Communities ‘reeling’ at closure of community projects

Fourteen Community Development Projects tackling social exclusion in some of the most disadvantaged parts of Ireland will soon close their doors to the public, due to funding cuts by the Government. 

In total, 13 of the 14 Community Development Projects (CDPs) that have been forced to close are in the most underprivileged parts of Dublin. These include North Clondalkin CDP, the North West Inner City Women's Network, the Ballymun Community Action Programme and the West Tallaght Resource Centre. 

(Picture: Local children attend a Halloween party in Crumlin CDP)

Originally started in 1990, the Community Development Programme aims to tackle poverty and exclusion in Irish society. Funded by Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the original 15 CDPs that received funding in 1990 grew to 180 through the economic boom of the Celtic Tiger years. CDPs are primarily located in the most economically deprived areas of the country and attempt to challenge both the causes and effects of poverty by providing support and encouragement to struggling communities. 

Some of the services provided include childcare, healthcare, drug counselling, youth clubs, and support for senior citizens. Each Community Development Project provides tailor-made services and solutions for the problems facing their community, working towards social inclusion and the alleviation of poverty. Although these projects provide an invaluable service to their encompassing community, 30 such CDPs were deemed nonviable after a review carried out by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs late last year. Last month 24 of these nonviable CDPs were given the opportunity to appeal this decision in front of the Community Development Project Appeals Board. In a report issued on the 29 January, 14 of the appeals were rejected, whilst 10 were successful.    

Many of the CDPs that were successful will be forced to merge with Local Partnerships and other community service providers. This may result in increased unemployment and cuts to basic services. A representative of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs said in an interview with Politico that "the Department and Pobal recognise that the integration of the CDP and the LDSIP into the new Local Community Development Programme (LCDP) will pose challenges. The process of bringing about integration will take place over the coming year. The new LCDP will incorporate the key aspects and strengths of both programmes resulting in better outcomes for the target communities."  

According to CSEF, the Community Sector Employers Forum, the community sector in Ireland employs roughly 50,000 people. This number consists of full and part-time, paid and voluntary staff working in all aspects of the community sector from drug rehabilitation projects to childcare services. Due to the severe budget cuts over the past 12 months many of these people are in fear of losing their jobs. Ironically, it is during a recession that these staff and the services they provide are needed the most as the areas they serve are those hardest hit by an economic downturn. SIPTU estimate that at least 6,633 jobs in the Community Sector may be eliminated, including those gaining employment through the Local Employment Scheme and the Jobs Initiative.

Such cuts come in the wake of last year's McCarthy Report which recommended the downsizing the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It suggested the reduction of 196 of the 846 staff employed and recommended changes that would save 151m, 44m of which would come directly from the community sector alone. It also suggested that the "Department itself should be closed and its various functions either re-distributed to other Government Departments, or discontinued as appropriate." 

However, Colm McCarthy, the economist behind the report, last week said that the establishment of “An Bord Snip Nua” was “an absolute political exercise” aimed at garnering public opinion in preparation for harsh cutbacks in public sector pay and services.

In December Minister of State John Curran announced that 67.5m would be allocated to providing a "more efficient and streamlined social inclusion services to those people in the country who need them most" as part of the new Local and Community Development Programme (LCDP). This new programme combines the previous Local Development Social Inclusion Programme (LDSIP) and the Community Development Programme, which came to an end on 31 December 2009. 

In a press release announcing the launch of the Programme Minister Curran said: "the new Programme will preserve elements of good practice from the existing CDP/LDSIP Programmes and will serve those who need them much more effectively. It will have enhanced monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, ensuring that services are more streamlined."

At a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sports, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs on 27 January, Minister Curran addressed the issue of the new Local Community Development Programme saying: "Our aim is to preserve and protect the volunteers on the current boards of CDPs by giving them new roles on advisory councils for the programme locally, without the burden of company law requirements.” 

Acknowledging the invaluable work done by the Community Sector Minister Curran said: "I know at first hand the excellent contribution made to local communities by the members of voluntary boards. People give freely of their time and expertise for the benefit of their local community. This volunteering spirit, and the experience and expertise built up over many years, will be encouraged and supported through the new Programme." 

Crumlin CDP is one of the 10 projects to have their won their appeal and remain the last CDP in the Dublin 12 area; an area which has long been considered a high-risk area with high levels of drug addiction, early school leaving and teenage pregnancy. These issues are tackled by the Crumlin CDP with the founding of boxing, football and youth clubs to get the young people off the street and provide them with constructive outlets. On hearing the news of their successful appeal Harry Murphy, the Co-Ordinator said: "Thank God we won the appeal, the community will be delighted. It means we can keep everything going and give the young people of Crumlin a place to go." 

However many other areas of Dublin will not be as fortunate as Crumlin as they have been stripped of the projects that provided a hope and a focus to the community. Ann Irwin, national co-ordinator of The Community Workers Co-operative said that "there is a consensus that the Appeals process was flawed…and did not have any independent person nor anyone experienced in community development on the Board...projects are very concerned for their communities, and remember these are the most disadvantaged and marginalised communities in Ireland." 

Ms. Irwin said that the decision "has left communities reeling."