Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if analysis has been completed in relation to the cost of volunteering in Ireland, the training of such volunteers, insurance costs, the retention factor of volunteers and the recruiting of volunteers; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Support for volunteering has steadily increased since a number of measures, amounting to almost €2million, were announced by my Department in March 2005. Following on from this package of measures, my Department has continued to fund a range of initiatives in this area, including providing financial support for the establishment of 16 volunteer centres throughout the country with further centres anticipated in the near future. In the Towards 2016 partnership agreement the Government underlined its commitment to further develop policy in support of volunteering, informed by the recommendations of the task force on active citizenship. The agreement also provided for increased funding of €5 million per annum to support volunteering and this Department is in consultation with a range of stakeholders to ensure the funding is channelled into best practice activities designed to further support volunteerism in Ireland.
Volunteer Centres Ireland, with the support of this Department, recently established a national database of statistics and opportunities relating to volunteering in Ireland. This initiative will assist in identifying trends and issues relating to volunteering retention and training needs. I am mindful of the need to periodically review and update the value of the volunteer sector within our communities, and officials in my Department are giving consideration to this matter.
JW: I raised this matter with regard to volunteers on the basis of a committee report. All of the major groups including Alone, Aware, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Glencree, Feis Ceoil, Muintir na Tíre, the Irish Rugby Football Association, the Red Cross and GOAL stated they have major problems with recruiting volunteers. Despite this, the ERSI report states volunteer numbers are increasing.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul stated its volunteer numbers decreased from 24,000 to 8,000. Where are the volunteers mentioned in the ESRI report? Aware has stated that maintaining volunteer commitment was a major concern. Feis Ceoil sought volunteers with skills in specialist areas rather than being approached. However, it found it challenging to find young volunteers. Glencree reported problems of obtaining visas for volunteers. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland stated the number of volunteers in its organisation had decreased from 500 to 200.
According to the Oireachtas committee’s report all of the numbers are falling. What is the difference between this and the ESRI report? People tell me it is hard to find volunteers and this is verified in the committee’s report but not in the ESRI report.
Deputy Pat Carey: Part of the issue is due to the fact that a vast range of voluntary organisations are now in existence. Some of them are much smaller than the large organisations which existed in years gone by. I was in the Leas-Cheann Comhairle’s county town last Friday, when I also visited Carlow and Kilkenny. I met with nine organisations during the course of the day and every one of them were driven by volunteers. I see this everywhere.
I take the point that some organisations find it difficult to retain volunteers. I happened to be in Tralee, County Kerry approximately three weeks ago. I was highly impressed by the pro-active approach the centre there takes to supporting organisations. The volunteer centres I mentioned in my reply will be built on during this year and next year with an additional 12 centres. These are county-based centres and are linked closely to county development boards and other organisations linked to local authorities.
I am confident we will be able to increase the level of voluntary involvement and, more importantly, through support and training will be able to retain volunteers. Part of the problem is that without training many volunteers got burnt out because they are asked to do anything and everything. With the identification of specific tasks for volunteers they are likely to stay in the organisation for a lot longer.
Deputy Jack Wall: The Irish Rugby Football Union claims there will be a missed generation of voluntary administrators. It lists various factors including longer working hours, fewer public holidays than in Europe, increased commuting times and more expensive housing and education. The largest factor is the litigation problem facing many volunteers. Does the Minister of State agree these are problems for clubs seeking volunteers?
Deputy Michael Ring: It is quite simple why people are not volunteering - they are afraid of being sued. Does the Minister of State propose to introduce legislation to protect volunteers from being sued? If a volunteer takes children to a football match on a Saturday or the zoo and an accident happens, the volunteer can be held personally responsible for it. That is one reason that many voluntary groups cannot get individuals involved.
Deputy Pat Carey: I am not sure legislative measures are needed. Among the supports volunteer centres provide are advice on issues such as adequate insurance and governance. We wondered if the vetting of volunteers would have reduced their numbers but it has not. A structure is being put in place to assist the volunteer centres and the organisations which will support the retention of volunteers. If legislative measures are necessary, then they can be examined but I have no immediate proposals to introduce such measures.