Seanad debates

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

1:00 am

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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On 25 November 2009 the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs gave the go-ahead to start winding down and closing 180 community projects. Twenty to 30 of those projects are already closed down, supposedly as part of a review procedure. I understand 11 are appealing to the Labour Relations Commission through their union.

The funding for community development programmes is ring-fenced for 2010 but the uncertainty sets in thereafter. The programmes accept that funding will pass through the county integrated structures and have no problem in that regard. They merely reasonably seek that it remain ring-fenced for them, as they fear this will become a blunt instrument otherwise. As matters stand, projects have two weeks until the end of March in which to devise the work plan that will mean that from the end of this year they will no longer own their own premises, any minivans for which they fund-raise or youth clubs they might build. This is mad and wrong and community groups are annoyed by it.

I will cite two community projects in County Cavan, namely, South West Cavan Community Development Project Limited and the Community Connections Community Development Project as examples of best practice. South West Cavan Community Development Project Limited has helped 64 community groups. It has helped them to draw down funding to acquire personal alarms for older people or help in the establishment of crèches and child care facilities. A recent notable case is the child care facility at Ballymachugh which is of a very high standard. The community development projects have provided facilities across all age groups and social classes, both in built-up areas within their remit and more isolated locations. One notable contribution is made by the Rural LIFT transport project which also is very strong in the area of west Cavan in which the Community Connections Community Development Project operates. It also has a newsletter and a number of good projects.

It is worth mentioning that community development projects are equally effective and necessary in inner-city Dublin and other inner-city areas. Consequently, this is not simply a rural affair but also affects urban areas in great need. It spans age groups and all scenarios.

Community development projects have already experienced two budget cuts which they have accepted in the context of the times in which we live. Consequently, my proposition does not pertain to additional moneys, nor does it constitute a whinge about the loss of existing moneys which can be argued a separate occasion. The projects seek the security of knowing that money will be ring-fenced for them in the future. Consequently, they do not seek extra funding and accept the cuts laid out for them. An important point is that they have no problem with the money passing through the integrated county structures. They simply request that the money being paid to them and which has been ring-fenced for 2010 will continue to be so ringfenced in 2011 and 2012. They wish to be able to plan for the future and have security and fairness.

Nationwide, community development projects have had great achievements in respect of individuals, community groups, youth groups, older people, children's groups, crèches, rural travel schemes, inner-city development and so on. Such achievements have been secured across the entire gamut of human activity and range of voluntary activity. Interestingly, 2,000 volunteers participate in projects being supported by community development projects. The people involved who have such major achievements to their credit are highly reasonable, committed to what they are doing and have the requisite expertise. Incidentally, it also is worth mentioning that there are strict auditing structures, involving annual auditing and strict efficiencies. As a result, there is no question of money being wasted or of malpractice.

I do not seek additional budgets or about to upset a plan to pass moneys through the county integrated structures. Similarly, there is no lack of auditing or proper financial practices. I only seek to ensure the future security of community development projects. In other words, the voluntary personnel and groups they support in urban or inner city areas nationwide should have the security of such support and knowing that such coalface activity will continue on an ongoing bass. Essentially, that is my proposition. I, therefore, ask that the money be ring-fenced for community development projects at the same level as previously and that such funds be allowed to pass through the county integrated structures.

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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): I am taking this Adjournment Matter on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Curran.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and welcome the opportunity to update the Seanad on the current position on the new local and community development programme. As Members will be aware, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was established in 2002 against a background of concern at the multiplicity of structures and agencies through which local and community development schemes and programmes were delivered. It inherited a number of local and community programmes with diverse structures which had been operated under the aegis of several Departments. Clearly, there was an inherent danger of fragmentation of services and the diffusion of resources. The cohesion process initiated by the Department a number of years ago to address these issues resulted in a significant reduction of local delivery structures for a range of rural and local development programmes. Until last year, there were almost 100 partnerships or local development companies and Leader companies in operation. The cohesion process has resulted in that number being reduced to a total of 53 entities providing full county-wide coverage across the country. However, the Department still has a wide agenda of reform to advance. The next phase which is under way concerns improving and joining up the outputs of programmes, as well as further consolidating structures.

As has been outlined previously in both Houses, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has perceived the need to redesign the local development social inclusion programme, LDSIP, and the community development programme, CDP, drawing on best international practice and to support their ongoing evaluation. The LDSIP and the CDP were that Department's two main social inclusion and community development programmes and were delivered through separate local delivery structures. These programmes came to an end on 31 December 2009 and were superseded by a new programme, namely, the local and community development programme, LCDP. The aim of the new programme is to tackle poverty and social exclusion through partnership and constructive engagement between the Government and its agencies and people in disadvantaged communities. The LCDP preserves elements of good practice from the CDP and LDSIP programmes and will enhance monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

An implementation strategy, involving the stakeholders, is under way for the LCDP roll-out in the course of 2010. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has set out a model for integrated service delivery and structures at a local level which would involve, among other things, the reconstitution of the voluntary boards of the CDPs from the end of 2010. It has taken care in the implementation strategy for the new programme and allowed more than enough time to ensure the objective of integrated service delivery can be achieved. The Department and Pobal are providing a range of supports to ensure the process is successful.

I am aware there is opposition among some CDPs to the model for integrated service delivery and structures at local level set out by my Department. However, maintaining the status quo was never an option given the issues relating to the delivery of the old programmes, the concerns of the Committee of Public Accounts about the multitude of structures in the system, the criticisms in the McCarthy report and the current budgetary reality.

Our aim is to preserve and protect the volunteers on the current boards of CDPs by giving them new roles on advisory councils for the programme locally without the burden of company law requirements. This will reduce significantly the level of reporting to my Department and the Companies Registration Office, CRO. It will also have the useful spin-off of reduced overheads for audits, payroll and other back-office costs and will maximise the impact of available funding at the front line. However, it has been conveyed to CDPs and local development companies that if better models are proposed by them, these will be accepted as long as they achieve integrated and cost effective service delivery. It is also important to note that no decisions are required on any of these issues until mid-2010 at the earliest. Even then, the objective will be to secure local agreement on all issues before any final decisions are taken or implemented.

I am pleased to have been able to ring-fence funding for community development projects for 2010 and to maintain it at 2009 levels. In few other areas of public spending has it been possible to do this. The Senator will appreciate that ongoing funding for 2011 and beyond will be subject to budgetary considerations at the appropriate time. Neither is it possible to speculate on any terms and conditions attached to the LDCP funding that is to be made available to the local development companies from 2011 onwards.

My overall aim is to ensure that, notwithstanding the difficult budgetary position, disadvantaged communities will benefit from a more focused programme and better integrated actions. As previously indicated, my primary concern in this most difficult economic climate is to make every effort to ensure the front-line services provided by or supported through my Department, especially those focused on the needs of the most disadvantaged communities, are protected and to minimise overheads and ancillary costs.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Does Senator O'Reilly have a question?

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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While I fully appreciate that this is not the Minister of State's brief, I am anxious that he convey my opinion to the Government and the relevant Minister. We are not referring to not sending funding through the local county structures. There is no problem in that regard or concerning the reductions. Rather, we want the funding to be spent by the CDPs and given to them directly.

If something is not broken, why fix it? The CDPs are doing a significant job and are properly audited and managed. Their process can be transparent and money would go through local structures. The proposal is not tenable and I ask the Minister of State to bring this message to the relevant Department.

Photo of Michael FinneranMichael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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Okay.