Give Me a Crash Course In . . . funding cuts at Accord

Ready or not: State funding for Accord’s marriage-preparation courses is being cut. Photograph: Getty

Ready or not: State funding for Accord’s marriage-preparation courses is being cut. Photograph: Getty

 

What’s all this discord over Accord? The Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service is an agency that helps people who are in marriage difficulty or dealing with bereavement. Set up in 1962 by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, it also organises preparation courses for Catholic couples who are about to get married. It has 58 centres all over the island of Ireland, involving 800 people, mainly women.

Are they busy? In 2013, the last year for which figures are available, Accord provided 50,959 counselling hours to 9,867 clients. It also provided 727 marriage-preparation courses for 7,631 couples and dealt with 32,039 children in its school programme.

So what’s the problem? Tusla, the State’s child and family agency, has cut funding for Accord’s marriage-preparation courses by €378,000, down to €1.6 million for this year. But demand for Accord’s marriage-preparation courses continues to increase. More than 15,500 men and women participated in 2014.

Cuts? What’s new? The timing is more controversial than the cuts. Accord was informed just last week, on May 7th, two weeks before the referendum on same-sex marriage, which the Catholic Church opposes.

So is the Government punishing the Church for its opposition to the referendum? That’s how it looked to some bishops, particularly Kevin Doran, bishop of Elphin. He recalled that “the then minister for health” – James Reilly – “threatened to remove funding from Catholic hospitals if they didn’t conform to the law on abortion. It is now the same Minister who is responsible for Tusla.” Bishop Doran also wondered whether the cuts were “part of a wider policy” by the Government to withdraw financial support from Catholic Church agencies.

Is it? There is no evidence to back that up. Similar agencies aligned to other churches have also had State funding cuts. So has the women’s refuge Cuan Álainn, in Tallaght – the constituency of the former Labour minister Pat Rabbitte – which may have to close. Rabbitte, a Yes supporter in the referendum, in the Dáil this week described the refuge as a safe harbour since 2012 for 64 women and 84 children. Fergus Finlay, head of the children’s agency Barnardos – and another Yes supporter – pointed out that Tusla has also cut its funding this year.

But is the timing of the cuts to Accord foolish? It suggests that no politician was involved in the decision to cut the funding. Tusla is an independent agency. James Reilly signed off on Tusla’s overall budget on April 17th; the board then approved it on April 24th. Tusla’s chief executive, Gordon Jeyes, said the decision to cut funding was made by the agency’s executive and put to the board with no involvement by the Government.

Do you want to hear the best quip I’ve heard in the referendum campaign? Do I have a choice?

In Ballaghaderreen last weekend a man was overheard saying, “Same-sex marriage? Sure that’s what I’ve had for the last 28 years.” His wife was not present If she had been, they might have needed help from Accord themselves. Cuts or no cuts.

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