‘Impossible to sustain’ services without extra budget funding, say voluntary groups

National association of charities outlines problems confronting sector at the launch of its pre-budget submission

Members of the community and voluntary sector have said they are in crisis, unable to retain staff and unable to provide adequate services as a result.

Testimonies were given by numerous members of the Wheel, Ireland’s national association of charities, at a launch of its pre-budget submission on Monday.

Pauline McKeown, chief executive of Coolmine Therapeutic Community, said its staff turnover rate for 2023 so far has been 42 per cent, an increase on a 34 per cent average for 2022.

‘Vulnerable people’

“That is impossible to sustain the current level of service delivery to vulnerable people in Irish society,” Ms McKeown said.


She also said, that as of mid-September 2023, Coolmine Therapeutic Community and many other organisations working to combat homelessness and addictions do not have their funding confirmed for 2023.

“We’re now nine months into the year and it’s unconfirmed, there is no clarity on this year’s funding,” she said.

For the first six months of 2023, Coolmine has seen a 35 per cent increase in demand for its services. However, she said, without movement on aligning the sector with HSE pay scales community organisations would further spiral into crisis.

Fiona Coyle of Mental Health Reform (MHR) echoed Ms McKeown’s comments. Ms Coyle said that when the mental health charity’s members returned feedback for its pre-budget submission they noted inadequate funding, which affects recruitment and retention and “was stifling their ambition as organisations”.

MHR has also noted a vast increase in demand for their members’ services, but funding has not increased, Ms Coyle said, adding that once-off funding incentives, while good, are unsustainable as they cannot be used on core costs. “You have to use it for something new, that you then have to find more funding to fund next year because it’s one-year funding.”

Ms Coyle also said that it is known that the State’s current mental health services do not meet the needs of those who access them and that community and voluntary organisations play a crucial role in early intervention and prevention.

“Despite the role that our organisations have, we are not partners when it comes to funding, we’re often an afterthought,” she said.

Ms Coyle added that as mental health needs in Ireland increase waiting lists will grow. Without more investment at community level there would be greater pressure on “more specialised services” which would ultimately cost the State more, she added.

‘They leave’

Highlighting its recruitment challenges, a member of the Daughters of Charity Community Services said it tended to hire people who “are not necessarily as qualified as you would like. You’re putting a huge amount of time and effort into training them and bringing them up, and then they leave [for a better-paid job] and the cycle begins again.”

Ivan Cooper, chief executive of the Wheel, said he felt community and voluntary organisations were “perennially underfunded” because the Government knew they usually did not speak out and go on strike. “Why wouldn’t it behave the way it behaves when it knows it has partners like us?”

Gráinne O’Rourke, who works with the Spiritans, but is also on the board of Dyslexia Ireland and Spirasi, the National Centre for the Rehabilitation of Survivors of Torture in Ireland, told the group that Dyslexia Ireland and Spirasi were looking at pausing their waiting lists, because the demand for the service in each instance is far outstripping the resources available.

“One in 10 people in this country has dyslexia. That’s 10 per cent of the population … You can imagine the detrimental effect that us having to pause our waiting list” would have. She also highlighted the increased number of refugees arriving in Ireland needing Spirasi’s services.

“Multi-annual funding is absolutely imperative.” She said it was raised each budget year and “it just gets ignored and I really think we’re at a stage of a tipping point now”.

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue is an Irish Times journalist