A meeting between 14 community groups and public representatives held in Carndonagh earlier this week heard how the “roots” of the Community Services Programme “cannot be lost.”
The meeting was called by the groups in an effort to secure the future of the centres and their staff amid concerns that wages grants for workers are not to be increased in line with the new minimum wage.
This means that the groups under the CSP will be required to make up the shortfall themselves, something they say could force many of them to close their doors.
The groups are calling on the programme nationally to return to its “aims” with regards to their social value and not be so “focused on the economic bottom line.”
The 14 groups under CSP in Inishowen are: Carrowmenagh Community Centre; Clonmany Youth & Community Resource Centre; Colgan Community & Resource centre; Fort Dunree Military Museum; Glengad Community Association; Greencastle Community Development Company Ltd; Inishowen Maritime Heritage Company Ltd;Inishowen Tourism Society; Malin Head Community Association; Muff Community Development Co-op; Sliabh Sneacht Centre Ltd; Spraoi agus Sport Family Centre Ltd; Tullyarvan Mill Project and White Oaks Acorn Project Ltd. They provide community centres, youth services, tourism provision, rehabilitation, heritage promotion, community education (accredited and non-accredited), courses for children, administration support for communities, community caretaking, Irish Language school, community catering, health and fitness, support groups, peace and reconciliation, sports heritage conservation, media and family supports.
The funding is granted by the Department of Social Protection and it is then managed by Pobal. It delivers much-needed services to disadvantaged areas and groups, in areas where public and private sectors are lacking.
This could be due to geographical remoteness, social isolation or demand deficit.
The peninsula’s groups operate together under one ‘network’ - Inishowen Sustainable Community Development Association (ISCDA).
The meeting was told how the minimum contribution from the Department was always in line with the National Minimum Wage, and groups that could afford to were permitted to increase their wages, if possible.
However, the Department has told Pobal they will not be increasing the funding in line with the new minimum wage, leading to concerns for the future of these groups, which all operate on a not-for-profit basis.
The groups say they do not want to have to “slash” their services they provide or turn to fundraising in the community in order to solely cover wage bills. They pointed out how, as the ‘third sector’ known as social economy, they are providing supports and services where the public and private sector could not, due to the rural location and the cost of these key services.
The meeting was chaired by Shauna McClenaghan, joint CEO of Inishowen Development Partnership and Gemma Havlin, Greencastle Maritime Museum and Mura MacLochlainn, Muff Community Developmemt Co-op spoke on behalf of the groups.
Mr MacLochlainn said: “Already, groups are fundraising to meet other running costs in order to provide quality accessible services locally and feel that the community cannot sustain these additional costs with the proposed reduction in grant allocation.”
They state the figures speak for themselves and any loss of these services would be detrimental not only to the communities but also to the exchequer itself.
The latest concerns comes after the ‘running cost support grant’ was removed from CSP groups in 2009, which left a deficit of between 6,000-40,000 annually. This gap in support was then to be generated by the groups themselves.
It was heard how 563 groups in Inishowen use and depend on the 14 facilities, with employment given to 48 people directly through the programme and 35 employyes supported by schemes managed through the centres.
They added these too would be under threat if the funding cut wasn’t reversed and it was stressed how they must remain a “social enterprise.”
Miss Havlin told how monies the groups receive go straight back in to providing “high quality” services. They added while they “wholeheartedly” welcome the increase in minimum wage, there are fears that this increase and any more ahead - such as further increases to bring it in line with the living wage - will put untold pressure on finances. It was confirmed that one local group has put staff on a six-month contract amid uncertainty they will not be able to cover the wage costs after that.
The total CSP contribution from the Department to the groups over three years was 2,983,631 euro. The total turnover of CSP groups in Inishowen was over two million euro more than that, at 5,281, 351 euro. The number of service users in CSP supported projects over the past three years in Inishowen was 521,020. The monies which would have been paid by Social Protection to current staff over three years had they remained unemployed was 1,168,272 euro. The groups have also made returns to the Revenue Commissioners from Income Tax, PRSI and USC of approximately 461,625 euro for the past three years alone.
They state that these figures demonstrate the value for money the projects deliver and a funding increase to ensure they can pay their staff in line with minimum wage would ensure these vital services remain in place.
Miss Havlin said: “To some people it might only seem like we have to pay an extra 50 cents. But that all adds up. If that then goes up to a euro that’s even more we’re going to have to cover and that’s some of the doors closed.”
Those in attendance were told the wage grants given for the employment of FTEs (Full Time Equivalents) was always in line with the minimum wage. The current recommended system of individual groups being evaluated “to avail of additional financial support on a transitional basis for a defined period of time” does not give them security.
The meeting heard how this could be seen as a “divide and conquer” among the groups, which have always worked together in one network and want to continue to do so. They added that any funding they receive is not “free money” as they provide numerous supports and services across the peninsula.
Deputies Padraig MacLochlainn and Charlie McConalogue were in attendance and pledged their support along with a number of county councillors.
Each pledged their support, with Colr John Ryan stating the Department must “step up to the mark.” Councillor Martin Farren said he could see “at first hand the tremendous work these groups do.” Councillor Bernard McGuinness said the issue was a “cross-party” one and should be fought as such, while Councillor Nicholas Crossan said the solidarity was evident within the groups.”
Councillor Martin McDermott said there needed to be a Minister dedicated to rural areas and community.
Mr John McGuinness, representing Inishowen Tourism, said the Department of Social Protection had “lost sight of their objectives” and a meeting should be held “immediately” with Pobal.
Mr Dermot McLaughlin told how community groups “held the fabric of society together in rural Ireland.”
Mr John McCarter said there needed to be more emphasis and support placed on the ‘third sector’ by the government.
The groups said they will continue to move forward and deal with the issue as a network.