Community Hearts Torn Apart




From top: Dolphin Barn, Dublin; Dr Rory Hearne

An important question needs to be answered by the civil service and political decision makers: why community services and regeneration projects were disproportionately cut during austerity?

And why they are still not restored?

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Communities are the heart of this country. And community based services – from care for the elderly, child and family supports, housing and homeless services, community work, youth and sports projects, community gardens, tidy towns – have been the heart of many communities in Ireland for decades.

Unfortunately austerity cuts have had a devastating impact on these services and community work.

Our most disadvantaged communities (in rural areas, small towns and the large estates in our cities) and vulnerable groups (such as lone parents, those with a disability, the elderly, children, Travellers, migrants) are most reliant on these services and therefore they have been hit hardest from the cuts.

They have also been devastated from the collapse of social housing regeneration projects (in Limerick and parts of Dublin).

And they need these services more than ever with the doubling of child poverty rates (there are now 138,000 children in poverty in this country), 60% of lone parents suffering material deprivation, unemployment rates of over 30% in some rural and disadvantaged areas, and dealing with the cuts to the other public services.

A very disturbing and shocking aspect of the austerity budgets has been that the cuts to community and regeneration projects have been disproportionally bigger than to other parts of the public service. The extent and range of the cuts is shown in the table below.

The cuts have resulted in local community projects being either closed or trying to survive by laying off workers, reducing their pay or putting them on short time.

The community and voluntary sector has suffered a 31% reduction in numbers employed (a loss of 17,000 jobs) — three times the rate of reduction in general public service numbers.

If we look at the Local Community Development Programme (LCDP) for example, it experienced a dramatic reduction in funding from €84.7m in 2008 to €48m in 2014, is now closed with local projects put under the control of local authorities and is being subject to a commercial tendering process.

Regeneration plans for new social housing and community employment opportunities were developed in the late 1990s and through the 2000s for disadvantaged estates that had suffered decades of state neglect and high rates of unemployment and deprivation.

Areas included Moyross in Limerick, Ballymun, Dolphin House, St Michaels, and O Devaney Gardens in Dublin, and other estates in Cork, Sligo and Waterford.

While some were partially regenerated like Ballymun and Fatima, the collapse in the Public Private Partnerships (as developers withdrew) in 2008 and the austerity budget cuts to regeneration funding meant that many estates saw their hopes and dreams of a new future destroyed.

I worked for six years as a community regeneration worker for the children’s charity Barnardos in Dolphin House in Dublin’s inner city where I saw the devastating impact of the cuts to regeneration.

We developed a ground breaking human rights campaign that pressured Dublin City Council and the government to act on the terrible housing conditions affecting tenants there. These communities need to be given hope again.

An important question which remains to be answered by the civil service and political decision makers is why these community services and regeneration projects were disproportionately cut during austerity and why they are still not restored?

Is it because the vulnerable, disadvantaged communities and the poor simply do not matter to the Irish state and political establishment?They clearly were not sufficiently prioritised and protected in these difficult years.

Is it because they traditionally have not voted?

Is it because they are not wealthy and thus are not potential donors for political parties?

Or is it because of a wider societal discrimination that blames all these groups and areas for their problems rather than accepting that their disadvantage results from the deep ingrained inequalities in the Irish economy and society and, therefore, we all have a responsibility?

Perhaps it is because the values that drive these organisations and communities such as caring for others, solidarity, not-for-profit, co-operation, and empowerment challenges the laissez faire, free-market, private wealth accumulation ‘greed is good’ that official Ireland supports in profit chasing entrepreneurs and tax avoiding corporations?

There is no doubt that part of the reason is that austerity provided the state with an opportunity to remove community advocacy which had become a political irritant for elected politicians and the civil servants in various departments and local authorities.

The work of community development had become too effective in highlighting the need for the State to listen to, and provide greater support for, communities left out during the Celtic Tiger and then suffering under austerity and so they were cut.

It is also part of a wider trend where the Irish state has been supressing community advocacy for a number of years. For example, HSE grants to community and voluntary organisations often come with the conditionality that:

“You must not use the grant to change law or government policies, or persuade people to adopt a view on law or public policy”

What a dangerous thing to do! Try to change a law or ‘persuade’ people to ‘adopt a view’. It is a sign of our shallow democracy that such advocacy is not viewed as central to the role of community and voluntary groups. It is a hangover from a paranoid, insecure and oppressive state that required the silence of society in order to abuse and oppress.

Rather than seeing NGOs and the community and voluntary organisations as having a really strong contributing role to raising awareness of issues affecting our most vulnerable, enhancing our democracy through empowering the marginalised, and bringing about a more equal society through the creation of a locally sustainable and vibrant economy – the Irish state instead has viewed them as a threat and an annoyance, showed in the fact, that they were cut first and cut deepest, in austerity.

As a community worker I saw how good quality social housing, homework and youth clubs, community employment and enterprise, child and family support, drugs programmes, community gardai and strong community development working together with the local communities can really change people’s lives by reducing poverty, improving social inclusion and inequality.

We should learn from these positive examples.

The problem at the heart of the state’s narrow vision and analysis of community work, regeneration and the community and voluntary sector is that it fails to appreciate the huge economic and social benefits that they provide. Public spending on youth and community work, child poverty and family services, and regeneration is not a ‘cost’ i.e. lost funding.

These services provide multiples of a return on any public investment put in as they reduce other social and health costs including costs associated with school leaving, crime, hospitals, and unemployment. They also provide for a more socially cohesive and inclusive society that makes the best use of all its human resources. They can tackle the root of so many of our social issues that we currently waste so much resources on in responding from crisis to crisis and emergency firefighting.

There is an urgent need for a properly funded national regeneration programme including community and child services, new housing and local facilities to be set up to deliver regeneration for the disadvantaged.

The funding should also be restored to community development and youth projects. While the decision to commercialise and privatise the community development programme through competitive tendering should be reversed.

A new reinvigorated National Combat Poverty Agency should also be set up to support local independent community development projects. A mature, democratic, and equality orientated state and government would do no less.

You can listen and watch here to video I have made highlighting the impact on disadvantaged communities of austerity and the collapse of regeneration as part of my Seanad campaign.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic & social justice campaigner. His column appears here every Wednesday. Rory is an independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne


28 thoughts on “Community Hearts Torn Apart

  1. John

    Millions has been spent in Fatima regeneration, not just new housing, community facilities but all sorts of supports. It will still take a generation for those projects to have desired effect. There was also significant philanthropic donations as well.
    A development of a chip on the shoulder mentality, egged on by community activist to keep the money rolling in doesn’t help people progress.
    Don’t get me wrong, there are deep pockets of very real deprivation around, but at some point, when that deprivation has been removed, people have to stand on their own two feet.

    1. Supercrazyprices

      “chip on the shoulder mentality”

      Spoken like a true blue Fine Gaeler, blaming the victims of social apartheid policies for their plight.

      1. DubLoony

        Whoa! For some bizarre reason, I picked up someone else’s id there.

        Supercrazyprices – I’ve lived in Dublin 8 all my life. Grew up in the heroin epidemic of the ’80s, saw the devastation that hopelessness brought. Early school leaving, jail, impact of poverty.

        But I have also seen people decide to do other things with their life, volunteering in actives for the community and made sure their kids had opportunities that they never had.

        There was a very significant social investment in Fatima, and its largely been seen as a success.
        Should the same level of investment be made when there are other areas / sections of society now more in need?
        Or do we keep people in perpetual dependency, even if they are capable of standing on their own now?
        Material poverty is one thing, a crippling lack of confidence is another.

        1. Spaghetti Hoop

          That’s it.
          Encourage people to work, earn and learn. I find a lot of people either despondent and resolute about their situation or just want to be, and want their kids to be, canny doleheads. There is an onus on employers too to stop discriminating and give non-qualified people a chance – and not via the Jobbridge scam.

          1. Supercrazyprices

            When people don’t hire people from ‘the flats’ or because they didn’t go to Blackrock College, there is little chance of social mobility in Ireland.

            Ireland’s a closed shop for professionals from nice middle class homes who go on to repeat their parents discrimination.

            It’s multi-generational snobbery which keeps sections of the population in perpetual social apartheid with far less chance of getting into college and achieving their potential.

            Mentioning the few examples who do make it only highlights the fact that discrimination by the middle class is the problem.

          2. Harry Molloy

            I’ve worked in big banks and big 4 professional services companies. They’ve had people like myself from the back arse of no where, they’ve had people from the flats (I had a director from ballymun ) and I saw a foreign lad work his way up from the coffee shop to a department manager.

            attitude and hard work is everything, and you don’t need to be a genius or the exception either

          3. Spaghetti Hoop

            I agree with you both – super and Harry.
            I’ve seen people dust themselves off and really go for it. But so many don’t and blame the government for not giving them a job, and just stick with their hard-done-by label, try and do a bit of black-market work to pay for the telly, always feel under-achieved, take to the drink for the buzz….

            The volunteers do great work in teaching skills – but the problem is either Fás/Intreo have not fulfilled their brief (and by jaysus they haven’t made things easy with their PR and website shambles), or people do not want to better themselves because the welfare is too good and handy. The one area where Irish governments have really messed up on is facilitating childcare so that parents can work – it’s a big obstacle to achieving better standards of living and cutting the welfare spend. The lazy shleeveens you will never convert but a lot of new parents get a natural impetus to work and they should be facilitated with childcare credits.

          4. Harry Molloy

            completely agree RE childcare. next election, whoever has best childcare and housing policies I’ll bloody canvas for them

  2. Supercrazyprices

    Essentially it was Fine Gael punishing the vulnerable as they have always one. And also punishing supporters of Sinn Fein who they hate while inadvertently increasing support for Sinn Fein among the middle class who didn’t agree with the decimation of services for vulnerable sections of society.

    Fine Gael have a deep seated contempt for their own country.

  3. Cian

    It might have passed you by, but the state was spending more (up to €20billion more) that it earned for the last 7 years. We borrowed billions each year to make up the difference.
    Something had to be cut. Either money to people (pensions, dole payments, public service salaries) or money on things (public services, infrastructure & other investments) or a mix of the above.
    So the FG/Lab government could have cut the state pension by €5/week and kept up these projects. Would that have been better?

    1. ethereal_myst

      they could have burned the bondholders, they could make apple and others pay their taxes

      1. DubLoony

        If that had happened, no one would have lent us money and there would have been NO MONEY to pensions, welfare payments, government employees at all levels.

        Do you think if there were easy solutions it would have been done.

        Argentina did it, it took 15 years for them to get back into international markets, millions of live blighted in the meantime.

        1. jack johnson

          Argentina defaulted on it’s sovereign debt – Ireland made private debt public and not burning bondholders actually surprised the markets. In the real world if you make bad investments you lose, a basic tenet of the free market; in Ireland you get rewarded – capitalism on it’s head !

          1. Rob_G

            It’s been 15 years since Argentina defaulted, and their currency still hasn’t recovered – inflation is 22.5% this quarter.

            Defaulting is a serious business, and should not be embarked upon lightly.

    2. scottser

      The government could slash ministerial pensions and expenses. That would be much better.

        1. Zipper

          Well, it might help to solve it, Harry Molloy. If you have politicians paid a multiple of others’ wages, and easily able to pay for their health care, chauffeured around, with subsidised gyms and restaurants and bars in their workplace, and unvouched expenses, and with guaranteed pensions, with one in three of our representatives also having rental income, it arguably makes it unlikely that these representatives will have a genuine and deep familiarity with the lives of those for whom they legislate.
          You get situations like a Taoiseach who honestly thinks €35,000 per year is the minimum wage.

          1. Rob_G

            Ireland spends about 30% of GDP on social protection , and less than a one-tenth of 1% of GDP on politicians salaries (very rough guesstimate).

            – so, no, it won’t go very far to solving the problem.

  4. ahjayzis

    “An important question needs to be answered by the civil service and political decision makers: why community services and regeneration projects were disproportionately cut during austerity?”

    Does it?

    The answer is they couldn’t give a flying poo about the poor, sure they only vote for the leftys anyway.

    1. DubLoony

      Rubbish – regeneration projects are back on in Teresa’s Gardens and Dolphin house.
      No money, it was cut, some money, its back on.

      Remember, this guy is looking to be elected so he needs everything to be miserable.

  5. Joe cool

    As someone with a B.A. In applied social studies. I lost my job in 2013. For 2 yrs I tried to get a job. No chance, unless you were a relative of someone. I’ve had to leave it behind and start my own company. The money may never return to it

    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      I hear ya. Made redundant in 2009 and was immediately termed ‘a risk’ by the banks I am with as my (fairly mature) mortgage was put on a moratoriam which sends you automatically to the Irish Credit Bureau as a ‘risk’ customer. I had to reapply for habitual status as an Irish Citizen (born in the UK of Irish parents who returned here when I was 7) and I had to prove I was legally entitled to live and work in Ireland before I could claim benefits. I was paying tax and PRSI for 20 years – via full and part-time teenage jobs but no, I was deemed a foreigner. I didn’t get any dole for 9 weeks and I got no housing subsidy. Registering with Fás was a nightmare both online and in-office, but I managed to enroll in 3 x free Fás courses and I did three volunteer stints (history and culture related) over the nine months and finally got a job probably more as a result of the latter than my degree. I set up a business shortly after as a back-up to this happening again, but even that proved problematic following the Credit status. Ireland is a difficult country to do well in – in an honest sense, like with no nepotism and favours and friends to blanket your passage!

    1. Kieran NYC

      Of course when Rory’s buddies in SF/AAA/etc got into the Dail, they promptly announced they’d make absolutely no effort to get into government to fix all the problems they seem to care so much about.

      Not even a token effort at putting together a left-ish anti-austerity government.

      You’d almost think they prefer to let FG/FG get on with it and just scream from the sidelines without having to make any tough decisions.

  6. Mits Up

    I work in one of the most disadvantaged communities in Ireland and I have seen millions upon millions of euros pumped into it over the decades. We have had many successes in terms of supporting people back to work via training and educational programmes, services for older people etc. but I really believe that tax payers money is spend in a very lazy way by governments (hold out your basket and we will see what we can give you!). A much more strategic approach needs to be taken within each community involving all stakeholders. Government departments don’t even realise what money is going to who at times (and do they even care) and while as community development organisations we are all individually all fire fighting and doing our best to deliver our services, imagine what we could do collectively. Round table discussion with all stakeholders and all government departments should take part within each community, budget allocations looked at, duplication eradicated and priority areas targeted. Tell me where the will for this is????? Do they really care or are they just throwing money into our begging baskets to keep up quite???? Even if they are a lot emptier.

  7. BobbyJ

    The C&V sector is vital but some of those at the top have been pocketing way too much in salaries. It’s no wonder the Dept closed down the LCDP and introduced SICAP/tendering instead. Oh and by the way, under SICAP the top dogs are still on the same salaries, it’s the new C&V sector employees who have seen their wages and T&Cs scaled back.

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