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WELCOME??? OPINION

governing documents (constitutions, memo and arts of association) without having to seek the approval of a Minister (or of the Oireachtas) or of any other organisation, be it public or private.

Clearly, independently constituted organisations would be independent in name only if all their funds came from one source – so there is still a need, for a diverse income stream if organisations are to be considered genuinely independent.

Many people argue compellingly that in some recent decisions the state has undermined independent advocacy - whether intentionally or otherwise - in the community and voluntary sector:

• The replacement of the

Community Development Programmethat funded

independent voluntary organisations to give a voice to communities in over 180 disadvantaged communities across the country with a programme that does not support independent organisations.

• The amalgamation of the

National Economic and Social Forum- a body

that provided voice for the community and voluntary sector in national policy making - into the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) - a body that does not provide similar voice for the sector.

• The discontinuation of statutory funding (and consequent closure) of

the National Consultative Committee for Racism and Interculturalism – a

body that provided voice for excluded and marginalised

people and groups that worked with these communities.

• The absorption of the

Combat Poverty Agency–

a body at arms length from Government that had a mission to empower people, and support voices (and community and voluntary organisations) in challenging and addressing the root causes of poverty – into the Department of Social Welfare.

• The replacement of the

Local Development Social Inclusion Programme

(LDSIP)- that worked to overcome social exclusion experienced by marginalised people and communities with a programme that - while referencing community development in its title - seems to have no clear community development objective in its main work areas.

• The deliberate - and still unexplained - omission from the charitable purposes included in the Charities Act

2009of the promotion of human rights. This means

that a voluntary organisation primarily concerned with promoting human rights will not be recognised as charitable, and will continue to be regarded as a lobby- group or pressure-group.

• The requirement in the

Electoral Act 1997 and the Electoral (Amendment) Act

2001 that all organisations (whether they be voluntary, community or charitable in nature) declare receipt of over €127 in any given year from a donor, if the use of those funds could be considered to have been applied for a political purpose in the context of an election.

• Funding for the Community

Services Programmethat

funds voluntary and community groups to provide local services to their communities to counter disadvantage has been reduced by 9% (or by €4.65m).

Is there a theme running through all of these developments?

I think it can be reasonably argued that the cumulative effect is to reduce the supports for independent voice in our sector – and especially for potentially dissenting voices – and their participation in national debate and in national policy making.

“Our sector needs to look urgently at developing new ways of supporting an independent voice…”

Diminishing the voices of communities will have negative effects on the quality of our national decision-making, our legislation, our public services and on the extent to which our rights are vindicated.

We need to look urgently at developing new ways of supporting an independent voice, as a compelling argument can be made that the State has slowly but surely removed the relatively supportive framework that was in place to provide opportunities for a community voice in policy making and for participation in decision-making.

We need to act now to protect the critical independence of the community and voluntary sector in Ireland.

Grassroots reaction to the replacement of the Community Development

Programmes (CDPs)

“CDP’s are successful because they work directly within the community, they link directly with those who benefit from them and they listen to the needs of the community. CDP’s are becoming busier and the need for the supports we provide is increasing. Our budgets have been severely cut and we are at risk of further cuts. These cuts will affect the level of support we provide within the community and

marginalised people who rely on our support are the ones who will suffer.”

- Rita Hopkins, Kiltimagh CDP, east Mayo.

“The CDP is at the centre of a lot of community activity. It will be devastating for the senior citizens in the area if we are closed down. We have worked in particular with trying to combat social exclusion in St Teresa’s Gardens because it is the most disadvantaged spot in the area.”

- Patricia O’Connor, VISTA CDP, Dublin 8

Le Chéile

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