Seanad Éireann - Volume 172 - 16 April, 2003

Adjournment Matter. - Community Development.

  Mr. Bannon: I welcome the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to the House on a very important issue relating to my county of Longford. I have brought this motion on social inclusion programme cut[1238]backs affecting Longford Community Resources before the House because I want the Minister to explain how he can justify his inhumane destruction of the work community groups are doing to provide support for the disadvantaged, in this case, in County Longford.

  My colleagues and I continually bring the appalling injustices perpetrated by the Government, to the attention of the Seanad. Unbelievably, the Government expects the less well off and disadvantaged to make up for its mismanagement of public funds. Even by its standards, however, it is beyond belief that, in four and a half months, a 6% budget cutback has become a 20% funding cut. It is heartbreaking to think the valuable work that Longford Community Resources does in County Longford on services, projects and training, is being terminated and that the weakest and least vocal are suffering the consequences.

  To cut support to early school leavers, the long-term unemployed, lone parents, small farmers, Travellers, the disabled and the elderly in a county, two thirds of which has CLÁR and RAPID status, is totally unacceptable. Longford Community Resources has been presented with a cutback to its budget of €173,000. This will affect every community group throughout the county. It will affect not only its services to the disadvantaged, but initiatives from the ICA, tourism promotion and parish groups will also be hit. Longford Community Resources had, as it thought, secured funding for a three-year period to the end of 2003 and had allocated budgets to a variety of community programmes and initiatives on that basis.

  While €60,000 was announced for a new community development project, which was actually sanctioned four and a half years ago, Longford Community Resources received details of cuts of €173,000 from its 2003 budget. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs funds both the community development project and Longford Community Resources. So it would appear that the Department has given a little and taken a lot. Did the Minister really think that the announcement of a small donation would cloud the greater issue of this extraordinary cutback?

  As the festive season of Easter approaches, I hope the Minister will reconsider his decision and give back to Longford Community Resources what it deserves. This money was promised and community initiatives are waiting to be developed. We must acknowledge the great voluntary contribution made by members of many committees throughout the county and I do not want to see their efforts dashed. I appeal to the Minister, on behalf of all Longford people, to rescind this decision if at all possible.

  Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Éamon Ó Cuív): Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta as ucht deise a thabhairt dom na fíricí a chur in iúl anocht.

  I thank the Senator for giving me an oppor[1239]tunity to put the facts on the record tonight. An amount of €44.6 million has been provided in the Vote of my Department for the local development programme in 2003. This figure represents a reduction of 6% in the local development subhead over the amount provided in the Estimates in 2002. I emphasise the reduction is 6%.

  In 2001 and 2002, the funding under this subhead was €45.5 million and €47.6 million respectively for the three sub-measures of the programme. The outturn of expenditure was €43.2 million in 2001 and €53.6 million in 2002. Towards the end of 2002, ADM approached my Department. As there were some savings in my Department in December 2002 we gave ADM an extra allocation of €6 million. ADM has supplied a copy of the letter that indicated Longford Community Resources was allocated an amount of up to €2,399,805 for the period from 2001 to 2003, which equates to €799,935 per annum. This year it is getting €743,940, a 7% reduction on the annualised amount. The amount received by any partnership is a matter for ADM, which is independent of the Department and handles the whole subhead.

  Recently the board of ADM agreed the allocations to each partnership and community group it funds. As the Senator will appreciate, given that there was a 6% cut in its overall budget, the total amount it can give this year is 6% less. It is a matter for ADM to decide how it distributes that to the various groups. I understand it decided to reduce the funding of each group by between 4% and 7%, depending on the annual budget of the partnership company. No partnership was cut by less than 4% or more than 7%.

[1240]  In recent weeks I have frequently heard people talk of huge cutbacks referred to by the Senator. Apparently this comes from the an expectation that money, which was not spent in the first two years of the programme, could be carried over to the last year, which is this year. Under the European programme that preceded this, that was possible. As the Senator will be aware, all unspent money in every Department at the end of a year reverts to the Exchequer, so the idea of multi-annual funding on that basis does not exist. My Department operates on a cash-based accounting system and not on an accruals basis. Since the Department cannot carry forward the money, there was never a question of the partnerships being able to carry forward unspent amounts and accrue them into the third year of the programme.

  It is important to distinguish between, on one hand, commitments of partnerships and community groups and what they thought they might get or supposed carryovers and, on the other, unpaid liabilities – bills in hand – at the end of the year that had to be brought forward from 2002 to 2003. Net unpaid liabilities being brought forward by partnerships this year are quite modest and are of the order of €600,000 cumulative between them. I understand some partnerships also have cash balances.

  With the €44.6 million provided for the programme this year, the partnerships will be able to continue with a full programme. I have discussed this with ADM, which is working with the partnerships to minimise as far as possible the impact of the 6% cut in funding this year.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 7 May 2003.