Thursday, 25 April 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Nuala Fennell has given me notice of her intention to raise the funding crisis for the AIM Group for Family Law Reform whose centre is facing imminent closure. Deputy Fennell knows the procedure.
Mrs. Fennell: I thank you, Sir, for allowing me to raise this matter and the Minister of State for coming here this evening. This appeal is in response to the AIM Group for Family Law Reform who have written to everybody in this House this week. They are facing a great financial crisis and will have to close down. This centre is operated by voluntary workers. It has been in existence for 20 years and has helped thousands of individuals caught in marriage breakdown. In the past year alone they saw 2,000 people, 80 per cent of whom were women and half of those 80 per cent were mothers working in the home without income. They come to that centre in desperation, they are stressed and confused, they could be battered or deserted wives, and they get immediate, person to person help.
Down the years this group have had only sporadic funding. They have been most uncertain of funding but they are now desperate because they have not pursued funding at an official level. This organisation advise and inform those caught in the awful marriage breakdown trap. These people cannot afford to go to solicitors and cannot get legal aid because of the difficulty in getting to the centres and then the long waiting lists. Many of them are women who end up going to the family court representing themselves, getting barring orders without legal representation and going in to get maintenance orders without representation,  and they are equipped only with the good, clear information they get from the AIM centre.
Mrs. Fennell: AIM group are a very essential part of the necessary network of help and support that has grown up in this society because services such as civil legal aid can just not cope. Today I am glad to say there is more money available to groups like this than there was 20 years ago. When they were first set up they got absolutely no funding. The problem for this group is that they are not, strictly speaking, community based. This may be true in official terms, but they operate to the advantage of the whole community, the whole country.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of marriage breakdown cases. While I am glad the Government are taking the realistic step of publishing a White Paper on the matter, I appeal to the Minister to give the minimum funding needed to AIM Group to ensure they can continue with the valuable and very necessary work they are doing. They open every morning, have a 24 hour answering service, all with only a part-time worker, and they have clear, concise information leaflets which are available free.
Mr. S. Barrett: I join with my colleague Deputy Fennell in appealing to both Ministers present. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, is taking the Adjournment Debate on this issue but this is basically a Justice issue. As Deputy Fennell said, the AIM Group are a voluntary group. They provide a service which, if it was not provided on a voluntary basis, would have to be provided by some other agency. Their annual running costs are in the region of £13,000. It is nothing short of a public scandal that  they had to run cake sales and other such events to try to get together the minimum amount to provide this service to over 2,000 people last year. As Deputy Fennell said, they provide very valuable information to those who find themselves in traumatic situations and do not know where to go. Eighty per cent of the clients who contact AIM are referred to other agencies. Of these 60 per cent are referred to solicitors, law centres or the courts, 20 per cent are referred for counselling and 12 per cent referred to mediation. This is a very valuable first stage service provided by a group of voluntary workers who, at their own expense, take courses in counselling and so on in order to help the public. The minimum that State should do is make certain that they have decent premises from which to operate and sufficient resources to pay the salary of a permanent worker to administer the service. The volunteers want to continue on that basis. They are not looking for payment for the enormous amount of time they spend helping others. I appeal to the Minister of State to provide an ample level of funding for this service.
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Flood): The AIM group are a voluntary group which campaign for family law reform. They have published a number of reports and pamphlets recently and over the years on various aspects of family law. While the organisation provide some marriage guidance and counselling services, they are primarily concerned with women in the legal system and with family law reform generally.
In 1989 my Department allocated a grant of £10,000 to them from national lottery funds towards the cost of the marriage counselling service which they provided. This is the element of their service most closely allied to the health area. As there are a number of other organisations such as the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council and Marriage Counselling Service Limited whose primary function is to provide counselling services in this area, the moneys allocated in 1990 were  channelled towards those agencies and I regret that it was not possible to make a grant to the AIM group. I understand, however, that the Eastern Health Board have recently approved a grant to them of £2,500. My Department have also received an application from them for funding for 1991, which is currently being considered. I will be in touch with them as soon as a decision has been made.
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