Monday 24th June 2013
This gathering of Community and Voluntary Agencies, Funders, Local People, and Political Representatives, sought to explore the experience of the impact of funding cutbacks, and the implications for this particular sector. Over 80 participants took part representing a wide range of organisations and local communities.
Róisín Shortall T.D. described the seminar, organised by the Ballymun Youth Action Project, as providing a “critical space” to reflect on what amounts to a slow dismantling of the safety net that has been created within local communities, leading to the re-marginalisation of particular areas.
Brian Harvey, having outlined the scale of the withdrawal of resources from community-led responses to poverty and social inclusion, particularly since 2002, echoed the sense among those present that no one could have anticipated the wave of destruction of our social, community development infrastructure that we are experiencing, where Ireland was previously seen as a European Leader in this regard. He outlined what he termed a “strategic turn” which began in 2002 and which was compounded by the 2008 Economic and Social Crisis. Against a baseline figure of a -4.3% cut in Government Spending from 2008-2013, Local and Community Development Programmes have been cut by -42% and Initiatives against drugs by -32%. It is estimated that by 2015, 31% of workers in the Voluntary and Community Sector may be gone. He added that no other country in Europe, so far as we know, has experienced such an extraordinary decline since 1948.
Mary Ellen McCann illustrated the intimate connection between community issues and drug problems, and how policies in either domain have large effects outside of that domain. In the context of competing reports (Goodbody, 2006; McCarthy,2009) the call for “evidence” needs to take account of a range of more subtle measures, including case studies which provide rich data to increase our understanding, and the utilisation of community Indicators that allow access to a range of measures regarding what is really important for Communities affected by drug use. Set in the context of the narrative of the development of community responses, she stressed that the Community needs to tell the community story.
Underlying the recognition of the current crisis and its origins, there was a clear wariness of the talk of a straightforward recovery, where “all will be well again”. Instead the speakers raised the real concern of “cost cutting” becoming “penny pinching” in the name of “reform”, and the growing hints of “post-austerity austerity”.
A clear message was given regarding the importance of holding on to the developments within the sector that have been developed over the last thirty years, and the “footholds that have been gained” in the creation of community responses and systems. The response within the voluntary and community sector must endure, and as Brian Harvey concluded, “It behoves us to make the case for an enlightened balanced European social model, with a role for civil society”.