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Vol 9 • Issue 1 • Spring 2010

Le Chéile



Trinity College, there are over 23,000 nonprofit organisations in Ireland, of which about 7,500 are recognised charities. We have a diverse sector made up of a big mix of community organisations, voluntary organisations, charities, non-profit organisations, social enterprises, trusts, cooperatives, associations, councils, societies, federations, foundations, philanthropies … and sometimes the diversity can seem almost designed to confuse.


Indeed, it can sometimes be difficult to see what all these organisations have in common – and some people argue that there is no such thing as a “community and voluntary sector” at all.

I contend that when we talk about the sector we may not be completely certain of what we mean – but we generally have a strong sense that all these organisations have something in common. But what is it? It seems to me that a few characteristics of community and voluntary organisations are fairly clear and generally agreed: firstly they work on a

voluntary basis, secondly they are generally working to make peoples’ lives better and Ireland a better place (maybe even a fairer, more just and more inclusive society) and thirdly, they work on a non-profit basis.

“I think it can be reasonably argued that the cumulative effect is to reduce the supports for

independent voice in our sector…”

ccording to research published by the Centre for Nonprofit Management in

Is there something else though – something that distinguishes the work of these organisations from that of public-sector bodies?

When we think about public services, we generally think about the health service, the education service, public transport, social welfare etc. We are also clear that people have - or should have - rights and entitlements to public services and that the state has a duty to ensure that each person receives the public services that are - or should be - their entitlement. At least that’s the theory.

We know of course that there are big deficits in Irish social and environmental provision and in public and social services generally, and that many community and voluntary organisations work to address these deficits.

It seems to me that the public sector’s job is to ensure that all people receive the public services they require. One important part of our sector’s work is to make peoples’ lives better by advocating for progressive social change and for the provision of services for all.


Community and voluntary organisations need to be independent of the public sector (and the private sector) if they are to perform this vital advocacy function credibly and effectively. They also need to be independent so they can be in charge of their own destinies, to deliver services (if they provide them) the way they want to.

So I am arguing that the fourth characteristic that binds organisations together into the community and voluntary sector is independence. Community and voluntary organisations should be independent of any influence that could prevent them from performing their central task – advocating for progressive social change and/or for the provision of services.

But what do we mean by independence? We in The Wheel have put much thinking into this and boiled it down to its essence: community, voluntary and charitable organisations should be independently constituted. At a minimum, community and voluntary organisations should be able to alter their

IS IT TIME to defend the independence of the community & voluntary sector?

Ivan Cooper, Director of Advocacy at The Wheel, argues that we should act now to protect the critical independence of the community and voluntary sector in Ireland. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34
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