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Funding issues: women seeking refuge, Foroige’s Big brother, big sister; youth cafés; St Michael’s House

Several deputies raised the issue of funding for services delivered by voluntary and community organizations.  Joan Collins (PBP, Dublin SC) raised the issue of domestic violence services.  There had been a 42% increase in demand for domestic violence services in the past three years.  3,900 people, including 2,355 children lived in refuges in 2010.  The scandalous part of this was that on 2,326 occasions, women could not be accommodated due to lack of space (Dail Eireann, Debates, 4th October 2011, 228-9).  Everyone thought that this problem was in the past and that the issue of women accessing refuge and protection had been dealt with. We currently had 141 refuge places, a third of the minimum recommended by the Council of Europe, which was scandalous.  The north west should have 24 family places, but it had only two.  In the east, including Dublin, there should be 150 family places, but there were only 39.  Of the women who sought refuge, 38% had nowhere else to go.  At the same time, SAFE Ireland experienced cuts in funding from 5% to 30% in the north east.  In Leinster, where 80% of services were located, there was a two weeks notice from the HSE of a 10% cut.  The government must commit to signing the Council of Europe convention.


Replying for the government, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, told her that the HSE funded 47 frontline providers.  20 provided refuge accommodation, up from 15 in 2000.  Funding was €14m in 2010 and every HSE region had at least one refuge.  All but one (the west) were available on a 24hr basis. There were 138 emergency units funded by the HSE nationally.  SAFE showed a substantial increase in demand in 2010 on the previous year and she assured her that the government was fully committed to addressing the problem.


Several deputies raised the issue of the continued funding of the Big brother, big sister programme in the Foroige youth organization.  The Minister for Children and Youth affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, told Robert Dowds (Lab, Dublin MW) that her department already provided over €60m for youth projects including over €6m for Foroige but that it was not possible to consider the programme for funding in 2011 and due to budgetary restrictions it was unlikely to be considered in 2012 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 11th October 2011, 366). 


Joe Costello (Lab, Dublin C) told the Dail on on the adjournment that the Big brother, big sister programme had helped more than 3,500 youngsters (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th October 2011, 393-5).  If the government provided €600,000, then other philanthropic organizations would provide matching €600,000.  By contrast, it cost €100,000 to keep a child in an institution, yet for €600,000 Foroige helped 2,000 children each year.  It was a viable, invaluable programme. The minister told him that she was very impressed with the work of Foroige, but it already received €6m from her department, 10% of its total budget, as well as €3m for 29 youth diversion projects, €16.9m altogether in 2009.  Its philanthropic funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and One Foundation was for five years to the end of 2011 and was not being continued into 2012.  The programme had not received funding from her department, no commitment had been given and it was unrealistic to envisage additional resources in 2012.  Foroige’s target was 2,000 people at risk and we must make every effort to keep people out of trouble.


Asked by Ciara Conway (Lab, Waterford) about youth cafés, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs told her that they were a good model of positive engagement with young people (Dail Eireann, Debates, 18th October 2011, 288-9).  So far, 64 youth cafés had been funded and 16 new ones were coming on stream.  They brought a real and meaningful difference to local communities and were operated by young people themselves.  She was currently examining the possibility of providing funding for a small amount of additional projects, but due to the tough financial situation did not want to give any specific new commitments for 2012.  It may also be timely to evaluate results of the model so far.


Funding for St Michael’s House was raised by Tommy Broughan (Lab, Dublin NE) (Dail Eireann, Debates, 20th October 2011, 597-9).   The organization had suffered swinging cuts for the past four years and had lost 104 staff.  Over 2009-11, St Michael’s House had lost €8.7m in cuts and was at the absolute pin of its collar.  It had the longest waiting list for residential care in the country.  240 parents over 70 were caring for their sons or daughter at home and 147 of these were in serious difficulty.  There were suggestions that the HSE disability budget would be cut 4% or 5% in 2012, which would devastate organizations like this.