Dáil debates

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Voluntary Sector

9:00 am

Paul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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1. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if a commitment will be given to ensure that future funding and commissioning models fully support the community-based, non-profit approach in view of the significant concern in the community and voluntary sector that the commissioning process is leading to creeping privatisation of services in the sector. [44375/20]

Paul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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Can the Minister of State give me a commitment to ensure that future funding commissioning models will fully support the community not-for-profit-based view of the community and voluntary sector as there is significant concern in the sector that the commissioning process is leading to a creeping privatisation of services in this sector?

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
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In 2019, my Department published Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: A Five-Year Strategy to Support the Community and Voluntary Sector in Ireland 2019-2024. This strategy reaffirms the Government’s commitment to supporting the sector and addressing some of the challenges faced by service providers while also recognising the reality of finite resources and the need to ensure that available resources are focused on providing effective services. Co-produced by Government and the community and voluntary sector, the strategy sets out 11 high-level objectives and associated actions that will empower communities, their representative organisations and the community and voluntary sector to inform and shape appropriate responses to their needs.

The strategy commits, among other things, to a review of the current national practice in commissioning, and specifically, to develop a commissioning model reflecting a collaborative, partnership and whole-of-government ethos prioritising societal value and community need. The implementation of the strategy is overseen by a cross-departmental group on local and community development, which is a representative group comprising local and central government, the community and voluntary sector, community development and local development nominees. The group has agreed a work plan for the implementation of the strategy and commissioning has been identified as one of the priorities in the plan. Accordingly, my Department will conduct a number of bilateral engagements with the relevant Departments and agencies in early 2021 to progress this important commitment.

Paul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. I welcome the answer's statement of the value of communities and community development projects. I first heard of commissioning four or five years ago when I was child and family support co-ordinator for Tusla. One of the aspects of the prevention, partnership and family support, PPFS, programme at the time was around commissioning and it has its own important pillar and importance both in terms of funding and the community. The figures for the community sector, as the Minister of State will be aware, are absolutely staggering. With an income of €5.7 billion, it employs more than 100,000 people with 11,500 voluntary organisations with 500,000 volunteers. The one thing that binds all of these people together is that they are not-for-profit and that needs to be protected.

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
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Tusla is one of the priority organisations that we want to engage with on this issue, along with the Department of Health, the HSE, and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability Integration and Youth. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is important in this whole mix. Last week the cross-sectoral group overseeing the strategy had a meeting. There were several priority issues and I attended the meeting for a while. I impressed upon the group the importance of the commissioning issue. I also reported to the group that early next year I hope to meet with the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Ossian Smyth, who has responsibility for procurement, which is somewhat different from commissioning. His Department is very relevant and I will sit down with him early next year to see how we can work together to progress the overall aims of the strategy.

Paul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas arís. I have one concern in respect of the Minister of State's answer on the funding and funding models. I always have a great concern when we put such a strong emphasis on this value-for-money model. There is always a real concern in community and voluntary organisations around how one values the community and the work that they do. Much of it is soft and it is not about figures or people walking through doors but about the quality of the work that one does and the quality of the interaction one has with the individuals around health and education. All aspects of community, voluntary and charity organisations hit every part of our lives. We need to put a stronger emphasis on how we value people and how we measure that value to ensure that it does not just come down to money.

Photo of Joe O'BrienJoe O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Green Party)
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I agree with the Deputy and there is also a recognition of that in the strategy, which is one of the reasons it has been prioritised. Much of this comes down to some Departments and agencies not getting what the community and voluntary sector is about to some extent. That is certainly not the case with my Department. I have been very impressed with the officials in my time there. They absolutely get it and it is reflected in the strategy. One of the practical measures the cross-sectoral group is working on is a values and principles document to bridge that gap that is present on some occasions. The objective is to get Departments to buy into this values and principles document, which refers to values such as social justice, sustainable development, social inclusion, human rights, equality and active participation. We are working on this document and will bring it to Departments, which will also help to bridge the gap in understanding that the Deputy has referred to indirectly.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Question No. 2 is in the name of Deputy Sherlock, who is not present. We will, therefore, move to Question No. 3 in the name of Deputy Kerrane.

Question No. 2 replied to with Written Answers.