Charities bill under way in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Charities Bill, which will establish a charity commission and a register of in the province for the first time, had its first reading in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday.

The bill, delayed by the suspension of the assembly until May this year, was introduced by Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie.

"This is an important step forward for the charitable sector in Northern Ireland," she said. "At present, there is no requirement for charities to register, nor is there a regulating body for charities such as exists in England, Wales and Scotland. There was clear support for such a move during our consultation process. This will bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of Great Britain."

Registration will be compulsory for all charities; organisations wishing to register will have to demonstrate they provide public benefit. The sector will be governed by a Charity Commission for Northern Ireland comprising 12 staff, a chief executive, a chief commissioner, deputy chief commissioner and between three and five commissioners.

The bill will be debated by the social development committee in January and subject to further debate in the assembly. Stakeholders hope it will become law by summer 2008.

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