Seanad debates

Thursday, 1 July 2010

1:00 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Cathaoirleach as ucht an deis seo a thabhairt dom an cheist seo a ardú ar an Athló. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White. As she will know, having been a member of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, an issue has arisen regarding community development projects, CDPs, on which the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, has been to the fore since he took up office. He said during recent visits to both Cork and Tralee that he was amenable and open to considering service level agreement proposals for CDPs. Given that he is open to considering this option, the desired option of the national umbrella body for CDPs, the National Community Development Forum, NCDF, the forum submitted a proposal for a service level agreement to him on 11 June. The model proposed would help and enable the CDPs to maintain their local structures and continue their excellent community work, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

I pay tribute to the CDPs in Mahon and Ballyphehane in my area of Cork which do trojan work. However, there is ambiguity and an issue arises about the merger of the partnerships which do a huge amount of work and are overseen by a voluntary board. They are open to all in the community, men and women. The projects empower and enhance local communities.

Although the deadline for submitting an integration plan was yesterday, the Minister has so far refused to meet the umbrella group and acknowledge its submission to the Department. Some 100 groups are unsure of where they stand. The Minister of State is genuine and, coming from Carlow, immersed and rooted in the community. As such she understands the importance of this subject. I would like her to clarify whether the NCDF national service level agreement proposal has been accepted or rejected by the Minister. Is he available and willing to meet the NCDF to discuss it? Will he extend the deadline and engage in consultation to bring about a resolution?

At a time of massive unemployment and challenges for communities, we should be focusing on sustaining them and making them vibrant, irrespective of the socioeconomic divide. To disadvantaged communities, in particular, this Adjournment matter is very important.

There has been no formal notification received by the NCDF from the Department. I find this extraordinary. Will the Minister consult the forum in the presence of an independent arbitrator or individual? The CDPs have come a long way since last autumn when the Minister of State was a member of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the relevant groups appeared before it. She saw Ms Cathleen O'Neill on the Vincent Brown programme a few nights ago. Ms O'Neill does great work in Kilbarrack in Dublin.

There are 100 projects and one size does not fit all, as the Minister of State knows. The position in Carlow, Cork and Dublin is not the same. I ask for a definitive response from the Minister. Does the Minister of State believe it is correct for the Minister to refuse four times to meet the umbrella body? Deputy Carey is the Minister in charge. I know he is very fair and genuine and do not believe he is the one who is saying, "No." The Minister of State would be willing to negotiate with the umbrella body. I, therefore, seek an extension of the deadline by one month, dialogue and clarity on behalf of the people we both represent.

I hate using the word "voiceless" because I know from the work done in Mahon and Ballyphehane in Cork that we have empowered people. We have given men and women who would otherwise not be involved in the community an opportunity to blossom and flourish. That is what this is all about. It is not about building political fiefdoms and kingdoms but about creating and building community. Outside the gates today there are people protesting about the Civil Partnership Bill, as is their right. The matter I am raising on behalf of the NCDF is another form of protest. Some 100 projects require leadership. The Government must meet, listen to and engage with the NCDF and, if necessary, change, if it is wrong. I believe it is wrong in what it is doing. The CDPs have indicated that they will enter partnerships. This is an important night for the Minister of State and her Department and I hope she will be positive in her response.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I am responding to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey and thank the Senator for raising it.

I welcome the opportunity to update the Seanad on the current position on the new local and community development programme, LCDP. As the Senator is aware, the local development social inclusion programme and the community development programme were the Department's two main social inclusion community development programmes. They came to an end on 31 December last and have been superseded by a new integrated programme, the local and community development programme. All community development projects, CDPs, and local development companies, LDCs, currently in receipt of funding through the LCDP, have signed up to implement the new programme in the context of the Department's integration strategy and to meet specified deadline dates. This includes the submission of a work plan by 26 March and an integration plan by 30 June. It should be noted that funding for community development projects this year has been ring-fenced and maintained at the 2009 level. In few other areas of public spending has it been possible to do this.

The Department has set out a national model involving full integration of CDPs with LDCs but made it clear that other options can be considered, that it is not a question of one size fitting all. However, alternative models will be required to meet a range of criteria, including a reduction in the number of structures, promoting the potential for integrated delivery of services to the public, supporting efficiencies and reducing the burden of company law compliance for CDPs. The only option not acceptable is one that seeks to preserve the status quo. Some models proposed by CDPs and other parties in the period since the launch of the LCDP have had to be rejected on that basis.

In recent weeks the Minister has been able to respond positively to possible alternative models brought forward by the Paul Partnership and Limerick city CDPs, HSE South and a number of CDPs in the Cork-Kerry area. While agreement has not yet been fully finalised in these cases, the Minister is confident that there is a real possibility that agreement will be reached. The position is that, unless a project has received provisional approval from the Department for an alternative LCDP integration model, groups were still required to submit their plans for full integration by 30 June. There are no plans to effect a general extension to that deadline. Additional proposals from other CDPs and LDCs, including Northside Partnership, the National Community Development Forum, NCDF, and others have also been under consideration. It is anticipated that any alternative model of the nature proposed, if agreed, could be used in a small number of specific areas only. The Minister, Deputy Pat Carey, wishes to assure the Senator that the Department will continue to respond positively to all constructive proposals that it receives, based on the specified criteria, and that the officials will continue to be available to meet project boards. However, a model that does not entail significant change is unlikely to meet the specified criteria.

It is important to note that, despite statements by some commentators, full integration does not mean closure of a CDP or the cessation of CDP activities in any given area. As has been stated previously, any worthwhile community development activity or service delivered under a CDP can continue to be delivered under the proposed new LCDP structure and by the same staff currently doing this work. CDPs may opt out of the LCDP integration process and decide to go it alone. In such cases, the Department would be supportive in respect of the retention of any assets acquired with programme funding and may be in a position to provide for some limited funding for a transition period, subject to certain conditions.

Despite the tone of some coverage of the redesign of community-local development programmes and the integration strategy, those involved in community development have nothing to fear from the new model. It is all about ensuring that front line services are maintained and that the important services currently being provided continue to play a vital role in strengthening our most disadvantaged and marginalised communities. In this regard, it is important to acknowledge the incredible work carried out by CDPs and LDCs, but communities and the challenges facing them change. Accordingly, our approach to those challenges must change. We need to look to the future.

I reassure all concerned that the Minister's focus remains firmly on ensuring that scarce resources are targeted at the most vulnerable communities through optimising our efforts and resources on the front line.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Given the Minister of State's response, will she elicit a commitment from the Minister? From speaking with members of the NCDF, I know they will be able to give him the structures he needs. Could we extend the process by two weeks? Two weeks would guarantee the position. Will the Minister meet the groups? The Minister of State's remarks did not address this point. The groups have been refused a meeting four times and their proposals have received no acknowledgement.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I cannot answer on behalf of the Minister as to whether he will extend the deadline, given his statement through my reply that he cannot extend it. I am certain he is open to listening to the groups. Recently, he told the Dáil that one size does not fit all. On this basis, we can go forward with a constructive resolution.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State.