Wednesday, 3 May 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Bannon: I thank the Minister of State for taking this Adjournment matter on the important issue of funding for Legan neighbourhood watch. I cannot stress enough the need for him to give an update regarding essential funding for Legan neighbourhood watch and community alert under the programme of grants for locally-based community and voluntary organisation as this group provides an invaluable service to the local community and urgently needs funding. The key point is volunteerism, something about which the Minister of State and the Taoiseach have spoken in the past. It is not only a catch-phrase but an expression of the hard work and voluntary effort by groups such as the Legan community and neighbourhood watch and other community-based organisations throughout the country.
It is an indictment of the State and the Minister of State’s Department that such groups, which work tirelessly in remote rural areas, lack adequate funding and that funding is not put in place to assist and promote their endeavours. Every member of this organisation gives his or her time without pay or, in many cases, without recognition and do so for the benefit and good of their community. They do not want recognition anyway. All they ask is that the Government recognises their contribution and back it accordingly with funding.
The group applied under the Department’s programme of grants for locally-based and voluntary organisations in 2005. Having been turned down for funding, I ask the Minister of State what steps he intends to take to ensure such a valuable community service is not left without adequate funding to promote its endeavours. If the voluntary groups in this country, which are neglected and left carrying the can, were to fold up their tents and walk away, the onus on the State would be considerable as the already crisis level of urban and, indeed, rural crime would escalate even further.
The sense of community in areas such as Legan, an area from where I come, with a small population of under 1,000 people is amazing. The Minister of State should recognise this, hold out a helping hand, give this group the funding to which it is entitled and keep the spirit of community and volunteerism alive, which is very important. Groups, such as the Legan group, provide a valuable service in the community and they also provide assistance to Government. Therefore, the Government must provide assistance to groups such as this one.
When the group received the letter rejecting its request in January, I appealed the decision. All the group was told was to apply again. Where there is so much volunteering, people deserve more than that. These people have much to do with their time but they are very generous with it in respect of elderly people who live in the neighbourhood. It is time a group such as the Legan one is prioritised. We can throw as much money as we like at setting up committees, groups, task forces, etc., but the real work is done on the ground and it is important it is recognised by way of financial contribution. Perhaps the Minister of State has the goodies for us and I await his response with bated breath.
Mr. N. Ahern: The programme of grants for locally-based community and voluntary organisations which the Senator mentioned is funded by my Department and supports the activities of local voluntary and community groups addressing disadvantage in their community. The programme transferred to my Department from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in 2002. Since then, and in its previous format, the programme has benefited thousands of locally-based community and voluntary organisations throughout the country.
Last year I announced funding in excess of €5.5million under the programme for over 500 groups throughout the country. This represented an increase of approximately €2million over the 2004 figure. The organisations funded represent a broad cross-section of local voluntary and community activity but especially those addressing disadvantage in their communities. The groups which received funding under the programme are published on the Department’s website.
The programme consists of three schemes. One makes funds available for small-scale refurbishment of premises such as community halls. Grants of up to €40,000 are available for refurbishment purposes. This is complemented by a second scheme to provide for the purchase of essential equipment, including IT equipment. The maximum grant for equipment is €10,000. The third scheme is aimed at enhancing the capacity of local communities and grants of up to €10,000 are available towards education, training and research proposals. Grants towards wages or salaries or other running costs are not available under this scheme.
The programme is advertised widely in the national and regional newspapers every year. Last year in response to invitations for applications, we got almost 1,500 applications. They were assessed for the Department by reference to the criteria set out in the published guidelines and scored accordingly. Priority under the programme is given to disadvantaged communities with a greater priority accorded to self-help initiatives by disadvantaged groups and communities. In addition to the general application requirements, the applications are assessed by reference to a number of criteria. Last year all the eligible applications were scored against these criteria and the grants were based on the results.
An application for funding was received by the Department under the 2005 programme from the Legan neighbourhood watch in Longford. The application from the organisation in question failed to achieve a sufficiently high score to enable it to be considered for funding. The application from the organisation in question failed to achieve a sufficiently high score to enable it to be considered for funding on this occasion. A request for a review of the original assessment of the application was received by my Department in January. The result was that the application submitted was for the provision of security equipment for older people in the local community and was therefore outside the scope of the programme of grants for locally based community and voluntary organisations. The group basically applied under the wrong scheme.
The Department operates a separate scheme, the scheme of community supports for older people, which addresses such needs directly. There is no shortage of funding whatsoever under this scheme. Today we celebrated the scheme’s tenth anniversary and the event will probably be reported in the media, including the regional papers, over the coming days. We have arranged for the Department to forward a copy of the application form and the guidelines for the scheme to the group in question.
I totally agree with the Senator’s points on voluntary effort and volunteerism. I do not know if there were people from Longford at the celebrations in the hotel today but I know that a couple of hundred people from different groups from all over the country attended. They seemed to be highly motivated and energised and were quite favourably disposed to the amendments I made to the scheme.
The group applied under the wrong scheme. If it applies under the correct scheme, fills in the application form sent to it correctly and submits it as early as it can, we will certainly see to it that the grant is made. There is no shortage of funding for security measures for elderly people.
Mr. Bannon: My brother, Councillor Larry Bannon, raised this issue with me. He is very active in the local community and is a member of the committee. Can the organisation apply for the two grants at the one time? I have no doubt that it will be submitting another application. I have given the Minister the reference number and perhaps he will consider the application sympathetically this time around.
The organisation is doing considerable work for disadvantaged people as well as enhancing the security of elderly people. In some rural areas, elderly people have to board themselves into their homes from 4 p.m. They need company and it is important that they be looked after and that they have friends who will sit with them, talk to them and provide for their needs if requested to do so.
Mr. N. Ahern: There would be no problem. The organisation will have to apply again because the application submitted was for last year. It is seeking security measures for the elderly, including alarm pendants, locks and bolts for doors and windows, security lights that come on automatically when one approaches and non-electrified fire alarms. These are granted through the scheme of community supports for older people. We were launching this year’s version of the scheme today and it will be advertised tomorrow and over the next couple of days.
The scheme under which the organisation applied last year is more for refurbishing community halls, equipment for community halls, including IT equipment, and research and training. One could certainly apply under the three headings of this scheme or apply under the scheme of community supports for older people. One could apply under both but unfortunately the group applied under the wrong scheme last year. Maybe this is a simple error and the Department may——
Mr. N. Ahern: We have so many good schemes giving out so much good money that I can well understand how a voluntary group could send in the wrong form. Unfortunately, the application was assessed under the criteria of the scheme to which it pertained and the system does not allow for its transfer to the other scheme. The Department proceeds on the basis of what one puts down in writing. I have no doubt but that if the group submits a proper application this year, we will see to it.
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