Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Adjournment Matters

Child and Family Agency Funding

6:05 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá mé an-bhuíoch dó as ucht teacht isteach agus an t-am a thógáil le cheist faoin ionad acmhainní pobail, Aonad, atá i mBéal Átha Gárrtha á thógáil agus an contúirt atá ann go bhfuil sé le dúnadh síos láithreach.

As the Minister may be aware, Aonad Resource Centre in Ballygard opened its doors in February 2002 and has since become a very busy centre in the rural community in north east Galway which explores the supports and services that they can provide to the community on an ongoing basis. The word "Aonad" is the Irish translation of unity, which is indicative of the centre being a resource for all the people in the area. The overall objective of Aonad Resource Centre has been the empowerment of local people by providing supports and services which meet their needs in an accessible, respectful, family friendly and confidential manner. Essentially the centre aims to improve the quality of life for those living in the wider Ballygar area. It provides adult education and training such as yoga, English for migrant workers, computer skills etc. The staff have also facilitated the establishment of new community and voluntary groups, such as the parent and toddler group who meet a number of times a week, the active retirement association and so on. The centre is also actively linked with the local adult training centre, schools cluster programme, Ballygar MABS outreach service, youth services centre, community playgroup and social services, a number of which have been cut back in recent years. The centre had an up-to-date information until recently but what has happened is that the Aonad resource centre has been closed in the past two weeks by the board of the company.

Ballygar has been hit by a number of closures, with the VEC training centre, the Youth Work Ireland youth centre and the community welfare office closing. This has resulted in a huge loss of services and revenue to this rural area and the region cannot withstand the closure of the resource centre. I am told there are more than 400 local signatories to a petition against the closure of the centre, that there are letters from the doctor's clinic, the public health nurse and the local supermarkets to name but a few who are supporting the retention of this centre.

Through its main funding body Tusla - through Tusla's community services programme funded by Pobal and other grants awarded - Aonad brings in up to €250,000 into the area. It is an important economic initiative for the area. If Aonad Resource Centre is allowed to close there will be a loss of seven full-time jobs and other jobs losses through the Tús, FÁS and intern programmes.

I appreciate there may be local issues with the board of the company in question. What people have asked me to raise with the Minister is that the services that are being funded by Tusla and other State organisations be continued in whatever way is possible. I understand there is a question of whether the company will fold in the next couple of weeks. I have been asked if there is a possibility that the programmes that are being funded, which are important in the local area, could be transferred as undertakings to another organisation, or a new organisation be set up to continue the good work that has been done to date because the community is very concerned that it will lose the continuity of all the good work that has been done since 2003.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus tá mé ag tnúth go mór lena fhreagra.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh as ucht an cheist seo. Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis na mórceisteanna seo a tháinig chun solais maidir leis an ionad acmhainní, Aonad Resource Centre, i mBéal Átha Ghártha i gContae na Gaillimhe, a phlé.

The Ballygar resource centre is one of over 100 family resource centres which has been in receipt of funding from the Child and Family Agency. In 2014 the agency has provided funding in excess of €12 million to support the work of these centres. Family resource centres, funded by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, provide a range of universal and targeted services and development opportunities that address the needs of children and families. Family support forms an integral and central part of the remit of the Child and Family Agency. The establishment of the agency, a key priority for Government, brings together family support services which previously were the responsibility of two State organisations - the HSE and the Family Support Agency. It provides a platform for better integration of these services.

The issue raised by the Senator relates to the level of funding provided by the Child and Family Agency to Aonad Resource Centre. The centre has been in receipt of funding under the family resource programme since 2002. The budget allocation to the centre for 2013 was €140,220 with €138,400 available in 2014. I am advised by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency that in September 2014, the voluntary board of directors took a decision to close the centre.

Arising from the board's decision, the Child and Family Agency undertook a review last month of the operation of the centre. One of the key conclusions from the review was that Aonad Resource Centre Ltd., was not functioning as a fit and proper family resource centre for the benefit of the whole community. I understand that the current directors of the company are in agreement with this view.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency has accepted the decision of the voluntary board of directors to close the centre. The board has advised Tusla that the centre closed on 1 December 2014, as the Senator has pointed out. Tusla has indicated that if a future application is received in regard to service provision in the area, it will be considered in the context of the agency's overall approach to the commissioning of services.

The Child and Family Agency will continue to support the work of the many family resource centres around the country in providing valuable support services to families in need of support.

6:15 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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It is clear from what the Minister has stated that funding from the agencies is not the reason the company has closed down. There is a concern about the continuity of services particular to the local community. To ensure continuity, will the Minister ask Tusla to engage with the local community to determine whether the latter can put in place an alternative structure into which the projects that have been funded by the Department to date can be transferred as soon as possible?

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Tusla would like to be as helpful as possible and would, in the context of the agency's overall approach to the commissioning of services, consider with an open mind any future application regarding the provision of services in the area. Like me, the Senator knows of certain issues that there is no need to go into in detail now, but all agree that Aonad was right to close. I share the concerns of the Senator and others about ensuring that services continue. We would look on any proposal to reinstate them under a more fit-for-purpose organisation in a favourable light.