One in three charities has seen its budget slashed by up to 25% in the past three years — with a growing percentage having to cut services to keep their doors open.
The situation has been revealed in detailed research on the charity sector, conducted by six not-for-profit umbrella groups representing more than 1,000 charities.
According to the study, which has called for an end to budget cuts for the vital services, two out of every three voluntary bodies have seen their state aid slashed since Ireland entered the bailout programme.
Within this specific group, a further two in every three — or one third of the total number of charities — have seen cuts of up to 25% in just three years, some of which have been forced to reduce services to those in most need in order to stay afloat.
In a joint statement, the groups behind the research — the Wheel network, the Disability Federation of Ireland, Care Alliance Ireland, Irish Rural Link, the Carmichael Centre, and the National Youth Council of Ireland — said further budget cuts will devastate the social service sector.
Urging the Government to stop thinking of the not-for-profit area as an easy target when it comes to ways to save money, the Wheel’s director of advocacy, Ivan Cooper, said those in power need to accept that continued cutbacks are no longer sustainable.
"We are in danger of degrading our social care system beyond recovery," he said.
"Among the questions we asked our members [the charities] was how they were being affected; 64% said there had been a decline in income in the first six months of this year, 63% witnessed an increase in demand in services at the same time, and almost a third have cut back or ended services.
"The unfortunate evidence is private donations are also falling at the same time as public donations, so this idea that the difference can be made up by private donations is just not accurate.
"The Government has certain commitments: Haddington Road, corporation tax, etc.
"So what we’re afraid of is the only place left for them to cut is our area because we’re the low-lying fruit, we’re the easy target," Mr Cooper added.
Among the measures the groups want the Government to consider is a two-or three-year programme of ring-fenced funding to ensure existing services can survive.
Irish Rural Link chief executive Seamus Boland said ignoring this option could have dire consequences for those in most need, as continuing austerity policies will only mean "the recession will last longer and ordinary people will be disadvantaged for an unbearably longer period of time".