Seanad debates

Tuesday, 11 February 2003

Adjournment Matters. - Youth Services.


2:30 pm

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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I request the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to make a statement on the progress being made on the Carlow Regional Youth Service central youth facility.

Carlow Regional Youth Service works to encourage and promote youth initiatives in the county. It offers a range of opportunities and supports designed to assist youth organisations and communities in the delivery of youth work. It also provides a number of services designed to meet the needs of young people in the county. The CRYS is responsible for running the Carlow drugs initiative, the youth at risk project, the special projects worker, the Carlow camp and teenage youth project, international exchanges, volunteer development, group and club development in sport, youth information services and the FÁS community employment programme.

It is proposed to redevelop the old library on Dublin Street in Carlow, which is currently the property of Carlow County Council. It has agreed to give the facility to the Carlow Regional Youth Services free of charge, once it is used for youth services. The development of such a facility will require funding of €1.5 milion to €1.7 million. It is planned to put in place a reception office, a youth information centre with access to computers and the Internet, a youth café with a kitchen, a computer room, an activity room, an exhibition performance area, a number of conference meeting rooms, offices for staff offering services from the centre and a child-minding facility, all of which will be wheelchair accessible.

Carlow Regional Youth Service has offered to take on the role of developing and managing the project and managing the central youth facility when it is in place. The facility will be run according to the ethos agreed at the VEC young people's facilities and services fund sub-committee. The sub-committee agreed to assist the project in every way possible.

There was a seizure of €1.5 million worth of cannabis resin in Graiguecullen recently and a seizure of heroin in the nearby town of Athy yesterday. Those seizures prove the existence of the menace of drugs in the Carlow area and highlight the urgent need for such a youth facility to prevent young people from becoming exposed to the danger of drug abuse.

The main reason I tabled this matter on the Adjournment was to ascertain from where the necessary funding for this project would be available. Unfortunately, under the national development plan there is no specific heading under which groups such as the group seeking the establishing of this facility can apply for funding. There is the young people's facilities and services fund in the Minister of State's Department, but the required money for this project would not be available in that fund.

The group met the Minister for Finance and explained its case to him. The group wonder whether money that will become available under the dormant bank accounts scheme could be ringfenced for this project. It will receive funding for the crèche from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but that will not be enough.

It is worth pointing out that the proposed centre will be in the middle of so-called Rapid area. While there is no specific funding available for this project under the Rapid programme, if that programme is to be worked fully, projects for places like Carlow and Graiguecullen, which are ear-marked under the Rapid programme, should be fast-tracked under the national development plan. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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The Senator will be aware that the young people's facilities and services fund was established in 1998 as part of the Government's overall strategy to tackle drug misuse. The fund aims to assist in the development of youth facilities, including sport and recreational facilities, and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to develop. The objective of the fund is to attract at risk young people in disadvantaged areas into these facilities and activities and divert them from the dangers of substance abuse. The target group for the fund are ten to 21 year olds who are marginalised through a combination of risk factors relating to family background, environmental circumstances, educational disadvantage, involvement in crime and/or drugs, etc.

The main focus of the fund has been on the local drugs task force areas where integrated plans were prepared on the basis of detailed guidelines agreed by the Cabinet committee on social inclusion. Local development groups were set up in each area and comprised representatives from the relevant local drugs task force, the local authority and the VEC. These plans were submitted for consideration, via the task forces, to the national assessment committee which is chaired by my Department. The plans were assessed against the guidelines agreed and recommendations were then made to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion.

There are 12 drugs task force areas in Dublin, including one in Bray, and there is one drugs task force area in Cork. Recognising that the drug problem is not confined to the local drugs task force areas, funding was also allocated to a number of urban areas, outside the task force areas, where a serious drug problem exists or has the potential to develop. The areas selected were Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Carlow. They were the only areas selected outside the drugs task force areas. The vocational education committees in these areas, and the health board in the case of Waterford, were asked to take the lead in developing integrated drug prevention strategies in consultation with relevant statutory and community-voluntary interests, on the basis of guidelines agreed by the Cabinet committee on social inclusion.

A separate allocation was also made to assist a number of voluntary organisations with a national or regional remit that have the capacity to deliver targeted education and prevention initiatives. Under this allocation, seven voluntary organisations were approved funding to deliver drug prevention education programmes, including peer education programmes, on a national basis.

An amount of almost €150 million has been provided under the national development plan to support measures under the fund. Since 1998, just over €68 million has been allocated under round I of the fund. Of this amount, €54.1 million has been allocated to local drugs task force areas while the urban areas of Galway, Waterford, Limerick and Carlow were allocated a further €1.9 million. In addition, the voluntary organisations referred to above have been allocated €0.6 million and implementation costs of €2.5 million have also been allocated. The springboard initiative, which falls under the remit of the Department of Health and Children, was allocated an additional €9.1 million. I have details of the types of projects funded, but they are not specific to Carlow.

Applications have been sought from development groups in local drugs task force areas in relation round II of the fund in respect of facility projects only. The national assessment committee is currently examining the capital proposals submitted and decisions on round II will be made in light of the overall funding position for 2003. Arrangements for the other elements of round II, which will include seeking proposals from non-local drugs task force areas, have not yet been approved by the Cabinet committee.

With respect to Carlow, an allocation of €202,000 was made to Carlow in late 1999 under the fund. In late 2000, the development group in Carlow made a submission to the national assessment committee of the fund for the development of a central youth facility for the town and sought advice on how best to progress the project. It was informed then that it was not possible for additional funding to be made available under the fund at that time, outside their original allocation of €202,000. My predecessor, the former Minister of State, Deputy Eoin Ryan, subsequently met representatives from Carlow Regional Youth Service in early 2001 to discuss its proposal.

The Senator should note that the development group made a further submission to the national assessment committee in April 2001 seeking permission to use some of the funding allocated to it to develop the necessary plans to secure planning permission for the proposed youth facility. Following a meeting between representatives of the development group and the committee in May 2001, this proposal was approved and the decision was communicated to the Carlow development group.

I am aware that drawings and costings for the proposed facility have been prepared and that Carlow Regional Youth Service is seeking significant funding from Government sources to enable the project to proceed. I understand that the cost of completing and fitting out the facility will be in the region of €2 million. I am sure the Senator will appreciate that this is only one of a number of projects outside the local drugs task force areas that have signalled the need for a youth facility development in their areas and which have canvassed support from the fund over recent years.

However, until such time as the Cabinet committee on social inclusion approves arrangements for round II of the fund for non-local drugs task force areas, I regret that the national assessment committee will not be in a position to consider proposals such as the Carlow youth facility project. It very much depends on round II allocations for the main local drugs task force areas, which are due and I hope will be made in the not too distant future.

The Senator mentioned dormant accounts. A separate board to collect and disburse money from such accounts has been established under the Department but it is independent. It is examining ideas about how it might allocate the money when it comes due. That will not be until late summer or autumn at the earliest. The Act under which the board was established specified certain areas in which the money could be spent. These include areas of disadvantage such as the one cited by the Senator. I imagine this would be one of the intentions of the board but its activities are only at a preliminary stage. It will probably dispense funds later in the year and while I do not know for sure, I imagine it will make public announcements in this regard. However, that will be in the second half of the year.

While not wishing to appear to hog the fund, I emphasise that it was established to concentrate on drugs task force areas in Dublin. An argument was made for its extension to another four cities, which was done in a small way. It will be some time yet before we can make round II allocations and see if some additional funding can be given to those four cities or other places besides. Regional drugs task forces will be established in the coming months and arguments may well be made that areas under their remit should also share in the pot but that is in the future. I thank the Senator for raising the matter.