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1 Debates: Closing down People with Disabilities Ireland

No more funding for Northside Community Law Centre?

The Seanad debated, on the adjournment, the closing down of People with Disabilities Ireland following the withdrawal of its funding (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 30th November 2011, 1060-4).  Opening the debate, Senator Martin Conway (FG, administrative), who had been nominated to the Seanad by the organization, pointed out that it had been set up specifically on foot of the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities so that it provide a voice and consultation role for people with disabilities.  What new structure would be put in its place? he asked.  He was supported by Tony Mulcahy (FG, labour) who appealed for the financial details of the organization to be put into the open, so that people could form an opinion.


The Minister of State responsible, Kathleen Lynch, told the Seanad that People with Disabilities Ireland (PwDI) had eight Dublin headquarters staff and 21 regional networks around the country.  Since January 2011, when the Department of Social Protection had set up the new disability advocacy service, there had been  a huge overlap with the advocacy service provided by PwDI.  Its overheads were using up the majority of its grant, with administration costs spent on rental, light, heat, salaries and board expenses, while the network had administration costs too, including travel and subsistence.  She had approved a value for money review of PwDI in September.


This found first that the organization had been unable to spend its full allocation in recent years, using only 61% of its allocation in 2010 and was unlikely to spend more than 64% this year.  The bulk of its money was spent on overheads, 83%, with 8% on travel, subsistence and board expenses, leaving only 9% on projects.  The proportion spent directly on projects was only 2% or €5,952, which meant that 98% was spent on overheads, travel, subsistence and board fees.  In the networks, the proportion spent on projects was just 35%.  Travel and subsistence was €83,519 or 29% (note: these are just some of a dense set of statistics presented – ed).    


There had been improvements in 2011 due to rigorous implementation of governance procedures by the department and a small reduction in overheads. Some networks had not spent any of their allocations and one could assume that they were not active in reality.  Five networks, although they had spent nothing on projects, had spent their money on overheads or travel and subsistence or both and she cited other examples of networks spending money on overheads.  PwDI was asked how it would spend its budget in 2012, but the conclusion was that it was almost impossible for it to reduce its overheads significantly.  Only 35% of its allocation would go to projects in networks and only 11.7% nationally, a proportion that had been decreasing steadily.


Funding must cease at the end of 211 and since the Department of Justice is its sole funder, it will have to cease operations in 2012.  There will be redundancy for the six staff working in head office.  ‘This waste of exchequer funds cannot be allowed to continue‘ and everything must be examined with a view to preserving insofar as possible frontline services.  She told the Seanad that she was overseeing a major value for money and policy review of disability services in the department to ensure that existing funds were spent to best effect.  She had just set up and was personally chairing a new national disability strategy implementation group which had its first meeting that day.  The new group would include representatives from disability stakeholder organizations and people with disabilities.  


Martin Conway agreed that it was very difficult to argue with facts and figures.  There were probably another hundred organizations which could do with a value for money review.  He asked what would happen with this money.  The minister of state said that she was in discussions about a framework that would allow people with disabilities locally, regionally and nationally to have their voices heard. Genio had proposed a mechanism to allow people’s voices to be heard for only a little money.  


Later, she told Dominic Hannigan (Lab, Meath E)  that people with disabilities had been benefitting very little from its funding.  There was no reason why local PwDI networks should not continue to be active as volunteer bodies. She supplied a table of allocations and drawdown for 2007-2011 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 29th November 2011, 290-1; see also Dail Eireann, Debates, 30th November 2011, 559-560).



Funding for disability services

Separately, Paul Connaughton (FG, Galway E), raised the issue of funding for Ability West and  the Brothers of Charity (Dail Eireann, Debates, 22nd November 2011, 303 – 5).   The minister of State at the Department of Health, Roisin Shortall, told him that spending on disability services this year would be €1.5bn, supporting staffing of 15,800 full-time equivalents.  The reduction in disability funding in 2011 had been a maximum of -1.8% and the HSE had been given an additional €10m this year to meet extra demand.  The government was finalizing the review of disability services which was expected to be completed by the end of the year.



Northside Community Law Centre

Later, Terence Flanagan (FG, Dublin NE) raised the issue of the funding of the Northside Community Law Centre (Dail Eireann, Debates, 24th November 2011, 941-3).    The Department of Social Protection provided 45% of its income, but this was reduced by 17% this year and it had not received support this year from the Bar Council.  The centre was faced with the prospect that the Department of Social Protection would not provide funding next year, it had been advised to seek funding from the Department of Justice and Equality, but it took the view that it was already funding the Free Legal Advice Centres ‘which it considers is providing a very similar service’ and would not be in a position to do.  The centre disputed this, because it was a community-based service that provided a more accessible, local service as well as the Money Advice and Budgeting Service.


Responding for the government, Brian Hayes pointed out that the Northside Community Law Centre was not one of the law centres established by the State under the Legal Aid Board.  He was aware that the Department of Social Protection would not be able to provide future financial assistance.  The Department of Justice and Equality did not have financial resources to allocate to it or similar bodies and he advised the deputy to raise the matter with the ministers concerned.

> See also funding for St Michael’s House and intellectual disability services: Dail Eireann, Debates,24th November 2011, 1056-7.