Latest cuts for coalface charities cruel and unnecessary
Opinion: Small organisations doing vital work are being allowed to fall through the cracks
Alan Kelly: could make a good start in his new job in Environment by getting to grips with this crisis. Photograph: Alan Betson
However, we might at least expect it to stop doing stupid small things that make life more miserable for people already in deep trouble. Alan Kelly and Leo Varadkar can make a good start in their new jobs by getting to grips with a cruel and completely unnecessary crisis in funding for almost every small charity for people with disabilities. Last week, while the country was in paroxysms over a fat man in a Stetson hat, a bomb went off over the heads of 26 organisations that provide services and support for people who have other things on their mind – like getting through, not five nights but just the day; every day. Casually and carelessly, the Government essentially informed these organisations that it doesn’t matter if they go out of existence.
We’re not talking here about the mega-charities with the inflated salaries but rather of the collective self-help groups that make life bearable for people who’ve been dealt a bad hand by genetics.
Modest grants Groups like Aspire, for people with Asperger’s syndrome, the Irish Motor Neurone Association, the Centre for Independent Living, which helps people with disabilities with the assistance they need to live their own lives, MS Ireland, for people with multiple sclerosis, Chronic Pain Ireland and the Alzheimer’s Society. Last week, these bodies and others learned that they are having all their core State funding withdrawn immediately.
For the last six years, these charities have received very modest but vital grants under what’s imaginatively called the Scheme to Support National Organisations (SSNO) which was established to provide core funding to “national organisations which provide coalface services to disadvantaged target groups”. It is a tiny programme: less than €7 million spread over 2½ years. Nobody is getting rich on this: the average grant is €43,000. But it matters enormously to all of these groups because it gives them money to employ a small staff. In some cases, we’re talking about one or two people – but these are the people who organise the voluntary efforts, the fundraising and the advocacy that gives these vulnerable minorities some chance of having a voice in the public policies that affect them.
I’ve come across a lot of the people who work in these groups over the years and I would say that they are, on the whole, among the most efficient, effective and entrepreneurial people in Ireland. They have to be: getting services for vulnerable people in our lovely State is a horrible, frustrating, bone-wearying business. A lot of these groups share offices and resources in places like the Carmichael Centre in Dublin so they can keep overheads low. A lot of the people who work with them are employed on part-time salaries but work more than full-time. Often, they have a strong personal connection to the problems they are trying to alleviate.