Plans for Community Cuts Withheld

Proposals for major cuts to community and Gaeltacht programmes were withheld from the public when the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’ submission to Colm McCarthy’s “An Bord Snip Nua” group was published, it has emerged.

The department’s recommendations for cuts were recently published on the Department of Finance website, but several sections of text were withheld.

Many of the cost-cutting recommendations made in these withheld sections were subsequently recommended in one form or another by the McCarthy report. But they were overshadowed by the An Bord Snip Nua recommendation that the department itself be closed.

After the McCarthy report was published, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív said it gave “some sense of what would happen the country if an economist from Dublin 4 was running the country”. The department’s proposals withheld from the public included cutting funding for local partnership groups by up to €10 million, reducing urban partnerships and withdrawing funding from Employment Pacts.

It said a scheme which provided funding to national organisations in the community and voluntary sector should not be renewed when it ended next year. Some 64 agencies, such as Muintir na Tíre, the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed and The Wheel umbrella group for charities and community and voluntary groups have benefited from this scheme which provides funds for working with disadvantaged groups.

It also recommended closing Pobal, the Government body which runs social inclusion schemes.

The department made a number of suggestions on Gaeltacht issues, including “fundamentally restructuring” Údaras na Gaeltachta as a new national Irish language agency and/or transferring its enterprise functions to Enterprise Ireland. It said the Scéim Labhairt na Gaeilge (Spoken Irish Scheme) should be phased out and funds diverted to language support to younger children.

Under this scheme, the department may pay €260 per school year to households in the Gaeltacht if they can show that Irish is their normal spoken language and they are fluent speakers.

It said Foras na Gaeilge’s remit should focus on cross-Border Irish language matters only, with the agreement of the North/South Ministerial Council.

The Cabinet Committee on Irish and the Gaeltacht is currently preparing a 20-year strategy for Irish and Conradh na Gaeilge’s Julian de Spáinn said decisions should not be made until the committee issued its findings.

He said there would be no Gaeltacht without the people who lived and worked in Gaeltacht areas. But if these proposals were introduced, people would gradually leave these areas as there would be nothing there for them.

Deirdre Garvey, chief executive of The Wheel organisation, said if all these proposed cuts were implemented in full, they would have a dramatically negative impact on the people they served.

Asked why the department had withheld many of the savings proposals from the public, a spokeswoman said the options referred to had since been overtaken by the McCarthy report and the Government had not yet made a decision on this.

“The department took the view that their publication at the time would be simply speculative without contributing to any actual savings,” she said.

The spokeswoman added that this was in keeping with Freedom of Information legislation which provided for the protection of the deliberative process in Government departments and public bodies.

 

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