Cross-border working is rewarding – when you know how

A sell-out conference for charities working both North and South of the border heard from several speakers who outlined the specific challenges they faced and how they met them.

Over 100 delegates were at the Armagh City Hotel to hear from Inspire CEO Professor Peter McBride, New Wine Ireland’s John Stewart, both charity regulators, Dr Rosemary Peters Gallagher OBE and Nick Simkins from Moore Stephens and Graham Nolan from Graphite HR all agreed that there are substantial challenges faced by those working, or trying to work, across the border from different laws to cultural differences.

“There is an inevitable split in organisations that work North and South”

Dr Peter McBride was the first speaker, explaining how turning the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health (Niamh) into Inspire Wellbeing was about more than cosmetics – the rebrand was part of the charity’s move into the Republic of Ireland. While maintaining a single, unified vision of meeting the demand for mental health services on an all-island basis the charity was obliged to have two boards, a split Peter described as “inevitable” with the chair of each sitting on the other.

In this way the charity hoped to avoid divergence within the organisation but it also highlighted an important aspect of Inspire’s strategy when working across the border. Peter emphasised that the expansion was board-led and that it relied heavily on the board being up-to-date at all times, understanding the legislation and contributing to the sector as a whole. Both North and South Inspire engaged with NICVA and the Wheel, hoping to pass on their knowledge.

“Government and NDPBs don’t care what size you are”

New Wine Ireland is a much smaller charity than Inspire, with a small staff team. John Stewart said it was a great fun and privilege working North and South but that the time and cost implications were massive. Registering with both the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and the Charities Regulator, maintaining two board of trustees, two sets of financial reports, two bank accounts and producing two annual reports was a burden, John said. “Because government and NDPBs don’t care what size you are” John said the charity, a movement of churches working together, relied heavily on NICVA and other all-island charities, as well as a solicitor and chartered accountants – services procured at a cost.

"Our law is clear - you will find it very difficult to register as a charity in Ireland if you're from outside the EEA"

The previous two speakers joined John Farrelly, CEO of the Republic’s Charities Regulator, Frances McCandless, CEO of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and NICVA CEO Seamus McAleavey for a panel session.

Seamus had made the point in his opening remarks that charity law North and South prior to the existence of the two regulators was actually quite well aligned, as so much of it was derived from pre-1920, UK-wide law. The two regulators helpfully explained the differences, as they are now, at the start of the session.

Frances mentioned Section 167 (of the Charities Act) charities which were those subject to the courts of another jurisdiction but which operated in Northern Ireland. These will be recognised as charities but spared full reporting requirements once this section of the legislation is brought into force.

Her southern counterpart explained that the law in the Republic of Ireland was different – saying that you cannot set yourself out as a registered Irish charity if you're not and if you were  carrying out a public benefit in the ROI then you really need to register.

The first question from the floor highlighted an issue that appears both imminent and potentially serious. Having earlier stated that “you will find it very difficult to register as a charity in Ireland if you're from outside the EEA", John Farrelly was asked what the ramifications were if the UK left the EEA – a scenario which is highly likely. John, emphasising that it was his job to enforce the law, rather than amend it, acknowledged that the law might have to be changed in future.

Another question, from Advice NI, focussed on campaigning. Were campaigning rules different they asked? Not vastly so, according to the two regulators. John said that charities should be able to campaign away so long as it advances their charitable purpose, without crossing the line into backing candidates or parties. Frances said that, broadly speaking, the law was the same in Northern Ireland. Both regulators agreed that charities also had to consult what was in their governing document. Peter said that the capacity for campaigning in the South was greater because of the existence of local ministers.

Frances expressed concern that charities in the room had found registration time consuming and expensive, stating that CCNI’s systems were designed with ease of use and convenience in mind. There was, she said, a statutory requirement on the Commission to promote volunteering. She emphasised that regulation is in the public interest and the last thing either regulator wanted was to force charities out.

The detail

Dr Rosemary Peters Gallagher from Moore Stephens then took to the podium to give an overview of SORP, trustee reports, governing documents and reporting obligations North and South of the border.

Graham Nolan, of Graphite HR, talked through the HR rules in both jurisdictions. Covering employment law around contracts, sick pay, discrimination and arbitration, as with Rosemary’s presentation, he covered a great deal of information in very little time.

Brexit means Brexit

Finishing the day on a high note was Nick Simkins, from Moore Stephens who gave a brief overview of the potential implications of Brexit, based on what we know so far.

Nick stressed that 58 sectors had so far been consulted on Brexit but that the views of the charity sector had yet to be fully documented. He pointed out however that, UK-wide, the EU accounted for half a percent of charity income. In Northern Ireland that figure is around 9.4%, so the impact associated with losing all of it would be noticeably greater.

Listing tax, giving, relocation to the EU, the impact on foreign workers and charity law as having potential implications from Brexit, Nick outlined the areas charities should focus on ahead of Brexit. He said that charities should:

  • Build on EU relationships
  • Lobby their representatives
  • Use sector groups like NICVA and the Wheel
  • Conduct financial impact reviews
  • Retain their strategic focus and, importantly,
  • Continue to support their beneficiaries.

Share your COVID-19 support service

Organisations providing support to people and communities can share their service information here

> Share your support

Not a NICVA member yet?

Save time, money and energy. Join NICVA and you’ll be connecting in to a strong network of local organisations focused on voluntary and community activity.

Join Us

NICVA now welcomes all small groups for free.

Read more on...