Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Stanley calls on Government to keep pre-election promises to the Community and Voluntary Sector

11 October, 2011 - by Brian Stanley TD


Speaking on a Sinn Féin Private Members Business Motion in the Dáil tonight, Spokesperson on Community Deputy Brian Stanley called upon the Government to keep the pre-election promises they made to the Community and Voluntary Sector.

Deputy Stanley said the consensus for cuts, established by Fianna Fáil is now being led by Fine Gael and Labour.

The Laois-Offaly TD said;

“The community and voluntary sector, despite it’s proven track-record and value, has been disproportionately targeted by government cuts since before the recession even began. Even when public spending went up in 2009, the then Government still cut the sector’s funding, with the new Government quite happy to keep up this tradition.

“Organisations in the community and voluntary sector have suffered cutbacks on average of around 20% with high value organisations focused on anti-poverty work such as the Community Workers Cooperative losing 100% of their funding as a punishment for speaking out against government policy.

“These funding cutbacks have not only ensured unemployment for thousands of people, but resulted in a marked deterioration in the lives of thousands of others as the community sector is no longer able to sustain the same levels of activities and services they provide. I would remind the Government that these are the same services that the community sector are providing because the State has so absolutely failed to do so themselves.

“Fianna Fáil could not expect anyone to believe that they supported the community sector when they were inflicting this level of cuts, and Fine Gael and Labour cannot seriously expect us to believe that they are supporting the community sector when they clearly have no intention of reinstating the level of funding that is needed.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to commend those who are working in the community and voluntary sector, both in paid and voluntary capacities. These are the people who have to face the reality of, and make up the shortfall for the Government’s ‘on a wing and a prayer’ attitude to policy making in this State.

“People are over-working in terrible conditions, providing services for people who are very often living in terrible-conditions, for low pay, or no pay, and trying to make slashed budgets stretch as far as humanly possible.

“Cuts to the community sector are part of a larger deflationary austerity plan. They are doing irreparable damage to our vital community infrastructure which has taken years to build up. The consensus of cuts having been embarked on by Fianna Fáil, is now supported by Fine Gael and the Labour Party with communities suffering from the cumulative effect of cuts to public spending, cuts to public services, cuts to minimum wage and cuts to community-based services.”

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITOR: TEXT OF SPEECH BELOW (CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY)

Community Sector PMB Speech

Brian Stanley TD

While I am happy to introduce this Private Members Business motion on behalf of Sinn Féin, I am equally dismayed that we would have to do so at all. Despite the important and extremely valuable work of the community and voluntary sector over the years, which has been independently-evaluated – it has been disproportionately target by government cuts since the before the recession even began. Public expenditure actually went up in 2009 by 6%, and yet the then Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht which was responsible for funding essential community infrastructure had its budget cut by 8%.

Then in 2010, that Department’s budget was cut by a further 10% leading to overall cuts of between 18 and 20% for organisations in the community and voluntary sector. With the stroke of a pen, Fianna Fáil ensured not just unemployment for people from the sector, but a marked deterioration in the lives of thousands of others as the community sector was no longer able to sustain the same levels of activities and services they provide. I would remind the Government that these are the same services that the community sector are providing because the State has so absolutely failed to do so themselves. Fianna Fáil could not expect anyone to believe that they supported the community sector when they were inflicting this level of cuts, and Fine Gael and Labour cannot seriously expect us to believe that they are supporting the community sector when they clearly have no intention of reinstating the level of funding that is needed.

Frontline service providers working in the area of drug use and addiction were especially badly hit by cutbacks leaving that area of the sector with 5,000 less employees and 15% less of a service. Supports in general for the community and voluntary sector have been cut by up to a third. This is a scandal.

I would also like to take this opportunity to commend those who are working in the community and voluntary sector, both in paid and voluntary capacities. These are the people who have to face the reality of, and make up the shortfall for the Government’s “on a wing and a prayer” attitude to policy making in this State. People are over-working in terrible conditions, providing services for people who are very often living in terrible-conditions, for low pay, or no pay, and trying to make slashed budgets stretch as far as humanly possible.
Once again, those who received nothing during the Celtic Tiger years are being forced to bear the burden of governmental financial mismanagement.

The State neglected the poor, the homeless, and the disabled over the when there was money. In May of this year, Impact’s health and welfare divisional conference in Tralee stated that 5,000 jobs had been lost in the sector, and organisations budgets had been cut by as much as 20%.
Regardless of what the Government may say, funding is used as a ‘gag’ mechanism against those in the community and voluntary sector. These groups are forced to walk a tightrope of providing services and looking for funding to do so because the State is either unwilling to do it, or because whatever structure it has put in place is too inept to do it, while at the same time highlighting the deficiencies in State provision – but as always, they can only highlight so much - a step too far and they will very quickly find themselves in a position where they will have a budget significantly cut from what they had the year previous. All for having the nerve to stand up, be counted, and say that what the Government is doing is wrong.
Labour during their general election campaign gave us all sorts of promises regarding the community and voluntary sector. I recall one statement from Deputy Joe Costello which conveniently, in the October before the election called for on the Government and the Department of Community Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs “to ensure that the cuts to the community and voluntary sector are stopped and that, at least, the existing services are maintained.”

Unfortunately this support did not travel with them in to Government seats.

The Community Workers Co-operative was one of the original anti-poverty networks identified by the State as having a strategic importance during the 1990s and received core funding from the State up until very recently. Their core work was to promote and support community development approaches to tackling poverty, social exclusion and inequalities using community development as a far more sustainable approach to poverty reduction and social inclusion than income-based approach which is vulnerable to fluctuations in social welfare and other direct payments.. The Scheme to Support National Organisations in the Community & Voluntary Sector was subsequently reviewed by the (then) department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. On June 8th the Community Workers’ Co-operative has received word that it will not be funded under the scheme in the future. Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan then said that The application from the CWC did not meet the qualifying mark for funding on this occasion. Labour and Fine Gael cannot have it both ways. The CWC criticised the Local and Community Development Programme and then lost 100% of their funding. They cannot pretend to support the Community and Voluntary Sector and then cut their funding because they do not like what the community and voluntary sector is saying. The Community Workers Cooperative office in Galway has now been closed and we have lost important voice for disadvantaged communities across the West of Ireland.

Funding for other organisations is also currently under serious threat, with groups in the area of violence against women and the general domestic violence area may be forced to fight for the same funding. The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) recently cancelled the post of their newsletters due to funding limitations. As unemployment reaches half a million, staff are being lost across the board and the most vulnerable people within this State are being thrown to the wolves.

We believe that there must be a securely resourced community and voluntary sector that both responds to and advocates for the needs and wishes of communities, be they geographically based or communities of interest. It is about much more than service provision. It can channel meaningful input into decisions and help to ensure ongoing accountability around their implementation.
Frontline services alone cannot tackle marginalisation. Communities must also be given the resources and supports to address its underlying causes.

There is a need for all of those involved in responding to the problems to work together. This includes those most affected: families, communities and young people.

Cuts to the community sector are part of a larger deflationary austerity plan. They are doing irreparable damage to our vital community infrastructure which has taken years to build up. The consensus of cuts having been embarked on by Fianna Fáil, is now supported by Fine Gael and the Labour Party with communities suffering from the cumulative effect of cuts to public spending, cuts to public services, cuts to minimum wage and cuts to community-based services.

The Programme for Government states, “During a time of recession and deep unemployment the Government acknowledges the vital role of the community and voluntary sector working in partnership with local communities, State agencies and local authorities.” Cutting funding left, right and centre is acknowledging nothing but the Government’s austerity agenda.

It is for these reasons that I am asking the members of this House to hold their promises that they made before the general election and support the community and voluntary sector by supporting this motion.

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