It's the social economy stupid…

Tom Kelly kicks of his Irish News column this week with a comparative analysis of the contrasting ways in which both parts of Ireland spent their respective windfalls from the European Union.

The EU generously gave us millions to capacity-build the social economy and to what end? Compared to the north, the Republic got roughly one third of EU funds made available but they built a real economy creating jobs and opportunity. We preferred the less travelled road of building an inter-community infrastructure around what is not there. Despite spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on community relations, we have ended up more polarised than ever before.

He singles out the voluntary sector for particular attention:

Of course, the burgeoning industry that is the voluntary sector know only too well how to keep the funds flowing into wasteful programmes but in reality it’s time to get serious about community relations and even more serious about what we want to achieve.

  • irishman

    More rubbish from Kelly. I’m sure people working tirelessly in the voluntary/ community sector to improve the lot of the most vulnerable and needy in society will react with righteous anger at his flippant dismissal of their work. In a week when the local media has focused heavily on the tragic issue of suicide and it’s prevalence in certain geographic clusters, we don’t need to hear Tom ‘THE SUN SAYS’ Kelly ranting about how useless this sector is.

  • Occassional Commentator

    Are you saying that everyone in the voluntary/community sector is totally honest and generous and hardworking? I know people who work in it and are disgusted at the laziness and borderline corruption of many full time staff employed by charity – in fact, the charity I’m talking about made the news recently after getting a large bit of state funding – I’d prefer not to name it.

    Maybe those that are actually volunteering deserve a pat on the back but even then you have to remember that in Northern Ireland a lot of so called charity and community groups are nothing more than paramilitary fronts.

    We need better a regulated and more transparent charity/community sector and the state shouldn’t be directly involved in deciding where the money goes, it should follow private donations or something.

  • fair_deal


    Laziness and corruption are not the preserve of any one sector in Northern Ireland.

    “We need better a regulated and more transparent charity/community sector “

    That is coming with the present DSD consultation to adopt the English model for charity oversight. However, I know a number of voluntary groups who already operate to the higher English standards as they are considered good/best practice.

  • George

    Whether these people are honest and generous and hardworking is beside the point Irishman.

    Is what they are doing healing anything or are they just a plaster on a running sore.

    They certainly aren’t productive from an economy viewpoint, taking resources and not creating any.

    Maybe rather than spending billions on social workers to analyse and try understand the deprived, they could look to invest in getting them decent jobs and education so they can analyse and understand themselves.

    Cut out the middleman I say.

  • Occasional Commentator

    I had heard of the DSD consultation – will it result in good regulation and if so, when? Is it still many years away? True, laziness and corruption is everywhere and can never be wiped out altogether (I for one am quite lazy in work!), but at least the private sector and the public services are regulated in some way.

    George, the value that good charities give cannot always be described as economically productive, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good thing. \Anyway, the economy is just a means to an end, that end being health and happiness for everyone. A well run charity can do that.

    But the charity/community sector in NI is so incompetent and badly regulated at the moment that it’s less value than putting the money into infrastructure and jobs.

  • fair_deal

    “the private sector and the public services are regulated in some way.”

    Funding bodies have tighted up on controls and regulations through funding contracts.

    A quick timescale (in legislative terms) is dependent on the Assembly returning. No return and it will be a long while (too long).

  • George

    “the value that good charities give cannot always be described as economically productive, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good thing.”

    True but surely NI should measure itself by the best practises of other nations, which would indicate that one of the main reasons why there isn’t enough cash for running the area is that there aren’t enough people working in wealth generation and too many in jobs are funded by the exchequer.

    It can be argued that you will have more social problems if you cut some of this service provision but equally you will never cure the social problems unless NI starts generating wealth.

    As I said, at the moment it’s a plaster on a running sore – window dressing for the outside world so everyone in power in NI can say something is being done.

    This vicious circle has to be broken and the only way to do that is to get these numbers down to international norms.

    Or do you see a different way?

  • Occasional Commentator

    George, I don’t see a different way. I agree entirely that there won’t be any money for anything charitable or otherwise unless we have a good economy.

    I think I agree with you entirely. I was just trying to make sure that nobody thinks I am against charity simply because I want a strong economy that isn’t propped up by the public sector or the EU.

    irishman, if the community groups are so great, then why are the suicides still happening? PS: I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to those suicides, I’m just curious.

  • Zorro


    From what you have written it looks like you have missed the point. You have failed or are unable to get the point. I for one, agree exactly with what TK is saying. Explain to me please, which bit don’t you agree with?

    “…it’s time to get serious about community relations and even more serious about what we want to achieve.

  • Comrade Stalin

    George, I agree with you. I’m of the opinion that the “voluntary” sector takes a lot more than it gives back to society, but I’d be willing to stand corrected. Can anyone flag up a few noteworthy voluntary projects of late ?

    There does need to be some sort of authority managing voluntary sector funding, producing a single report each year on the total amount being spent by the state and detailing the work that has been done.

  • IJP

    a single report each year on the total amount being spent by the state and detailing the work that has been done.

    … and this report must not include any of the words ‘facilitate’, ‘assist’ or ‘framework’, nor any of the phrases ‘take steps’, ‘move forward’ or ‘role to play’. Nor indeed must it make any use of the passive.

    Then we would see exactly who is doing what, because I wouldn’t want the voluntary sector all tarred with the same brush, but I do want to know which of the organizations within it are doing the job (for I’ve also no doubt many aren’t).

  • dog watcher

    Is there any possibility Tom Kelly is expecting the tail to wag the dog? Despite the ‘millions’ spent on community relations Northern Ireland is still more polarised than ever. Could this be because we have a political system which is built upon ethno-nationalist entrepreneurs outbidding eachother to be the ones to wipe out the opposition? And then we spend the whole of the Northern Ireland bloc (over £10 billion) on public services which until now have accepted segregation, division and duplication as normality. Then we spend the equivalent of one tube of toothpaste for every adult in Northern Ireland per year on community relations. Does anyone seriously think this on its own will fix things?

    I know of workers and volunteers in voluntary and community groups who spend night after night on the streets in summer trying to keep kids away from interfaces. They then spend the rest of the year trying to being people from different backgrounds together to build up trust and try to understand their differences before starting to explore how they might live peacefully together. In some communities these are massive steps. Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves. And anyone who thinks a shotgun marriage political settlement will solve everything on the ground is similarly deluded.

    As for real jobs, the fact that 60% of Northern Ireland’s GDP comes from the public sector is not the fault of the voluntary and community sector. What the hell is the private sector doing? It gets even bigger handouts (don’t get me started on farmers) and still can’t manage to generate wealth. In fact, overlapping wth the voluntary sector, there are around 5,000 not-for-profit social enterprises in Northern Ireland which are trying to provide jobs, shops, training, childcare and many other services in areas where the market has failed. Any money they generate is ploughed back into the community, not into the pockets of shareholders. Many also act as intermediate labour market schemes to get people into employment in the mainstream economy.

    By the way, does everyone know that the ‘millions’ of EU peace money also paid for the Toome bypass? Or that the voluntary and community sector (only 8% ofwhose income comes from EU money) employs almost 30,000 people, many of whom would not otherwise have an experience of work? Most of them are Companies Limited by Guarantee so if you want to know where their money comes from, what they spend it on and what they’re doing, nip down to Companies House and take a look. It’s no secret.

    And I’m still waiting for the research from anywhere in the world that demonstrates that economic development builds peace. Not so, fixing relationships and building trust builds peace. The main people doing this at the minute are voluntary and community organisations.