Key groups in the country's 8,000-strong charity sector have welcomed the announcement that an Independent Charities Regulatory Authority is to be established next year, writes Religious and Social Affairs Correspondent Joe Little.

The announcement by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter follows a lengthy campaign by the sector for the full implementation of the 2009 Charities Act, which provided for such a watchdog.

The minister had postponed the move because of a lack of resources in his department.

However, the Government has now approved plans for an authority that will be partly funded by a levy on registered charities.

During a recent departmental consultation with the sector, an annual fee ranging between €75 and €500 was floated, depending on the income of the charity, with a token fee for very small charities. No fee would be charged before 2015.

In a statement, Mr Shatter said the intention is that regulation of the sector will in time become "largely self-financing".

The new Charities Regulatory Authority to be appointed next year will establish and maintain a register of charitable organisations and ensure and monitor compliance by charitable organisations with the 2009 act.

It will carry out other functions set out in the act including:

- Increasing public trust and confidence in the management and administration of charitable trusts and organisations

- Promoting compliance by charity trustees with their duties in the control and management of charitable trusts and organisations

- Ensuring the accountability of charitable organisations to donors and beneficiaries of charitable gifts, and the public

- Promoting understanding of the requirement that charitable purposes confer a public benefit

Welcoming the announcement, Hans Zomer, Director of Dóchas, the Irish Association of Development Non-Governmental Organisations, said the recession has forced funding cuts on the country's NGOs as well as greater demand on their services and greater public scrutiny.

He said Dóchas welcome the minister's plans to establish an Authority, describing it as an opportunity to strengthen the sector and reinforce the crucial role in society that it provides.

The Wheel, a national network representing over 900 charities, also welcomed the Government's decision.

Its Director of Advocacy, Ivan Cooper, described it as "good news for both the public and charities".

He said that when the regulator is established next year, members of the public will for the first time have access to comprehensive information on the activities of all of Ireland's 8,000 charities, including how they use their funds.

He said charities themselves will enjoy clarity on what the requirements are in relation to governance standards, fundraising practices and reporting requirements.

With regard to how the new authority will be funded, Mr Cooper promised The Wheel would work to ensure that the fees levied are fair to all charities.