The Wheel responds to Oliver Callan's Column in The Irish Times (15 December)

It has been a testing few months for our sector. There has been sustained negative coverage from a small number of media organisations and some have made unfair generalisations about our sector.

The most recent example was the frankly offensive column Oliver Callan recently published in The Irish Times. To elaborate on the content of the column would be to afford the piece dignity it does not possess. But uninformed articles like this are highly damaging to the reputation of the sector and we simply cannot let it stand.

With this in mind, The Wheel wrote to The Irish Times immediately, and we are happy to say that our response was published in both the print and digital editions the day after Callan's column appeared (15 December). 

Below is a copy of the published letter: 

Sir, – Oliver Callan’s article is rife with errors, misrepresentations and what can only be described as a slew of Trumpesque-like assertions.

First, Oliver Callan claims Ireland has 24,000 charities. This figure refers to the number of civil society organisations in Ireland, which includes all sports clubs, schools, hospitals, etc. How many charities are there? The facts are that there are currently 8,002 on the new national register of charities that is maintained by the charities regulator. Your columnist also fails to mention that Ireland has fewer charities per capita than many of our neighbours, including the UK, US and Norway.

Second, Oliver Callan is mistaken in his assertion that “not a single charity publicly condemned” the “discrepancies” in the three organisations named in the article.

As a representative voice for over 1,280 charities, The Wheel publicly condemned bad behaviour in all three cases both at the time and since. I participated in the Prime Time programme that was broadcast in June of this year doing precisely that, and we have publicly condemned its findings at every opportunity. As did numerous other charities in the wake of the controversy.

Third, the article also incorrectly asserts that charities are afraid of transparency. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Charities were at the forefront of campaigning for many years, ultimately successfully, for the establishment of a charity regulator to ensure maximum transparency for all charities, and we publicly welcomed the signing into law of the Charities Act in 2009.

Unfortunately, it took until 2014 to establish the charity regulator’s office and until September 2016 for it to be given all necessary powers and resources to conduct its work effectively. The Wheel’s 1,280 members welcome the fact that the charity regulator is now in place and we embrace the greater transparency it will bring. We are confident in our belief that this will ultimately bring a greater understanding of the contribution to positive social change that charities bring to Irish society.

Fourth, your columnist makes several assertions casting all charities in an extremely negative light: “the vast majority” of Ireland’s charities are “probably pointless” and, “charities have a ring of steel around them”.

I appreciate that it is in the nature of an opinion piece to have a strong stance, and Oliver Callan has a right to his negative opinion about charities. However, it is not justifiable to assert generally as he does that “our charity sector is out of control”, is “a system largely left to its own devices” and, citing an evidence-base of one person, that “just five cent was used for the actual cause”.

We have a charity sector in Ireland that has been transformed over recent years in terms of transparency and willingness to be open to scrutiny. We have a charity regulator in place that lists every Irish charity with a range of financial, governance and activities information, all provided online to the public in a searchable database.

Finally, your columnist writes “how have we permitted so many services for the most vulnerable fall to charities, allowing the State to wriggle out of its responsibilities”.

This is certainly an important question worthy of further debate, and charities would very much like to engage in a conversation about this and what type of society we want, so that all people who live on this island can live life with dignity.

However, to argue that charities should not respond to emerging needs because they are letting Government off the hook is callously sacrificing those who are in need right now to a long-term political cause.

I believe that voluntary associations and charities are a force for good in society.

They release energies in society and because of the diverse interests expressed, they are sources of originality and social progress. They are “civilising” agents assisting people to take responsibility for their own affairs.

We should be proud of the great record of positive change that Ireland’s charities have achieved with and for people and communities in Ireland and abroad. – Yours, etc,

IVAN COOPER,

Director of Public Policy,

The Wheel,

Fleet Street,

Dublin 2.