Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Donations not making it to those who need it

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Back in the early 1960s, every Wednesday, without fail, two nuns would visit the Dublin Cattle Market in Phibsboro. Their first task was to call around to all of the stands where the salesmasters sold their stock.

At that time the Dublin market was in decline due to emerging competition from the marts but it still attracted a lot of business during the period I worked there.

I can still see the nuns clearly in my mind's eye, two small and determined ladies, who, once they had finished their rounds of the salesmasters offices, would position themselves on one of the main passageways, not far from my father's stand, accepting donations from whoever passed by.

They were greatly liked by all, perhaps because they were pleasant, quiet and unobtrusive, receiving gifts gratefully but never demanding them.

I think they did very well from their weekly rounds of the market, perhaps because the cattlemen of those days saw a charitable donation as a means of cleansing their souls after clinching so many hard deals.

Who knows what motivated these tough businessmen, but as well as silver, many a note was pressed in to the nuns' hands accompanied with an enquiry as to their wellbeing.

There was a lovely story about how one of the wealthier shipping men invited the head nun to join him in a drink when she was changing her coins into notes in the City Arms hotel at the end of the day's business.

She said she would be delighted to accept his offer and sitting down, asked for a large brandy.

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A bit taken aback, the man still ordered the drink and the nun then took a bottle out of her carrier bag and poured the brandy in to it.

She thanked him for his generosity and smiling, said that the brandy would be gratefully received by one of the many elderly people she visited who lived alone.

I mention this piece of history as I was struck by the kindness that those two ladies brought to the lives of both the cattlemen and the poor whom they cared for. Compare this simple direct benevolence with the manner in which some modern charities are run.

Many have grown into very profitable businesses with huge salaries paid to the people in charge. The amount paid to the head of REHAB has disgusted us all and it is difficult to imagine how it could ever have been justified.

Worse still is the large sum paid to a lobbyist employed by charities. Those two nuns didn't need anyone to lobby for them, nor indeed could they have afforded it.

They simply accepted money from the wealthy and redistributed it to the poor. I am also sure none of them kept for themselves the equivalent of €240,000, the amount published as being paid annually to the head of REHAB.


Some charities have become huge industries, with large numbers of staff running their affairs. I often wonder if more money goes into administration than reaches the people the charity was set up to help in the first place.

The ads we see on television that ask us to help save some obscure and endangered animal or provide water for an African village are slick and professional. Requesting us to send €2 a month or some such sum, they bombard us with pictures of emaciated and starving children or rare tigers dying, having been trapped by poachers.

They are cleverly designed to make us reach for the phone and give our credit card details. Given the huge cost of making such ads and paying for air time, they must be extremely successful.

I would dearly love to know just what percentage of donations actually reach the endangered or starving victims of poverty. Having read travel writer Paul Theroux's descriptions of travelling through the African countryside and seeing the staff of aid agencies driving smart new SUVs and staying in the best hotels, I made a firm decision to only donate to charities I know and trust.

There are many of them including the Society of St Vincent De Paul, the Simon Community and the Big Issue, all of whom help the homeless and genuinely needy. Isn't it all a far cry from the simple charity both given and received by those two nuns in the 1960s?

And on a slightly different issue, can anyone tell me how much of LEADER funding goes on administration?

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