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Fergus Finlay interviewed. By Ken Cowley

Equality, decency, children, Labour.

Barnardos
“We have come through a very difficult two years, with some restructuring and redundancies, but we are breaking even now. And despite the difficult times, we actually worked with more children and families last year than we did the previous year.

We are lobbying in the hope that any spin-off from an upswing in the economy will benefit children and families. Looking to the budget, I’m reminded of a recent debate on ‘Prime Time about post-Troika Ireland, which seemed to focus entirely on ‘how soon can we get tax cuts please?!’

I found myself shouting at the television: could we not talk about some of the inequalities in Irish society and could some of the fruits of any recovery not be used for those people? So, that’s our focus!”.

Children
“The communities we work in by and large were not affected by the Celtic Tiger, or in some cases it made things even worse. I’ve learned from my time in Barnardos that if there’s poverty in the home it’s hard for a child to develop, but if there are other issues of disfunction then the problem reaches Kilimanjaro levels. However if you ALSO live in a disadvantaged community, it turns in to Mount Everest”.

Charities’ accountability
“A big charity, such as this one, has to file almost 70 different reports, accounting for literally every single thing we do. And rightly so. Like any big organisation we need efficient structures and systems and we need to look after our 350 staff properly and reasonably. What has happened in a few organisations is that the willingness to account has disappeared. This must be regained”.

Charities Regulator
“It’s essential therefore that the new Regulatory Authority is adequately resourced. Ultimately the Authority’s job is to restore trust in the charity sector – a trust that has been seriously undermined by the behaviour of some people. That may well involve the Authority in investigation and enforcement as part of its work”.

Charities’ salaries
“Most employers in our sector try to be the best employers we can. Our people work in highly stressful and demanding – sometimes risky – situations, and their work is about transforming lives for the better. Of course they should be paid as well as we can, and enjoy decent working conditions. But the principle we’ve always applied is that we don’t step outside public-sector norms, and you can’t hide anything from people if you depend on their support.’

The Presidency
Michael D won the nomination fair and square. But I would have had my own style of Presidency, an activist President.

I would have won too. I’ve channelled my energy into Barnardos and am very happy here”.

Values
“There is a crying need for a debate in this country about values and priorities. It’s been difficult for Labour in government, but all of the broader Left is just way too involved in sniping. And until the discussion gets back to Equality, we really can’t get back to a proper revival of the Left. Even necessary austerity needs to have a threshold of decency around it, and I don’t believe nearly enough attention has been paid to that in recent times.

A society that has to tighten its belt doesn’t have to be a society where inequality is allowed to grow. Peter McVerry said he’d gladly sit in a few traffic jams if a little of the money spent on infrastructure could be spent on inequality. These are the sorts of stances the Left should be taking, instead of perpetual in-fighting”.

Labour Party
“A lot of people badly hurt by the Recession may feel Labour has not done enough to help them but the likes of Joan Burton have softened what might have been even worse welfare cuts”.

Labour leader
“As of this moment (4 June), I haven’t decided how I’m going to vote in the election”.

Optimism
“On balance I am optimistic, and I’d like to use one particular example to outline why: several of the high-profile public-private-partnership projects for inner-city development collapsed during the recession. All seemed lost. But, in Barnardos we work with families in some of these developments, and we have seen things slowly start to happen again in some of those locations. Not as fast as hoped for initially, nor as flash; but done properly, to a good finish, and most importantly with good co-operation between the community and the local authorities. This gives me hope”.