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Number of FRCs to increase by 42

The Minister for Social Affairs, Séamus Brennan, in February, unveiled details of an investment package of almost €190 million that will be targeted directly at increasing the number of Family Resource Centres (FRCs) countrywide from the current 100 locations to 142 inside the next seven years.

Under the €187 million plan, the aim is to increase the number of FRCs by six per year - increasing the total number in the country by 42, by the year 2013. The funding will be drawn the new National Development Plan 2007-2013 and the centres will continue to be based in communities experiencing disadvantage.

Minister Brennan announced the expansion at a special conference in Dublin to mark and celebrate Ireland’s 100 Family Resource Centres. The event, organised by the Family Resource Centre National Forum and the Family Support Agency, showcased the work of FRCs.

New figures show the full extent of the numbers of people availing of the services and supports. For instance, in 2005:
• There were 850,000 visits to use centre facilities.
• Some 16,000 people completed training courses.
• Almost 140,000 people received advice and information
The first FRCs were funded 22 years ago. Direct funding for the programme has increased from €300,000 in 1994 to almost €19 million this year and the programme is now run by the Family Support Agency, a statutory body.
- Issue 21, Spring ‘07

 

New social finance agency launched

A new scheme to help local communities and development groups to benefit from loans was announced, in February, by the Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen.

Community groups often experience difficulties getting finance from mainstream banks, but the new fund of €25 million in low-cost loans should ease difficulties in this area. The loan-fund will be administered by the Social Finance Foundation and their capital is being funded through the main banks. To date, community groups look chiefly to credit unions for loans.

The Social Finance Foundation has been established on a not-not-for-profit basis to act as a wholesale supplier of social finance for on-lending to support social and developmental projects and social enterprise in local communities.

The foundation will be chaired by businessman and former GAA president, Peter Quinn, and intends to commence its lending activities by mid-year.

Minister Cowen said he saw the initiative – two years in the making – as “a catalyst for deeper participation by private finance in the area of local and community development and social finance projects.”

Joan Burton of Labour – who has pressed for more information about when the Foundation will become operational - generally welcomed the news. However, the Green’s Dan Boyle was more cautious, saying: "We must remember that while banks have supplied the finance for this fund, for the organisations involved, it is repayable finance. Financial Institutions need to do much more then this if they are to be seen as acting socially responsible.”

The new Foundation will work in co-operation with existing social lenders – such as Clann Credo, the Western Development Commission, and First Step.

For more information, contact: Brendan Whelan on 01-619-0043. E-mail: info@sff.ie Also, the Foundation have their website www.sff.ie
- Issue 21, Spring ‘07

 

Northern Ireland leads with manifesto

The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) launched its election manifesto in mid-January. The document sets out the views of the voluntary and community sector in 23 policy areas and puts pressure on political parties in Northern Ireland to address issues in the run-up to Assembly Elections. Nothing like NICVA exists in the Republic of Ireland. In turn, no manifesto on behalf of community and voluntary sector in this state has been launched in the run-up to the General Election.

For more information, check out: www.nicva.org
- Issue 21, Spring ‘07



No national body to give the sector a real voice
- We’re so disorganised, the German Army feared to invade

By Allen Meagher

World War II politics came into the discussions at a CDP and FRC conference in Tralee in January. The question: why is there no national body to speak for the community and voluntary sector.

luftwaffe

“Our own poor level of organisation has been a problem,” declared guest speaker Brian Harvey, with deliberate understatement. “One is reminded of what was called Operation Shamrock in which German military intelligence assessed the state of Ireland in 1940 prior to a prospective invasion: They concluded that Irish people were quarrelsome, reluctant to join together, indisciplined and as a result would be hard to rule effectively.”

What was he on about, everyone wondered.

“Apparently dissuaded from an unwinnable war, the German army invaded Russia instead,” said Brian to howls of laughter.

Perhaps, the real reason the German empire-builders were afraid to invade was that, only decades earlier, the world had witnessed a determined population push the British Empire out of most of the country.

But that would not have got as good a laugh, and Brian wanted to make one point: the sector is terribly disorganised.

“We have no national body to forcibly represent the voice of the voluntary and community sector to government,” he said, highlighting the obvious.

By contrast, he pointed out, there is one in the north – the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA).

“NICVA is not just an assembly of civil society and voluntary organizations, but includes a formidable element of community development and anti-poverty groups and as an organisation has always made it plain that it believes in social change,” said Brian.

He had earlier demonstrated that from decision to launch, the Irish government’s much-ignored White Paper on the sector had taken 25 years to publish.

“With such an equivalent organization here, would it have taken our government a quarter of a century to design a policy for the voluntary and community sector?”

He said that the voluntary and community sector in this state “hardly needs to handicap itself” by remaining disorganised, by continuing on without an equivalent to NICVA.

Incidentally, Brian’s claim that there is “no national body to forcibly represent the voice of the voluntary and community sector” was accepted without protest by the large attendance. There were no cries in favour of the Community Platform, or the Community Workers Co-op, or even the Wheel. You got the sense he would have dismissed any protest easily.

- Issue 21, Spring ‘07

 

New tabloid – ‘The African Voice’

Malcolm Eremionkhale – who has worked closely with CDPs in Waterford city over recent years – is part of a team preparing to launch the first issue of ‘The African Voice’, a registered national (tabloid) newspaper, established with the aim of promoting cultural diversity and integration in Ireland.

The newspaper will particularly focus on African and African-Irish people in Ireland, along with more general news coverage.

Individuals or organisations interested in submitting articles, news reports, features, true life experiences, ideas, etc. for publication should contact: ‘The African Voice’, mob. 087-2618184. E-Mail: infoafricanvoice@yahoo.ie

- Issue 21, Spring ‘07

 

UN report on Ireland no use to Bord Fáilte

You can safely say that the UN’s latest hammering of Ireland for the extent of its rich-poor gap will not be highlighted by Bord Fáilte in its attempts to lure visitors here.

The UN’s rich-poor statistics are compiled by looking at the number of households whose income is below 60% of the average income.

In Ireland, a significant number of families fall below this level and so we come second-last in the league-table of developed countries (next to the USA).

Ireland has held this lowly position for the past number of years.

While Rory O’Donnell of the National Economic and Social Council accepts the figures as factual, he says it doesn’t paint an accurate picture.

"If you take those figures on their own, without knowing any other thing about Ireland, they paint a picture of a Latin-American country during one of the dictatorships when a tiny cabal got hugely rich while the rest of society suffered absolute poverty. Now, Ireland clearly isn’t like that," said Rory.

Our poor performance in the UN survey is not necessarily because there are so many poor families in Ireland, but because there are so many households with two or three incomes coming through the door (which drives average household income up).

"We haven’t nailed down that explanation for sure," he acknowledges. "But we do accept the figures, the (UN) data is accurate," added Rory.

It is considered by the UN to be unhealthy to allow the gap between rich and poor in any country grow to too great an extent.

To see the UN report, go to: www.un.org
- Issue 20, Winter ‘06


National programmes supporting communities

The number of national programmes funded by Government to combat social exclusion and poverty has increased in recent years.

There are three main programmes that engage in community development or are guided by community development principles. These are the Community Development Programme (CDP), the Local Development Social Exclusion Programme (LDSIP) and the Family & Community Resource Centres Programme (FRCs).

In addition, other programmes include: INTEGRA; New Opportunities for Women; the Peace and Reconciliation Programme; LEADER; URBAN; RAPID; Clár.

Each of these have put Social Partnerships structures and philosophies at the heart of their way of work.

The Partnership agreements have many positive impacts on the national programmes in terms of stability and funding. And such funding is an important statement of the Government’s willingness to be criticised and to hear the voice of those who experience poverty and disadvantage.

On the other hand, there is an inbuilt conflict when the Government funds organisations who say their aim is to change the State.
- Issue 20, Winter ‘06

 

Promoting trade union membership

A new campaign to promote trade union membership in the community sector was launched at a conference held on November 21st, in Dublin.

Responding to presentations from workers in the sector, trade union leaders acknowledged that while they have had some notable successes, they have not managed to establish decent standards of employment across the sector.

Both Shay Cody of IMPACT and Jack O’Connor of SIPTU addressed the conference.

The next stage is to increase trade union membership so that the unions can leverage maximum influence on behalf of workers in the sector.
For anyone wishing to a copy of the conference report or to get involved in the future - leaflets, posters and badges are available from Dublin Employment Pact, 7 North Great George’s Street, Dublin 1. Tel. 01-878-7900.

E-mail:jsomers@dublinpact.ie.
- Issue 20, Winter ‘06

 

Our anti-trespass laws condemned by Europe

The anti-Traveller trespass laws which many CDP volunteers and staff protested against when they were introduced in 2002 should be reviewed immediately, according to the Council of Europe.

The laws are used to stop Travellers stopping on public land for more than 24 hours.

The Council’s advisory committee on the protection of national minorities said it was "particularly disquieting" that legislation that criminalises trespass has been used against families waiting for local authorities to house them.

It noted that "the lack of appropriate halting sites continues to be one of the key problems."

The Council recommends the Irish authorities to "ensure Travellers’ representatives’ effective participation in various bodies dealing with Travellers."

More funding for the Equality Authority was also called for.
In addition, the Council called for the urgent reform of Ireland’s unfair work permits system. Many families are split because of the rules.

Meanwhile, the Council described as "impressive" the Government’s National Action Plan Against Racism introduced last year.

Thousands marched in Dublin after the contentious anti-Traveller trespass laws were introduced.

- Issue 20, Winter ‘06

 

‘From the margins to the mainstream’
- Maynooth celebrates 25 years of professional community work

By Juan Carlos Azzopardi

Over 25 years, the National University of Ireland (NUI) in Maynooth has educated hundreds of community development and youth workers, a great many of whom have contributed hugely to the Community Development Programme. A conference celebrating the endeavours of its graduates to work for change in Irish society took place in mid-November.

The conference opened with perspectives from past pupils Rita Fagan (St. Michael’s Family Resource Centre in Inchicore, Dublin – a CDP), Siobhan O’Donoghue (Migrants Rights Centre), Davy Joyce (barrister), and Vincent Jackson, current Lord Mayor of Dublin. All identified their grounding in critical social analysis as a key learning that they carried with them from Maynooth.

‘From the Margins to the Mainstream’ reflects the fact that since 1981 community work and youth work have moved from marginal activities into mainstream government initiatives and programmes. The discussions focussed on the changes to the nature of the work and the challenges to keep the principles of human rights and social justice at the heart of community and youth work practice.

The President of Ireland Mary McAleese gave a rousing address to those assembled and this was followed by a lecture in memory of the late John O’Connell on ‘Racism: Global Issues, Local Challenges’ delivered by Doudou Diene, UN Special Rapporteur on Racism and Xenophobia.

The conference set about reclaiming the radical agenda amid the contemporary challenges and opportunities for community and youth work. The matter was discussed in a series of mini-seminars, including the question CDPs have grappled with "Cohesion, Co-operation or Control?"

It proved a timely opportunity to reflect and review on the education received and the work achieved over 25 years. The conference sent people away with some analysis towards best policies, best practice, best projects and best education for the future. Credit must go to Anastasia Crickley and her team for the success of the event.

MAYNOOTH’S RADICAL EDGE

Maynooth is seen as one of the great seats of conservatism, having trained priests and bishops of the Catholic Church for over 200 years. So some may be surprised to find that so many community development workers in the Community Development Programme came out imbued with their left wing liberal ideologies after completing courses with the Department of Applied Social Studies of NUI Maynooth.

The university has the distinction of having the highest percentage of students from disadvantaged communities of all third level colleges, the highest participation rate of Travellers and 18% of the student body are mature students from 58 countries and every county in Ireland.

The first Traveller to graduate from third level in Ireland was Thomas McCann with a Diploma in Community Work from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In the same year that this course began, no Traveller transferred from primary to secondary school.
- Issue 20, Winter ‘06

 

Radical shake-up of community services
- Ministers achieving their aims

The delivery of community services across the State will undergo a radical shake-up by the end of the year, according to Éamon Ó Cuív, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

The changes due to be implemented by January 2007 are the result of a cohesion process which involved two and a half years of consultation, planning and restructuring of Partnership Companies and LEADER groups.

Services for disadvantaged people in both urban and rural Ireland have developed over time in a haphazard, uncoordinated way. As a consequence, there are people who urgently need services from the State but who are not getting them.

Speaking at PLANET’s (the network of 38 Partnership Companies) annual conference in Dublin on September 7th, Minister Ó Cuív said; "Currently, if you live in Blanchardstown for example and are unemployed, a lone parent, a person with a disability, a traveller, or facing economic hardship, your local Partnership Company can offer you a range of services. However, if you live in a Council housing estate in Howth or Lucan and your community needs those services just as much, it’s just bad luck, because there is no local Partnership for you. That is absolute madness and I cannot allow it to continue. We cannot let the ‘pockets of disadvantage’ go unnoticed and unaided, that is, whole communities or individuals facing hardship outside of the main Partnership or LEADER catchment areas. This Government is determined to provide services to all of our citizens facing disadvantage, no matter where they live."

As a result of the cohesion process therefore, from the first of January 2007,

  • All areas of the country will now be covered by Partnership companies, thus ensuring that every citizen and every community who needs services will be eligible for assistance.
  • Programmes for the period 2007-2013 need to address new and emerging challenges facing our society such as immigration.
  • In rural areas, to provide a more coordinated service to communities, the rural development programme LEADER, the Rural Social Scheme and the Partnership services (otherwise known as the Local Development Social Inclusion Programme) will be delivered by the one company in each area.

- Issue 19, Autumn ‘06

 

Have your say on future anti-poverty policies

- Combat Poverty news

An excellent new resource for influencing policy direction in this country is being developed by the Combat Poverty Agency. It offers people directly affected by poverty the opportunity to influence government policies.
The Having Your Say Programme is aimed at bridging the gap between the theory and practice of anti-poverty policy.

"The best policies are made when people who are affected by them state their needs and are heeded," says the CPA’s head, Helen Johnston.

The programme is open to anti-poverty groups and projects, including CDPs, Family Resources Centres, and Local Development Social Inclusion projects. It is also open to third-level colleges involved in community development education, community education and anti-poverty interests, and for government departments and policymakers.

While the Social Inclusion Measures committees attached to local authorities throughout the state offer the most effective way for small communities to influence big decisions, the CPA’s Having Your Say programme offers an alternative route.

The CPA Programme runs to the end of 2007. Key activities to be completed by the end of this year include undertaking research "to map the policy learning experiences, needs and supports within and across the Community Development Programme, the Family Resource Centres’ Programme and the Local Development Social Inclusion Progamme."

Other activities to be completed in the coming months include:

  • An annual conference in Croke Park on October 17th.
  • Publication of three new resources.
  • Research to establish baseline information on policy learning opportunities within third level community development education.
  • A literature review of the role of community development in tackling poverty.

By the end of the Programme, in 2007, there should be greater participation in national and local policymaking by socially excluded groups.

An introductory brochure, Having Your Say, and full information in Having Your Say, strengthening the voices of excluded people - a 3-year programme 2005-2007, are available from the agency.

The address is: CPA, Bridgewater Centre,
Conyngham Road, Islandbridge,
Dublin 8 (located just before the junction with the South Circular Road at Islandbridge).
Tel. Joan on 01-602-6632.
E-mail: joan.oflynn@combatpoverty.ie or
barbara.walshe@combatpoverty.ie
Website: www.combatpoverty.ie
- Issue 18, Summer ‘06

 

On target for 100 FRCs by year’s end

Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Seamus Brennan, has promised that the target set under the National Development Plan of funding 100 Family Resource Centres by the end of 2006 will be reached.

There are currently 91 FRCs funded by government nine more groups have been approved for funding.
Funding for the Programme increased substantially from €317,500 in 1994 to over €12.9 million in 2006.

Minister Brennan said: " The services provided by community resource groups are often emotional and practical lifelines for those who may be going through particularly traumatic situations and experiencing a range of problems that combine to leave them feeling isolated and powerless".
- Issue 18, Summer ‘06

 

FRCs may become ‘significant players’ politically

"By 2009, we expect to have strengthened our voice and role to such an extent that we will be considered as an essential player in the social partnership process," predicts Packie Kelly, the Chairperson of the Family Resource Centres National Forum (FRCNF).

Packie was speaking at the launch in Dublin on June 21st of the FRCNF’s three-year strategy.

Over that time-frame, Family Resource Centres (FRCs) aim to become more vocal in highlighting policies and initiatives that can support families in dealing with issues such as childcare, teen services and supports for lone parents.

FRCs have had a National Forum since 1998 which grew in strength in 2002 when FRCs were given statutory recognition and the Family Support Agency was formed.

"The emergence of Family Resource Centres over the past decade is a direct response to the growth in diversity of the family unit in terms of size, structure, supports and needs. It is also a response to the pressures that face families in terms of commuting to work, accessing childcare and participating in training and education," said Packie.

"Our three-year Strategic Plan sets out key areas of growth and policy development which will give us a much stronger voice at local and national fora. To help promote more family-friendly policies and initiatives, we will be participating on an increased number of policy-formation bodies, and seeking representation on Government advisory committees. Issues including childcare provision and support for vulnerable and disadvantaged families will be central to our work.

"Of course the future capacity of family resource centres – and the National Forum – depends on funding. The next government will play a central role in ensuring we have the capacity to meet these targets.

The FRCNF strategic plan ‘Supporting Families, Building Communities’ was officially launched by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Seamus Brennan.

The Minister said the views of those people active on the ground at community level are clearly reflected in the Forum’s key goals and strategies, including:
- the influencing of national policy on family support;
- the promotion of inclusive family support practice and provision within a community development context;
- informing the development of the Family Resource Centre Programme;
- delivering quality training and development programmes and supports to staff and volunteers and promoting the organisational, resource and communications capacity of the Forum.

He emphasised the importance of volunteers in the success of FRCs and saluted "the critically important contribution made by Resource Centres to combating disadvantage and reaching out to the vulnerable and marginalized".

"The overriding goal of the strategy is to support Family Resource Centres in ensuring families enjoy fulfilling lives, free from poverty, neglect, discrimination and abuse. It is through a combination of local community initiatives on the ground and support from statutory agencies and other bodies that local communities can fully realise their potential and play a pivotal role in helping and empowering those in difficulties," he added.

Homework clubs, pre-school care facilities, welfare advice, counselling and parenting advice are among the diverse initiatives available at centres.
- Issue 18, Summer ‘06

 

FRCs launch online magazine

The first edition of ‘The Resource’, a new online newsletter for the Family Resource Centre National Forum, (FRCNF) has been produced.

Also, a newly revamped website has gone online: www.familyresource.ie. The older website address (www.frcnf.com) will still lead people to the new site.

The launch of the newsletter coincided with the endorsement of the NFFRC’s strategic plan, ‘Supporting Families, Building Communities’ and the document is available online

DHR Communications in Dublin, a PR company working primarily in the non-profit sector, produce the electronic newsletter on behalf of the National Forum and are seeking news, tips, advice and photographs from FRCs around Ireland. Log on to find out more.
- Issue 18, Summer ‘06

 

Community groups offered new cheaper insurance

- though extent of cover is key

A new group insurance scheme has been developed by the 'Irish National Community and Voluntary Forum' to reduce costs for community and voluntary groups in the Republic.

The scheme – backed by private company BHP Insurances – could be of use to thousands of local groups around the country, from those that are run on a shoestring and rely entirely on volunteers to bigger projects such as CDPs.

One crucial question remains: Will BHP provide the level of cover really required by small community groups? In essence, will they cover items such as lawnmowers donated by town councils to local residents’ associations?

Welcoming the joint-initiative, BHP commented, "Insurance cover is the biggest single headache for voluntary groups in this country. In fact, inability to meet insurance premium costs has put many voluntary groups out of business and prevented others from ever getting started."

The company claimed the scheme "will greatly reduce insurance premiums for all voluntary groups affiliated to their respective County/City Fora."

The scheme should also, if it proves popular, be effective in driving up membership of the 34 community fora in the state, as groups must be affiliated to their local community fora to benefit from the cheaper insurance scheme.

Junior Minister at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Noel Ahern, launched the scheme on March 9th.

He noted that "affordable insurance" had become a huge issue for volunteer groups and he acknowledged that a local issue had become a national one and the solution had been found by the local groups coming together to shout as one through the National Community & Voluntary Forum.

"This is something that needs to be nurtured and supported. The initiative being launched today is a practical response by the National Forum to a need that has come forward from the local community and voluntary fora," he said.

"The county and city community and voluntary fora play an important role in bringing the views of the community organisations they represent to local government. The active participation of people in community and voluntary work is something that should never be taken for granted. It is something that the Government recognises and actively encourages, and this commitment is backed up with practical support through both Departments where I have responsibility as Minister of State", Minister of State Ahern added.

The local Community and Voluntary Fora which are represented on the National Forum, operate in each of the 34 county and city council areas across the country. The fora are elected from among local organisations within their own communities, and are accountable to them.

The fora, in turn, nominate community reps to sit on County and City Development Boards and in many cases on the local authority Strategic Policy Committees.

Minister Ahern added that he hoped the National Forum's initiative, in developing this group insurance scheme as a partnership between the private and voluntary sector, will benefit local organisations and groups.

• For information contact the BHP/Forum helpdesk at lowcall 1890 666 111 or log onto their website to fill out a contact form, at: www.bhponline.com
BHP Insurances Ltd. are based in:

Unit 7, The Courtyard, Fonthill Retail Park, Dublin 22.
- Issue 17, Spring ‘06

 

Government ‘fear’ of community development sector raised in Dáil

Minister of State, Noel Ahern, was questioned in the Dail in November as to whether or not the government were afraid of the 'community development sector'.

Dan Boyle, Green TD, on November 9th, asked, "Does the Minister share the opinion of many in the community development sector that part of the reason there is not ongoing support from the Government is the fear that the sector represents an alternative to politics?"

"Rather than the old approach of cumainn and branches, people can now effect development in their own communities, discover the nature of their own difficulties and seek to find their own resources.It is because of this threat that the Government is not responding adequately," Deputy Boyle argued.


Dan Boyle

Minister Ahern replied: "Regarding Deputy Boyle's question, people on different sides have different expectations as to what can be achieved. Much progress has been made and significant funding has been provided, which was one of the Department's key objectives."It is because of this threat that the Government is not responding adequately," Deputy Boyle argued.

Deputy Boyle then asked the Minister if the definition of "community" within his Department is strictly geographic; and if support is forthcoming from his Department on community groupings formed on any other basis.It is because of this threat that the Government is not responding adequately," Deputy Boyle argued.

Minister Ahern stated: "Under the Community Development Programme, funding is targeted at the support of disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. The network of 185 community development resource centres and projects consists of both locally-based communities and communities of interest. A number of projects with a national remit are receiving funding under the programme, including the National Traveller Women's Forum, the Bosnian CDP, the Senior Citizens Parliament and Interaction. In addition, funding is also provided to Women's Aid, Pavee Point and the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism towards the specialist support needs of projects in the programme."

- Issue 16, Winter ‘05

 

Looks like a Happy New Year for Social Economy

The Social Economy Programme will receive a new name. From January it will be called the Community Services Programme and in future will lean towards social rather than commercial benefits.

And the Programme will move from FAS control to administration Pobal starting from New Year’s Day 2006. Pobal will administer the programme on behalf of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaelteacht Affairs.

Senior civil servant David Brennan made the announcement on 23rd November 2005, at a Seminar in Mullingar (organised by the Wicklow Social Economy Network).

Close to 200 people attended the seminar and they elected delegates to form a group to set-up a national network and to consult with the Department during the changeover. Up to now, FAS have administered the Programme on behalf of the Department of Trade and Enterprise.
At the seminar, Mr Brennan announced a number of welcome changes to be implemented immediately.


David Brennan

He assured projects that:

  • The enterprise element which is central to some projects will remain.
  • The stipulation that participants be over 35 years of age and 3 years unemployed will be scrapped.
  • Clearer easier reporting processes similar to those used by CDP’s will be introduced including alignment of audits with projects financial years.
  • Movement to multi-annual funding will happen over time.
  • There are no plans to cut budgets. All projects will receive funding in January. Pobal hope to make all payments to projects by the first 15 working days in January. All payments outstanding from FAS at 31/12/05 will be honoured by Pobal in ‘06. Payments will be quarterly in advance from January.

Mr. Brennan also said discussions are taking place with the Department of Finance with a view to (a) revising social economy managers’ wages which have not increased in four years and (b) building in an element to keep pace with inflation for participant wages.

He said that new Employment Criteria may only require about 70% of participants to be from the live register.

In addition finance may be available for a small number of additional projects, no more than 20 to 30 nationally, later in the year.

In answering questions from workshops, Mr Brennan speculated that adjustments may be made to the programme to reflect the wide range of projects in the programme and that projects presently funded through the Social Economy Programme might in future move to other funding streams if that seemed appropriate.

CDPs around the country may take the opportunity to lobby the department to slant the new programme criteria towards areas of social need. Now is the time to do so.
- Issue 16, Winter ‘05

 

Community, Rural & Gaeltacht due a 12% increase

The budget estimates (published in November) showed that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is in line for a 12% increase in funding for 2006. The extra money will bring the total spend for next year by the Department to €366 milllion.

"This clearly indicates the importance attached to this sector by Government," said the Department in a statement.

The 12% increase will not, however, apply 'across the board'. The 'Community Affairs' section will get a 5% increase. The €93,255,000 community budget will provide, among other things for CDPs, Partnerships and other community groups funded through the Department. It also includes budgeting to promote cohesion among projects/ programmes and to improved co-ordination of local and community schemes.

The fact that the overall increases are above the rate of inflation will be broadly welcomed.

Nonetheless, there was also criticism. The budget for the Drugs Initiative - which includes the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund - is due to be increased up 8% to €34 million. But opposition deputies argued it was too little (see Dáil report).

The following are the highlights from the estimates, as regards community development generally:

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • National Rural Development Scheme - up 21%.
  • RAPID - up 17% to €8,800,000.
  • Drugs Initiative - Young People's Facilities and Services Fund - up 8% to €34 million.
  • Community Affairs (including CDPs, Partnerships, etc) - up 5%, to €93 million.
  • Udaras na Gaeltachta - up 5% to €36 million.
  • Islands funding - up 8% to €17 million.
  • Social Economy Scheme - not available at time of going to press.

RAPID UP 17%

Funding for the RAPID programme is to increase by 17% to €8,800,000. And the Minister intends to at least double this figure through matching funds from other Government departments and local authorities.

RURAL SOCIAL SCHEME

There are now 1900 people employed on the Rural Social Scheme and the number of participants should rise next year to 2,500.

"It has been a great success," said Minister Éamon Ó Cuív. "It plays a major part in providing development and services in rural Ireland, while dealing with the problem of declining farm incomes".

The scheme works by providing employment to low-income farmers in return for the provision of community services. It began in the summer of last year and work done under the scheme includes village enhancement, the building of walkways, the maintenance of community facilities and the provision of care services.

Provision has been made in the 2006 budget to increase participant numbers to 2,500.
- Issue 16, Winter ‘05

 

LEADER and Partnerships expected to unify

The government are moving closer to aligning local, community and rural development organisations - particularly with regard to LEADER companies and Partnership companies. The two will be, to the most part, required to adopt a unified structure by the end of next year.

The idea is that they be organised to provide full city and/or county coverage and to link more strongly with community-based groups. There are no major direct implications of this initiative on the Community Development Programme, though it does seem projects may be expected to work more closely within the new structures.

As indicated by government last year, the process of increased cohesion will be co-ordinated by the local County/City Development Boards.

Significant funds are being made available to support these cohesion measures.

The changes afoot will be examined in more detail in the Winter edition of ‘Changing Ireland’ due out in early December.
- Issue 15, Autumn ‘05

 

CWC works on despite funding cut

The Community Workers Co-operative will continue to function despite a €150,000 cut in core-funding by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

There was uproar in the community sector after the cut was announced in the run-up to Christmas. It took effect in April. However, not all the CWC’s funding comes from the Department and the CWC - which has a large membership base - will continue to operate, albeit at a reduced capacity.

Many, though by no means all, paid workers in the Community Development Programme are members of the CWC.

The rationale given by Minister of State, Noel Ahern, for the cut was that, "…in the context of the focusing of my Department’s resources on disadvantaged, I believe that the continued funding of the CWC could not be justified… The CWC differ from other groups funded under the National Anti-Poverty Network in that those other groups, in the main, deal with specific target groups."

In a reply to Dail questions, he said, "the Community Workers Co-operative falls short of the standards of the White Paper that each network should have a membership base which ensures the voice of disadvantaged marginalised groups will find expression in relevant national fora and that individual networks should be genuinely representative and avoid unnecessary overlaps vis-à-vis each other."

Reacting to the Ministers decision, Helen Johnston, Director of the Combat Poverty Agency, said, "The CWC has been to the forefront in supporting the development of an independent voice for people who are excluded. It has played an essential role in the provision of information and resource guides on anti-poverty policy development and provided support to the most marginalised communities".

Founded in 1981 to promote social inclusion, equality and social justice, the CWC received core funding from the government since 1993. The CWC supports local and national groups in their fight against inequality, enabling them to be more effective in dealing with government policy. It regularly publishes heavily researched documents and reports.

Last year, for example, the CWC produced a report, which included the voices of CDPs, on ‘Endorsement of Community Development Project Plans by City and County Development Boards’. The CWC, in this and other reports, was often highly critical of government policies.

The CWC also coordinates the Community Platform (a network of 25 national anti-poverty and equality organisations) that refused to endorse the last ‘Sustaining Progress’ national agreement.

Reacting to the cut, the CWC termed it "a sinister move to silence an effective critical voice" and campaigned strongly, though ultimately without success, for funding to be reinstated.

Around 15 CDPs and Support Agencies signed an online petition to An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern seeking the restoration of funding to the CDP. Others petitioned TDs, raised the matter with local media and joined the campaign in different ways.

- Issue 14, Summer ‘05

 

COMMUNITY PLATFORM quit partnership meeting

Representatives of 26 anti-poverty and equality organisations staged a mass walkout from a meeting of the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) in Dublin Castle on April 29th.

The Community Platform said they were frustrated that they had not been consulted about several recent government decisions. The PPF session was the last before the general election.

Donal Toolan, a Community Platform spokesman, said the groups were not walking out of the partnership process but had laid down a marker that this lack of consultation could not continue.

He pointed to the criminalisation of trespassers, the deportation of asylum-seekers with Irish-born children and the referral of equal status legislation to the Liquor Licensing Commission as examples of the government’s disregard for consultation with all concerned groups.

Orla O’Connor, National Women’s Council policy analyst, said: “While we sit in one set of rooms and negotiate with the government and their representatives on the issues of inequality and poverty, at the same time in other rooms decisions are being made and deals are being done to undermine our contribution.”

The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed pointed to cuts in the Community Employment scheme as an example of the lack of commitment to social partnership.
- The above article is based on excerpts taken from Irish Times report of April 30th.
- Issue 4, Summer 2002

 

Getting the info out about CITIZEN INFORMATION CENTRES

By Declan Weir

“I never knew there was an information centre in Clifden.”

It’s amazing, almost 5 years and more than 3,000 queries since Clifden Citizens Information Centre (CIC) was officially opened by President McAleese, that this is the response from many people when told about their local CIC. To the volunteers who put so much into providing the free and confidential service in Northwest Connemara, it’s often a matter of much head shaking, but it’s one of those things. After all, unless you’re looking for specific information, there’s no reason why you’d use the service.


Declan Weir and friend at Clifden CIC, Co. Galway

We’ve all heard that ‘Knowledge is Power,’ and it’s difficult to argue with such a truism. Thankfully, recent years have seen a better distribution of this previously well-guarded knowledge through the nationwide network of CICs located in our cities, towns and villages.

The CIC is the place to find out about social welfare entitlements, employment, health, and housing issues and a host of other important matters, as well as information on local organisations and services. The philosophy is that you have the right to know, and the information providers are there to help you find out. People only need to call in or phone, and, if the CIC don’t have the answer, they’ll be happy to refer you to someone who does.

Clifden CIC is operated by a part-time administrator and a team of volunteers, supported by Comhairle, Galway CIC and FORUM – a Community Development Project in Northwest Connemara. With this support, the CIC now offers regular monthly outreaches to village like Roundstone, Cashel & Leenane, and a free legal advice service voluntarily provided by a solicitor.

A ‘Know Your Rights’ slot is broadcast on local radio and published in local media, keeping the community informed of the latest developments. One of the most important tasks is to ensure the information is accessible to everyone, and visits have been made to local groups and organisations, targeting as many people as possible, from national school pupils to members of active age groups.

Comhairle’s distinctive Mobile Information Unit also visits regularly, even attracting some unplanned publicity by causing a huge traffic jam at last year’s Clifden Pony Show.

It’s not all hard work though, and social events have included a fishing trip and visits to some of Connemara’s finest restaurants, and that’s on top of the countless benefits individuals gain simply by volunteering.

Like many other centres, Clifden relies heavily on local volunteers, and the fifth training programme has just been completed, with three new information officers joining their more experienced colleagues to ensure the continued provision of the free, confidential and accessible information service the people of the area deserve.

CICs are always keen to hear from potential volunteers, and sometimes it only involves a time commitment of a few hours a month. So give your local CIC a call and check for details of how you can ensure that your community can benefit from the knowledge and the power that goes with it.

Clifden CIC is located at the Library Buildings, Market Street, Clifden and is open on Thursdays from 7pm-9pm and on Fridays from 10am-12noon and from 2-4pm. Tel: 095-22000.
- Issue 4, Summer 2002

 

RAPID cuts clash with promises

Writes Paddy Flannery*

The RAPID bandwagon rolled out in early 2001 promising to solve problems by fast-tracking vast resources into the 25 most disadvantaged areas in the country. Moyross in Limerick is included in the Northside RAPID Area and under this programme every Government Department is asked to give top priority to these areas in their spending and service deliveries over the next three years.

The RAPID co-ordinator and the Area Implementation Team (which includes three community reps) worked hard with the local communities to draw up and submit a local plan in December 2001. This identified the need to sustain existing services and over 30 new initiatives to regenerate the local economy.

However, the promise of funding to meet the local needs is not the experience on the ground. The reality is that we are now working with increasingly shrinking budgets in all areas.

Instead of expanding we have FAS announcing massive cuts in their Community Employment Programme that threaten essential services such as childcare and youth work.

The Moyross Health Centre has been reduced to an empty building with all services now based in Ballynanty Health Centre. This might be servicing the Northside but it has a negative impact on Moyross. Corpus Christi School are losing teachers as opposed to reducing class sizes and other projects can no longer employ staff with the loss of existing funding.
Neither have the long approved plans for a shopping centre, pharmacy or library surfaced so far.

It makes no sense to put plans together to improve the future when the excellent work of the past and present is not even being maintained in some cases. We as a community need to demand that all the promises made by Minister Eoin Ryan at the RAPID launch are kept. There should be no reduction in community services currently available and the RAPID plans need to be given the priority promised by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

* This report first appeared in the April ’02 edition of ‘Moywrites’ the newsletter for Moyross, Limerick. Paddy Flannery is manager of Moyross Community Enterprise Centre.
- Issue 4, Summer 2002

 

Workers Co-op celebrates 21 years of activism

The Community Workers Co-operative (CWC) has its headquarters in Galway City and was set up in 1981 as a national network of those active at a community level and working for social change. It seeks “to be an independent voice and to campaign on issues that affect the lives of those who are most disadvantaged.”

Ireland is changing and the context in which the CWC and its members work has changed considerably since the early 1980s. However, the work is still fundamentally about enabling those who are disadvantaged to address the root causes of inequality, injustice, oppression and poverty.

Membership of the CWC is open to all those who support the Co-op’s aims and objectives and who would like to get involved in a movement for radical social change, for justice and equality. An on-line membership form can be filled out at www.cwc.ie. Through participation in CWC activities, members contribute to developing policies based on an analysis of how best to tackle poverty and inequality. Members hold regular meetings throughout the country.

The CWC aims to: provide a forum for debate on economic, political, social and cultural issues in Ireland and worldwide. The Co-op believes that equality and justice can only be achieved if those whose lives are most affected play a central role in shaping local and national government policies.

The Co-op works with its members to empower communities to achieve change. At both local and national levels, the CWC has been an active particpant in social partnership. The main decision-making body of the Co-op is the agm at which an ‘Central Group’ is selected.

The Community Workers Co-operative has a range of specific objectives (which govern the day-to-day work of staff) including to:

  • Contribute to the creation of a more just and equal society through promoting a policy agenda drawn from local action and experience.
  • Influence the economic and social development policies of the Government, European Union, state agencies, statutory, voluntary and community bodies.
  • Support the development of models and institutions of participatory democracy.
  • Secure the recognition and inclusion of the community sector as a social partner.
  • Develop partnership and co-operation within the community sector.
  • Ensure that adequate resources are made available to the community sector.
  • Provide community based organisations and activists with access to information and opportunities for capacity building.
  • Promote anti-oppressive, anti-sexist and anti-racist community work, with a particular emphasis on the inclusion of women.
  • Promote a global perspective on justice issues and seek to make constructive links with the sector and development issues in the 'Third World'.

As part of its work, the CWC has active sub-groups that focus on the following policy issues: education, health, local government, women/equality, rural poverty and the community sector. The CWC offices hold an archive of articles, interviews and features from the Co-op’s newspaper, ‘News & Views’, while the monthly bulletin ‘News Bites’ is available on-line. Publications on a variety of development issues may be ordered by calling the office, or through the website.
For information, contact: CWC, Unit 4, Tuam Road, Galway; Tel. 091-779030; Fax. 091-779033; E-mail – info@cwc.ie
- Issue 3, Spring 2002

 

Donegal CWC attracts big membership

Donegal Community Workers Co-operative (CWC) was formed in 1994 and has since grown from a membership of 5 to over 70. Through funding provided through the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation, the Co-op has established an office in Letterkenny and employs two workers. The Donegal CWC is managed by a co-ordinating group.

The office includes a well-stocked reference and lending library with books, publications and reports relating to all aspects of community development, social inclusion and anti-poverty work.

Donegal CWC happens to have a strong interest in media work and the Co-op publishes magazines and, occasionally, booklets and an email newsletter.

For more information, contact:

Donegal Community Workers Co-op,
18 Celtic Apartments,
Pearse Road,
Letterkenny,
Co Donegal.
Tel. 074-28792;
Fax: 074-29067;
Email: cwcdl@eircom.net
- Issue 3, Spring 2002

 

‘There are more community workers, yet nothing is changing’

CWC push for Sustainable Development model


“This conference is taking place in a context of frustration about continuing inequality, poverty and social exclusion while the country is richer than ever,” stated Sean Regan at the Community Workers Co-operative (CWC) conference held in Kilkenny in December, 2001.

In an address on the topic, ‘Sustainable Ireland’, Mr. Regan (a CWC staff member) noted that there were more community workers than ever on the ground, “yet nothing is changing”,

This begged the question: “If community work is about changing society, why has so little changed? It seems that most of this energy is going to managing inequality and poverty while the structure that causes the problems lumbers on. We (rightly) focus on the socially excluded, but too often not on the mechanisms that cause this exclusion…We are busy, but to what extent are we busy managing social exclusion and attending meetings, rather than challenging the causes?”

In his speech, he provided background information to place Ireland’s situation in a global context and he referred to the many reports that show how Irish society is polarised, mentioning as an example the link between astronomical house prices, longer housing lists and increased homelessness.

He challenged the neo-liberal model of development adopted by Irish governments, saying there is an almost unquestioning acceptance that this is the only way for Ireland to progress.

“Any negative fallout (from this model) – such as poverty, homelessness or rural decline – is unfortunate and needs to be dealt with, but does not call the model of development into question.”

This model of development actually needs inequality to function. Yet, as far as economists are concerned the big debate is over, he said, quoting from Fukuyamu – ‘All the big questions have been answered.’

Mr. Regan spoke of a feeling of “helplessness” and “voicelessness” among people in Ireland at what is happening in our country and in the world at large. He lamented the lack of alternatives on offer or leadership to find alternatives. Even the protesters at G8 summits, such as the infamous Genoa summit last year, were a diverse group “without a clearly articulated vision of the alternative.”

Looking to the positive, Mr. Regan said there had been “some gains”, noting that social inclusion is now an objective of the National Development Plan and there is a commitment to poverty-proofing and equality-proofing. He quoted a common definition of Sustainable Development (by Brundtland) - “development that meets the needs of today, without undermining the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Since the UN Conference in Rio in ’92,, “Sustainable Development entails a strong anti-poverty, equality focus and sees participatory democracy as fundamental,” continued Mr. Regan. Ireland’s current model of development is unsustainable on three core fronts – socially, environmentally and economically.

“Eliminating poverty, promoting equality, redistributing wealth and protecting the environment are all at odds with the neo-liberal, short-term, profits-at-all-costs approach,” he said.

Certain global initiatives do, however, provide opportunities to promote an alternative – the Earth Summit in ’92, the Kyoto Protocol, the recent World Conference Against Racism, and so on. In suggesting ways forward, Mr. Regan noted that those who challenge the consensus are often dismissed as “creeping Jesus’ and pinko-lefties”.

“Nonetheless,” he said, “with no mainstream political party deviating from the consensus to show leadership, there has never been a greater need for a strong, independent community sector to articulate these issues.”

He suggested the following approaches, many of which had been discussed in earlier workshops and lectures:

  • Strengthen our focus on processes and structures that cause exclusion;
  • Develop a better analysis of the current model of development;
  • Make this analysis accessible to community workers and the public;
  • Become more strategic;
  • Build alliances with other sectors who share our concerns – international, legal, political, trade unions, environmental sectors.

“ If we can collectively articulate and develop our analysis and build alliances maybe we will slowly but ultimately transform society,” he concluded.
- Issue 3, Spring 2002