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Budget cuts: LCDP, mental health, disability services, women

Timmy Dooley (FF, Clare) and Brian Stanley (SF, Laois Offaly) questioned the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government about the €8m cut in the Local and Community Development Programme (LCDP) (Dail Eireann, Debates, 2nd February 2012, 88-9).  Responding, the minister, Phil Hogan, told them that the €55.157m allocation would still enable the continued important supports for disadvantaged communities and essential front-line services.  Adjustment to the programme had been structured to protect front-line services at the expense of administration, overheads and ancillary costs. Every effort had been made to protect smaller companies.  Although cuts would unavoidably present challenges, he said, he expected groups to maintain key services by prioritizing services at the front line.  He was not aware of any services that would cease as a result of cuts.  Brian Stanley pointed out that some groups had multiple sources of funds, but the combined cuts had amounted to between 30% and 40%.  The minister said he had put his finger on it, which was the duplication of resources, which was now being examined in budgets and in the alignment process.


Patrick Nulty (ind, Dublin W) raised cuts to community based counselling services (Dail Eireann, Debates, 7th February 2012, 308-310; 14th February, 328).  29 organizations received funding of €8m, but they had just been notified that they would receive a cut of 12% this year, 12% next year and 12% the year after on top of the 10% last year  or a total of 46% over four years: ‘the services simply cannot sustain such cuts.  If the cuts go ahead, many of them will close’.   He mentioned the Genesis counselling service, established in 1993 which had warned that its services might have to close: its board was not prone to histrionics or grandstanding.  If this were the case, more young people would be involved in criminal activity, and there would be more family breakdown, drug and alcohol abuse and social problems which would cost the  exchequer far more.  Crude cuts of this nature did not equal savings to the taxpayer and did nothing to address the economic crisis or the 14% unemployment rate.


Replying, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, told him that  spending reductions in 2012 would challenge all areas of the health service, but cuts had not been targeted at this particular area.    Indeed, mental health services for children and adolescents had been prioritized.  There was a new allocation of €35m for mental health in the 2012 budget to provide 400 additional staff.  Patrick Nulty, though, pointed out that Genesis had a waiting list of 100.  She said she had no doubt but that the service was an excellent one doing an exceptional job and she needed to provide an exceptional service in all parts of the country.  


Later, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan told Bernard Durkan that his department was supporting community groups through the Local Community Development Programme (€55.157m), the scheme to support national organizations (€4m), support for 34 voluntary and community fora (€600,000), seniors alert, LEADER, RAPID, the Local Agenda 21 Environmental Partnership Fund (€395,000) and 16 local authority social inclusion units (€720,000) (Dail Eireann, Debates, 2nd February 2012, 176-180). 


Asked about the 35% cut in funding for the National Women’s Council, the Minister for Justice & Equality Alan Shatter told Billy Kelleher (FF, Cork N) and Aengus O Snodaigh (SF, Dublin SC) that he was required to achieve savings of €100m in his vote (Dail Eireann, Debates, 7th February 2012, 254-5).  The council received funding from a number of sources, including the HSE, members and philanthropic organizations.  It received exchequer funding of €571,00 in 2011, of which €528,000 came from the department and it had been successful in accessing funding from other sources.  It had drawn in €130,000 for a gender mainstreaming project from the HSE, €770,000 from Atlantic Philanthropies, €140,000 from Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, €57,000 from the Peace III programme and around €25,000 from its 166 members.  In setting priorities he had decided to favour organizations providing services over those providing advocacy or research activities, which meant difficult choices, in some cases the elimination of funding and the closure of projects.  


On 19th January, he had met the CEO where he emphasized his continuing support, but she had subsequently resigned, taking the view that the amount provided did not enable her to do her job properly and an acting CEO had since been appointed.  He had every confidence that the council would continue to play a key role and had very substantial sums for 2012, guaranteed into 2013 and money which substantially exceeded what had been available many years in the past.   The government had made substantial progress on women’s rights and would put in place legislation to ensure greater participation by women in electoral politics, while a very successful conference had been held in Dublin Castle with so many present that there had to be a room to cater for the overflow.  €350,000 was a very substantial grant, but he did not wish to comment on the resignation of the CEO.  She had her own reasons.  He had made many appointments with a substantial gender rebalancing and would continue to work along these lines.  There was no reason by the National Women’s Council could not fully meet its commitments in 2012 and 2013.  We had to examine if we could fund some organizations on a multi-annual basis and ‘as we go through the three difficult years of 2012, 2013 and 2014, choices will have to be made as between organizations which provide services for women and those which advocate’.   He had written to the Council last July to advise that its 2012 funding would be substantially below that of 2011, ‘therefore it received a substantial warning of where the matter was going’.


Returning to the issue of the closure of projects against drugs in Tallaght (see Oireachtas Brief §28), the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government Jan O’Sullivan told Brian Stanley (SF, Laois Offaly) that a meeting had been held in her department on 3rd February, arising from which her department had agreed to transfer €100,000 to the projects from the housing programme up to the end of June 2012.  This was on a once-off basis with a clear understanding that it was a transitional arrangement to provide projects with time to identify alternatives for beyond June 2012 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 16th February 2012, 158-9).   


Asked about cuts in disability services, in 2012, the Minister for Health James O’Reilly told Dessie Ellis (SF, Dublin NW) that the Health Service Executive National Service Plan 2012 made provision for a 3.7% cut this year (Dail Eireann, Debates, 15th February 2012, 801-2).  There was scope for achieving efficiencies of 2% through consolidation and rationalization of back office services and all providers were expected to achieve efficiency savings.  Some reductions in day, residential and respite services were unavoidable even with such efficiencies but the aim was to minimize their impact on users and their families.