Huge rise in calls for help at St Vincent de Paul

People at the forum hosted by President McAleese entitled Resilience in Tough Times - Civic Society's Response, at Aras an Uachtarain yesterday. Speakers included NUI Maynooth vice-president Tom Collins, Civil Defence board director general Bill Smith, and head of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Sean Coughlan.

People at the forum hosted by President McAleese entitled Resilience in Tough Times - Civic Society's Response, at Aras an Uachtarain yesterday. Speakers included NUI Maynooth vice-president Tom Collins, Civil Defence board director general Bill Smith, and head of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Sean Coughlan.

Sat, Jan 30, 2010, 00:00

THE SOCIETY of St Vincent de Paul says it has experienced a massive increase both in calls for help and in numbers volunteering in the last 18 months.

Kieran Murphy, the charity’s national director, told a forum at Áras an Uachtaráin that people want to get involved when they see suffering around them.

The forum, Resilience in Tough Times – Civic Society’s Response, was hosted by President Mary McAleese. It brought together a variety of voluntary and community groups to discuss how resilience in communities could be galvanised to help in difficult times.

Speakers included Tom Collins, vice-president of NUI Maynooth, Bill Smith, director general of the board of Civil Defence and Seán Coughlan, chief executive of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland. The forum was chaired by broadcaster John Bowman.

In her opening address, the President said last year’s floods and the big freeze gave a very public insight into the great resources in the solidarity of communities and the culture of volunteering.

“Nature did its worst and human nature did its best,” she said.

She told delegates the State could not create community.

“That is what we create,” she said. “We are good at it in Ireland, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for it.”

Mr Murphy said since 2008 there had been a 30 per cent increase in calls for help to the Society of St Vincent de Paul. People’s needs were much more basic than in the recent past and included help with food and energy bills and the cost of education.

“There has been an increase in the number of people who have never before asked, who in their wildest dreams would never have thought they would need our assistance,” he said.

In the last 18 months there had also been an increase in people volunteering and as a result, new local groups had been set up.

“People want to get involved when they see suffering around them,” he said.

Elva O’Callaghan of the National Collective of Community-based Women’s Networks said some community groups founded by women in their own kitchens were facing funding challenges, but were determined to continue.

Alice Leahy of homelessness charity Trust said groups were hamstrung by bureaucracy.

“We don’t take grants; if you take a grant you somehow can’t see it as it is,” she said.

A report from the forum is to be compiled and will be published in the coming months.