I thank the Ceann Comhairle for finally allowing me to raise this important issue in the House.
The Rehabilitation and Support Programme, RASP, is an outstanding community-based anti-drugs programme based in north Coolock, Dublin 17. Sphere 17 is a local youth service catering for young people aged 10 to 21 who also live in Dublin 17. Even though both RASP and Sphere 17 provide absolutely critical services for my constituents in the Dublin 17 and related areas, incredibly, they both are under serious threat. RASP has been told its funding will be cut by 34% this year and they face the prospect of being axed completely in 2011.
RASP is led by chairperson Mr. Kevin Behan and CEO Mr. Pat Hanna, and was originally sponsored by the Moatview/Fairfield Development Association in Priorswood, Dublin 17. In 2000, it was mainstreamed and its yearly funding allocation is just under €200,000, but now Mr. Behan and Mr. Hanna have been told by the Department of Education and Science that their budget for 2010 has been reduced, as I stated, by approximately 34% to just €134,000.
RASP operates a successful multi-disciplinary approach to assist citizens who have suffered from addiction. The programme helps approximately 20 clients at a time and its administration is facilitated by a number of posts under the community employment programme. The project operates from a former coalyard business on the old Belcamp Lane and has gradually moved as a service from a vocational to a therapeutic model. I have visited the premises on many occasions over the years and witnessed at first hand the terrific work of Mr. Behan, Mr. Hanna and their staff. Among the most impressive initiatives taken by RASP is a wonderful horticultural training course which is of great benefit to clients. The RASP board had been expecting a 10% cut and was devastated to find the cut is as large as 34%.
Sphere 17 — Regional Youth Service is based in the landmark Darndale Belcamp Village Centre, Dublin 17 and has three different youth work teams covering the parishes of Bonnybrook, Darndale and Priorswood.
The range of high quality services Sphere 17 provides for local young people in Dublin 17 is extraordinary and includes educational, health, art, drug outreach and counselling programmes as well as support for the local Traveller community. For many young people in Dublin 17, Sphere 17 provides access to health, art or educational services to which they have no access anywhere else. It also provides a healthy, safe and educational outlet for young people who may otherwise find themselves under pressure to get involved in anti-social or even criminal activity. It also facilitates the Woodale youth justice project which is part of the national Garda youth diversion projects. That particular Garda youth diversion project has been saluted as a best practice model by the Irish youth justice service.
Last year, Sphere 17 worked in total with more than 1,500 local young people, an increase of 400 on the previous year. It received a range of funding from the City of Dublin Youth Services Board, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Pobal, St. Stephen's Green Trust, which is related to the Darndale parish area, and RAPID.
Axing RASP and the Sphere 17 anti-drugs programmes and initiatives to combat anti-social and criminal behaviour will leave very vulnerable citizens at the mercy of drug dealers and may potentially result in the relapsing of many clients with a history of addiction. It is appalling that citizens who are trying to turn their lives around and get themselves off drugs will now have nowhere to turn for help and support in their local communities. It also makes no wider social or economic sense to slash vital youth services. For example, it has been estimated that every €1 spent on anti-drug programmes saves the State €3 in terms of health and justice costs.
A few weeks ago at the Committee of Public Accounts of which I am a member, I was astonished to be told by Ms Kathleen Stack of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which has responsibility for the national drugs strategy, that the Department of Education and Science had cut these budgets without reference to her Department, which is absolutely mind-boggling. What does this say about our national drugs strategy that one Department can axe a critical programme which will have a devastating effect on the fight against drug abuse in the Dublin 17 and surrounding communities? It totally undermines the new national drugs strategy 2009 to 2017.
The plans to cut funding to Sphere 17 and RASP is also another savage attack on a community that is already under very severe pressure. Many local people are reeling from the job losses — the Minister of State might have heard me talk about Cadbury, our local factory, earlier today — cutbacks to services and wages and the general economic disaster we are currently experiencing under this Government.
I urge the Minister of State to go back to his colleagues to try to secure necessary funding for RASP and Sphere 17 and not put these brilliant projects, which represent and look after young people so well, under this ferocious threat.