Thousands of Irish people who give freely of their time to work in sports clubs, hospitals, schools, social services, animal welfare or other volunteer groups will be recognised this year under the European 2011 Year of Volunteering.
The year-long celebration, which was the brainchild of Irish MEP Marian Harkin, will include hundreds of events and high-level conferences in Ireland and across Europe over the course of the year.
It will also feature a European Year of Volunteering Pavilion that will tour every EU capital, passing through Dublin in late August, which will allow volunteering organisations to share their experience and showcase their activities.
Speaking at the launch of 2011 European Year of Volunteering in Budapest last weekend, Independent MEP Marian Harkin described the practice of volunteering as "Ireland's most valuable source of renewable energy".
The hardworking MEP, who first proposed the idea of dedicating a year to support volunteering across Europe, said it was high time that volunteers were recognised as making a valuable contribution to national economies.
"In countries with developed volunteering, their contribution has been measured at between 3 and 5 per cent of GDP. It has also been established by the International Labour Organisation that e1 invested in volunteering organisations delivers a return of between €5 and €8, so it makes good sense for governments to resource volunteering," said Ms Harkin.