Oireachtas hearing on alleged silencing of agency

OIREACHTAS members will today quiz the head of a new department unit set up to replace the Combat Poverty Agency (CPA) about its priorities, amid concern over the “silencing” of the outgoing agency’s role.

TDs and senators will query the new division’s director about how it will be run following the official abolition of the CPA last week.

Concerns have been raised by the CPA’s former director, Hugh Frazer, that the recent “silencing” of the agency through its merger within the department’s new division was part of a “wider social political effort to control dissenting voices”.

As revealed in the Irish Examiner this week, Mr Frazer said there was growing disquiet about the merger of the agency and the department’s Office for Social Inclusion in the new division. Outgoing agency staff were being frozen out of key positions in the division, he claimed.

The division’s new director, Gerry Mangan, is scheduled to appear before the Oireachtas Social Affairs Committee this morning.

Committee vice-chairman and TD Charlie O’Connor last night said assurances would be sought that the new poverty division would continue the CPA’s work.

“He will be questioned by colleagues about his plans for the future. People will seek assurances that the new body will continue to represent concerns in respect of poverty issues. Not to state the obvious, but if poverty was an issue a year ago, it certainly is an issue today.”

Questions put to the new division will also relate to its priorities, how it will be run, its remit, staffing levels and how its performance will be evaluated.

Meanwhile, the top civil servant at the Department of Social and Family Affairs has admitted that her period working with the CPA was “difficult” and fraught with “tensions” that arose including criticisms from her department colleagues about the agency.

In a contribution to a book launched last night to mark the CPA’s 23 years of work, department secretary general Bernadette Lacey said: “If Combat Poverty critiqued the inadequacy of policies and the resources committed to poverty reduction, I found that Combat Poverty in turn was the subject of much criticism for which I was often the conduit.”

Concern has been raised by other civil society groups that attempts are being made to stifle publicly funded groups’ criticisms of the Government. A letter obtained by the Irish Examiner sent by the Department of Community, Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs to the country’s Community Development Programmes warns against attending public meetings to save costs.

The letter reads: “Proposals for consultancies, networking, launches, events, publications, etc, should not be proceeded with for the foreseeable future.”

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