable area is residual and comes about in terms of issues about the structures of society. It would be a very great limitation not to be able to locate one’s cause and change the structure of society in areas such as child labour, slavery, trade or the abuse of bonded labour.

For the sake of housekeeping and given that we need to move on, I will oppose amendment No. 6. I hope to move amendment No. 7 without the need to repeat my arguments, which are the same ones I have made. I am sorry that I cannot give way on the issue. I again appeal to the Minister of State to agree to recommit the Bill in respect of this amendment as is happening in respect of certain other amendments. There would be an opportunity to avoid a division if he were willing to concede that much.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I agree with Deputy Higgins. I ask the Minister of State to give a commitment today that he will review the matter in the Seanad. Otherwise, we will need to oppose it.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran It would be unfair for me to say I will review the matter in the Seanad because it has been raised on both Second and Committee Stages. It has been considered and the amendment as presented today is a good outcome and is based on the legal advice available.

Amendment put.

[31]The Dáil divided: Tá, 69; Níl,64 .

Information on Dermot Ahern Zoom on Dermot Ahern Ahern, Dermot. Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern Ahern, Michael.
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Níl
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Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Amendment declared carried.

Amendment No. 7 not moved.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on John O'Donoghue Zoom on John O'Donoghue Amendments Nos. 8 and 47 are cognate and will be discussed together by agreement.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 8.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I move amendment No. 8:

In page 9, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:

“(iii) contrary to public policy,”.

The Government is proposing amendments Nos. 8 and 47 on the basis of legal advice. The Bill already provides for the automatic exclusion of certain categories of organisations, including bodies engaged in illegal activities. The advice provided is that there are other types of activities that would be regarded as contrary to public policy. Such activities, while not illegal, should not be accorded recognition by the law and should not be regarded as charitable.

I wish to make a clear distinction between “public policy” and “Government policy”. Public policy transcends the policy of Government of the time. Under the Charities Bill, an organisation will not be excluded from charitable status because it advocates a course of action contrary to Government policy. Activities contrary to public policy will be only those which do not deserve recognition in law. Murdoch, in A Dictionary of Irish Law, states that certain acts are said to be contrary to public policy when the law refuses to enforce or recognise them on the grounds that they are injurious to the interests of the State or the community, for example, the law will not enforce an illegal contract or permit evidence to be given which would affect the security of the State. I emphasise that the references here are to the State and not to the Government.

Also, statutes frequently contain reference to the phrase “contrary to public policy”. A recent example is the Arbitration Bill 2008 which incorporates a model law for all arbitrations in Ireland. Article 34 of the model law provides that an arbitration agreement may be set aside if it is contrary to public policy. The point applies even more strongly in the context of charities. If Irish law will not give force to agreements which are contrary to public policy, it would be illogical if organisations advancing activities contrary to public policy could be given the much greater legal privilege of being recognised as charities.

Given the legal advice provided, it is considered prudent and desirable to exclude from charitable status, by way of amendment No. 8, organisations engaged in activities contrary to public policy. Amendment No. 47 arises as a consequence of the primary amendment and is necessary to ensure consistency with the new definition of “excluded body”.

[33]Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I welcome the clarification of the distinction between “public policy” and “Government policy” and as such I am happy to accept the amendments.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I, too, welcome the clarification in respect of “public policy” and “Government policy” and I accept the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor): Information on Charlie O'Connor Zoom on Charlie O'Connor Amendment No. 9 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 9 and 48 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I move amendment No. 9:

In page 9, line 31, after “activities,” to insert “whether in the State or elsewhere,”.

I am happy to be assisted in regard to the reach of this amendment in the name of my colleague, Deputy Jack Wall. The amendment seeks to extend consideration beyond the State. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response in regard to this matter which was raised on Committee Stage. The point being made is that while one can legislate for that which is in one’s own jurisdiction, particular kinds of activities and promotions may have the consequence of addressing issues abroad and so on. For this reason, it may be necessary that we try to push the boundary of care in order to be as inclusive as possible. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response in this regard.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran While acknowledging the point made by Deputy Wall, I have consulted on the matter with the legal advisors in the Office of the Attorney General. I understand that amendments Nos. 9 and 48 are not necessary as it is already implicit in the Bill that organisations that support terrorism or terrorist activities anywhere shall be excluded bodies for the purpose of the Bill. Consequently, we will not accept the amendments, although the points are covered.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman: Information on Charlie O'Connor Zoom on Charlie O'Connor Amendment No. 10 has already been discussed with Amendment No. 5.

Amendment No. 10 not moved.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I move amendment No. 11:

In page 10, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

““prescribed” means prescribed by regulations made by the Minister;”.

This is purely a technical amendment proposed on the advice of the Office of the Attorney General.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman: Information on Charlie O'Connor Zoom on Charlie O'Connor Amendments Nos. 12, 32, 44, 55 and 86 may be discussed together.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 12.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I move amendment No. 12:

[34]In page 10, to delete lines 18 and 19 and substitute the following:

““registered charitable organisation” means—

(a) a charitable organisation that is registered in the register, or

(b) a charitable organisation that, by virtue of section 39, is deemed to be registered in the register;”.

The Government proposes a technical amendment, No. 12, on the basis of legal advice. In section 2, for the purpose of clarity, I propose to delete lines 18 and 19 on page 10 and insert the proposed amendment. This will enable those who have been awarded charitable tax exemption by the Revenue on the basis of their charitable status to be deemed to be registered by the authority until their charitable credentials can be endorsed by the authority in accordance with the Act. That particular matter has caused much concern.

The Government is proposing amendment No. 32 on the basis of legal advice. The technical amendment proposed will provide clarity to section 38(4), in which the words “A charitable organisation” are replaced with “Subject to section 39, a charitable organisation”.

Amendment No. 55 sets out the circumstances under which the authority may remove a deemed organisation from the register. The new section mirrors that applicable to other non-deemed organisations in section 40 of the Bill as approved on Committee Stage in that the authority may remove an organisation where it has become an excluded body for the purposes of the Act; changes its name without the consent of the authority; has been convicted of an indictment or offence; has failed to comply with the accounts, reporting or audit provisions; has failed to comply with a request from the authority to provide information; has ceased to be a charitable organisation by an order of the High Court; or has a charity trustee who has become disqualified from holding such a position, also by order of the High Court. Similar provisions also apply to non-deemed organisations, ensuring an equitable approach overall.

With regard to amendment No. 44, it has been recognised that under the Bill as currently worded there is potentially a significant challenge for both the authority in setting up the initial register and the sector in complying with requirements as regards registration, etc. The framing of this legislation has always been based on the recognition that the vast majority of charities are small and may not have the resources to cope with a significant additional administrative burden.

I am also conscious there are some concerns, although I am confident there is no genuine basis for them, that some existing charities could lose their status when the Charities Bill is enacted and commenced. To address both these matters, I propose this amendment, which provides that any organisation holding a current CHY number from Revenue will be automatically deemed to be registered. I am sure this will allay any concerns that may have been felt by individual charities as regards their eligibility for charitable status when regulation is introduced.

To go into the detail of the amendment in question, there is provision for transfer of information between Revenue and the authority relating to deemed charities. There is a reverse power for the authority to request information from the charities where necessary. There is an enabling provision similar to that already in the Bill relating to non-deemed charities for the authority to impose a fee to meet any costs arising to it as a consequence of the registration process. The advice to me is that it would be remiss not to include such a provision, although I stress it is merely an enabling measure.

[35]There are equivalent provisions in terms of the information the authorities shall enter into on the register in respect of deemed charities. These mirror the information that will be entered on the register for non-deemed charities. Amendment No. 86 is technical, inserted on the advice of the Office of the Attorney General. It defines charitable organisations with regard to non-cash collections and is part of the provisions of the Act which will bring non-cash collections within the scope of the collection permit system for the first time.

I will move this amendment and taken in conjunction with other provisions in the Act it will support an orderly and fair system of non-cash collections by charities.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring As this is a recommittal, I will not make a long speech. There has been media publicity on this matter and people have concerns. I hope all genuine charities will be transferred. Will the Revenue and the Minister of State’s Department keep in constant contact? There have been newspaper articles detailing how some charities were using their status to avoid tax. I know the Revenue Commissioners had an investigation into this because I raised the matter during priority question time. Has the Revenue Commissioners completed the investigation and has anybody been found to be using charitable status to avoid tax?

I am concerned about the matter but I would also like to see genuine charities put on the register. They have already dealt with the Revenue and have tax clearance certificates. It should be a straight move to the register. At the same time I hope the Minister of State’s Department, along with the Revenue, will investigate if people are using charitable organisations in a bogus way or using such bodies to avoid tax. I hope the Department will keep in constant contact with the Revenue Commissioners, who should be sure charities are above board. If they are not, the charities should be dealt with by the law and the Revenue Commissioners.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I am not disposed to opposing the amendments but I agree with one aspect of Deputy Ring’s statement in particular. As soon as possible after this legislation has passed through both Houses and is signed into law, it would be in the public interest to have a statement of clarification on the meaning of charitable status. Deputy Ring is entirely right that there are ways in which it has been abused for benefit by individuals and corporations. Such a clarification would be useful, although I accept these administrative amendments.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I will not delay on these and I thank the Deputies for their comments. The provisions in these amendments are very significant for ordinary charities. One of their concerns was that on the first day there would be a backlog that could not be dealt with in an efficient and timely manner. There were also concerns from smaller charities in particular that there would be an unnecessary burden in getting them into the system. This attempts to get the system up and running for those already registered with the Revenue and, by and large, there is consensus that this is positive.

Deputy Ring raised the issue of Revenue. Any investigations carried out by the Revenue Commissioners are entirely a matter for that body. That would be the case with any investigation and not just one relating to charities. During this time we will be working closely with Revenue and there will be a proposed working group. There is provision in the Bill for consultation between Revenue and the new authority to be established.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I hope any charity under investigation will not be put on the register automatically. Any investigation should be completed before the charity is put on the register.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment.

[36]Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I move amendment No. 13:

In page 10, line 35, to delete “he” and substitute “he or she”.

This is a purely technical amendment for the purpose of clarity.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman: Information on Charlie O'Connor Zoom on Charlie O'Connor Amendment No. 14 arises from committee proceedings while amendment No. 21 is related. Both amendments may be discussed together.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I move amendment No. 14:

In page 11, line 9, after “community” to insert the following:

“including the advancement of human rights and the promotion of equality or for advancing social or economic policy”.

I am disposed towards insisting on this amendment, which would include the words, “including the advancement of human rights and the promotion of equality or for advancing social or economic policy” in section 3(1). It is interesting that section 3(1) states:

For the purposes of this Act each of the following shall, subject to subsection (2), be regarded as being a charitable purpose:

(a) the prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship.

  1 o’clock

Members already have gone into the issue as to whether this is a matter of charity or of justice. However, this problem will resonate with them throughout their discussions in this regard. Section 3(1)(b) cites “the advancement of education”, which historically includes questions pertaining to women’s education in 19th century Britain and section 3(1)(c) refers to “the advancement of religion”, which has its own problems later in the Bill in respect of definition. One presumes that it is religion that is not of an oppressive kind and Members will deal later on with the specific issue of cults. Section 3(1)(d) includes “any other purpose that is of benefit to the community”.

In this amendment, Deputy Wall seeks to insert an additional line, “including the advancement of human rights and the promotion of equality or for advancing social or economic policy”. I refer to the history of the human rights movement, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the establishment of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a post that was filled in a distinguished way by Mary Robinson. I must declare an interest in that I hold an honorary adjunct professorship at the Irish Centre for Human Rights. Surely the issue of human rights is important and should be promoted. Consequently, non-governmental organisations and charities should have the right to promote it.

Equally, when one considers the promotion of equality, I have a real issue regarding the drift of Government policy. I consider the inclusion of the Combat Poverty Agency within the Department of Social and Family Affairs simply to be the taming of advocacy. Equally, I consider the changes regarding the Equality Authority to be quite corrosive of movements towards vibrant citizenship. For that reason, one might reasonably ask why one cannot include the advancement of human rights, the promotion of equality or the establishment of social or economic policy?

For example, I refer to the current debate as to whether one should have a market driven policy that regards society as a residuum or whether one should adopt a new version of a social economy. The suggestion is that such issues cannot be included, while the advancement of [37]religion and education, as well as the prevention of poverty or economic hardship are included. One has reverted to the old notion in respect of worthy people, such as the Oxford movement, who in the old days used to travel from London to discover the poor. They would engage in distribution, try to get them to uplift themselves and so forth.

Whether one likes it or not, a tremendous debate is under way in respect of the rights implications of our structures. Human rights, where they are being discussed most seriously, are no longer confined to legal texts. A genuine attempt is being made to move on from civil and political rights into economic, social and cultural rights. This movement is taking place and includes people throughout the world who are struggling both to be recognised as human beings and for the right to live, to construct their way of life, to their own culture and so forth. This pertains to the human rights side of the issue. Within the developed countries, one has rights of bodies such as, for example, Travellers, children, special communities and so forth. All these rights are being expressed by the non-governmental organisations and rights bodies as rights with responsibilities. They are about participation, the democratic distribution of power and the manner in which one gives consent.

On the other side, in respect of equality, there has been a great debate that has gone far past the poverty debate. The question on equality asks what constitutes the equal participation of citizens in society in respect of education, health, transport and the rights of different people of different ages. One then moves on to try to discuss forms of social and economic organisation and so on, as bodies may well do. I refer, for example, to bodies that specifically discuss giving rights to elderly people and so forth. Consequently, I do not understand how one can assert that the prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship is permissible when it is much less than the matters to which I refer. This is being concerned for the victims, the inequalities and frustrations of human rights having happened and so forth. For that reason, I ask the Minister of State at least to consider amendment No. 14. I cannot see how the Bill would be damaged by the inclusion of the wording suggested by Deputy Wall in this amendment.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring When the heads of this Bill were drafted originally, the advancement of human rights, social inclusion and social justice were included in the general scheme of the Bill as charitable purposes. However, these references were removed later and this is an issue that is of particular concern to the charity sector. There are concerns that some charities, whose main focus is the prevention of the violation of human rights, may be excluded. Deputy Higgins has explained the issue very well and those who are promoting human rights through the operation of charities should be protected in any way possible. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider this amendment. While Members do not wish to push this issue to a vote, they may be so obliged on the basis the Minister of State is not prepared to do something in this regard. Great concern exists in this regard and those who deal with human rights do so for the good because no one else is available to represent such people and to fight for their causes. Deputy Higgins has outlined this point very well and I support him. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider this matter to ascertain whether the amendments under discussion can be taken on board.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran I thank Members for their contributions. I am conscious of this issue and note it has taken up much time and debate on earlier Stages. I am aware the definition of charitable purpose as outlined in section 3(8) has been the subject of much debate on previous Stages of the Bill and that of particular interest in that context has been the reference to human rights within that definition.

The Charities Bill has been consciously framed in order not to have a negative impact on any organisation that enjoys charitable status with the Revenue Commissioners at present. The Bill endeavours to protect the status of organisations that at present are regarded as charities [38]by ensuring the categories of charitable purposes in section 3 of the Bill reflect those that have developed in common law over many years and have been used by Revenue when considering eligibility for charitable tax exemptions.

While the Bill does not seek to narrow such charitable purposes, neither does it seek to expand the range of charitable purposes. The advancement of human rights or social justice is not a charitable purpose at present. Revenue does not grant charitable tax exemptions to human rights organisations per se. I understand that where it has granted exemptions to organisations that might be regarded by some as being human rights organisations, it has done so in the context of purposes relating to education or poverty, for example. Where Revenue has made such determinations, the proposal to automatically deem such organisations as charities ensures that such charitable status is fully protected. Consequently, organisations that already have charitable tax exemptions have nothing to fear from the new legislation.

I should point out that the Revenue Commissioners operate a separate tax exemption scheme for human rights bodies, but only for those that have consultative status with the United Nations. I understand the only organisation that receives such recognition in Ireland is Amnesty International and its position will not be affected by the Bill. I have specific concerns about the terminology proposed in the Opposition amendments. I do not accept in Deputy Wall’s amendment No. 14 that an organisation that is involved solely in the advancement of economic policy should be regarded as charitable in nature. Regarding Deputy Ring’s amendment No. 21, my advice is that social inclusion is already fully comprehended under section 3(8)(k) and that civic participation would be included within civic responsibility in section 3(8)(c). In those circumstances I regret I cannot accept amendments Nos. 14 and 21.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins In the spirit of making progress and the best possible legislation, if the Minister had said to me he would examine the issue and would have included the advancement of human rights and the promotion of equality, I would have considered withdrawing the amendment on the grounds of the social or economic policy that is being applied. The net effect of the non-acceptance of my amendment on human rights and equality means, in effect, as the Minister described it, which is no disrespect to him, that the Revenue Commissioners serve as a kind of eminence grise behind the legislative process. It is not for them to prescribe what shall be the legitimate and endowed activities of any body in regard to human rights. I am well aware of the extent of their willingness to define, for example, in regard to taxation benefit what is a work of artistic value. They are entitled to express the remit of their own scheme but they are not entitled to define any activity. People have provided work in music, arts and culture that they have not recognised. That is their business to some extent and it expresses the narrow range of their remit but they are not entitled to put a boundary to the consideration and advancement of human rights nor of equality. I do not intend to waste time by repeating my arguments. I am pressing the amendment.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran This issue has received a lot of debate and discussion and for that reason it would not be fair to say we will re-examine the matter. It is worth bearing in mind that this is new legislation and it will be reviewed in five years time. It is important to remember that the charities legislation is intended to regulate existing charities. The provision we have already passed allows any organisation that has current charitable status to retain it. A key point is that there is no risk to existing charities. It was not the intention to narrow the range of charitable purposes but neither are we seeking to expand them. As a consequence of the “deemed” amendment, existing charities will retain their charitable status. In that regard I regret the amendments cannot be accepted.

[39]Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 59; Níl, 70.

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Níl
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Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan.

Amendment declared lost.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.


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