Vulnerable communities throughout the country will be deprived of invaluable community services and facilities should the Government decide to proceed with the savage attack on Community Employment funding.
These cuts amount to nothing other than a vicious assault, not just on the community sector, but on those who are currently in FAS Community Employment (CE) placements according to Secretary and PRO of Togher Community Association Ltd, (TCA) Fergal Dennehy.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of projects throughout the country that in despite the current financial restraints are managing to retain community services and facilities, primarily with the assistance of staff that are working on CE.
These groups vary from essential services for the vulnerable such as meals on wheels to projects that enhance the communities through maintenance, community hall supervision, ground keepers, children’s services and numerous others.
The cuts announced in the budget will be the final nail in the coffin for many of these projects.
To take our own projects for instance, currently we sponsor a music project. The participants are taught music and other skills as a part of the project.
The participants of this project would always have a high progression rate to 3rd level or even teaching.
Many of the teachers have returned to teach the children in our Community based music school.
This alone highlights the progress that has been made by these individuals and illustrates how such a project can not only provide great community enhancement but also create jobs and return the participants back into the labour market with key skills and training that have been acquired.
As well as the 8 participants of the music school we currently have two people on CE schemes working in frontline administration posts and in addition to that we have three people working in a caretaking capacity and two people working on maintaining the three sporting facilities that we operate.
These positions are vital for us as an organisation to keep the social services centre and the sporting facilities running on a day to day basis.
Without these people we could not provide the current facilities and services that we have which cater for a multitude including mental health services, social welfare services, community groups, Youth cafe, senior citizens groups and a whole lot of other valuable services. If the current situation remains, we as the sponsors of the FAS project will have to voluntarily shut down the project and close the door.
There is no possible way that we could maintain the centre and facilities in a voluntary capacity.
In actual fact, due to health and safety regulations, we cannot even open the front door unless a caretaker is on the premises.
The cuts that were announced in the budget reduce our allocation for training and equipment for each participant from €1,500.00 per annum to €500.00 per annum.
The cut amounts to a 66per cent cut or in monetary terms a reduction from €22,500.00 to €7,500.00.
Out of the proposed new allocation and before we undertake anything else €4,200.00 is used towards compulsory insurance and financial audit.
This leaves us with €3,300.00. Out of this we are meant to provide teaching staff for the music project, first aid training, health and safety training, phone, broadband, instruments, equipment, books, protective clothing, stationery, exam fees, lighting, heating, etc etc.
One doesn’t need to be an accountant to figure out that even the bare essentials requirement for fifteen persons cannot be provided from this measly allocation.
This budget was meant to be about creating employment.
Though the training and up skilling that we have provided for participants of our CE schemes over the years, many have managed to progress into the workplace.
Others we have managed to retain on a part time basis from revenue that we have managed to raise with the additional resources of the employees on the CE.
We have created employment and provided people with skills, these cuts will have an adverse negative effect on employment.
We are only one of many that will suffer enormously from these cuts.
It is a slap in the face for thousands on voluntary groups providing essential community based services throughout the country.
These groups, such as us, have put massive efforts in keeping these schemes in place on the understanding that a partnership with government and FAS would remain.
The loss of these services will, in my opinion, lead to even greater pressure on the finances of the state as the government will be left with no option but to pick up the pieces of the devastation that will be caused.
They will effectively decimate a scheme that provides employment, social participation, community participation and in many cases employment.
There was a time when community halls and community facilities were managed and run on an ad-hoc basis by part-time volunteers.
In the last number of years these facilities, including ours, have grown and flourished to a level that requires professionally trained and skilled people to maintain and run them.
Things are now run on a semi professional level that is far above the abilities of even the best willed voluntary organisations.
Without staff we will be left with a fine building and nobody to run it.
Last month we won the Pride Of Place national award for community enhancement. This 32 county award was the greatest honour that was ever bestowed on us and it has left our community with a sense of huge pride, honour and vindication for the hundreds of volunteers and employees.
This budget announcement has deflated us to a level where we are now debating what, if anything can be done to save our association.
Fergal Dennehy is a Fianna Fáil representative in Togher and a former Fianna Fáil city councillor.