Thousands protest at threat to community services

THOUSANDS of community workers took to the streets of Dublin in protest at proposed cuts they say will undermine essential community services.

The crowd, estimated by gardaí and organisers at between 8,000 and 12,000, marched from Parnell Square to the gates of Leinster House protesting against proposed cuts to community employment schemes and other threatened reductions in resources.

Addressing the crowd on Molesworth Street, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Jack O’Connor said the gathering “will be the first of many thousands who will assemble in these streets”.

The Communities Against Cuts demonstration attracted strong support from staff and clients from Dublin-based schemes, as well as from projects from areas such as Cork, Meath, Galway and Cavan. Also present were community activists and representatives of unions such as the INO.

Many marchers said they were furious at the attitude of the Government towards the schemes, and at the swinging measures recommended in the Bord Snip report. It suggested changing the eligibility terms for many service users and the cutting of various schemes.

Communities Against Cuts claim the proposals could mean the loss of 6,500 jobs if implemented.

Some demonstrators dressed as bankers, topped with bowler hats and waving around mock “NAMA dollars” bearing Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s face.

Banners also asked: “How many community projects does it take to save a bank?”

Many said their workplaces were already struggling to cope with existing client numbers and did not need to be operating in fear of further cuts in funding.

Carmel Fitzpatrick of the Blanchardstown Centre for the Unemployed said staff were already under huge pressure and now feared for their jobs.

“It doesn’t make sense, does it, with the way the unemployment is at the moment.”

Jenny Cruise, who helps provide computer training in Blanchardstown, said: “The only options for people out there at the moment is retraining.”

Frank Burke of the Lourdes Community Centre on Dublin’s Rutland Street, which runs programmes for adults and young people, said his job was on the line thanks to the McCarthy recommendations.

Declan Byrne, of the Kilbarrack coast community programme, said 46 drug treatment programmes nationally would be wiped out completely if the recommendations were implemented, decreeing that those in receipt of lone parent or disability allowance were not eligible to partake in them.

Saol, one of only two projects nationally that deal only with women, said it had already lost two staff due to cutbacks.

Co-director Gary Broadrick said: “We may have to decide between the children’s centre or keeping the women’s project going, and that is a choice we do not want to have to make.”

Brenda Whitley and Hayley Fox-Roberts of the Cavan/Leitrim Community Development Project said there was “a huge danger of rural services being forgotten” in the current climate, a situation which would have serious ramifications for service users such as elderly people living alone.

Chairman of the Communities Against Cuts group, David Connolly, said people wanted commitments for more funding, instead of the McCarthy recommendations.

Kathleen O’Neill of Kilbarrack Community Development Project said public and private sector workers needed to stay united in the current crisis, while Mr O’Connor told the crowd “there are a few more luxuries that are going to have to go,” including “that wealthy people in this country do not pay tax on that wealth”.

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