Share, , Google Plus, Pinterest,

Print

What cuts mean

The community sector is being gradually and inexorably dismantled as part of the Government’s austerity programme, writes Niall Crowley, while two campaigners explain the reality of cuts 

The community infrastructure includes groups combating poverty; youth projects; drugs projects; women’s groups; Traveller organisations; refugee support organisations; and disability groups. Over the last three decades a valuable community infrastructure had evolved within disadvantaged communities that provided services to these diffuse communities, gave voice to them and articulated alternatives of equality and social justice. This is an infrastructure that has become central to the survival of these communities in a hostile and unequal Ireland.

Research carried out by Brian Harvey for the Community Sector Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions paints a disturbing picture. The report finds a continued contraction of the voluntary and community sector. It had contracted by 15% by the end of 2010 and is projected to contract by 35% by the end of 2013. This is against a background of an overall collapse in government funding of 2.82% up to now. The report notes that the cuts made to the sector are disproportionate and are combined with the dismantling of a number of statutory social-policy agencies, a diminished public service and the silencing of champions in the statutory sector for the community sector.

The report points to the uneasy relationship between the state and the community and voluntary sector and concludes that “it is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the state then took advantage of the financial crisis to ‘settle scores’ with that part of society”. It points out that Ireland is now far removed from the European norm in terms of valuing civil society.

There is a disturbing silence from the sector itself about this insidious singling out of the sector for cutbacks by Government Departments. This partly reflects its taming over recent years. Several organisations were approached to contribute to this feature and they all refused to contribute. Instead they were concerned to disguise the impact of cutbacks on their image or they were fearful for their survival or of further cutbacks. This failure to interact is surely a recipe for woe for this valuable sector.

The cuts represent an attack on our democracy. The core issue our politicians have with this sector is its ability to mobilise people. A clientelist politics requires that such functions be restricted to elected politicians.

There is resistance to this. At a national level the Community Sector Committee of ICTU, for example, is seeking a trade union response that would include according priority to securing the protection and enhancement of the most vulnerable communities through specific designation of disadvantaged areas for increased investment.

The Alliance to Protect Communities in Galway points to widespread concern at the prospect of further, more severe cuts. Its members have told it they expect cuts of between 11% and 38%. Some may collapse. Smaller organisations state that they cannot continue to rely on volunteers. They are calling for a number of initiatives including ringfenced funding to the community sector for the next five years, suspension to cuts to HSE community programmes, and a one-year grant-funded pre-social-enterprise-support programme for community groups as a way to become self-financing.

 

 

In the past nine years the community drugs sector has been caught in a permanent cycle of restructuring  – losing momentum and coherence with every step, writes Joan Byrne 

While reams of ‘valid’ justifications for these reviews were spouted – the overall aim was clear – to cut back and silence local communities. There has been a systematic erosion and dismantling of the badly needed supports and structures that underpinned Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy.

Ultimately we have been led to the edge of a precipice, where the sector teeters and totters waiting on the next wind to blow in. Some have already fallen over the edge and believe they will never recover from the experience. Others are barely hanging on by their fingertips and some are stubbornly battening down the hatches, waiting for the next attack but remain determined to fight back.

In the last couple of years, we have seen the Department of Education withdraw from the local and national drugs strategy structures. This Department had a key role in prevention of drug misuse. Yet there was no commotion when they withdrew. The Department of Social Welfare (now the DSP) never took up its place in these structures.

Then there is what we call the ‘effective withdrawal’ from these partnership structures. This is when the statutory representative regularly fails to turn up or, if they do, takes no real part in the meeting or decisions. There are some local Drugs Task Forces that rarely see a representative from the statutory sector, where apologies for non-attendance are the norm with the excuse of ‘restricted resources’ being proffered.

This is being mirrored in the national structures. Recently the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) stated that due to restricted resources they could not attend the Drugs Advisory Group meetings. They refused to confirm that they had withdrawn, instead choosing to say that they would be happy to comment or attend (resources permitting) if an issue that was relevant to them was being raised. Whether this shows  lack

In the past nine years the community drugs sector has been caught in a permanent cycle of restructuring  – losing momentum and coherence with every step, writes Joan Byrne

While reams of ‘valid’ justifications for these reviews were spouted – the overall aim was clear – to cut back and silence local communities. There has been a systematic erosion and dismantling of the badly needed supports and structures that underpinned Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy.

Ultimately we have been led to the edge of a precipice, where the sector teeters and totters waiting on the next wind to blow in. Some have already fallen over the edge and believe they will never recover from the experience. Others are barely hanging on by their fingertips and some are stubbornly battening down the hatches, waiting for the next attack but remain determined to fight back.

In the last couple of years, we have seen the Department of Education withdraw from the local and national drugs strategy structures. This Department had a key role in prevention of drug misuse. Yet there was no commotion when they withdrew. The Department of Social Welfare (now the DSP) never took up its place in these structures.

Then there is what we call the ‘effective withdrawal’ from these partnership structures. This is when the statutory representative regularly fails to turn up or, if they do, takes no real part in the meeting or decisions. There are some local Drugs Task Forces that rarely see a representative from the statutory sector, where apologies for non-attendance are the norm with the excuse of ‘restricted resources’ being proffered.

This is being mirrored in the national structures. Recently the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) stated that due to restricted resources they could not attend the Drugs Advisory Group meetings. They refused to confirm that they had withdrawn, instead choosing to say that they would be happy to comment or attend (resources permitting) if an issue that was relevant to them was being raised. Whether this shows  lack of understanding of the impacts of the drugs crisis on local communities or is a deliberate rebuke to the strategy is unclear. If the issue of the increasing drugs crisis and resulting anti-social behaviour in local communities doesn’t affect the ‘Department of Community’ it is hard to know what does.

In the last budget, the DECLG announced, without any warning, that it was applying a 100% cut to the projects that were funded by them as part of the National Drugs Strategy. Many local services and projects had been established by, and then funded through, the local Drugs Task Forces. These projects were integrated after a couple of years into various Government Departments. However, these Departments merely acted as channels of funding from DECLG. In the end the Department, under Minister Phil Hogan, without any consultation, decided to divert and keep this budget for its own core activities.

Letters were sent to the projects on the 16th December 2011 informing them that there would be no money for them from the start of January 2012. The projects affected were in the most disadvantaged areas of Dublin (Fatima Mansions, St Michael’s Estate, Dolphin House, Ballyfermot, Clondalkin and Tallaght). A high-profile campaign was started by Citywide and the affected projects and the funding from the DECLG was secured until the end of March 2012. This was to give them time “to source alternative funding”. Some of the projects secured funding to keep them going until the end of 2012 whilst others are closing around now. None of the projects has had its funding reinstated for 2013 and they are not optimistic about finding any funding to replace the money that was withdrawn.

The worrying thing is that all of this is happening with hardly a murmur. Any responses that do come from Government or its civil servants almost seem to ‘chide’ us for highlighting the issue. After all, ‘aren’t we living in straightened times and don’t we have to cut our cloth’? We are caught in a joyless game of ‘Kerplunk’ and I just wonder who will pull the last stick.

Joan Byrne is Coordinator of the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, in Dublin

 

 

SPARK, the Support Project for Asylum Seeker and Refugee Kids, closed on 1st July 2011 after referring young people it previously supported to already-diminished services within Youth Work Ireland in Galway and to external agencies, writes Irene Murphy 

In Autumn 2012 some individuals continued to be supported by staff in Youth Work Ireland Galway. The Galway Refugee Support Group had also continued to support young people but due to funding cuts had to close in June 2012.

Other supports to this community have also been eroded over the past two years. In September 2012 the closure of Lisbrook House, one of the direct provision centres, was announced. The dispersal of the residents is a source of hardship to them as well as a loss to the local community. The residents of the centre had been volunteers with many local groups. The rationale for the closure was given as financial. A new support group was established and after some pressure Minister Shatter agreed to review the closure. Despite representations the Minister concluded the review and did not overturn the decision to close, and residents have received letters of dispersal.

SPARK was set up in 2002 by Youth Work Ireland Galway and the HSE West. At the time there were significant numbers of children who had been separated from their parents, presenting to health and social services in Galway as their first point of contact in the state, and these young people were prioritised within SPARK. Some separated children were placed in direct provision and some in other care. Over the lifetime of the project foster care became the preferred setting for separated children in Galway. A Project Worker engaged with young people on an individual basis and in group work, ran a Youth Café and accompanied separated children to Dublin to the interviews which determine eligibility for asylum. It was a battle to be present at some of these interviews as young people within the asylum system can be treated as adults from the age of 14 years and may be interviewed alone. Another significant positive change during the project was a move to ensure that all separated children in the State were assigned a social worker.

This was a warped situation in which young people were being viewed as adults by the Department of Justice and Equality yet were presenting to social and educational services as minors. SPARK engaged with HSE professionals and a multi-disciplinary team was established to assess age-disputed cases. This group made strides and it provided an opportunity for young people to have their age reassessed. It was very difficult for young people to challenge the Department decision on their own.

SPARK also encouraged people in their daily life in Galway: with getting into, and staying in, school; getting access to health services and information; meeting new people; engaging in positive social activities and integrating into Irish society. Many of the young people needed intensive support. In 2007 the ‘Comfort Zone’ Group was set up to support young people to deal with racist experiences in Galway.

Funding for SPARK, from HSE West, ended in 2011 on the basis of the decline in numbers of young people coming to Ireland to seek asylum.  A decision had been taken at national level that separated children would be placed in foster care throughout the country after a number of reports of young people disappearing from hostels. However, at the same time plans were afoot to transfer significant numbers of ‘aged out minors’ (separated young people who had reached 18 years) to direct provision in Galway city. These included young mothers and their children.

Young people who had previously received valuable support from the HSE were being relocated from Dublin to Galway, and, in transferring between different arms of the state, were losing all the supports they had previously had. Many were entering direct provision for the first time. Unlike the separated children whose care was the responsibility of the HSE, the care of those reaching 18 years was transferred to the RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) of the Department of Justice and Equality. Funding to support work with the 18-21 year olds was not forthcoming. These are very troubling times.

Irene Murphy, Regional Director, Youth Work Ireland in Galway