Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Community employment schemes.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Community employment schemes. (18 Jan 2012)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this matter to be discussed in the Topical Issue Debate, particularly as community employment, CE, schemes in general were raised in the Topical Issue Debate yesterday and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, was present to discuss them. However, I am raising specific CE schemes which have been ring-fenced because they are part of the national drugs strategy.


There are 1,000 places nationally on these special drug CE schemes, with 130 of them in Dublin’s north inner city which is part of the constituency I represent. These CE schemes are part of the delivery of the national rehabilitation strategy in facilitating stabilisation and recovery from problem drug use of the participants in the schemes. Each scheme has a care plan for each participant. The care plan deals with their recovery from drug abuse or misuse and the rehabilitation pathway that is suitable and appropriate for the person. There is development education, with great emphasis on literacy and numeracy, which is vital for many of the people on the schemes. There is training with a view to employment or further education. Part of the programme also deals with safety and healthy living.


Some people self-refer, but there are also referrals from the HSE, the probation service, drug projects and from a variety of places. These programmes are vital. Some of them, such as SAOL in the north inner city, deal with extremely vulnerable women. At present, there is a question mark over CE schemes which is causing difficulties for participants, but it is particularly stressful for the drug rehabilitation schemes.


The Annie Kelly bursary in the north inner city drugs task force area is for people who are in recovery from drug addiction to continue into further education. Many of those who have applied for that bursary are now in third level education or have progressed from third level. They came from those CE schemes. The point is that the ring-fenced CE schemes work. With regard to the review that is taking place, I believe people such as the participants who availed of that bursary should have an input into the review. They will be able to give a first hand account of what the CE scheme has done for them. It is a completely different matter for people sitting in an office and tossing around figures.


The forms that have been sent out to CE schemes for the review have been also sent to the ring-fenced schemes. Cognisance is not being taken of the special nature of those schemes or of the special conditions attached to them, such as the lower ratio of participants. Will the Minister safeguard those CE schemes?


Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):I thank Deputy O’Sullivan for raising this matter. I am aware of her active interest in this issue and I commend her on the work she is doing. We need more public representatives to get involved in addressing the many issues associated with drug misuse.


I wish to stress that I am particularly focused on ensuring there is an increased emphasis on moving people from drug treatment to a drug-free lifestyle, where this is achievable. I am on record for expressing, on a number of occasions, my belief and concern that too many people get stuck in methadone treatment without the existence of a clear pathway towards recovery. I am anxious to restore the principle of recovery in our treatment services for drug misusers. We should aim towards recovery and a drug-free lifestyle to the greatest extent possible. There has been insufficient focus on this ambitious goal in the past and we must redouble our efforts to present drug users with opportunities to achieve a life without drugs.


The National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 and the earlier report of the working group on drugs rehabilitation emphasise the need for our response to be client-centred. We must endeavour to provide a “continuum of care” for problem drug users to enable them to address their health needs, as well as their general social, housing, educational and employment needs. As Deputy O’Sullivan knows, often the shortcomings have been in the education that has been available to the individual concerned. There are a number of indicators for what predisposes people to drug misuse, and educational disadvantage is a key one.


Drug-specific community employment schemes have made a significant contribution to the broad rehabilitation effort and I acknowledge the role played by FÁS in this regard over the years. This special programme is part of the integrated effort to facilitate and support participants in their ongoing recovery from problem drug use. The programme aims to enable those affected by substance misuse to address those problems through helping to provide more structure to their lives and giving them opportunities to improve their skills.


I assure the Deputy that drug-specific CE schemes continue to play a critical part in the drug rehabilitation effort. I intend to put a renewed emphasis on the area of rehabilitation. The nine-point special conditions for the delivery of the drugs rehabilitation CE places were revised a year ago to ensure consistent and appropriate referral, delivery and implementation in regard to the projects involved. One aim of this process is to ensure that there is a consistent and integrated approach nationally to the referral of people to these CE opportunities.


In the context of the recent budget, I wrote to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, emphasising the importance of drug-specific CE schemes in the effort to facilitate rehabilitation from drug use and pointing out that the designation of the 1,000 places involved is made in recognition of the fact that recovering drug users are not, initially in any case, facilitated by a direct labour market mechanism to the same extent as are those in mainstream CE. I subsequently met with the Minister, Deputy Burton, and she is fully aware of the importance of the role that CE schemes play in the provision of crucial social services in communities, and of the particular needs in regard to drug rehabilitation.


The Minister has asked that an initial review of all CE schemes be undertaken by the end of March. In the meantime, no CE schemes will close and any difficulties arising regarding the funding of individual schemes will be addressed. I will continue to work closely with the Minister, Deputy Burton, as will our respective officials, to ensure that the special place of the ring-fenced drug-specific CE places is protected and adequately funded into the future. I am confident such schemes will continue to be a very beneficial part of the drugs rehabilitation effort.


Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: I am aware of the Minister of State’s commitment in this area. I take heart from two of the Minister’s statements, namely, the acknowledgement that these schemes have made a significant contribution to the broad rehabilitation effort, and that the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, will ensure the special place of these drug-specific CE places is protected and adequately funded. I agree with the Minister about those who have been stuck in methadone treatment and that there must be a way out. However, sometimes harm reduction is the only route for certain people.


Finally, certain CE schemes provide crèche facilities for the people who participate in the ring-fenced schemes. Therefore, while the schemes providing crèche facilities are not ring-fenced, people would not be able to take part in the special schemes unless there was provision for their children. I hope those schemes will be considered as well.


Deputy Róisín Shortall: I take the Deputy’s point about harm reduction but, overall, we must be more ambitious in terms of achieving a drug-free lifestyle as far as possible. I appreciate the Deputy’s remarks. I am keen that the working group would meet again soon and that we would process this issue through that working group. Before this issue arose there was a question as to why we were not filling the full 1,000 quota. I am anxious to ensure that all those places are taken. I also accept the Deputy’s point about child care. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Burton, is conscious of the important social service that is provided in many communities through the provision of child care services through community employment, and she is particularly keen to protect them.

Topical Issue Debate – Community Employment Scheme
Vol. 752 No. 1
Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Repository Staff Only: item control page