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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

Last update: 27 July 2022
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  1. Historical developments
  2. Main Concepts

Historical developments

Historical developments of volunteering in Ireland are set out in Ireland’s National Volunteering Strategy and within the National Report for Ireland in the Study of Volunteering in the European Union.

There has been a long tradition of voluntary activity and charitable service in Ireland that has been shaped by religious, political and economic developments. Volunteering in Ireland has also formed a substantial element of national economic and social life.

The Catholic Church was the key provider of essential social welfare services in Ireland until the 1960s. Volunteerism in 19th Century Ireland was also linked to the Gaelic cultural revival before independence from Great Britain. These Gaelic revivalist organisations made a distinct contribution to refining an Irish identity through organisations like Conradh na Gaeilge (formally known as the Gaelic league) and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) which still thrives today.

According to Volunteer Ireland, volunteers are currently involved in all aspects of Irish society supporting areas including health, education, culture, social services, the environment and the arts. 28.4% of the population, about 1 million people aged 15 and over, volunteer each year, according to the National Volunteering Strategy.

According to Ipsos MRBI statistics commissioned by Volunteer Ireland, three-quarters of the population volunteered their time since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. The most popular activities were grocery shopping (40%), befriending someone who was lonely (31%) and collecting prescriptions (29%). 32% of those who volunteered were between the ages of 15 and 34.

According to the European Commissions working document on the Situation of Young People in the European Union published in 2018, around 30% of young people aged between 15 and 30 years participate in voluntary activities in Europe. Ireland presents an above-average rate of youth volunteering with 40% of Irish young people participating in voluntary activities.



Main Concepts

Defining volunteering

Volunteering is defined in the National Volunteering Strategy as ‘any time willingly given, either formally or informally, for the common good and without financial gain’. 

 This definition of volunteering includes:

  • formal volunteering taking place within organisations (including institutions and agencies);
  • informal volunteering, that takes place outside an organisational setting;
  • the individual who, may not consider what they do as volunteering but sees his or her actions as ‘lending a hand’ or ‘being neighbourly’.

However, as the Strategy notes, volunteering is understood differently with people including volunteers themselves.


Volunteering vs. Internships

According to Volunteer Ireland, volunteering is different from internships in terms of motivation, the nature of role and timeframes. In terms of motivation, volunteering tends to be altruistic and internships tend to be linked to professional development.

The nature of roles also tends to differ between volunteering and internships. While volunteering covers a wide range of roles and skills, internships are generally skilled roles with a view to professional development. 

Volunteering and internships differ in relation to timeframes. Volunteering tends to have flexible timeframes whereas internships tend to have more rigid timeframes.