(A) Historical Background: The following are a list of sources from which I acquired information and excerpts on the Society for the purpose of this Portfolio:
* Various documents received by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in correspondence with Kieran Murphy.
* Sources copied from the National Archives, Bishop Street.
* Journal of the Society: The Bulletin of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, 1856-2010
* Centenary Publications: St Vincent's, Glasnevin, Centenary Record, 1856-1956 (Dublin, c.1957).
* The Society of St Vincent de Paul in Ireland, 1845-1945 (Dublin, c.1945).
* Fagan, Austin, 'The political and social ideas of Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853) and their relation to the movement of ideas in his time' (unpublished M.Litt. thesis, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 1971).
* Hartigan, Maurice, 'The Catholic laity of Dublin, 1920-1940' (unpublished M.A. thesis, St Patrick's College, Maynooth, 1992).
* Martin, James Gerard, 'The Society of St Vincent de Paul as an emerging social phenomenon in mid-nineteenth century Ireland' (unpublished M.A. thesis, National College of Industrial Relations, 1993)
* Dillon, T.W.T., 'The Society of St Vincent de Paul in Ireland, 1845-1945', in Studies, xxxiv, no. 4 (Winter 1945), pp 515-21.
* Gallagher, Colette, 'Catholic social values in action: the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Dublin, 1920s to 1950s', in Prospect: Journal of the Irish History Students' Association (1989), pp 21-4.
* Willigan, Walter L., 'St Vincent de Paul: the social worker', in Thought Patterns - Tercentenary Journal, 9 (1961) pp 32-59.
* Dunne, Éamonn, 'Action and reaction: Catholic lay organisations in Dublin in the 1920s and 1930s', in Archivium Hibernicum, xlviii (1994), pp 107-18
* Fagan, Austin, Through the eye of a needle: Frédéric Ozanam (Slough and London, 1989).
* Coste, Pierre, The life and works of Saint Vincent de Paul, translated from the French (London, 1934).
* Ferriter, Diarmaid, The transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000 (London, 2004).
* Ó Cinnéide Séamus, A law for the poor: a study of home assistance in Ireland (Dublin, 1970).
* Charities Act 2009
2. Historical Background (1833-1930)
Any detailed assessment into the inner working of a charity must include in its analysis, the circumstances in which it was established.
Recognised as one of the principal co-founders of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Paris in 1833, Frederic Ozanam, amongst others took up the challenge of visiting a number of poor families in the city. The original group expanded quickly, and split into new groups known as conferences, and further chose as their patron Vincent de Paul, the seventeenth-century priest and founder of two religious orders and of a lay group devoted to the care of the poor.
Nevertheless, despite his role in shaping the Constitution and ideology of the Society, Ozanam did not assume any leadership position in its early years, preferring to continue to engage in visitation work. With another co-founder, law student, Francois Lallier, he drew up the Rule, its founding document. After some minor adjustments in its early years, the original Rule was to be used by conferences of the Society throughout the world until the late 1960s.
Ozanam contended that a more charitable attitude towards human suffering would provide the best remedy for social ills. Justice he felt, could not be restored entirely through legislation but required a change of heart on the part of both the giver and the receiver. The rich he felt must be prompted by a combination of charity and justice to help the poor and the poor must accept their generosity without bitterness. Frdric Ozanam believed that, as brothers of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, they had the opportunity to show that Christianity could have a pacifying role in the circumstances of a divided nineteenth-century France.
Emmanuel Bailly, publisher of the Catholic newspaper Tribune Catholique, became the first president-general of the Society in 1835. His family were custodians of the seventeenth-century records of Vincent de Paul, and he was considered largely responsible for infusing the Vincentian traditions into the rule of the Society. The primary purpose of the Society was firmly established from the beginning: "the sanctification of its members through charitable works. The visitation of a family was seen as a means to an end, literally the opening of a door to a relationship that could offer moderate material assistance, lasting friendship and mutual spiritual benefit for both parties. Besides undertaking home visitation, the members began to engage in other works such as establishing clothes depots, visiting prisoners, arranging apprenticeships for young people and securing work for those who had none.
The arrival of the Society in Ireland is seen simply to be part of the general trend that saw it extend beyond France to other countries in the decade following its establishment. Bartholomew Woodlock, vice-rector of the newly-established All Hallows Missionary College in Drumcondra, a priest of the Dublin diocese, and later, bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, is acknowledged as the principal founder of the Society in Ireland. It was considered that, because of his concerns over the lack of religious zeal among young men in Dublin, a lay organisation that could combine opportunities for spiritual development through charitable works may have a particular appeal.
The nineteen founding members of the Society were older than their French counterparts, mostly established business and professional men, and members of the Catholic middle class. They met in the parish of St Michan's on 16 December 1844, at the White Cross rooms, in Charles Street West, near the Four Courts, to begin the process of establishing the Society in Ireland. Many were connected through professional, family and social ties. Thomas Willis, an apothecary and doctor, lived and worked in the district. His son, Richard, was also a doctor and was to become the Society's first secretary. John Alcorn, a leather merchant, lived in nearby High Street. Redmund Peter O'Carroll was an attorney, legal adviser to the National Board of Education, and a friend of Archbishop Murray; barrister, John O'Hagan, credited with authorship of the new organisation's first annual report, published in 1846, was a member of the Young Ireland movement. Also present at the first meeting was John O'Connell MP, son of the Liberator. Woodlock's father, an attorney, had been a close associate of Daniel O'Connell during the Emancipation campaign. Another priest, Stephen Farrell, a curate in Francis Street, is listed among the co-founders.
The business and purpose of the committee was announced in formal terms at the second meeting, just before Christmas, 1844. "Having learned of the many and great advantages produced by the Society of St Vincent de Paul in France and England, we have to express our most unqualified approbation of the objects which it proposes to itself and of the means which it makes use of to attain those ends. Second, that on the one hand admiring this Society and on the other considering the situation of this country and of Dublin in particular, we are most desirous to have it established in this city."
That they intended to engage immediately in the active work of the Society is evident from the business of this second meeting. The minutes show that they were already planning to approach local purveyors and to procure food tickets that could be presented in exchange for groceries. The tickets would be given to the poor during home visitation and used to acquire a range of provisions at designated shops, such as bread, meal, milk, tea, potatoes, butter, as well as coal and turf.
Archbishop Murray was pleased to grant permission for the establishment of the Society in the diocese. As a recent member of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Poorer Classes in Ireland, he had been made acutely aware of the extent of poverty in the city. The archbishop appointed Woodlock as spiritual director of the Society in Ireland, and by the summer of 1845 the Society had fifty-nine members and had held its first general meeting.
Redmund O'Carroll was elected first president of the council of Ireland in February 1846, but was to die the following year at the age of forty-three, the victim of a typhus epidemic. Given the size of the Society in its early years - less than twenty conferences in the country as a whole by 1847 - it would not have been possible to mount a major relief operation during the Famine, but the council of Ireland was able to appeal directly to the council-general in Paris for aid from other countries where the Society was established. Holland was the main contributor, with Italy, Turkey, France and England also giving donations. The Mexicans, although at war themselves, contributed, and within a few months, 153,000 francs, over 6,000, had been raised and sent to the Society in Ireland.
By the end of 1850, there were twenty-four conferences in the country, seven of these within the Dublin city area. Adolphe Baudon, third president-general, paid a visit to Dublin in 1856. Although the main work of the conferences was visitation of the poor in their homes, the Rule encouraged conferences to undertake additional 'special works'. St Vincent's Orphanage in Glasnevin, and the Penny Banks savings scheme, became the first of these works in Ireland.
In Ireland, the Society had continued to expand in the years after its foundation in 1844. Its role in the relief of poverty in Dublin was recognised by the civil authorities in 1861 when it was requested to ...'assist Mr Place with statistics and other information relating to works of the Society as he may require to make use of in giving evidence before the parliamentary committee now investigating the operation of the Poor Law in Ireland'.
Behind the grandeur of the occasion, the Society members were constantly under pressure to respond to the overwhelming needs of the destitute poor. The 1873 annual report stated that many conferences were largely subsidised by the Central Committee for the Relief of Irish Distress, located in the Mansion House, and in the same year, the grocers of the city made a donation of 500 towards providing provisions for the poor in eighteen conferences of Dublin city and suburbs. The twenty-five conferences in Dublin in 1904 had increased to fifty-six in Dublin and suburbs by 1919. This pattern of growth was reflected in conference figures for Ireland as a whole:
To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Frdric Ozanam in 1913, a fifty-bed Night Shelter for homeless men was opened in Great Strand Street. The following year brought the 1913 strike and lockout, during which the Society arranged to have 20,000 school meals served to poor families, and more than 15,000 items of clothing distributed.
A modest relaxation by the twentieth century in its attitude to publicity may also have helped to generate more public support for the Society and its works. Traditionally, Christian humility, as formulated in the Rule, forbade the members from drawing attention to their activities in any way.
As far back as 1847, the brothers in Rathmines were instructed not to wear distinguishing badges when walking in Daniel O'Connell's funeral procession. While the annual report for 1899 stated that publicity was to be avoided in order to 'preserve the unostentatious character of the organisation', the archbishop of Dublin, William Walsh, suggested that the Society should give some consideration to letting its works be known more generally, and it was agreed, after consultation with the council-general, that the annual report and proceedings of quarterly general meetings be sent to the press.
The Society was however particularly sensitive to any hint of association with political movements. With amazing restraint, the editor of the Bulletin managed to avoid any direct reference to the 1916 Rising, even though its offices over Mackey seed merchants, at 23 Upper O'Connell Street, were almost opposite the General Post Office. The editor simply explained that the delay in getting editorial material from France was 'owing to postal disarrangement arising directly out of the recent disturbances in Dublin'.
Nevertheless, in 1916, some 80,000 people had received food at the various depots. The Society finished its emergency work on 7 May, and the Poor Law authorities undertook the relief from the following day. In July 1922, the Society suffered more directly from the conflict when its premises in O'Connell Street were damaged by fire, and furniture and records destroyed. Nevertheless, the annual report in 1923 was happy to state that the 'very abnormal conditions which existed in 1922 and for some years prior thereto had almost completely passed away.'
3. Organisation and Structure
This chapter examines how the Society is structured and governed. It considers the internal governance of the charity; its basic operating unit, the conference along with the society's Manual of Rules. It further considers the admission of women as members.
Legal Structure of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
The form of Governing Instrument best suited to the function of any charity depends very much on the charitable purposes, the planned activities of the charity and how it is proposed to fund these activities.
My search into the legal structure of the Society was fruitless. From a research point of view, and an investigation into the historical background of the Society, I discovered that the governing document was held with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's National Archive. I was in contact with many of the staff from the Society, and corresponded with them on many occasions. However as volunteers, they had an inadequate knowledge of the governance structure of the Society. My request, in person to the Head Office for access to the National Archives was denied and at present I am still awaiting a reply from the National President.
My meeting with one volunteer however, led me to conclude that the Charitable organisation took the form of an unincorporated association with Rules. The reasons for this are as follows: Firstly, an unincorporated association is essentially a contractual arrangement between individuals who have agreed to come together to form an organisation for a particular purpose. The association will normally have as its governing document, a constitution or set of rules, which will deal with such matters as the appointment of office bearers, and the rules governing membership. Finally, the organisation is not a separate legal entity. So it cannot start legal action, it cannot borrow money, and it cannot enter into contracts in its own name. I have unfortunately no concrete evidence to reinforce my inclinations.
The Importance of such a large Organisation's Structure and Governance
In 1948, a Brother from a Dublin Council made the gloomy prediction in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's publication the Bulletin that, with the prevailing levels of leakage in 1948, that the 'Society should be defunct in Dublin by 1960'. The role of the president was deemed to be crucial, both in recruiting new members and in all aspects of running a conference. Due to the fact that there was no restriction on the length of time a president could remain in office, major difficulties were experienced by councils and conferences. The commentary to Article 9 of the Rule defined the duration of office as being for 'an indefinite period'. For example, John Bradstreet had been president of the council of Ireland from 1855 to 1889. Long-serving, elderly presidents were thus having a detrimental effect on the morale and efficiency of both conferences and councils.
Charles Kavanagh Murphy, a member of the council of Ireland from Cork, and author of a number of works on the Society, was highly critical of the practice of fixed term of office and saw it as a threat to the future of the Society.
"Unless some means be found - and without delay - of terminating a president's tenure of office, I believe the Society of St Vincent de Paul will perish. The information available shows that it is suffering extensively from the consequences of the present most unsatisfactory system of office-holding. Unfortunately the Manual commentary on this serious question - article 9 of the Rule - quite underestimates the gravity of the situation."
The Manual and Rules were revered as the fundamental charter and essential reading for all members. The introduction to the Manual's twenty-first edition in 1958 was able to declare that the 'Rule was scrupulously reproduced, including even details referring to situations long past.' It contained instructions on practical details such as council formation, the election of officers, and procedures at meetings, and unaltered since the 1830s.
Women and the Society: An Important Addition
Growth in the number of conferences was viewed as an essential indicator of the health of the organisation, and the recognition of women as members marked an important turning point in the Society's history.
Women were not admitted as active members of the Society in Dublin until the late 1960s. Traditionally, they had played a strong support role in the Society's activities. When the Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers' Society were reorganising their fundraising in 1919, the Society of St Vincent de Paul supplied them with the names of 500 women who had collected money on its behalf. Women were particularly active during and after the Second World War, when clothing was scarce and needlework skills in demand. In the new district of Crumlin in the 1940s, ladies were visiting the homes at the request of conferences and were considered 'very helpful in ascertaining the exact requirements of our families'.
There were two international societies open to women who wished to associate themselves with the Vincentian works of charity. The Ladies' Society of St Vincent de Paul, founded in Bologna in 1856, shared the same aims and structures as its male counterpart but was run as an entirely independent association. After the First World War, women university students in France began forming their own conferences, but felt little attachment to the Society in Bologna.
The Ladies' Association of Charity had been founded in 1617 by Vincent de Paul, and by the 1960s, had half-a-million members in forty countries. There was a branch in Dublin by 1843 and the Association became active in the visitation of the homes of the poor. However, the Association was numerically weak in Dublin by the mid-twentieth century.
Although acceptance of women into the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Ireland had begun by the 1960s it depended on the approval of the bishop of the diocese. The first women's conference was established in Galway diocese in 1962. A second, in Ballina in 1963, was 'warmly approved' by the bishop of Killala. By the end of 1963, there were eight women's conferences in six dioceses.
While all-women conferences generally came to be accepted, the question of mixed conferences of men and women led to additional debate, both at home and abroad. In March 1961, Bill Cashman wrote to Archbishop McQuaid outlining a proposal to establish five women's conferences, one in each Dublin region: McQuaid's reply was short. "The establishment of women's branches was a major affair, which he had referred to the council of the diocese"
It wasn't until 1964, three years later, McQuaid informed Bill Cashman sanctioning in this diocese the formation of ladies' conferences and of mixed conferences in special works
Current Governance Structure
- Society of St. Vincent de Paul
- National Council
- National Management Council
- National Board: Subset of National Council
- Society divided up into 13 Regions
- Local Conferences, of which there are over 1000, broken up into 120 Areas 9500 Volunteers
Ireland's Largest Voluntary Organisation
At the top level of the Society, the council of Ireland oversees the work of the councils and conferences, maintaining, and ensuring that new conferences are generally upheld the interests of the Society.
The local Conference is the basic operating unit of the society, of which there are over 1000. Each conference is organised into 120 Area and has a good deal of autonomy. It has an elected president who can serve between a three and five year term, and is responsible for its own work, but is linked to the rest of the SVP through membership of Area Councils. These Areas are in turn organised into 13 Regions, which forms the nation organisation. The regions are as follows:
- Galway City
- South East
- North Midlands
- South Midlands
Most Conferences are engaged in family visitation, however recently an increasing number are undertaking special work such as visiting prisons, holidays for young and old, running hostels for homeless, running youth clubs and working with the Traveller Community.
Typically, a conference has in the region of 8 to 10 members, and works within a particular parish. For example, a conference with which I volunteered a number of years ago was in the Jobstown area of Tallaght, not far from my home. There, the conference met once a fortnight, on a Monday in the Pastoral centre of the local parish, St. Thomas' of the Apostle. The members discussed individual cases with residents from the local community.
Each conference is obliged to submit an annual report to the council of Ireland on its work during the year, accompanied by a detailed account of income and expenditure for the twelve months. Whilst previously, most of its conferences were in city parishes or in neighboring suburbs, this has changes with the recent expansion and development of new housing areas.
The National Council is the ultimate decision making body. It meets once a year and consists of the 120 Area and 13 Regional Presidents, the National President and a number of nominees made by the National President.
A division of this council is the National Management Council, which meets five times a year and consists of the 13 Regional Presidents, the National President, and a small number of nominees by the National President. The National board is a subset of the above National Management Council. It meets 11 times a year and consists of the National President and their appointees, which are usually between 8-10 in number.
The Organisation, Property and Staff
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul employs over 500 people. The majority work in the service end of the Society, such as its hostels, crches, day care centre or one of its 137 Charity shops. Others are involved in the coordination and administration of the Society.
- Hostels: 13 in 11 Counties
- Charity Shops 137 (with 31 in the Dublin area)
- Resource Centres (Croi na Gaillimhe, Lixnaw Kerry, Ozanam House Dublin)
Countless searches through the Company Registration Office revealed little. Firstly, none of their 137 Charity Shops are Registered Companies. A search under the Registered Business names revealed the same result.
For such a large organisation, only one company is registered by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with the CRO. The first is the Frederic Ozanam Trust (incorporated). First registered on the 31/11/1945, with its address at the the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's main headquarters in Sean MacDermott Street, Dublin, all properties owned by the Society are vested in this body. This coincides with Article 34 of the Rules for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Ireland.
The second result I returned was a Business name, St. Vincent de Paul Job Creation registered on the 15/01/2001 with its offices in Friary Lane, Tralee.
4. The Charitable Purpose Advanced by the Charity
This chapter explores the rationale for the charity's existence. It considers the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's charitable purpose and public benefit, the two elements, which must be proved in order for charitable status to be granted to the charity. These elements were recently governed by the common law, however in the last five years, new tests for public benefit and statutory definitions of charitable purposes have emerged.
This chapter will focus on the Society's recent work in the advancement of its charitable purpose. (The historical analysis of its 20th Century charitable work can be found in chapter one.)
Charities Act 2009, s.3(1)-
For the purposes of this Act each of the following shall, subject tosubsection (2), be a charitable purpose:
(a) the prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship;
(b) the advancement of education
(c) the advancement of religion
(d) any other purpose that is of benefit to the community
(2) A purpose shall not be a charitable purpose unless it is of public benefit
(3) Subject tosubsection (4), a gift shall not be of public benefit unless
(a) it is intended to benefit the public or a section of the public, and
(b) in a case where it confers a benefit on a person other than in his or her capacity as a member of the public or a section of the public, any such benefit is reasonable in all of the circumstances, and is ancillary to, and necessary, for the furtherance of the public benefit
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul: Charitable Purpose
The Society's mission Statement is inspired by their principal founder, Frederic Ozanam, and our patron, St. Vincent de Paul; We seek to respond to the call every Christian receives to bring the love of Christ to those in need: "I was hungry and you gave me food" (Matthew 25)
Public benefit is to be derived from the Charitable purpose of the individual organisation. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul's aim is to tackle poverty in all its forms through the provision of practical assistance to those in need. No work of charity is foreign to the Society. Its concept of need is broader than financial hardship, and includes visiting the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned form a large proportion of the Society's work. The Society's work is characterised by:
- Support and friendship through person-to-person contact.
- Promoting self-sufficiency through assisting to achieve self-sufficiency in the longer term.
- Working for social justice by identifying the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Ireland and advocating for the changes required to create a more just and caring society.
How it carries out its Charitable Purpose
The question here is not so much what the Charity does as opposed to the difference it makes. Kieran Murphy,the National Director of Services in the 2007 summer edition of the Bulletin describes how the Society "help with nightmares, so that dreams become possible." He further notes that much of the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is with the nightmares of life; the older person living alone with few contacts with neighbours and friends, feeling vulnerable and alone on dark winter evenings; the arrival of a letter threatening disconnection from the gas company because of an unpaid bill; the man who is homeless, who has lost contact with his children.
He continues by stating that these nightmares are about the experience of social exclusion, the opposite of what it means to live life to the full. Thus purpose of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is to respond immediately and generously to these nightmares and then, in time, to hear what the person's dream is and to help fulfill that dream; to help with nightmares so that dreams become possible.
5. Fundraising Procedures and Summary Financial Accounts 2006-2008
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul requires a vast amount each year in order to carry out its work. The Society estimates that on average, it raises and spends over 40m each year in its work for people in need.
The members play an important role in the raising and managing of funds which is raised from the following sources:
- From members through the 'Secret Bag' Collection at meetings where members contribute in accordance with their ability.
- Regular Church Gate collections.
- Special Appeals, such as the Annual Appeal at Christmas.
- Bequests, statutory grants and corporate donations.
- Fundraising projects initiated at Conference level or Regional fundraising initiatives.
- Conferences in more affluent areas are encouraged to share their resources with Conferences in poorer areas.
- Members' 'Twinning Levy'. This is where members are encouraged to also contribute towards the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Africa, Irelands 'twinning partner.'
National Council of the Society of St.Vincent de Paul (Ireland) on the Summary Financial Statements for the year ended 31 December 2005
National Council of the Society of St.Vincent de Paul (Ireland) on the Summary Financial Statements for the year ended 31 December 2006
National Council of the Society of St.Vincent de Paul (Ireland) on the Summary Financial Statements for the year ended 31 December 2007
National Council of the Society of St.Vincent de Paul (Ireland) on the Summary Financial Statements for the year ended 31 December 2008
The National Board of the Society is responsible for preparing the financial statements of the Society including the summary financial statements. The summary financial statements net certain incoming resources against certain resources expended.
This report is made solely to the National Council of the Society of the St.Vincent de Paul (Ireland), as a body. The responsibility of the Independent Auditor is to report as to whether or not the figures have been properly extracted from the consolidated financial statements on which we have reported to the National Council with an unqualified opinion.
6. Challenges Facing the Charity in the Context of the New Statutory Regulations on Accountability and Financial Reporting
The Wheel, in 2009 released a checklist as to the preparation to be made for the various new requirements under the Charities Act 2009. Some of the main points are listed below.
- Copies of your constitution, articles of association
- Information about your area of operation (nationally/outside the State)
- Bank details for charitable funds
- What activities will be carried out for each of your charitable objects
- How your organisation has raised its funds and /or how it intends to do so in the future
- The amount of funds raised since your organisation was formed;
- Your plans for funding specific activities;
- Details on your use of professional fund-raising consultants;
- Details of risk assessments and checks/safeguards for organizations working with vulnerable people;
- Details of your organisation's gross income in the last financial year;
- A copy of your financial accounts for last year
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul will have no issues with compliance of the above "checklist." The sheer size of the organisation, along with its assets and staff base means that it can easily fulfill the additional requirements under the Charities Act 2009.
7. Interaction with the State through Advocacy and the Market
This chapter considers the interface between the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the State in the context of political purposes, lobbying, campaigning and advocacy. It first considers the Society's initial stance in this area before considering its more recent interaction with the State.
Interestingly, from its inception, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul had stringent rules regarding publicity and political activity. Christian humility, as formulated in the Rule, forbade the members from drawing attention to their activities in any way. The strict adherence to the Rule can be seen as far back as 1847, where the brothers in Rathmines were instructed not to wear distinguishing badges when walking in Daniel O'Connell's funeral procession!
Furthermore, the Society was particularly sensitive to any hint of association with political movements. Another good example of the restraint within the Society was shown by the editor of the Bulletin, who managed to avoid any direct reference to the 1916 Rising, even though its offices over Mackey seed merchants, at 23 Upper O'Connell Street, were almost opposite the General Post Office. The editor simply explained that the delay in getting editorial material from France was 'owing to postal disarrangement arising directly out of the recent disturbances in Dublin'!
However, a modest relaxation by the twentieth century in its attitude to publicity attributed in many ways to its ability to generate more public support for the Society and its works.
Times change, people change, and so do charities, and responding to the immediate needs of people is only one side of the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
In a submission I received from the Society regarding their future ambitions in the area of advocacy, one of their volunteers stated the following as one of their aims; "To influence, in a Vincentian manner Government policy and public opinion."
In addition, they are concerned with bringing about changes to those structures, which contribute to creating the problems in the first place. This is done through their Social Justice work, which sees the Society advocating at local and national level with government and other policy makers. Their aim is to bring the experiences of the everyday lives of the people they work with into the policy making process. The Social Justice work basically tries to tackle some of the causes of the barriers which stop people from fully participating in the social and economic life of Ireland today. Much of this work is done through its 'From the Ground Up' work, which gathers issues at local level and lobby for practical changes in Governmentsocial policy, Regulators and companies. These activities form the basis of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Policy Submissions.
From the Ground up
Central to the Society's Social Justice Policy is its advocacy arm, 'From the Ground up.' This involves a considerable level of Member Liaison, communication and support between the project team and its members. The information gathered from conferences and meetings is further refined and developed in a Social Policy Analysis, which is promoted in a variety of arenas. Some of the work relates to policy issues at the local level with the majority of issues being National in scale.
Below is an interesting case study into the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's advocacy arm 'From the Ground up.' It is a good illustration as to how ordinary people can shape social policy.
Is there a Need for such Advocacy?
What is evident from the aforementioned chapter is that the lines between the State and the third sector are not clearly defined. These lines have, between the State and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul moved over time, from non existence, to continuous lobbying in the area of social justice.
The Submissions from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are evidence of this fact. They attempt to capture the experience of its Members and our Services in order to provide evidence based policy, and in recent years, this has come in the form of numerous submissions to Government Departments, Agencies and Task Forces as well as Regulators. This is alongside presentations to the Joint Oireachtas Committees and Political Parties on particular issues.
Political Advocacy under the Charities Act 2009
Regarding the question of "political cause" and advocacy as a charitable purpose, the relevant wording in the Act was designed to allow a charity to engage in valid political work as a means of achieving its charitable aims rather than as its primary activity.
This was due to the fact that many charitable organisations legitimately engage in advocacy as a means of achieving their charitable purposes. Thus, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other groups such as Barnardos will be able to engage in advocacy under the provisions of the Charities Act, as although advocacy in itself might not be an organisation's principal objective it is important that emphasis is placed on the word "principal" in that context. The standard therefore applied is that charities should not be primarily engaged in political activities.
Below is a list of submissions from the period 2008-2010:
- SVP Submission on Energy Utilities Codes of Practice
- Submission to Value for Money and Policy Review of Child Income Supports March 2010
- SVP Response to the Law Reform Commission's Consultation on Debt
- SVP Pre-Budget Submission April 2009
- SVP Submission to the Citizens Information Board April 2009
- SVP Submission to the European Commission on Financial Inclusion April 2009
- SVP Submission to Health Financing June 2009
- SVP Submission to the Private Residential Tenancies Board July 2009
- SVP Submission on Underachievement at 2nd Level August 2009
- SVP Submission on the Review of Gambling August 2009
- CV Pillar Submission to Joint Oireachtas Committee October 2009
- SVP Submission on National Positive Ageing Strategy October 2009
- SVP Pre-Budget Submission 2010
- SVP Submission on Carbon Tax - Spring 2008
- SVP Submission to Commission on Taxation - May 2008
- SVP Submission on Supplementary Welfare Rent Levels - May 2008
- SVP Submission on MABS to Comptroller and Auditor General - June 2008
- SVP Submission on Postal Services - July 2008
- SVP Submission: New Standards Regulation for Private Rented Accommodation August 2008
- SVP Submission on National Strategy for Social Protection and Inclusion - August 2008
- SVP Policy Statement: Housing Miscellaneous Provisions Bill - September 2008
- SVP Submission on the Intercultural Education Strategy
- SVPNEWB Submission - November 2008
- SVP Pre-Budget Submission for 2009 - November 2008
8. Organisation's Tax Treatment
All charitable organisations with the intention of applying for tax exemption require a legal structure and a Governing Instrument. Exemption to tax will therefore not be granted to organisations that have a mix of charitable and non-charitable purposes or where the objects of the body are considered to be either too vague or too broad.
This chapter considers the issue of tax, and how it relates to the direction of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It considers whether the Society is granted exemption from tax and further whether it is listed under the Scheme of Relief for Eligible Charities. Finally, it recommends improvements in the area.
Charities authorised under the Scheme of Tax Relief for Donations to eligible Charities and other Approved Bodies under the terms of Section 848A Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (Ireland) is not however an "Approved Body" under the above Act.
Reliefs from Tax available on the Income and Property of Charities:
- The tax code provides exemptions for charities as follows:
- Income Tax - Sections 207 and 208, Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997
- Corporation Tax (in the case of companies) - Sections 76 and 78 Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997
- Capital Gains Tax - Section 609, Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997
- Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) - Section 266 Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997
- Capital Acquisitions Tax - Sections 17, 22 and 76 of the Capital Acquisitions Taxes Consolidation Act 2003
- Stamp Duty - Section 82, Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999
- Dividend Withholding Tax - Chapter 8A, Part 6, Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997.
The Irish Charities Tax Reform Group, in its Pre-Budget Submission November 2009 noted that Charities pay VAT like a business but cannot reclaim it.
The Commission on Taxation, although dealt with the issue of VAT made no reference to the current regime affecting the charity sector.
Charities pay a 'levy' of unreclaimable VAT on their activities which includes capital expenditure, fundraising, promotion, essential equipment, professional fees and overheads.
The effect is that it significantly limits the work of charities with those most in need, both at home and abroad, and impacts negatively on independent fundraising, leading to a culture of dependency on state grants. St Vincent de Paul's VAT Bill on independently fundraised income, which is approximately 80% of its total income, is in excess of 3 million annually! That is 3 million which the charity could put to good use.
9. The Need for Funding
As the recession is hitting a growing number of households nationwide, one in every four calls to the St. Vincent De Paul are from people who donated before. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul are Spending 1million each week helping families, and their estimated expenditure in 2009 is 60 million, due to the alarming increase in demand for its services. This has been further compounded by the fact that in the 2010 budget, the Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has stated that gross funding will be reduced by 13%. The fundraising in a cold climate report indicates that the fundraising techniques, mission of the organisation and the way the organisation operates are key factors in a charity's ability to get through this current recession.
An analysis of the Society's summary financial statements for the years 2007-2008 highlight the increase of resources expended, up 6 million to 52 million. Although the Society is cash rich, their accounts show a net loss of 20 million in terms of outgoing / incoming resources for the year. Whilst on the other hand, the previous year (2007) showed a profit of just over 11 million.
It is inevitable that businesses, individuals and the Government will reduce their spending on non-profits during the economic downturn. The way in which the Society of St. Vincent de Paul reacts, at a time when it is needed the most will be crucial if it is to continue its increased level of spending.
I will reiterate some of the suggestions made in the fundraising in a cold climate report as to how the Society can ensure that it is in a strong position to face these challenging times.
- Examine your income streams
- Diversify your income streams
- Re-focus on donor retention
- Keep communicating with your donors
- Focus on long term transparency
- Do not stop efforts to find new donors
- Keep in touch with those who have stopped making donations
10. Weaknesses in its Current Structure
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an impressively run charitable organisation with little notable weaknesses. With over 9,500 volunteers, 500 staff and over 160 years experience, it represents itself and the public well as Ireland's largest voluntary organisation.
My research has however highlighted two minor concerns. Firstly, the financial statements of account from 2008 were only signed off on in January of 2010. Secondly, although the society has many repositories and archives, access is only granted to a chosen few. I would suggest that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul rectify this and open its archives to the public.