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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 May 2003

Vol. 567 No. 1

Private Members' Business. - Disadvantaged Communities: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

– deploring the continuing assault on disadvantaged communities represented by the economic policy of the Government, which has starved communities of essential resources and led to increased poverty and deprivation and a widening of the gap between rich and poor in both rural and urban Ireland;

– believing that many of these communities continue to suffer as a result of inadequate policing, unequal educational opportunities, and unemployment levels well above the national average;

– commending the efforts of many individuals and voluntary organisations to improve the opportunities and living conditions of their communities;

– condemns in particular:

– the decision of the Government to cut a further 5,000 community employment places by the end of this year;

– the total failure of the Government to fast-track the €1.9 billion funding for these communities promised when the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, personally launched the RAPID programme in February 2001;

– the failure to provide the promised second round of funding under the young people's facilities and services fund;

– the failure to provide the Education Welfare Board with adequate resources to ensure that it can function fully and the failure to implement the promised action plan on school attendance and early school leaving for each area covered by the RAPID programme;

– the cuts imposed in the budgets of the area partnerships; and

– the reduction in funding for community development programmes;

– calls on the Government to:

– restore community employment places to the numbers operational at the beginning of 2002;

– honour the commitment made to fast-track the promised funding over the RAPID programme;

– ensure that adequate resources and strategies are put in place for the proper policing of disadvantaged communities; and

– allocate sufficient resources to ensure that the health, educational and social services available to people living in disadvantaged communities are of the highest standard.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Howlin, Sean Ryan and Shortall.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The broken pre-election promises of the Government continue to be exposed but the cynical betrayal of disadvantaged communities through the Government's failure to provide promised funding under the RAPID programme would be extraordinarily difficult to surpass. RAPID stands for revitalising areas by planning, investment and development. There has been disjointed planning together with very little investment and development since the programme was first announced by the Taoiseach in February 2001.

On 16 April last, I asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, for the progress made to date in each of the RAPID areas. In reply he stated that his Department is to co-ordinate the implementation of the RAPID programme assisted by Area Development Management Limited. He went on to inform me that under strands 1 and 2 of the RAPID programme an area implementation team was established in each of the 45 areas to develop a plan for the areas. He confirmed that plans for both strands had been completed and proposals forwarded to the relevant Departments for consideration. He then went on to state that it is a matter for each of the other Departments to report on the implementation of the programme that falls within the remit of their Department.

I tabled parliamentary questions to other relevant Ministers, and I will return to that in a moment, but in regard to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, it has provided €2.2 million to area implementation teams. Six community development projects in RAPID areas were announced this year, each receiving a renewable contract for funding of €60,000. Core funding of €152,000 was provided to a community development programme, CDP, building project and towards equipping.

It is roundly to be condemned as a measure of the Government's real commitment to the RAPID programme that since inception only €2.2 million has been spent directly on driving the programme by the Department which is charged with the co-ordination of its implementation. Indeed in this year's Estimates, the Department's Vote for local development and social inclusion measures was reduced from €47.6 million to €44.9 million, a decrease of 6%.

In regard to the amount of money spent by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in each of the RAPID areas since the inception of RAPID, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, informed me that his Department's contribution to the RAPID programme has been delivered mainly through the prioritisation of existing FÁS schemes. Support provided by FÁS has been through FÁS community services where the community employment scheme is the major element – where RAPID areas continue to be prioritised – FÁS employment services, the local employment services and FÁS training schemes.

The estimated value of FÁS community services activities associated with each relevant RAPID area which is funded from FÁS existing resources is as follows: Dublin, €13.8 million; Cork, €6.96 million; and Limerick, €2.65 million, giving a total of €23.41 million. The fact that no money has apparently been provided by FÁS in Waterford, Bray, Drogheda, Dundalk or any of the smaller or larger towns is further evidence of a lack of commitment to the RAPID programme.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has approved funding of €3.8 million for ten projects under the equal opportunities child care programme for child care proposals and a probation and welfare proposal to a total of €3.8 million. The Department of Health and Children does not have a figure for money spent in RAPID areas since the inception of the scheme but it is arranging to provide the figures to me from each of the health boards and health authority. It is extraordinary that the Department of Health and Children could not provide a figure.

Similarly, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources stated that it was not possible within the time available to provide a full breakdown of expenditure by his Department in RAPID areas since the inception of the programme, however he was arranging for the information to be forwarded to me as soon as possible. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, also stated that while to date no RAPID projects had been funded under programmes administered by his Department or his agencies, a significant amount of investment had taken place and-or is planned under such programmes in RAPID designated areas.

I was informed by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism that the proposals for the development of sports facilities contained in the RAPID area implementation plans were not submitted to his Department prior to the closing date for the 2002 sports capital programme.

Of projects listed in RAPID area implementation plans submitted subsequently for consideration, 40 would have been eligible for funding under the sports capital programme. Of these, 23 had not applied for funding under the programme and were advised to prepare applications for funding under the 2003 programme and 17 had actually applied independently to the programme of which 12 have been allocated funding totalling €4.2 million. It is extraordinary that in relation to projects listed in RAPID area implementation plans, their promoters were not advised of the closing date for the 2002 sports capital programme and advised to make sure to get their applications in before that closing date.

Under the local authorities swimming pool programme which is administered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism €6.6 million was provided to pools located in RAPID areas since the inception of the programme.

The Minister for Transport informed me that Bus Éireann introduced a new route in Cork city, southern orbital bus service, on a pilot basis. The Department has provided funding of €288,000 towards the project and is evaluating the project with a view to providing further funding in 2003.

The Department of the Environment and Local Government funded projects to the tune of €64.3 million, however there is a Dublin inner city project for which €123,000 million at 1999 prices is being provided over the period 1999 to 2003. The Department did not give a figure of what was being spent over the period of RAPID – obviously, this was not a project that evolved through the RAPID programme.

The Minister also states that his Department provides funding for local co-ordinators for each RAPID area, co-ordination of the programme across the Department of the Environment and Local Government and ongoing consultation with local authorities. However, no figure is put on this and some other services that local authorities provide.

The Department of Education and Science spent in excess of €1.9 million on proposals submitted under the RAPID programme. Some €800,000 has been allocated to community groups in RAPID areas. The Minister stated that people in RAPID areas would benefit from other initiatives from the Department.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs has had 18 requests from eleven RAPID areas. Payments totalling €205,406 have been either allocated or approved to support these initiatives. The Department has also funded and otherwise supported initiatives within RAPID areas which were not specifically included in RAPID plans. For instance, in 2002 €1.6 million was spent on family resource centres in RAPID areas and approximately 53 other initiatives.

It is now two years and three months since RAPID programme strand 1 was launched and it is one year and three months since RAPID programme strand 2 was launched. Someone recently described CLÁR to me as "money and no talk" and RAPID as "talk and no money". It should be noted that the funding for CLÁR was reduced in this year's Book of Estimates from €12.7 million to €9.5 million, a reduction of 25%.

In regard to RAPID, the question must now be asked, where is the front-loading and where is the €12.9 billion? The Government always knew that the RAPID programme would not yield the sort of money its dishonest predictions promised. Nonetheless, it is an important programme for those who missed out on the fruits of strong economic growth.

It is clear that large capital projects are being catered for and the level of service integration is poor under RAPID. It seems likely, as has been alleged in some quarters, that projects already under way in RAPID areas will now be re-labelled as RAPID projects. The Labour Party is calling on the Government to honour the commitment made to fast-track the promised funding over the RAPID programme. The only way to achieve this is to give the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the wherewithal to drive the programme. For this to succeed, the Department will need significant funding.

The cutbacks affecting the 38 area partnerships and community groups with projects funded by area partnerships have been devastating this year. The Department's Vote for local development and social inclusion measures was reduced from €47.6 million in 2002 to €44.6 million in 2003, representing a decrease of 6%. However, what was even more upsetting to the area partnership companies and the community groups was that carry-over commitments and unspent money from 2002 to 2003 was disallowed. The reason for this, advanced by the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, was that prior to 2002, under the previous national plan, this scheme was EU-funded on a multiannual funding basis. He further stated that as this scheme is now Exchequer-funded, the Department has to operate on an annual cash basis and not on an annual accruals basis, as was the case previously.

It has been reported that because of this new measure concerning the annual versus multiannual budgets, and the reduction in the Department's Vote, budget cuts of between 25% and 40% have affected some area partnerships.

An estimated €200 million is to become available from dormant bank accounts, to be used for social and community projects. The shortfall in regard to the CDPs can be made good from the dormant accounts fund. I strongly urge the Minister to do this. The Minister's Department could effectively kick-start and drive the programme by using this fund.

We are told that some people have yet to benefit significantly from improved living standards in the State in recent years. We were told that the national development plan had up to €15 billion earmarked for social inclusion measures, to be spent on development measures over the next five years, and that the RAPID programme would target the 25 most concentrated areas of disadvantage and front-load a significant share of this money to them over the next five years. A further 20 areas were added to this list later and it was promised that €1.9 billion would be fast-tracked to these areas.

During the general election campaign, Fianna Fáil Deputies in particular used the promise of the RAPID programme to hoover up votes in areas that were disadvantaged and desperate for a lift. Of all the broken promises, this must be the most cynical. Derisory amounts of money have been provided under the RAPID programme. There were great expectations and hopes but they have been dashed. Worse still, the cynicism of the Government has once again led to the profession of politics being treated with revulsion.

Nominally, the Minister is to co-ordinate the implementation of the programme. In fact, he can do little about it because Departments will do what they like and the money being sought has to come from their budgets. There is nobody in charge or nobody to say that one has to spend the money and that a project has to go ahead. This is no accident. Cleverly, the Government had this system in place before the last general election. There has been a cynical exercise of using people and raising expectations but, for all that, we are at the stage where this project has never been more important. The Minister needs to get it across to his colleagues, and the Taoiseach in particular, that this project must be treated seriously and got under way because the situation regarding social inclusion is getting worse.

This is a comprehensive Labour Party motion. It has many components but one objective, which is simply to prove that Deputy Ned O'Keeffe is correct in saying that we have the most right-wing Government this State has ever had. Over the past ten years or so we have become a sophisticated society, not only a wealthier society but a discerning society that has put in place a structure of supports that tries to tackle issues such as disadvantage and recognise that there are vulnerable communities and individuals in the State who will not, of themselves, be able to share in the fullness of the Celtic tiger or boom economy. The old axiom that a rising tide raises all boats is not necessarily true and the State has a moral imperative to assist those who are most vulnerable to ensure that basic standards are achieved.

In a time of plenty one would have thought that an opportunity presented itself to any Government with a social conscience to try to create a more equal society. One would have thought that the party founded by de Valera would at least hold on to some vestigial part of his original philosophy, namely, to bring about an inclusive Ireland of equals. If the yardstick used to determine what is right wing is the deliberate and systematic transfer of resources from the weakest to the wealthiest, then Deputy Ned O'Keeffe's thesis is proven beyond doubt.

The Combat Poverty Agency has analysed the first five budgets of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. The agency is not a partisan group or a political think-tank. It is an independent group which found that the resources transferred to the top 30% of income earners over those five years was six times the total transferred to the bottom 30% of income earners. The Government has attempted to justify this reverse Robin Hood tactic by claiming that only 11% of the resources devoted to tax reductions went to the top rate. However, those on the top rate benefited from all the other cuts.

The Combat Poverty Agency tells the true story. Its analysis was of income tax. What about capital acquisitions tax or capital gains tax, which are both at 20%? If one goes out and breaks rocks or works every hour God sends as a PAYE worker, one will pay more than double the tax paid by the land speculator who is waiting for a developer to purchase the land he or she has bought, which is no doubt properly rezoned to avail of a windfall tax at 20%. There are volumes of real evidence for this. This Administration made these decisions deliberately, systematically and inexorably to shift money from the most vulnerable into the hands of the wealthiest. This is not just a tax system, it is a culture and an economic attitude supported by this Government which has now metastasised into every aspect of Government policy. The wealthy are to be protected and those who are most vulnerable are at the end of the queue when resources are to be divided up. Consider the SSIAs, a daft scheme, which is going to cost half a billion euro a year, for five years. This money is wasted on people like me who have an SSIA and will get a 25% bonus for the money we invest in these accounts.

Does the Deputy have one?

I have just declared that I do. Was the Minister of State listening?

I did not know. Why did the Deputy get one?

It was money for old rope. Has the Minister of State got one?

Many people have them. There are 1.2 million of these accounts. Most people who can afford it have one. A nest egg of half a billion euro a year is being given to people who do not need it and for what purpose? That money could be invested in our social infrastructure, in hospitals, social housing, in tackling the very thing for which the Minister of State who is here to defend the Government should be responsible: tackling the scourge of homelessness on our streets and providing accommodation for the growing number of young people who are sleeping under bridges and in doorways in this city tonight. A dearth of moral understanding within this Government allows that to happen.

With regard to tax breaks for the better off, the most recently published Revenue study shows that 30% of the 400 highest earners in the State paid less than 30% of their income in tax last year. Some paid nothing at all through the tax breaks created by the Minister for Finance. Many are heroes in our society and choose to live offshore. Ireland has consistently shown itself to be among the most unequal countries in the developed world, alongside the US and the UK. Ireland historically had been one of the most unequal countries because of its comparative underdevelopment. The recent economic boom gave us the opportunity for once to challenge our place in the "most unequal" league and become, like the rest of developed northern Europe, a more equal, sustaining and supportive society. That opportunity was squandered in the past six years and it will be devastated if the policies of the past few months continue for the next four years.

I want to focus on one component of our motion, the systematic dismantling of community employment. This most innovative scheme, introduced by Deputy Quinn when he was Minister for labour, has provided a support infrastructure in communities up and down the land. It has supported sports organisations, the elderly, the disabled, arts groups, environmental protection, in short, a range of activities with workers and supports they never thought they would have. Good was done in every community in the State and there are hundreds of thousands who can attest to that. Equally important, it gave dignity to people who were unemployed, who thought themselves almost unemployable and who were left out of the employment market. Many thousands of those people returned to full-time employment through CE but the ideological view of this right wing Administration is that the State cannot be involved in supporting employment. It must phase out those schemes because in a time of increasing employment we cannot have a situation where there are not enough workers for organisations such as ISME to ensure they have a constant supply of employees. Therefore, State supports that are doing so much good in communities have to be dismantled.

This year one in five CE schemes, involving 5,000 individuals, is to be abolished. One puts down parliamentary questions to establish the logic behind this and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment replies that "FÁS prioritises CE projects according to the types of services provided and the levels of unemployment in the locality and so as to minimise any negative effects on groups and services which are most in need of programmes." That is simply untrue. We all have bulging post-bags, at least I do, of correspondence from groups all over the country, and scores within my county, which provide essential services that are being reduced to the point that they are not viable because they cannot justify their insurance costs and so on. This is more than reduction, it is strangulation of many of the schemes.

These groups include Wexford Community Services Council, which provides services such as meals on wheels and support for the disabled; Wexford Disability Development Limited; Our Lady's Island work and care group; Bridgetown Community Council and the people's resource centre. These are not esoteric, irrelevant, outfits producing no good. They are important engines of development and support within communities and it is a patent falsehood to suggest that damage is not being done. The Carmichael Centre is well known in this city. The Minister of State must have received correspondence from it about the essential workers it is losing. I have communicated with FÁS on this matter to no avail. It states that centre, which provides a range of services from an important national institution, is to lose two support workers next month, June 2003. Meanwhile, the Government maintains the fiction that all essential services are being maintained.

My Kilkenny colleague, Deputy Pattison, gave me a letter which he received from the Watergate group in Kilkenny. That scheme is coming to a close and the letter lists the people working in the arts area who are to lose their jobs next month. It begs us to do something about them. This is a cultural institution which has done great work for years and now that too, for the sake of the paltry difference between providing support and allowing people to be unemployed, is to be taken away and a centre of cultural excellence will be deprived of those cultural initiatives.

What is the Government about? There is no coherent, sensible reason to cut schemes. It does not make economic sense. It makes no social sense. In none of the PQ replies that I have received, or debates with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is there any logical reason given why even in a time of significant employment these schemes should not be maintained. If there are no workers for them well and good but when there are workers who have done a job that is needed to sustain life in our communities and will otherwise remain undone why can not that be maintained? The cost is well worthwhile and the negative social costs cannot be properly quantified.

I have made my case. We have a regressive Government that has abandoned any of the egalitarian principles once espoused by Fianna Fáil and has embraced in the trinity of individuals – I was going to say triumvirate but as one of them is female it would be inaccurate – which runs this Administration, namely the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance, an ideology that is foreign to us, that is anti-community and that is wreaking devastation in the heart of communities. On these issues that we have put before the House I beg the Government to relent.

This country has witnessed huge economic changes over the past ten years or so. We are now regarded as one of the world's richest countries. Major changes have taken place, particularly in the area of employment, resulting in greater prosperity, yet society is more unequal. Notwithstanding the apparent prosperity of many, there are major problems which need to be urgently addressed, such as the increasing levels of poverty, homelessness, social exclusion and discrimination.

Social exclusion is one of the major challenges facing Irish society as we move into this new century. If we as legislators do not acknowledge the extent of the problem and endeavour to address the causes, such as poor health care, crime, drug abuse and alienation, our generation of politicians will leave major problems for those who come after us. Poor people are excluded from decision-making. By and large the same poor and unemployed individuals are excluded from the main life of the community. When one is excluded, one's views are not sought, one feels disillusioned and, like many groups in society, one tends not to vote. Therefore some politicians ignore those groups, knowing that their seats will not be affected at subsequent elections. That vicious circle must be addressed.

Many groups working in disadvantaged areas throughout the country initially warmly endorsed such proposed Government initiatives as RAPID. The RAPID programme had great potential, especially if it linked into the concept of community development. Once again, community activists are feeling totally disillusioned as the RAPID schemes have not been developed and there seems to be no commitment on the part of the Government to making them work.

The number of community employment schemes has been systematically reduced. In my constituency, the numbers on it will be reduced by 40% this year, and that does not take into account the significant reductions made to the scheme last year. That scandalous decision has been taken by a Government that obviously has no regard for the services being provided locally through CE schemes. The range of services that will be affected by the cutbacks includes arts, senior citizens' programmes, youth work, child care and the operation of community centres and sports-related projects. All those schemes provide invaluable support to the community.

On an individual level, scheme participants have developed self-esteem, social skills and work-related skills. That is particularly important when one realises that nearly 60% of participants are over 40 and 25% over 50 years of age. RAPID has never been implemented, and the social employment scheme, which provided a little dignity, training and self-fulfilment to participants, has been decimated. At the same time this discredited Government continues to implement legislation that favours its friends and those with influence. These schemes are only one small element in empowering people to help themselves. By its actions and policies, the Government has delivered a very clear message, it is not prepared to provide the resources to set in train a process to minimise social exclusion.

The Irish public is, quite clearly, very quickly coming to realise that it was conned by the Government in last year's general election. That con-trick was probably nowhere more cynical than in those areas most affected by poverty. At a time when many voluntary and community organisations are making huge efforts to improve living conditions and opportunities for those living in the poorest areas, the Government has slashed budgets and reneged on its promises. The Government, particularly the Taoiseach, is very good at talking the talk of social inclusion. It constantly uses the language of concern and caring, but its actions to date prove that its words are absolutely meaningless as not a single extra cent has been invested in the various programmes and services set up over recent years and specifically designed to enable people to feel included.

In the few minutes available to me tonight I wish to talk about the effects of such cuts on young people in poor areas. The Minister of State will be very familiar with that since he shares a constituency with me. He is familiar with the severe effects of those cuts on people living in Ballymun and Finglas. First, there is the young people's facilities and services fund, an excellent idea that we all supported when it was set up in 1998 under the drugs task forces. The scheme was intended to provide much-needed and hitherto lacking facilities in the areas most affected by serious drug problems. Round one went ahead as promised and it has enabled many communities to provide facilities such as youth centres and sports halls and add to existing facilities to improve opportunities for people there. Round two has been promised for the past two years and was supposed to have been delivered about nine months ago.

As the Minister well knows, all the local drugs task forces throughout Dublin and in Cork have come up with plans, costed them, had them evaluated and submitted them to his Department, but nine months later, they have not got a single extra cent to implement those programmes. In many disadvantaged communities, the building programmes are now nearing completion. The Minister will know that a brand new facility is almost complete in Finglas and there is another in Ballymun. The same is true of all the drugs task force areas. The difficulty now is that in the absence of round two, there are no staff to operate the centres and it is not possible to run programmes. I have heard that in Cabra, in the Taoiseach's constituency, where there is a new facility, there is talk about contracting out the gym to raise funds to employ youth workers. Those facilities, which were intended for the target group of drug users and recovering drug users, will not be available to those people because the Government has failed to deliver on round two.

Just as in the case of the lack of commitment to the implementation of the drug services, the cuts in the CE scheme are having a devastating effect. As the Minister knows, CE is the main route back into training and possible employment for recovering drug users, but as places are cut, in spite of our being assured that drug services would be ring-fenced, that is not happening. In many areas, the quota for CE has been used up so that when recovering drug addicts come seeking a training place, they are not there and FÁS tells them that all the places have been used. That is having a huge effect and means that the whole emphasis that we have been trying to place in recent years on drug rehabilitation and getting people back into mainstream services is a joke. The places are not there because of the cuts.

Equally, the Government claims that drug services will not be affected by cuts in the budget allocated to drugs task forces.All of the new programmes and services set up in recent years and mainstreamed to other State agencies are now facing cuts – there is a 2% cut for health boards and a 7% cut for vocational education committees – which are beginning to impact on those services which were supposed to be protected.

The area of education services has been equally badly affected. The Education Welfare Board, arguably the most important service in terms of tackling educational disadvantage, is in a shambles. It is quite clear that there is little or no commitment, in spite of all the fine words, on the part of the Government.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"commending the commitment and work of many individuals and voluntary organisations to improve the opportunities and living conditions of their communities;

– commends the establishment of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with its special focus on areas of disadvantage, including such areas in urban, rural and island settings;

– endorses the co-ordination and focusing of responsibility for programmes such as RAPID, local development social inclusion programmes, community development and support programmes, Leader, drugs and Gaeltacht within a single Department;

– welcomes the provision this year of €282 million for social inclusion, rural development, Gaeltacht and islands measures in the Estimates of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs;

– notes the increased allocation of funds for the drugs initiative;

– notes the further expansion of the community development programme;

– notes progress towards implementing White Paper commitments in relation to networks and federations and training schemes;

– welcomes the considerable funding provided by the Government for particular programmes focusing on disadvantage, including RAPID, CLÁR and drugs programmes, as well as the young peoples facilities and services fund;

– and fully supports the Government in its commitment and actions in tackling disadvantage, as evidenced by its ongoing programmes, substantial funding, and key measures referred to which serve to strengthen and support communities."

I wish to share my time with Deputies Keaveney and O'Connor, by agreement.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am very happy to speak on this motion on behalf of the Government and have an opportunity to refute categorically many of the claims made by the Opposition this evening. I highlight the strong and ongoing commitment of the Government to tackling social exclusion through the many programmes and initiatives it operates in disadvantaged areas. The establishment of the new Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has provided a mechanism to focus responsibility on areas of disadvantage in urban, rural and island settings. In addressing the issues raised by the Opposition I will confine my remarks to the work being done by the Department in urban areas which fall under my area of responsibility as Minister of State.

Tackling drug misuse remains one of the Government's key priorities. My Department co-ordinates the implementation of the national drugs strategy which was launched in May 2001 and brings together all elements of drugs policy into a single framework with responsibilities clearly assigned. It contains 100 separate actions across the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research to be carried out by a range of Departments and agencies. Under each of the four pillars, a series of objectives and key performance indicators are set.

The implementation of the strategy is continuing. Progress is monitored on an ongoing basis through regular meetings of the interdepartmental group on drugs, which I chair, as well as through six monthly progress reports to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion. The work being done by the local drugs task forces is another vital element in the ongoing fight against drugs. As many Members will be aware, there are 14 local drugs task forces in Dublin, Cork and Bray. The task forces were established in 1997 and include representatives of statutory, community and voluntary sectors as well as local public representatives, including many Deputies who will be aware of the ongoing valuable work that task forces do, as I was during my time on the Ballymun drugs task force with Deputy Shortall. Their purpose is, through partnership, to address the service gaps in the area and co-ordinate existing services. They have had an enormous impact in recent years. They do this by means of prepar ing a local action plan which includes a range of measures in relation to treatment, rehabilitation, education, prevention and curbing local supply.

The local drugs task forces have been a very effective way of delivering services and engaging local communities. They are an excellent example of how Departments, State agencies, front-line workers, the community and politicians can work together in partnership. I commend the commitment and hard work of the many individuals and agencies involved in this process. Most task forces are implementing their second round action plans. To date, the two plans have funded approximately 500 local projects. In monetary terms, since 1997, over €130 million has been either spent or allocated to projects in the local drugs task force areas through the two local action plans –€65 million – the premises initiative for drugs projects –€11.5 million – and the young people's facilities and services fund –€54 million.

In 2003 the allocation for the drugs subhead has increased by approximately 16% over 2002. This subhead funds the work of the local drugs task forces, the premises initiative for drugs projects and the national advisory committee on drugs. This shows very clearly that the drugs issue remains a priority for the Government and rather than starving the drugs strategy of funding, it has, in fact, increased the level of funding available in 2003.

Turning now to the young people's facilities and services fund, Members will be aware that it was established in 1998 as part of the Government's overall strategy to tackle drug misuse. It aims to assist in the development of youth facilities, including sports and recreational facilities, and services in disadvantaged areas where there is a significant drug problem or has the potential to develop. Its overall objective is to attract "at risk" young people in disadvantaged areas into these facilities and activities and divert them away from the dangers of substance abuse. The target group for the fund are ten to 21 year olds who are marginalised through a combination of risk factors relating to family background, environmental circumstances, educational disadvantage, involvement in crime and-or drugs, etc.

While the main focus of the fund has been on the local drugs task force areas, funding has also been allocated to a number of urban areas where there is a serious drug problem or has the potential to develop. The target areas selected were Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Carlow. A separate allocation was also made to seven voluntary organisations to deliver drug prevention and education programmes, including peer education programmes, on a national basis.

Since 1998 an amount of €68.2 million has been allocated under the fund, the bulk of which –€54 million – has been allocated to local drugs task force areas. The overall amount allocated also includes funding of €9.1 million for the Springboard initiative managed by the Department of Health and Children.

In broad terms, approximately 350 facility and services projects are being supported under the fund. These initiatives fall into seven broad areas as follows: the building, renovating or fitting out of community centres, youth facilities and sports clubs so as to provide suitable accommodation for programmes and services geared for the most "at risk" young people in an area, as access for the target group is an essential condition of funding for capital projects; a number of purpose-built youth centres are being funded which will provide a focal point for youth activities in an area, particularly in areas such as Tallaght, Ballymun, Clondalkin, Blanchardstown in Dublin, and in Cork, where there has been a dearth of dedicated youth facilities-—

With no staff. Where is round two?

The Deputy should wait until they are built. The remaining areas are as follows: over 85 youth and outreach workers have been appointed to work on the ground with the target group offering developmental activities and educational programmes for young people who have traditionally found themselves outside the scope of mainstream youth work due to family background, involvement with crime or drugs or through lack of education; ten sports workers have been employed to encourage greater involvement of the target group in sports and recreational activities, and I am aware of the good work being done in my own constituency by some of these workers, and I would like there to be more of them; a wide variety of community-based prevention/education programmes, including early school leaving programmes; sports and recreational activities; family support programmes; art, drama and music programmes; counselling and transport services are being supported; a number of targeted interventions for particular groups such as youth work; and a number of national drugs education and training officers.

As Deputies will see, therefore, a large and varied number of programmes and activities are being funded. The fund is regarded as an important element of the overall national drugs strategy, particularly the prevention pillar, and has been positively received in local drugs task force areas since it commenced five years ago. These areas, as many Deputies will know from personal experience, had been marked by a serious shortage of sports, youth and community facilities and services. Many of the clubs and community groups in those areas had traditionally been unable to access funding from other mainstream schemes to the same extent as other more affluent areas. What the fund is about, therefore, is trying to strengthen and support those communities in their efforts to prevent young people drifting into drug misuse, and the Government remains committed to the fund and its overall objectives.

In terms of the current position regarding the fund, the national assessment committee, which is chaired by my Department, is currently examining the services projects funded under round 1 of the fund. The intention would be that where they are found to be effective they will be mainstreamed, thereby enabling their ongoing provision by statutory agencies.

Qualification for continued funding will be dependent on the successful evaluation of each project by the services steering group, which has been set up to examine the projects, and sufficient funding being in place. I understand the work of the steering group has been completed and recommendations will be going to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion at its June meeting. Development groups will be informed of the outcome as soon as possible thereafter.

The position regarding the funding of additional proposals is being considered by the assessment committee which is having ongoing discussions with the relevant Departments and agencies involved.

Recently, the Cabinet committee also considered a number of issues regarding the operation of the fund, including its future funding. The matter will be kept under review and the Cabinet committee will be returning to the issue again at its next meeting.

Will there be a round 2 or not?

The Deputy should watch this space.

People have been waiting.

Allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption.

I will now outline the position regarding funding for community development programmes. Despite the changed economic circumstances in which we are now operating, there has been no reduction in the funding allocated to community development support programmes. This is in recognition of the importance of these programmes as a mechanism for achieving social inclusion. Some €25.3 million was spent on community development support programmes last year and a similar allocation has been made for this year.

Even without an overall increase in budget, I have been able to fund an additional 15 projects from this budget in the current year. I am also pleased that established projects have not experienced any reductions in their core budgets this year. The funding for the 15 new projects has been made available through savings on the administration costs of the programme and I am hopeful that further savings in administration costs will enable me to announce funding for further projects next year.

In keeping with the overall aims of the programme, priority in funding these new projects has been given to disadvantaged communities. The 15 projects which will commence from September are in Achill, Bluebell, Dolphin House flats complex, east Clare, Inchicore, Longford, Merchants Quay/Ushers Quay, Newbridge, Erris, County Mayo, north-west Roscommon, south-east Galway, south-west Cavan, Thurles, Tipperary Travellers and west Limerick.

I am sure Deputies of all parties will recognise the importance of this expansion in the programme. Each project will receive a renewable one-year contract for funding totalling €60,000. The Department is in discussion with these projects to organise their start-up and to explore possibilities regarding appropriate linkages and supports with other local agencies.

The community development programme gives important recognition to the role of community development in tackling poverty and disadvantage. The programme has developed a network of community development resource centres and projects in communities affected by high unemployment, poverty and disadvantage. The programme also provides project funding to particular disadvantaged communities, such as Travellers, lone parents, the homeless, the unemployed, people with disabilities or elderly people who live in isolated circumstances.

The programme provides core funding to cover the cost of up to two full-time staff and funding towards overhead and administration costs associated with running a resource centre. The number of projects in the community development programme has grown from nine in 1990 to 190 today. Among the important activities funded are the provision of practical assistance to community groups and some other items outlined in my script which I will pass over because they are probably well known.

As I made clear in March 2003 when I announced funding for 15 new projects this year, the Government remains firmly committed to supporting the important work in disadvantaged communities which the community development programme funds. This commitment will be reflected by a further expected increase in the number of projects in 2004.

As I have indicated to the Dáil on a number of occasions, my Department is currently reviewing the operation of the various programmes which come under my remit with a view to streamlining funding and eliminating overlap and duplication between programmes. A widespread consultation process is currently nearing completion and my Department will host a conference in June to enable the various bodies and agencies articulate their views.

In order to enable this process to take place, all CDP projects have been placed on co-terminus one-year contracts. Following the review process, decisions will be made regarding the appropriate term of funding for projects into the future. I appreciate that the switch to one-year funding has led to concerns among projects about the long-term future, but they can be assured that no project which is working well and making a difference to its community has anything to fear from this process. Rather, by achieving greater coherence between different programmes and reducing the bureaucracy and administrative burden for projects, it is my hope that a greater proportion of the overall budget will be directed at meeting the needs of disadvantaged communities. The fact that I have been able to fund 15 additional projects in the current year without recourse to additional funding, illustrates the way forward in this respect.

I would also like to touch briefly on the progress being made in implementing the White Paper, Supporting Voluntary Activity, which was published in September 2000. The White Paper marked a commitment to the Government's long-term strategy of developing and supporting the community and voluntary sector. It sets out the rationale for developing the relationship between the State and the sector and the principles which should underpin this relationship.

The White Paper made provision for two main funding schemes to provide ongoing development and support to the community and voluntary sector. Under the funding scheme for federations, networks and umbrella organisations, funding totalling €1.827 million will be allocated to projects by the end of July this year. Due to the multiannual nature of the scheme, it is being administered on the basis of similar levels of funding being available in years two and three. This scheme was initially advertised in 2001 but a number of issues arose in the course of processing the applications which it was considered could give rise to legal challenge. In order to ensure that eventual funding decisions would command full public confidence, it was considered necessary to re-advertise the scheme and to seek fresh applications. It was decided also that consultants should be recruited to complete the assessment in the interests of ensuring the independence and impartiality of the process.

The scheme was re-advertised in March 2003 with revised guidelines and application forms. The closing date for applications was 11 April—

Another delaying tactic.

I clearly explained the legal difficulties. A total of 132 applications were received and acknowledged by the Department. We want to spend the money on the communities and not give more of it to barristers. I look forward to announcing the successful applicants in July.

Under the scheme for training and supports in the community and voluntary sector, funding totalling €600,000 will also be announced in July. The scheme is being administered on the basis of at least similar levels of funding being available in years two and three. The scheme was adver tised in March 2002 with a closing date of 7 May 2002. There was a strong response with 540 applications received. It was decided that in order to expedite matters and in the interests of transparency of assessment, independent consultants would be recruited for the task. The decision to recruit consultants follows the decision to do likewise on its sister scheme.

In addition to the schemes established through the White Paper, my Department will also provide grants for locally based community and voluntary organisations to fund equipment, refurbishment and education and training projects. A budget of €2.5 million has been set aside this year for the scheme, details of which will be advertised in the national newspapers in the next few weeks.

The Government's ongoing commitment to core funding and training support in the community and voluntary sector is illustrated by the funding of these schemes. As the White Paper states:

Voluntary activity forms the very core of all vibrant and inclusive societies. This White Paper signals a very clear intention of the Government to invest in enabling the voluntary sector to serve individuals, communities and the country as a whole.

That is nonsense, there are delays of 12 months in making decisions on applications.

The Government remains committed to tackling social exclusion in its many forms. The considerable resources, numerous initiatives and ongoing prioritisation of this issue by Government bears testament to this. All the schemes mentioned are being processed. While I accept there may be delays—

There are delays.

—all the schemes will move forward in the coming weeks.

That is still overdue. People do not know where they stand.

As chairperson of the Oireachtas committee whose portfolio includes rural and Gaeltacht affairs, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to the motion. The committee has examined the challenges facing rural Ireland, including the plans by telephone companies to avoid their obligation to install telephone services in all rural houses and the proposal to deny the rights of rural people to have their post delivered to their doors. I am glad the committee played a role in highlighting these issues. We brought before us ComReg and some of these issues are now being addressed.

Rural Ireland is important. Listening to some of the contributions, the phrase, "Romantic Ireland is dead and gone, It is with O'Leary in the grave," went through my head. The message appeared to be that rural Ireland is dead and gone, but that is far from the case. Under this Administration a considerable amount of good work is being done and there are many positive developments.

The Deputy should tell us what is happening in County Donegal.

She should speak to the motion.

I heard Deputy Seán Ryan complain about reductions in community employment schemes in various sports facilities and community centres, which brings to mind the saying, "Do as I say and not as I do." From where did all the community centres and sports facilities come? When I entered the House in 1996, I listened to announcements of sports grants of €2,000, €5,000 and, in exceptional cases, €10,000. I can now look around my rural area—

The Deputy is blinkered.

I am far from blinkered. I can see the results of Government policy.

Obviously, the Deputy has no clout.

The young people in my area are able to play on new GAA and soccer pitches and in new community centres. These are real facilities.

Well done, Minister, Deputy McDaid.

I commend the commitment and work of many of the individuals and voluntary organisations working throughout the country and those in my local area such as Action Inishowen, the Leader group, the Inishowen Partnership, the Inishowen disability group, the Inishowen Women's Network—

These kinds of schemes have all been cut back.

They have not been cut back. The Inishowen Women's Network recently completed a project in which it collated information from women around the area. It is now working to find out what are the outstanding issues, of which there are some, which need to be addressed. Last Friday the Inishowen Disability Network celebrated getting a new wheelchair-friendly bus which has greatly enhanced access and the ability of its members to get around the peninsula.

I also welcome the role of the various tidy towns organisations and voluntary groups, such as the many branches of Care for the Aged, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other development associations working in partnership with State agencies to develop facilities on the ground. Working at grassroots level, these groups work out the problems they face, rather than have solutions imposed from above. The Inishowen Women's Network did precisely this last week when it presented the information it gathered on the ground with the support of various Departments. This work will yield real success on the ground, which is as it should be.

Last week, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, launched the Family Support Agency and the support for families directory. These initiatives will affect rural communities by providing support for voluntary organisations, real information and support for people who need it.

Funding is being reduced.

Of all the measures on which I commend the Minister, the most important perhaps is the CLÁR programme which he initiated. The Opposition talks a great deal about what it would do if it were in government and what the Fianna Fáil Party is not doing. The CLÁR programme has been put in place and is so successful that every community I visit, which is not already involved in it, is clambering to get involved. What are the results? There are many pages here outlining the support it has provided, whether for bilingual signage, top-up schemes for sports capital grants, basic projects such as group water and sewerage schemes, village enhancement schemes, LIS programmes, county roads, community initiatives, enterprise units, electricity, health and telecommunications. Much more needs to be done and it is important we press ahead with infrastructure, expand the CLÁR programme, proceed with the decentralisation programme and ensure the national spatial strategy results in the creation of local business in rural areas. We must also ensure we continue to disperse facilities and resources. There is a lot done and more to do—

There is certainly a lot more to do.

—and still four years in which to do it.


It is difficult to deal with this matter in four minutes. I could recite the word Tallaght one thousand times to get the attention of the House.

I have been here for only a year and ask Members to give me a chance. I welcome the opportunity to briefly speak on the motion. I was sent to the House by the people of Tallaght, Firhouse, Greenhills and Templeogue to represent their interests. As far as this issue is concerned, I can speak with enormous authority about my life and experiences in Tallaght. I compliment the Minister and the Minister of State who have shown immense interest in and support for the work we are doing. The Minister has a good grasp of his brief.

Tallaght has had a difficult day. Apart from all the other matters with which I and my colleagues must cope on a daily basis, Tallaght has had a black day today with the loss of 120 jobs. This focuses my attention, particularly when I am discussing social inclusion. It is important that as a Fianna Fáil backbencher I remind the Government of our commitment to social inclusion. I hope all Members understand that at a time when boats need to rise, the smaller boats will always be in trouble.

Like other colleagues, I represent disadvantaged communities. I do not single them out in a negative manner as there are many positive things happening in the communities of Tallaght, Killinarden, Jobstown, Brookfield and the many other estates one often hears about. We need to be positive about these estates because the communities living in them were let down by all of us in society. They were moved into housing estates which were not properly—

Something needs to be done about them. The Deputy's party is in power now and should accept responsibility.

While Deputy Finian McGrath may not have been a councillor at the time, Dublin Corporation, as the city council was known at the time, has a lot to answer for with regard to what happened in Tallaght. I am not picking on you, Deputy McGrath.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

The Deputy should address his remarks through the Chair.

I beg your pardon, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Members opposite provoked me. It is important to acknowledge what has been done. Happily, Tallaght is a different place than it was 12 years ago. The Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, will visit the area tomorrow night and the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has been in the area at my invitation on a number of occasions and has seen the positive work that has been done and the need for infrastructure and facilities. I am glad that as a result of the joint efforts of many Members and others, the Tallaght west estates can look forward to good times. Many new developments are proceeding, including a new swimming pool in Jobstown and a new community centre in Brookfield. There are also many other issues on which we wish to press the Minister.

I remind the House of the considerable media attention focused in recent days on questions described by some media pundits as middle class issues. I have no problem with that description and will support those causes. All of us have disadvantaged communities in our constituencies. Those people are on the margins and they deserve our support. The Minister is doing a good job. Let those who did not give proper social welfare increases to the poor and who abolished fees for rich people tell us what they will do. I call on the Minister to keep up the good work.

All the people have a right to education.

Deputy O'Connor should realise that what was said before the election on 17 May last year and what happened afterwards are completely different.

It is not nonsense. VAT, duties on diesel and energy supplies and other indirect taxes were increased after the general election as a direct result of the mismanagement of the nation's finances during the previous two or three years.

The Deputy is listening to what he is saying.

It is the greatest public deception, on the part of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, in the history of the State.

If the Deputy keeps saying it, he will believe it.

The people believe it. The Minister of State is not in touch. That is what happens when people spend a few months, not to mention a few years, in Government.

Just because a person believes it does not mean it is the truth.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Order, please. Deputy Hogan, without interruption.

The truth will out.

The truth is out. We have had broken promises. The fact the Government felt obliged to rebut the claims made by Opposition Deputies, the media and the public is a clear indication it is hurting badly over its misconceptions.

We do that every year.

The Government does not do it every year. It reviews its Government programme; it does not rebut things.

I compliment the Labour Party for tabling this important motion which clearly outlines the areas of disadvantage where poor people and communities are trying to build themselves up through various schemes. In almost every respect, these schemes have been reduced. Great work was done through FÁS and community employ ment schemes to help communities, sports organisations, the elderly and the environment. These have been cut by 50% in the past two years. I suppose that is a lie as well. I am sure the Taoiseach has received representations from the Carmichael centre in his constituency which lost two supervisors in the past couple of weeks who cannot be replaced. The schemes which were valuable in building up many areas of the city centre will have to be abandoned because of the cutbacks initiated by the Government to pay for its extravagance in the past three years. It is correcting the nation's finances on the backs of the disadvantaged and at the expense of jobs.

Many community groups which I and other Deputies meet throughout the country know that the nation's purse strings must be tightened because of the extravagance of recent years in terms of increases of 20% to 25%. We are affecting people who should be supported. These people should be the last line of defence. Many programmes, such as the RAPID and Leader programmes, were announced in a fanfare of publicity before the election to get votes in vulnerable areas from vulnerable people. They were robbed of their intellect by the Government and cynically exploited for votes. However, the Government does not have any money now to honour the lavish promises made before the election by Fianna Fáil candidates who knocked on doors and made leaflet drops.

Deputy Keaveney referred to the great work being done in Donegal. Some 4,500 jobs have been lost in the past two and a half years in Donegal, but nothing has been done to replace them. It will take a lot to replace these jobs because, as a result of the huge indirect charges imposed on jobs and businesses by the Government, Ireland is not a competitive economy. I am surprised at the Progressive Democrats Party, which is supposed to be pro-enterprise. The Progressive Democrats are far from that, as can be seen from the actions of the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at the Cabinet table. They have agreed with all the indirect tax increases in order to pay for the insanity, according to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that prevailed before the last general election.

My Department has approved a major programme in Gweedore.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Order, please.

The Minister's Department has endured a 6% cut in funding. The Minister did not tell me about the 700 jobs that were lost at the Gweedore industrial estate, which I recently visited. The people must not have told the Minister about that.

A major task force has been set up.

Task force reports are building up in the Department, but, unfortunately, nothing has been done to implement them. Some 800 jobs are being lost every week. Businesses know that it is difficult to meet the cost of compliance, of employing people and of paying the indirect charges associated with setting up a business. There is such a bureaucratic system for small businesses that it is more attractive for people to go to eastern Europe than to build up a business in this country.

As regards insurance costs, the Government had three and a half years to carry out a report on insurance costs, which is the biggest issue facing businesses. However, it is one year since the report was published and we are now being told it will be another year before the meat of the proposals contained in it – I refer here to the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board – will be implemented. We want action, not words. The people are getting fed up with reports, commissions and surveys.

The people want action which does not damage employment or community groups. They want people to be able to aspire to equality of opportunity in the workplace and to get on a community employment training scheme. They do not want a policy implemented that will abolish the back-to-work allowance scheme which provides an opportunity for people to get back into employment. The Government has abolished that and is, therefore, making decisions which are damaging employment.

The school completion programme and the stay at school retention initiative, which are valuable, are being starved of funding. People involved in second level education are currently making decisions about the scheme because they will not have the money when it resumes in September or October. The school completion programme was excellent in terms of keeping disadvantaged pupils at school. The Government has cut back that scheme, which means there is another group of disadvantaged people in our society. The Government is responsible for these problems which it has created. It is now its job to resolve them.

The Minister of State's speech is full of aspiration. If one did not know the full facts, one might give it some credibility. He said that tackling drugs misuse is one of the Government's key priorities. He mentioned the drugs strategy. He also said that the 2003 allocation for the drugs subhead has increased by approximately 16% over 2002. Let us clearly examine the facts.

That is a fact.

The facts will show that the Cabinet committee on social inclusion allocated funds.

It cannot do that.

The Minister, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and Children sit on that committee. The allocated funds were not provided in the budget this year.

That is incorrect.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Order, please. Deputy O'Dowd, without interruption.

Figures from the Department show that the allocation agreed at the Cabinet committee on social inclusion was cut back. The Minister might not like these facts.

That is not the case.

Community funding to the local drugs task forces was cut by €7 million. I got those facts from the Minister's Department. We can have the same debate next Tuesday.

The Deputy does not understand the system.

We cannot get through to the Deputy.

It is a disgrace.

I did not expect the Minister to have the brass neck to deny the facts. Partnership communities throughout the country are up in arms about budgetary matters. They expected multiannual funding. Breakfast clubs, community groups, etc., spent money before Christmas in anticipation of that funding. However, they were not able to draw down the money in January because ADM Limited told them it was not available. What happened to the multiannual funding? Multiannual funding did not take place. The Minister met the group representing the partnerships recently and said he wanted to examine the issue of partnerships which, in the expectation of multiannual funding, spent extra money last year because no money is available for them now. I will table a parliamentary question to the Minister next week to find out what has happened to the money on a partnership by partnership basis.

The allocation for this year is for this year.

That is a sore point.

The Government has properly collected €19 million through the Criminal Assets Bureau from the proceeds of crime. That money is on deposit because the Proceeds of Crime Act stipulates that the Government must hold the money for seven years and when the money is released it must go to the Exchequer. I have a question for the caring Minister. Will he amend the law so that the proceeds of crime collected by the State from drug barons and other criminals will be disbursed in the disadvantaged communi ties for which funding has been cut back? The money should be invested in communities, such as Tallaght in Deputy O'Connor's constituency. It should not go to the Exchequer.

Will the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, sit back and do nothing?

Since we have provided €130 million, we need the CAB to collect more money.

The Minister of State has money but this issue is about caring for the people who are suffering at the hands of the drugs barons and the criminals who have deprived them of resources. Will the Ministers invest money in their communities?

We are investing.

The Government is not. The money is diverted into the Exchequer. I accept the Minister may not be aware—

We obtained an advance of €130 million.

—but the law must be amended to ensure that money is ring fenced so that it can be invested in the communities which have suffered most at the hands of the drug barons. The Minister can do that or wring his hands of the problem and continue waffling.

Deputies Hogan and O'Dowd referred to the schools building programme and the initiatives designed to prevent early school leaving. There is no doubt funding for them has been cut. The Minister for Education and Science and his Department decided that this body would have the fundamental responsibility for ensuring that children attend school, but it is not in operation. The National Educational Welfare Board was established last July with responsibility for school attendance of children aged six and over. The board is supposed to ensure they attend a recognised school or otherwise receive a certain minimum education. I accept this service was to be developed on a phased basis, which is fine, but the pace of development has been pathetic. A total of 300 educational welfare officers were supposed to have been appointed, yet only 23 are in place. That is not even 10% of the requirement.

It is unbelievable that responsibility can be taken from one group of workers and transferred to another without people being appointed to deal with the workload. The Garda had responsibility for school attendance until the establishment of the board last July. The service is in chaos and, while gardaí are not supposed to carry out this function, they are still doing so in communities even though they are not legally required to do so. That raises issues for the Garda in terms of its resources. Gardaí who undertook the task previously in small rural communities and in inner city areas recognise there is a vacuum and are trying with limited resources to address the problem. However, it is the responsibility of the National Educational Welfare Board to fulfil this function.

We used to have our own system in Dublin.

Under the Education (Welfare) Act, schools must also fulfil legal responsibilities. They are required to monitor attendance and report suspensions of more than six days, absences of more than 20 days a year and expulsions to educational welfare officers but there are few officers to whom they can report. There are only 13 officers to cover hundreds of schools. How are they supposed to get anything done? It is inexcusable that the board is operating in this manner.

The board had to write to schools last February to inform them that in many cases it could not follow up on reported cases of excessive absence. The board has admitted it is not in a position to carry out the function for which it had been appointed. Schools to which an educational welfare officer has not been appointed do not have a mechanism to address school attendance problems. What are the schools supposed to do? The blame must rest with the Minister for Education and Science for his failure to act on this issue. A total of 800 primary school children drop out of the education system every year while 19% of secondary school students do not complete the leaving certificate. How can such appalling statistics be addressed if the educational welfare board is not established properly? This is not acceptable and this issue is not being taken seriously.

The Government is paying lip service to students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme for Government promised to ensure mature students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds would be given assistance to reach third level, illiteracy would be challenged and early school leavers would receive a second chance through adult education courses, yet keeping pupils in the school system in the first place is not being addressed. Stage 2 cannot be undertaken unless stage 1 has been completed properly.

Before the Estimates were introduced last year, the Department cut expenditure for these programmes. Investment in initiatives designed to reduce the school drop-out rate was reduced by €6 million while programmes to help disadvantaged school leavers make it to third level were reduced by €5 million. The Department is paying lip service to them. Funding and facilities must be put in place if early school leaving is to be tackled but that is not happening.

Research demonstrates that the drop-out rate among those who attend third level through access initiatives is lower than those who attend through the usual channels. They are determined to complete third level because a great deal has been invested in them. Slashing investment in these people is particularly cruel because they are determined to stay in the system if they are given the support.

The money was not slashed. It was moved because it had not been used.

It was slashed, not moved. Investment in initiatives to reduce the school drop-out rate was reduced by €6 million. Money was promised but now it is gone.

It was surplus to requirements and was moved.

It is the Minister for Education and Science's responsibility to ensure these initiatives are up and running and he is not doing so.

There are also serious problems in terms of the career guidance that is available to students who remain in second level education. In 1983 there was one career guidance counsellor for every 250 students and few third level courses were on offer. The institutes of technology infrastructure had not been developed. However, there are now hundreds of courses available, including PLC and apprenticeship courses, and there are more third level institutions, yet there is only one career guidance counsellor for every 500 students. This makes no sense and this issue must be addressed if people from disadvantaged backgrounds are to have a chance of making it to third level. They need more assistance in selecting courses that are suited to them because they receive little currently.

The 24% reduction in funding for universities and the 33% reduction in funding for capital projects in institutes of technology are also having a seriously negative effect. The reduction in funding for institutes of technology is particularly harsh given that statistics show that people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to attend these institutions.

Did the Minister know it was as bad as that? It is shocking.

Many savings could be made in universities and those who know anything about them would accept that.

The Government is trying to shut down the education system.

Whatever savings can be made need to be made. I referred to capital. Contracts have been signed between third level institutions and individuals to carry out research that is vital to the future of the economy but these people have not been provided with the physical space in which to work or the equipment with which to work.

Debate adjourned.