Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Community development.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Community development. (26 Jan 2012)

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Deputy Seán Crowe: The common denominator in the four jobs in question is that the areas in which they are located are areas with high unemployment levels, many social problems and a significant drug problem. Many of the workers are 20 years in the job, with ten years done on a voluntary basis and ten years being paid by the Department. These people have been told funding is being cut by 75%, although I am told these cuts are happening elsewhere also. The common denominator is that the areas being attacked have suffered through the years from deprivation. These cuts are seen as a direct attack by the Department.

The work being done is second to none and cannot be replicated. There is a suggestion that the local authority or Garda might replicate this work but they cannot. A wide range of activities is organised to address the high levels of anti-social behaviour, including diversionary programmes for young people and a particular focus on anti-social behaviour. I will provide an example for the Minister of State. In the past week two houses in the area I represent have been petrol bombed and a pipe bomb has been left outside a family’s door. These exemplify some of the problems happening in the areas.
These workers are the glue holding the communities together. What can the Minister of State do to reverse the cuts? These workers are involved with anti-racism action, Tallaght Travellers, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, senior citizens, the RAPID programme, anti-social units, social inclusion, the planning and roads department in the local authority, housing projects, local schools, coffee dock management, the developing and support of a local creche, the Dodder Valley partnership, drugs task forces, the HSE, young mothers, new communities, family support and estate management. The Minister of State is talking about removing such a service in March, which is absolutely crazy. We must formulate alternatives.
Deputy Eamonn Maloney: There are two projects in my constituency, one each side of the N81. There is one in the Fettercairn estate and the other is in Killinarden. They are unique as their origins are from within the community; the people who organise and work within the projects live in the community. The activities just mentioned are carried out within these projects, and there is a wide variety of responsibilities within the community. Both of these are traditional working class estates and we could be here until midnight listing the sort of work they have done over the past 20 years. These are difficult times and the people involved, who I have met, appreciate that. If there is some way around this, we would be grateful for the Minister of State’s help.
Deputy Michael Conaghan: The damage and devastation of heroin addiction is so widespread and great that it is often referred to nowadays in biblical terms with words like “scourge” and “plague”. Heroin addiction represents a great problem for individuals, families and entire communities. It is a challenge to every one of our social structures and our political system, which has not always responded well. Perhaps the best political response came from Labour Party Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, who initiated the local drugs task forces when a Minister of State. These enabled communities to intervene with the likes of the Ballyfermot Support, Treatment, Aftercare and Rehabilitation, STAR, programme. It empowered Ms Sunniva Finlay and her team with great skill, competence and insight to intervene in individual lives and work with strategies, therapies and initiatives to allow individuals in big numbers to rediscover themselves, learn new skills, get in touch with themselves and be strengthened to see off the false lure of heroin addiction. We must stand by projects like STAR in Ballyfermot and safeguard the work done by Ms Finlay and her team.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan): I appreciate the concerns of the Deputies and have spoken to them individually with regard to these projects. I realise the work being done in the areas concerned. My Department had responsibility for the funding of the five mainstreamed drugs projects. Unfortunately, as part of the Government’s comprehensive review of expenditure and the 2012 Estimates process, difficult decisions had to be taken in prioritising funding for core services in all programme areas. The funding Estimate to support my Department’s mainstreamed drugs projects under the housing programme in 2012 is €100,000, compared with €400,000 in 2011, which is a reduction of 75%. That is the figure I am faced with and because of this significant reduction in the sub-head, it is not possible for my Department to continue funding the projects.
Once the 2012 funding position became clear, my Department contacted both Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council, which administer the funding on behalf of my Department, in respect of the mainstreamed drugs projects. My Department requested the councils to notify the projects of the funding position immediately, given that the projects and the relevant local drugs task forces were in the process of determining budgetary matters for 2012, and to ensure that informed decisions could be made in that regard.
A consultation process is under way between the projects in question, Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council, the relevant local drugs task forces, the Department of Health and the HSE with a view to identifying alternative funding mechanisms for the projects for 2012 and beyond. Accordingly, while this consultation process is under way, my Department has agreed to provide pro rata funding of €47,500 and €52,500 to Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council, respectively, in respect of the mainstreamed drugs projects for the first quarter of 2012. This represents the final housing budget contribution to the projects and it will be a matter for all the public funding bodies, as part of the consultation process, to identify resources to deliver on the overall objectives of the reconfigured projects beyond end March 2012. For example, the mainstreamed drugs funding provided by my Department to the STAR project in 2011 of €129,200 represents only 8% of the project’s overall projected expenditure of €1.59 million in 2011. Similarly, my Department has recently met representatives from South Dublin County Council with regard to broader public funding for the projects and asked them to consider the potential for the estate management projects to be reconfigured in line with the council’s housing management role.
More broadly, and in the context of the public funding provision of €260 million for drugs programmes across all Departments and agencies in 2011, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, who has responsibility for the national drugs strategy, is currently undertaking a review of the structures that underpin the strategy at local, regional and national level. This will take in how the current funding structures can be improved or streamlined, particularly with local and regional drugs task forces.
I know this sounds stark but I have listened to the strong cases being made by the Deputies. There is a period to the end of March where funding is in place and there is ongoing consultation. I will examine the issue again in light of the cases that have been made.
Deputy Seán Crowe: I welcome that the Minister of State will reconsider the issue but she should bear in mind what I said. Nobody will replicate the work being done by these people across the board and nobody has the required level of local knowledge. That would be accepted by all the agencies I mentioned who work with these people.
It will be like a house of cards and if those individuals are pulled from the communities, there will be a knock-on effect on a significant number of projects. It is not just what these projects are being funded for; in many cases these people do extra work, and they participate on a voluntary basis on boards, for example. It is a package. I know the work involves many Departments but somebody must take up the slack. If the Minister of State’s Department cannot do so, the Department of Justice and Equality may be able to do so. If we save two or three children from going into the justice system, that should save a fortune for the State. That is a potential outcome.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Deputies Maloney and Conaghan have a minute between them.
Deputy Eamonn Maloney: I would be in the Guinness World Records if I could work within that. I thank the Minister of State for her reply and note from her contribution that she is acting proactively. I know the Minister of State is only in office a wet day and I am not here to criticise her efforts. I compliment the Minister of State’s efforts. She is going in the right direction. If anyone can solve the issue, she will. The people in Killinarden and Fettercairn will thank her.
Deputy Michael Conaghan: I thank the Minister. I congratulate her on her promotion and wish her well. The STAR project in Ballyfermot is very aptly named. The project has shone the light into many lives where there was a great deal of darkness. A star can act as a guide. It is apt that the national drugs task force has chosen the STAR project in Ballyfermot as a guide to best practice for other projects. These are key criteria to underscore the value of the STAR project which I briefly sketched out.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Much work is ongoing in my Department, in particular in terms of aligning work being done by local authorities, local community organisations and others. In that context discussions are ongoing on how we can share services and resources. I realise that specific work is being done in these projects and that we want to protect the work that is being done. I accept the point that was made in that regard.
Discussion is ongoing on a continuous basis and will continue. I undertake to ensure that I engage in the process. Unfortunately, that is all I can say today because I have inherited a budget that was cut by 75%. Budgets within the Department have been assigned for specific purposes. There is a process of engagement and funding has been provided up to the end of March. I will continue to communicate with the Deputies on the projects.
Topical Issue Debate - Community Development
Thursday, 26 January 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate Vol. 752 No. 5

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