Voluntary sector - No sense to funding cuts, minister

To paraphrase a well-known commercial, ‘every little hurts’.

None more so than when it comes to funding for Ireland’s charity and voluntary sector which already suffered cuts last year and now faces even more.

The Government’s decision to cease exchequer assistance to a number of charities amounts to yet another attack on Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.

Phil Hogan, the minister for the environment, community and local government, has scrapped funding for the Irish Deaf Society, the Alzheimers Society of Ireland, the Carer’s Association, and Muintir na Tire, which all had received €75,000 under a programme operated by the Department of the Environment. That may not seem like a lot of money but it could mean the difference between struggling on and going under, or being forced to suspend some essential services.

This is on top of cuts last year along with plummeting public donations.

The targeting of vulnerable people has been evident for some time, with cuts to the respite care grant and mobility allowance as well as the medical card debacle.

A survey conducted in October revealed the devastating effect that funding cuts have had on a number of charities. Some warned that they had almost exhausted their cash reserves and had been forced to reduce the salaries and pensions of their full-time staff and let a number of part-time staff go. Children’s charity Barnardos has already been forced to suspend services three times in the past two years.

The latest cuts mean that the Irish Deaf Society (IDS) will have to shut its advocacy offices immediately, further isolating 5,000 people. The chief executive of the IDS, Eddie Redmond, said his organisation was “absolutely stunned” and seriously concerned for the welfare of deaf community members, many of whom have come to depend on the advocacy service as the only viable service for them, with other services inaccessible due to Irish Sign Language being their first and, in some cases, only language.

Under cuts announced by the minister, some 55 organisations will receive funding but organisations including Alzheimers Society of Ireland, the Carer’s Association and Muintir na Tire will not.

Irish Autism Action also had the €90,000 it received from the State withdrawn and chief executive Kevin Whelan admitted it was a “big blow”.

It is hard to argue with Fianna Fáil’s disability spokesman Colm Keaveney that people have been left high and dry. He said Mr Hogan needs to justify his decision and provide a full explanation to the staff and service users of the Irish Deaf Society. The same should go for the other organisations affected. That is unlikely to be forthcoming as a spokesman for the minister said the decisions were made by Pobal — the non-profit organisation that manages funding programmes on behalf of the Government.

That is a cop-out, minister. The least those organisations deserve is a full and frank explanation from you. It is not as if the funding cuts make much sense, even from a financial viewpoint. More than two million Irish citizens engage annually in social, cultural and humanitarian activities offered by 19,000 community and voluntary organisations.

According to umbrella group The Wheel, the sector contributes over €2.5bn to the economy each year and employs over 63,000 full-time and part-time staff.


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