Community Employment Schemes

Destroying the fabric of Irish life is no joke.

By John Greene- Sunday Independent (Sport) August 12 2012
Unemployment is no laughing matter. There is nothing funny about
309,000 people being out of work. Or thousands more fearing that they
too could lose their jobs. This is no time for smart-arsed remarks
from those in the cosy seats about people facing into dole queues.
That is, of course, unless you are someone like Pat Rabbitte, who sees
nothing wrong in hiding behind the male-dominated and juvenile banter
that can often pose as debate in the Dáil chamber with the kind of quip that leaves you stone cold.

In an exchange in the Dáil last month, on the day the politicians got their summer holidays, Fianna
Fáil’s Eamon ó Cuív began a line of questioning about cuts to a number
of schemes which, as he rightly pointed out, are extremely important
to thousands of people. ó Cuív stuck to his guns through some childish
heckling to get an answer to his questions. He wanted to know the
extent of the cuts. “Why is it being hidden from the house?” he asked.
“Will the Tánaiste outline the cuts that are being applied to the
community employment and Tús schemes? How many places will be lost and
how many will be laid off the schemes as a result of Government
action?’
“The Deputy was almost on jobseeker’s allowance himself,” chimed in
the country’s Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural
Resources. Ha-ha. They must have been rolling in the aisles at that
one; what’s another one on top of 309,000? As Eoghan Harris observed
about Rabbitte last week, “he believes glib cracks are a substitute
for social democracy”. What may have been lost on the minister is that
the information ó Cuív sought mattered hugely to a lot of people, and
it mattered to a lot of sports clubs too. When ó Cuív finally got a
straight answer to his straight question, from Eamon Gilmore, the gist
of it was that there had been cuts announced in the Budget but that
these had been reviewed upwards since, and that just like every other
sector, savings had to be found. However, the Tánaiste insisted the
cuts targeted overheads and not people. Two days earlier, the Minister
for Social Protection Joan Burton said the same thing. “I am not aware
of any proposals to close community employment schemes following the
financial review,” she said. “I urge all schemes, supervisors and
boards of management to work closely with officials of my department
to ensure community employment continues to play an important role in
the provision of local community services, work experience and
training opportunities.”
Since January 1 last, Burton’s department has overseen this scheme so
she should know. This was fairly definitive. Just to be sure, however,
I checked again with the department on Friday evening and was told
there had been no change in the situation since the minister’s
comments last month. And yet, last week I also spoke to several people
who confirmed that their scheme is being abolished, some as soon as
this week. And I was also told of other schemes which are being
scrapped too. What is going on?  Community employment schemes are
vital to community life in this country. Sports facilities, tidy towns
groups, tourism spots, community development groups, urban centres —
these will be wiped out in any town or village whose scheme is
scrapped, and I know of several villages definitely affected despite
the assurances. According to the department, there are 1,143 community
employment schemes in the country employing 22,000 people and a
further 1,400 full-time supervisors. Those on the scheme are out of
work, and they receive a sum on top of their dole payment to carry out
important work for approximately 19 hours a week at community level
for voluntary organisations and public bodies involved in not for
profit activities.
Among the beneficiaries of the scheme are sports clubs. In one area,
GAA clubs, soccer clubs, tennis clubs and pitch and putt clubs have
all been told in recent weeks that their scheme is being wound up.
They have not yet been given any reason, and they do not know what the
future holds for them. You can imagine the pressures this will bring
as most clubs relied heavily on the scheme to maintain their grounds
— cutting grass, weeding, painting, cleaning, and all the other
things that go into the upkeep of a club’s facilities. Most will now
be forced to put even more pressure on their volunteers to pick up the
slack. Of course, the greatest crime in all this is that the men and
women who were on these schemes will revert to the dole if they cannot
find work straight away. As ó Cuív noted amid the hectoring of members
of the Government, the whole purpose was “to spend some of the
€5billion we paid people to do nothing, which was bad for their health
and well-being, on providing people who were out of work with
opportunities to make a useful contribution to society. In other
words, we viewed people not as a burden but as a resource. The
Government seems to think otherwise.”
The reason this coalition cannot save the country is because each
party is desperate to attack the other’s heartland but can’t, so
instead we have the drip drip drip as they chip away slowly at the
fabric of Irish life. There’s bound to be a joke about that too.