Tuesday, 16 December 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
In the discussion on education that followed the budget, one area was not addressed when cutbacks were announced, namely, the youth affairs budget. There is a broad consensus across this House that the work in youth services done by the many voluntary organisations throughout this country is money well spent. Every year a very small sum of money in the budget is directed towards these organisations yet they still provide extraordinary opportunities for young people to participate in society. This is particularly the case for young people who fall out of the education system, those who do not complete their leaving certificate. Many of these projects are an essential means of their remaining within the informal education sector, as the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, is well aware. There is cross-party consensus about the need to build capacity within this informal education sector which has been built up over recent years.
With a great sense of alarm and concern, I must inform the House of the very savage cutbacks that have taken root in the Department of Education and Science. The budget Estimate of €43.7 million for the youth affairs area is proposed to be cut back to €39.4 million in 2009. What we see as a result of the cutbacks in the Department is, effectively, a cut in the order of 10%. This will cause havoc and will make an already difficult situation much worse. These cutbacks will affect very many organisations throughout the country.
A complication is that the youth affairs section of the Department appears to have been shunted from Marlborough Street across to the Minister of State for Children and Youth Affairs. As a result of this shunting operation, the budget has fallen between two stools. A budget that was ring-fenced within the Department of Education and Science now falls between two Departments and is effectively lost. Nobody is standing up for this sector. The Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, will be aware of this more than anybody else because he knows from his own constituency, as I do from mine, the importance of many of these projects. I refer to the 180 special projects for youth affairs around the country. These 180 organisations help directly the most vulnerable children in our communities and they will suffer a 10% cut in their main line budget next year.
Deputy Brian Hayes: I put it to the Minister of State that this 10% cutback across the board may see many of these 180 special projects going to the wall. That cannot be allowed to happen under any circumstances but this budget, allegedly, was supposed to safeguard the front line and the most vulnerable children. Will the Minister of State agree to meet urgently with the National Youth Council of Ireland? The NYCI is the umbrella organisation for all the other good organisations throughout the country. The Minister of State might explain to the NYCI how, exactly, the budget for 2009 is to be constructed and, more important, how it will affect the 180 different organisations.
There may well be an argument that some national bodies can provide some of the required savings. The Minister of State, more than anybody, would be prepared to dialogue with those national organisations. I ask him to sit down over the course of the next few weeks with the NYCI in order to see if an agreement can be found to safeguard these 180 organisations that help the most vulnerable children of all in our constituencies.
There is also a need to ensure that the organisations that run these services can know their budget for 2009 as expeditiously as possible. Last year many of them were not given a budget until well into the summer months when half of their service had already been provided. That was a scandal and is no way to treat the youth service. In good times or bad, there is cross-party consensus that these organisations must be supported. Unfortunately, this budget falls between two stools because neither the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, nor the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Andrews, takes responsibility for the youth service budget.
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey): I take this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews. I make it quite clear that, since the formation of this Government, I do not have responsibility for youth affairs.
Deputy Seán Haughey: One of the areas of responsibility within the Department of Education and Science is the support and development of the youth work sector in Ireland. Responsibility for the youth work sector is now being transferred to the Office of the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs. The overall purpose of the youth work service is to assist young people to realise their full potential and to become active participants in a democratic society.
I am very conscious of the great benefits that can accrue to our young people from involvement in youth work and of the benefits for society as a whole. I am also aware that this recognition requires appropriate support. Through the youth affairs section of the Department, work has been ongoing with the National Youth Council of Ireland, the National Youth Work Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of other Departments, the vocational education committees and other interested parties to support youth work activities. This support is provided by way of financial and other assistance.
Youth work programmes and services are provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations. In this regard, a range of financial supports for the sector includes support for projects for disadvantaged young people under the special projects for youth scheme, to national youth organisations under the youth service grant scheme, to a network of youth information centres and to local clubs and groups throughout the country.
Over 50 voluntary youth organisations operate in Ireland, with a stated membership of 450,000. More than 40,000 voluntary youth leaders are the main educators, with support from approximately 1,000 full-time staff. These organisations and their young members are represented and supported in their work by the National Youth Council of Ireland. The council is pivotal to the provision and development of youth work in Ireland and the dedication and commitment of its staff to member and affiliate organisations is widely recognised.
The programmes operated by the voluntary youth work organisations vary widely and include outdoor pursuits, arts, recreation, project work and international exchanges. Qualities and skills such as leadership, co-operation, decision making, motivation and self responsibility are acquired by young people through this non-formal learning process.
The youth work sector has received unprecedented financial support over the past number of years. Youth services funding by the Department of Education and Science expanded from €35.5 million in 2004 to €56.6 million in 2008. Although this funding has allowed for some expansion in the sector, there has been a growing emphasis on consolidation of services.
The 2009 budget allocation for youth services from the Department of Education and Science is €48.2 million, a decrease of 8% on the 2008 figure. Funding is also provided for youth services from a number of other Departments and agencies. The reduced allocation in the youth budget from the Department of Education and Science will require much tighter budget management and prioritisation which may impact on pay and administration costs.
Deputy Seán Haughey: Department officials have met with representatives of the youth sector, including the National Youth Council of Ireland, to ascertain the sector’s views on how best to minimise the impact of budgetary constraints next year with a view to consolidating, in so far as is practicable, the progress made in recent years. The Department has also written to the national youth organisations and vocational education committees advising them to revisit their level of expenditure to determine where cost savings can be achieved, bearing in mind the budgetary constraints in 2009.
Consideration is being given to how best to apply the budgetary constraints to the bodies and activities currently being supported. Consideration will be given to all the programmes and initiatives supported in determining the levels of provision deemed appropriate in the context of the 2009 budget allocation. I assure the Deputy that ongoing contact with the youth sector organisations, including the National Youth Council of Ireland, will continue and that we will endeavour to work constructively and co-operatively with the sector in meeting the challenges that lie ahead.
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