Community Employment Schemes: Motion (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh on Tuesday, 7 February 2012:
That Dáil Éireann:
- calls on the Government to immediately reverse the cut of 66% to the community employment (CE) schemes' training and materials budget and to immediately reinstate the training and materials budget to 2011 levels;
- notes that
- the proposed Department of Social Protection review is creating confusion and frustration; and
- these budget cuts will affect some of the most vulnerable in our society and will force CE schemes to close;
- recognises the
- essential services provided by CE schemes to the public and their participants;
- important role CE schemes play in providing training to the long-term unemployed; and
- key role special CE schemes play in providing community-based drug rehabilitation;
- acknowledges the important role CE schemes have played in providing child care facilities and assisting people back into education;
- condemns the abolition of concurrent payments and the CE qualified child increase paid to lone parents on CE;
- further notes that these cuts make participation in CE unaffordable for most lone parents, thereby threatening the community child care infrastructure, and calls on the Government to reverse these cuts;
- further recognises the important role CE schemes have played in providing training and education to lone parents; and
- calls on the Government to engage fully with CE schemes and their representatives, with the view to extending the CE schemes by increasing the number of CE places available, including special CE schemes, and enhancing the training available to participants.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"— acknowledges that the plans set out by Government in Budget 2012 form an important step in returning Ireland's economy to a sound footing and regaining our economic sovereignty;
— commends the commitment, dedication and work of all those involved in the management and administration of community employment (CE) schemes;
— regrets that the ongoing reviews had not taken place previously;
— notes that in 2012, in excess of €315 million will be provided by the Government to support community employment and, that as a result, over 22,000 participants will secure valuable experience whilst supporting local community endeavours;
— confirms the continuing support of the Government for the cost effective maintenance of crucial local services provided by community employment;
— notes that there has been no reduction in the number of CE places available for 2012;
— recognises the key role CE special schemes play under the National Drugs Strategy, where places are ring-fenced for CE drug rehabilitation with the specific objective to "help recovering drug users develop their personal and employment skills and find a pathway back to work”;
— notes that the Government has commenced two reviews of community employment, both of which are to be completed by the end of March 2012, to ensure that:
— adequate funding is provided (taking account of all funding and revenue sources available to sponsors); and
— the schemes meet their labour market activation and progression targets whilst taking cognisance of the rationale and relevance of all scheme objectives;
— acknowledges that no CE scheme has been closed as a result of the reductions in training and materials grants since the announcement of the reduction, and further notes that the Government has committed that all schemes will be supported during the period of the ongoing financial review;
— recognises that there is a considerable variation across CE schemes in relation to the amount of training provided, materials required, overhead costs and the potential for sponsoring organisations to meet certain costs;
— notes that schemes will no longer receive a standard grant per participant but rather, will be provided with a specific level of support aimed at meeting their specific costs;
— further notes that the baseline amount of the grant remains at €500 per participant announced in the budget, but that there will be discretion to make up to €1,000 per participant available to schemes in respect of the training and materials grant this year, based on a clear demonstration of need by the CE schemes; and
— welcomes:
— the engagement by the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton T.D., with Department of Social Protection staff to ensure that schemes are supported during the period of the reviews;
— the commitment by the Minister for Social Protection to ensure that the role played by stakeholders in community employment is acknowledged in the ongoing reviews of community employment;
— the assurances given to community and voluntary organisations that no CE scheme will be forced to close as a result of the reductions in training and material grants, pending the completion of the financial review of each CE scheme by the end of March 2012; and
— the commitment of the Minister for Social Protection to ensuring that, following the completion of the financial and activation review, community employment will support both the labour market activation and progression of individual participants, in addition to the maintenance of local community services."
- (Minister for Social Protection).

This motion is broad ranging but its focus is community employment schemes. One would have to wonder how many of the schemes will survive in light of the measures announced in the budget.

The only value the Government sees in the scheme is progression to work. The last time I looked there were close to 450,000 people unemployed. That, of course, is the official figure. In the construction sector, for example, those who worked under C2 certificates and those who were formerly self-employed are not even counted because they are not entitled to sign on. The figure could be significantly above that talked about. Finding work will be difficult and making people redundant from community employment schemes, where they offer a valuable service to the community, is daft. The value to the community of community employment schemes needs to be evaluated.

It is not enough simply to count their cost and progression to work as the only benchmarks of their success. I have been on the board of the County Kildare Centres for the Unemployed for 15 years. Their services are needed and appreciated now more than ever and the demands on those services are very high. That service could have to close its doors because the materials and training grant makes the difference between keeping it open and closing it. I have also been on the board of a community sports centre, which has good progression rates. However, there are huge benefits to the community across the age spectrum from that centre where children and young people are involved in sport.

Most people who are involved in community employment schemes do not have an MA or a PhD. Can we please look at the value of the schemes rather than at the one dimensional rates of progression to work? They are much more than that.

I also support the Sinn Féin motion. These cuts are a very bad idea. The Ferns community employment scheme contacted me shortly after the cuts were announced. They were upset and scared that their scheme will not survive if the cuts are implemented.

Community employment schemes have much more to offer than they are being given credit for. Most of their participants are job seekers. They want training. They do not want to be idle or lying in bed in the morning.

The Government says its main priority is jobs. It is odd that the Government would cut an area like this if it is really concerned about jobs. These people are looking to improve their employability. Apart from improving their job prospects, to be involved in a CE scheme and in much needed work in a local area improves a person's sense of worth and well-being. This has an added social effect. The social aspect of community employment is not taken sufficiently into consideration. There is a huge social payback.

The contrary is also true. If we do not have schemes like this we will create more social problems. The cost to the State will be all the greater in the long term.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Sinn Féin motion. Much has been made of progression rates in community employment schemes, but they have developed into much more than progression rates and labour activation. While they are an important part of the schemes, the Minister's cuts will affect the labour activation measures and the social aspect of the community employment schemes.

My town of Killybegs in County Donegal is trying to develop tourism because of the decline in the fishing industry. The cuts in training grants and supports to community employment will impact on that. The local tourist office, where over 10,000 visitors sought information last year, is kept going by community employment. This is information that is not available anywhere else. There will be opportunities for participants to move on to tourism related jobs if the scheme is allowed to grow and develop. These cuts will place the scheme under threat.

The scheme in Killybegs also supports youth projects, child care and residents' associations. These are all vital social services that are not available anywhere else. The CE scheme is the only way communities can provide for them.

In Donegal, we also have the MS Ireland scheme, which provides an exercise programme for MS sufferers across the county. The cuts are forcing exercise assistants to fund their own travel. In a county like Donegal where they may have to travel 40 or 50 miles to assist someone who suffers from MS, the assistants will have to pay their travel expenses out of their own pockets if they are to keep the scheme going. That is a shame on the Government and on the Minister.

The Minister says she will not close any scheme, but the Minister for Education and Skills said he would not close any small schools. He will simply make them so unviable they will voluntarily have to give up. That is the problem with these cuts. I urge the Minister to repeal her decision and ensure the cuts do not happen.

I am glad to have the opportunity to support the Sinn Féin motion. It is a signal to the Government that any more cuts to CE schemes will have a huge impact on the communities where the schemes operate and on the schemes themselves. There should be an immediate reversal of the 66% cuts to the 2011 levels of the training and materials budget.

This is one of the cruellest and meanest of the many cruel and mean cuts we have seen. Two weeks before Christmas these schemes were told their materials and training grants would be cut by 66%. At the same time projects like Ballyfermot Star and the F2 centres in St. Michael's, Dolphin and Fatima were told they would have huge funding cuts and that they would lose key workers, leaving them without the support they needed. I hope the Minister, Deputy Burton, had a reasonable Christmas, because she left many of these people in a state of anxiety over the Christmas period anticipating what was coming down the track.

It is not good enough to talk about a review. The way the cuts have been implemented is disgraceful. The Minister should have done the review in the first instance, sitting down with the interested groups and talking about how the cuts would impact on their areas. However, these cuts should not happen at all.

Far from being cut, schemes in these areas should be protected and their funding ring-fenced, particularly when one considers the impact of drugs on these communities.

These cuts to CE schemes must be set against today's announcement in the Finance Bill that the Government will give special tax breaks to extraordinarily highly paid, high flying executives in the financial and corporate sector so that they can pay less tax on their unbelievably high earnings. It is okay to do that because, apparently, it will bring us jobs. On the other hand, the Government is lashing into disadvantaged communities, because that is where CE schemes provide services. They provide services and jobs for people in the most disadvantaged communities. In many cases they are the glue that holds communities together, providing child care, after-school care, outreach projects to young people, literacy projects and all sorts of things. They help out where there are high levels of long-term unemployment and poverty and where people need these services most.

These cuts are stupid beyond belief. Community employment workers provide vital social, education and health services. The full going rate for those jobs would be considerably more than the €208 per week these workers are paid. For the most part, they do these jobs because they want to provide services for their local communities.

This is a particular attack on single parents. It makes me sick to hear the Government talk about labour activation when it is simultaneously taking away incentives for single parents to get back into the workforce while serving their local communities. The Government should be ashamed of itself for its double standards and it should reverse these cuts immediately.

This whole situation creates turmoil. People do not know where they stand with current schemes, other than the fact that the purse strings have been tightened on them. On account of this announcement, we are facing the prospect of schemes being discontinued. We have a scheme for the Ballina Salmon Festival in my town. This scheme is a year-long plan for a one week festival where we get more than 300,000 visitors to our small town. It brings in local revenue of up to €2.5 million. Bed nights are at 100% for the whole week. Coupled with the work done with Meals on Wheels, the community employment scheme is part of the fabric of the community and it is facing crisis.

There are rural schemes in places like Mayo Abbey. We like to think there was a time when the local parish priest knew how everybody was getting on, but nowadays the people running these schemes go out into the community to houses where elderly people are on their own, bring them in for a meal once a week and provide them with social contact. They grow their own organic vegetables in the compound where they run the scheme. What they do is probably way beyond what was initially envisaged and the CE schemes do excellent work within the communities where they are organised. They are run by volunteers and sponsors. I could say the same for the Moygownagh scheme and the Michael Davitt scheme, which runs the museum in the area.

The work done in the schemes is wonderful, but they have to have adequate money for materials and safety gear to do the work they are designed to do. There has to be some realism in this. It will be a disaster unless this enters the frame. The schemes have been moved to the Department of Social Protection. First, we were told that viable schemes will not be affected. We still do not know what a viable scheme is. Second, money for the scheme has been cut before the review has been carried out. That does not make sense. I know of several schemes where the sponsors have guaranteed money to the bank to pay insurance to run the schemes and to pay for heat and light for offices. Will those people be left out of pocket? The Minister has been very badly advised by people who know better in FÁS.

I absolutely agree.

Something should be done about it. The review is one thing, but a clear signal has to go out that people on current schemes that were renewed every year will not be left high and dry. They have a legitimate expectation in respect of a contract. Many press releases issued show that there is one layer after another like an onion being peeled, and we cannot get to the truth of what is going on. If it is tough news, it is tough news. I will stand over tough news as a member of a Government party, but we have to be straight with people. If these schemes are not funded, it will be a disaster. I ask the Minister to properly fund these schemes so that no scheme will go to the wall because money is not put into it. That must be the true measure.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very topical debate. It will bring certainty to the issue and that has not been there until now. Neither Sinn Féin or the independents have a monopoly on this issue. CE schemes are in every town and village and they affect every one of us. They have been in existence for more than 20 years and they have been of great benefit to every part of the country. Many people have gained employment at every level as a result of the schemes. For example, in County Carlow, the Delta Centre provides services to adults with intellectual disabilities. There are currently 12 CE employees out of a workforce of 80. It is worth noting that 70% of the permanent staff have progressed through the CE schemes. Progression is very important.

Carlow Regional Youth Service supports and promotes community based youth work, providing essential services to youth in a particular area. In the past year, 70% of the people involved in its schemes progressed to full employment, including one employee who started work on 1 February with Bank of Ireland, which is unusual. As a former chairman of the Carlow County Board of the GAA, I have first-hand experience of CE schemes in every big and small club in my county. They provide great help in the area. Without the CE schemes, they would not thrive.

The review is very important. It will focus the mind strongly. It is important to remember that one size does not fit all. I am aware of this from a sporting point of view, but there is a big difference between sporting clubs and organisations catering for people with disabilities or who are involved in the health services. I would welcome the Minister's commitment as a result of the review that funding will most likely not be provided on an individual basis. Every scheme I have mentioned that is involved in the health service will come up to the mark. When the funding is provided for schemes where the services are required, that will be very important, rather than providing money on an individual basis.

We all know that there are some schemes which are not providing the service they should provide. That needs to be tidied up. We do not have enough funds to keep the ship floating. It is important that we get best value for money and this review will ensure that happens. As a result of this review, I am happy that the important health care services will continue to be provided. I am also happy that between now and the end of the review, the Minister has committed a €1,000 top-up to the schemes that definitely need it.

The scheme needs to be tidied up. We need to have certainty and this debate tonight will bring that certainty.

As Members understand, in many communities, both rural and urban, the community employment scheme can be the glue that sticks the local community together. The people in the scheme are the people that assist a whole range of community development groups to see their goals through to fulfilment. While community development groups can often have the ideas and ideals to improve their community, they do not have the skills to bring those to fruition. This is where the local community employment schemes provide the missing piece of what is a crucial community jigsaw.

Since the announcement of the budget last year, all scheme operators understood that there would be cuts, but the nature and extent of those cuts has remained very clouded for scheme operators, and poor communication has compounded the problem at all levels. As someone in constant contact with CE schemes, I recognise that it is important that all training provided represents up-skilling of people for jobs, yet I feel that the hugely valuable social element of many of these schemes is being overlooked. Whether it is a drugs rehabilitation scheme in inner city Dublin or a community employment scheme in Eyrecourt, County Galway, these schemes are providing an extremely important service to the locality. Their actions are instigated from the ground up and this bottom-up approach to development has empowered local communities to spend their scarce resources of employee hours in the areas where they feel it is most necessary and worthwhile.

The mental health benefits of such schemes are constantly being overlooked. In the past year, I have been approached on innumerable occasions by people seeking to get places on CE schemes. Many people found themselves out of work for the first time in their lives as a result of the property crash and found that the daily grind of unemployment made life much more difficult to cope with than the tough physical work they had been doing previously. Getting out to work and making a valuable contribution to the community is the cornerstone of these schemes, and this must be continued.

I commend the Minister on her decision to instigate a review of the measures as announced in the budget. If savings must be made, then it is better that they be made in the training and materials element of the scheme, as opposed to cutting the number of schemes or the number of people on those schemes.

Community employment schemes are an immensely valuable resource to every community in Ireland; to community employment groups and the participants and their families. The number of schemes and number of participants must be retained if the valuable work being undertaken by these schemes is to continue and both training and materials are crucial to the continuance of these schemes.

Since the changes have been announced and this review process has begun - I welcome the Minister's decision in this respect - there are quite a number of schemes under financial strain at the moment. I would like to see Department officials and the Minister talk to people involved in the schemes over the next few weeks, because these schemes must be allowed to continue to do their work.

We know that savings have to be made for the review to take place. However, each scheme should individually be consulted on that. The schemes will come up with the savings so they can keep going, but that is the point that has been missed so far.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Government amendment to the motion. Those of us involved in politics must acknowledge the important and continuing role of the community employment schemes in society and, in particular, in the area of child care and their role in helping to implement the national drugs strategy and their work in education. I concur with the comments of my colleague, Deputy Deering, and with many of the sentiments expressed by other speakers. These sentiments are shared by the Minister herself who spoke last night and they are evident in Government policy. Many of the issues and aspirations expressed during this debate reflect the intentions of the Minister and the Government. It is preferable that red herrings are not introduced such as the suggestion that the community employment schemes are to be obliterated. This is certainly not the case. In particular, it must be emphasised that no reduction is planned in the number of places on CE schemes and no reductions are planned in the number of supervisors.

The aim of the CE schemes is to ensure that those on the live register are ready and able to return to work as soon as possible. It must be acknowledged that there has been a change in emphasis in Government policy as to how money is spent in job creation terms. In 2012, the Government will be increasing its total expenditure on employment supports, up from €882 million in 2011 to €960 million in 2012. In this very difficult economic climate, it must be acknowledged that the Government's number one priority is job creation, and this is the one area where there will be an increase in funding. The ultimate ambition of all these schemes is to get people back to work. There are currently 1,100 community employment schemes with more than 23,000 participants and 1,300 full-time positions which are being maintained. The expenditure on wages is €57 million. I welcome that the report and review will happen within a matter of five or six weeks.

I refer to the wording of the Sinn Féin motion. The Minister has answered all the points raised in the motion. It is the job of the Government to help the long-term unemployed by means of the CE schemes and to help them back into work or to find work for the first time. As is the case in almost all circumstances to do with any form of social welfare, the payments are considerably higher than the supports provided by the Sinn Féin coalition government in the North. I know the Sinn Féin Deputies dislike this point being made but other Deputies raise points of their own repeatedly. This Government is doing far more than what is being done by Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. I welcome the Minister's support for the CE schemes as they are crucial to communities.

Deputy Dara Murphy is a funny man.

It is very reassuring that members of the Opposition acknowledge the brilliance of one of our current Ministers, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, who established the community employment schemes. The budget process was new to many of us. The reaction on both sides of the House was that there was something amiss in the budget. It was not Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil Deputies but rather it was the Labour Party Deputies who decided this decision needed to be reviewed. I called for a review on the national airwaves and I said to my colleagues that we would have to address this issue.

Who is the Minister?

We spoke to the Minister. We all recognise the social, personal and financial benefits of the CE schemes but, more important, they provide hope to people at this time. The situation is unprecedented, things have never been worse financially and measures must be taken. However, a reduction of everything to €500 showed a lack of knowledge by the Department as to what CE schemes needed.

Many of us went back to the Minister and told her that there needed to be material funding provided to the CE schemes for them to provide their essential services. The measure announced in the Minister's statement shows a level of flexibility and compassion towards CE schemes and now all CE schemes will be entitled to a grant for materials of up to €1,000. However, they must make an application for this funding.

I am not happy with the provision for training. I acknowledge that it costs €52 billion to run the country and we are only taking in €34 billion. Things do not stack up and everything will need to be reduced until the deficit is addressed. However, there are smarter ways of doing things. I suggest a grouping of the insurance and the auditing capacities of the CE schemes as this would result in savings. I refer to the sharing of services. There has to be a better way of doing things and any fat, if it exists, needs to be taken out. The CE schemes are an essential part of community life. They provide services such as meals on wheels, community-based drug rehabilitation, tidy towns committees and project and marketing development.

This is a very difficult time to be in Government and we do not want to be making these cuts. I know that the next budget will also contain some unpalatable cuts but now is not the time to let go of the wheel. We are in the eye of the storm and we must come out the other side. We are asking people to come with us rather than go against us. We do not need to have a rural versus city divide nor a public service versus private sector divide. The review process will find a smart solution. For instance, there are FÁS buildings lying empty around the country and perhaps training could be provided in those locations by FÁS rather than paying for private contractors. There are instances in my county where the training funding has not been utilised to its maximum. The reduction of €500 is not across the board. The review process should happen before the cuts are imposed. It is unfair for a Minister to have to implement measures over which she has no control but she has taken 700 people into her Department.

The issue of funding for community employment schemes is one I have raised at every possible forum. It is an issue that unites all sides of the House. We all want to see CE schemes supported and sustained. The House has debated previously the issue of isolation in rural areas.

Community employment schemes in towns and villages are crucial, both in the urban and rural context, to the delivery of services within the community. When the budget announcement of the cut to the materials and training grant from €1,500 to €500 was made, it sent shockwaves through sponsors, participants and communities. It is welcome that the Minister has cleared up some of the confusion in the past week to ten days and that there has been more of a meeting of minds on how the review is to be conducted and how the budgetary changes are to be implemented in the coming weeks and months. I appeal to the Minister to ensure the vital criteria by which community employment schemes have to demonstrate their need for extra funding above €500 will not be overly strict and tight such that it will become impossible to demonstrate the need for a scheme.

Everyone concurs with the Minister's intention that waste must be eliminated and that value for money must be achieved. Some schemes may be better able to absorb administration costs and materials and training costs than others. Community employment schemes are the heartbeat of towns and villages throughout the country. They help to provide and make possible such services as child care, meals-on-wheels and centres for independent living and village enhancement.

It is sometimes pointed out that people working on community employment schemes do not find follow-on jobs. My experience is that people secure sustainable jobs or move into self-employment. Young people participating n such schemes upskill, train and open doors for themselves. I accept, however, that they do not lead to sustainable jobs for all. People involved in such schemes in the later years of their working lives want to work and have a sense of purpose. They receive €20 more than they would in jobseeker's allowance. Surely that kills the myth that that in receipt of unemployment benefit do not want to work.

Community employment schemes have been a vital vehicle for the delivery of some of the services I have outlined. I note that the review is also seeking savings in the administration costs of schemes such as overheads, insurance and audits, which I welcome. However, there is a danger that communities might divide, given that some schemes which are more sustainable or could fund-raise might be rewarded, while others are punished.

Last week we discussed the difficulties in small schools during Private Members' business. I received a letter today from the principal of a small school to say how important the local community employment scheme was, as a shed had been built for the school, a new playground had been designed and a new bicycle rack provided. When there are cutbacks in other areas community employment schemes can sometimes come to the rescue. I welcome the reviews. If there were no community employment schemes, we would propose to the Minister that they be invented. Let us not get rid of something that is working well.

In a healthy, free and open democracy parliamentary opposition is to be valued. It is a necessity. Governments ought to be kept in check and have their policies scrutinised by the Opposition. In that respect, I welcome the motion tabled by Sinn Féin. One cannot demand that the criticisms of the Opposition always be constructive - that would be unrealistic - but one can hope they would often be responsible, particularly in times of crisis such as this, the worst financial crisis in the history of the State.

When we entered government approximately 12 months ago, one could have best described the situation as being akin to a building on fire. It is difficult to sit on this side of the House and receive criticism from those who started the fire and who now have the luxury of absenting themselves from debate, while enjoying the criticism and conflagration that surrounds the issue. It can be difficult to take it from those on the other side of the House who proposed the motion. We understand there is much political capital to be gained on the issue, but it is important to have an open, honest and transparent debate in that respect.

I commend the Minister who has approached the issue with great sensitivity. She needed no lessons from her Labour Party backbenchers on the importance of community employment schemes. She has spoken to the stakeholders, participants and, most importantly, communities. Every one of the stakeholders agrees with her because all the community employment schemes to which I have spoken in recent months have acknowledged that we need to discuss their future viability.

Supervisors have given me examples of expensive training modules provided by private training contractors when the very same training was provided in local VEC training centres. Tuam and district mental health services cancelled a €3,000 computer training event to be offered by a former FÁS manager over two days. He was to be paid €1,500 a day for providing ECDL training. The previous funding system for community employment schemes encouraged scheme management to spend the maximum allocation rather than focus on the achievement of value for money or the true requirements in training scheme participants.

On 1 January community employment schemes were brought under the auspices of the Department of Social Protection, having previously been the responsibility of FÁS. While it was set up with the best of intentions by a previous Labour Party Minister, under the previous Government schemes failed to properly seek value for money. The reforms sought by the Minister amount to nothing more than each sponsoring committee properly costing a business case for the funds receives. Most schemes of which I am aware are already in a position to do this and have no difficulty with being transparent and offering a valid case for the social impact made by the scheme and a business case for additional funding. That is what we call prudential government - protecting the taxpayer. The Minister aims to balance the need to adopt a prudential and responsible approach to the spending of taxpayers' money with the need to protect the social aspect of community employment schemes for communities. The current budget allocation for the scheme is in excess of €315 million, which represents a significant commitment by the Government to the scheme and communities.

The recently announced ceiling of €1,000 per participant in 2012 will provide the necessary reassurance that the Government is committed to communities and community employment schemes. A block grant system for future schemes will focus on the real cost of running the service offered by schemes and encourage communities to take the work seriously and be responsible in terms of sharing costs. Under these reforms, economic necessity has ended up aiding the virtue of a Government which is cautious in using taxpayers' money. The review process is under way and sponsors of schemes will encourage the engagement that will require reforms in terms of the shared services to which Deputy Spring referred. We need reform to have due regard for and a duty to ensure prudence for both communities and scheme participants. We can identify the capacity of schemes to collectively negotiate bank charges, overheads, rates and other charges.

I wish to give an example of where savings can be made. There are two schemes within a two mile radius of my home town. One pays a public liability insurance premium of €3,400 in a brand new build facility. An older scheme in a working, older environment is paying €1,400. In terms of some expenditure items, there are significant ways for us to secure efficiencies and continue to effect reform and change so that we might protect community employment scheme supervisors and the social impact of their schemes.

May I share five minutes with Deputy Adams?

Ba mhaith liom labhairt ar son an rúin seo. Is mian liom tacaíocht a thabhairt do scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail i gcontaetha na Mí agus na hIarmhí. Tá an-chuid oibre á dhéanamh ag an 18 scéim i gContae na Mí. Tá siad lárnach sa phobal. Tá 72 foghlaimeoirí ag freastal ar scéim amháin, mar shampla. Cuireann siad seirbhísí faoisimh agus cúraim cónaithe ar fáil do dhaoine le míchumais foghlama agus fisiciúla. Tá naíolann pobail, feasacht ar drugaí agus tearmann do mhná ar fáil freisin. An bhliain seo caite, d'éirigh le 58% de na daoine sin fostaíocht lánaimseartha a bhaint amach. Is cosúil go mbainfidh an méid céanna dóibh fostaíocht lánaimseartha amach i mbliana.

Cén fáth a bhfuil an oiread sin fostaíochta á fháil ag an méid iontach sin? Fuair na hurraitheoirí tacaíocht ón HSE, a bhí ag feidhmiú ar chaighdeán HIQA. De bharr an taithí oibre agus na cúrsaí FETAC leibhéil 5 a fuair siad ar na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail, bhí siad in ann dul ar aghaidh lena chuid gairm. Má tarraingíonn an Aire siar an maoiniú le haghaidh teagaisc, beidh sé uafásach deacair do na foghlaimeoirí leanúint ar aghaidh agus fostaíocht a bhaint amach. Níl móramh na bhfoghlaimeoirí in ann íoc as an teagasc atá riachtanach chun caighdeán HIQA a bhaint amach.

Tá sé dochreidte go bhfuil sé seo ag titim amach i lár géarchéim eacnamaíochta. Tá na seirbhísí seo á scrios ag an Rialtas díreach nuair a bhfuil níos mó éileamh ná riamh ar na scéimeanna. Tá sé dochreidte freisin go bhfuil an Aire Coimirce Sóisialaí, a thagann ón Lucht Oibre, ag déanamh scrios ar na seirbhísí seo. Tá Teachtaí an Lucht Oibre ag déanamh ionsaí ar na daoine a thug vótaí dóibh bliain o shin. Tagann an seanfhocal maidir le "biting the hand that feeds you" chugam ag amanna mar seo. Ní hamháin go bhfuil muintir na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail ag fulaingt, ach tá gnáthphobal na hÉireann atá ag brath ar na seirbhísí seo ag fulaingt freisin.

Ba mhaith liom roinnt eagraíochtaí i mo cheantar fhéin a lua. Tá mé ag caint faoin adult day unit i gCoill Darach; the Aisling Group, which provides support to people who are addicted to drugs; An Tobar; Clann Mór; Daoine Óga; Enable Ireland; the Irish Wheelchair Association; Loreto Day Care; MIDWAY Leighsbrook, which helps people with mental health issues; MIDWAY Beechmount; Meath County Childcare; Meath Women's Refuge; Navan Employment Options; Na Driseoga; Rehab Care; Rehab Care Autism; Shalimar House; the special care unit in St. Mary's parish; an Cumann Lúthchleas Gael; Tidy Towns; agus go leor eagraíochtaí eile.

Beidh na daoine atá páirteach sna heagraíochtaí seo, agus na daoine a bhraitheann ar na seirbhísí a chuireann siad ar fáil, ag fulaingt má leanann an Rialtas ar aghaidh. Céard a dhéanfaidh na saoránaigh a bhaineann úsáid as na seirbhísí seo? Beidh easnamh uafásach agus dochreidte timpeall na tíre. Ní bheidh muintir na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail in ann faic a dhéanamh faoi. Caithfimid smaoineamh ar na daoine a bhaineann úsáid as na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail agus iad siúd a bhraitheann ar na seirbhísí. Cuirfidh an polasaí seo bac ar fhorbairt ghairm na ndaoine. Goidfidh sé seirbhísí riachtanach ó na daoine atá thíos cheana féin.

larraim ar na Teachtaí atá ar na binsí os mo chomhair tosaíocht a thabhairt do mhuintir na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail in ionad na mbaincéirí. Má tá giota beag cuibheas fós ar binsí an Rialtais, iarraim ar na Teachtaí ata ina shuí thall seasamh suas ar son na ghnáthdhaoine agus in aghaidh na polasaithe déine uafásacha seo.

The social consequences of the austerity policies of this Government are evident every single day in the cuts to essential public services, the number of young people leaving our shores, the cuts to DEIS schools, the household charge, the slashing of school guidance counsellor numbers, the attack on rural communities through the septic tank debacle, stealth taxes, the crisis in our health service and now the imposition of cuts to CE schemes, which will see the end of many such schemes. At the same time, the Government is handing over billions in euro of taxpayers' money to criminal banks, as much as €20 billion in its term of office so far. Next month, €3.1 billion, almost as much as the total budget cuts, will be paid to Anglo Irish Bank. Today, the Finance Bill will enact into law the series of indirect tax hikes introduced by the Government, including VAT, excise duties and deposit interest retention tax, DIRT.

The attack on CE schemes affects the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities and the long-term unemployed who are trying to return to work. Government Teachtaí Dála have praised the schemes and told the House that they provide essential services, but those Deputies do not say the schemes should be protected against budget cuts.

The budget's savage 66% cut in training and education grants threatens CE schemes and, as a result, many will not be able to function. In my constituency of Louth, there are 30 CE schemes. Across Louth, women's networks, community development groups, women's refuges, youth groups, homeless aid and employment groups are dependent on CE schemes to provide their essential services. Is iad mná a n-oibríonn i gcuid mhaith de na grúpaí pobail seo. Tá siad faoi ionsaí ag an Aire. The public and private sectors could not, do not and will not provide these services.

In what has been a mark of the Government, the Minister has taken the bizarre approach of imposing cuts before announcing a review under public pressure. Consulting the schemes before announcing the cuts would have made sense. The Minister could have engaged in dialogue with the people involved and considered the long-term implications and social consequences of taking this vital employment out of communities.

CE schemes in County Louth suffered cuts in recent budgets, but the slashing of training and material budgets by 66% - from €1,500 to €500 per annum per participant - will have a devastating effect on them. Without these grants, sponsors will not be able to cover running costs of as much as €20,000 per annum. These costs include paying for offices, supervisors, insurance, audits etc.

If the Minister's aim was to design a range of actions to make CE schemes unsustainable without announcing publicly that she was cutting the schemes, she could not have done any better. For example, funding for the Dundalk ICTU centre has been cut by more than 25% since 2009. The centre's CE schemes employ 51 people and the proposed cut in funding would see the budget slashed by €51,000 next year. At the centre, CE workers help members of the public with curriculum vitae, welfare rights, job applications and accessing entitlements. Have no doubt about it - if the Government proceeds with the cuts as outlined, many of the schemes in Dundalk, Drogheda and across County Louth and other embattled communities in the State will close.

The abolition of concurrent payments and the CE qualified child increase paid to lone parents on CE schemes is a shameful step.

Ní thuigim conas gur féidir le Teachtaí Dála i bPáirtí an Lucht Oibre aontú le ciorraithe ar scéimeanna a chuireann seirbhísí chúram leanaí ar fáil. If Government Deputies are genuine when they acknowledge that these schemes play a vital role in communities by providing services such as community child care and so on, they should support this motion.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the retention of funding from which community groups, including sporting and arts groups, throughout the State have benefitted. I have seen in my own area the great efforts to which these groups go to put the funds to good use for their communities. I am also aware of the sacrifices made over many years by volunteers and workers throughout the State in the community development sector and agencies.

Recent moves in terms of the restructuring of the management of local community development projects were perceived by many as a hollowing out of genuine community development. There is great concern in this regard. Most of the projects funded through community employment funding operate on a shoestring budget and in very difficult circumstances, including those in east Cork. Their objective is to assist the most disadvantaged communities. As the Sinn Féin Party spokesperson for the arts and sport, I take this opportunity to commend those projects involved in combating poverty, social isolation and mental ill-health through the arts and sport. The role they play in terms of their contribution to the social fabric of people's lives is immense. They are helping their communities to deal with the social and economic issues at the heart of many of their problems.

Some of the benefits derived from the arts, such as self-esteem, are primarily personal or individual benefits, while others, such as developing community identity, occur at a community level. It has been suggested that those participating in arts programmes may accrue some benefits directly as a result of their participation. However, there are also less direct and more complex processes that are dependent on achieving intermediary outcomes. For instance, people learn new skills, feel more confident and make new friends as a result of participating in community arts activity and this, in turn, enhances their employability. The Recovery through Art, Drama and Education, RADE, project in Dublin deserves special mention in this regard. It works with drug users to address their addiction and to help them to regain control of their lives. We in Sinn Féin recognise and appreciate this contribution. It deserves to be nourished and enhanced.

Unfortunately, the Minister's handling of the matter beggars belief, with budget 2012 being the launch date for the latest instalment of the attack on community schemes. The announcement to initiate a review of some of those decisions while at the same time continuing with the promised cuts was particularly disappointing. Those in receipt of other payments such as lone parent or disability benefit are being devastated by the Minister's callous approach. It displays a total lack of appreciation on her part of the importance of this funding for those availing of it. It is safe to say that most participants in community employment schemes depend on the money they receive to balance their household budgets from week to week. They count on that money to feed and clothe their families and to heat their homes. The disturbing irony in all of this is that these cuts, which target some of the most socially important initiatives in the State, are happening at a time when billions are being pumped in to the black hole that is a defunct, dysfunctional banking system. Where will it all end and what is it all for?

Local community schemes, like so many of the other projects mentioned over the course of this debate, play an important, almost unquantifiable, role in the lives of many. In times of crisis the services they provide are in greater demand. They deserve recognition, appropriate support and encouragement. That the Government intends to continue its assault on them is a shocking reflection on its notion of what counts for a society. The troika may not value the self-esteem, confidence and quality of life of the people working on community employment schemes - it will be a damning indictment if the same can be said for all of us.

Ireland today, more than ever, depends on the strength of its communities. Those communities have withstood the reckless actions of bankers and developers in recent years. Right across the island of Ireland, they are the bonds that hold our society together. The proposal by the Government to cut the community employment schemes training and materials budget by 66% is an unmitigated attack on those communities and the people who depend on these schemes for help and support.

The Minister said yesterday that the troika has failed to recognise the "intrinsic social value" of some community employment schemes. This could be read as an implicit admission that the troika has instructed the Government to cut this expenditure by 66%. The ESRI's critical report on community employment schemes was based only on the narrow focus of job activation. However, these schemes are so much more than vehicles of preparation for open employment.

In Sligo-Leitrim, the area I am privileged to represent, community employment schemes provide affordable child care and home care services, support the running of meals on wheels services, facilitate the care of people with disabilities, keep our environment clean and maintain our towns and villages. They support the needs of older people and the delivery of rural transport initiatives. Community employment scheme workers deliver a fantastic service to the community I represent, and the loss of those services would be irreparable. Given that community is at the heart of the entire framework, it is impossible to envision how private firms would be able to replicate these valuable services. Reference was made to the importance of ensuring value for money. That goes without saying. However, I can say without fear of objective contradiction that the majority of community employment schemes in Sligo and Leitrim deliver exceptional value for taxpayers' money. These services are being provided at a fraction of the cost that would arise if their provision was a matter for statutory agencies or privatised firms.

A cut to the materials grant for community employment schemes will seriously hamper the work they do. They will not be able to afford necessary goods such as petrol for lawn-mowers, for example, or pay for light and heat in their buildings. The materials grant is central to the operation of all such schemes and a reduction of this magnitude will leave many with no choice but to close. The Minister says she will not close any schemes, but the decision to ravage the training and materials budget will, as sure as night follows day, render many of the most valuable schemes unable to continue.

How can vital services such as child care, home care, care of addicts and people with disabilities continue if there is no funding to train those involved? If trainees do not have access to basic instruction, schemes will be prevented from delivering their services to the community. Otherwise suitable participants will not be able to enhance their prospects of progressing into employment. Many schemes provide people with social or mental health deficiencies with a chance to make a positive impact on their own lives and on their wider community. I know people who did not leave their homes until they began to participate in a community employment scheme. That participation has had a major impact on their quality of life. If the Minister's Department were to suffer a decrease of 66% in its non-pay budget, could it continue to function? It most certainly could not and neither can community employment schemes.

I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this important issue. No one could doubt the valuable contribution CE schemes make to society. We have heard from all sides of the House of their importance and value not alone to participants but the communities they serve. The anger being expressed by communities in respect of the announcement of these cuts should come as no surprise.

I agree with Deputy Mulherin who said earlier that there is absolute turmoil in the communities in relation to these cuts, that people do not know whether they are coming or going and that the Minister was badly advised in terms of making this announcement prior to the review. It appears to be Government policy lately to announce cuts and then reviews. This has happened in respect of cuts in the disability sector, DEIS and now CE schemes.

Earlier, Deputy Spring called on the people to follow the Government because our deficit must be bridged. I would not follow this Government out the front door because I do not believe it knows where it is going. This Government has no sense of direction in terms of where it is planning to take this country. The reality is that it is taking us is into deeper recession.

Deputy Spring also said that everything must be reduced until the deficit has been addressed. What he failed to say was that everything but his salary and bondholders' payments must be reduced. They are the only things that appear to be immune to cuts these days. Ministers have appointed advisers above salary caps. Is it any wonder that when people outside this Chamber hear this they lose faith in the political system?

I have discussed these cuts with sponsors of CE schemes in Cork. They told me that unless these cuts are reversed many schemes face closure. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, said that no CE scheme will close. However, one cannot cut resources by 66% and do away with dual payments without consequence. The impact of these cuts is being felt in communities. People who want to participate in CE schemes, to obtain additional training in order to return to full employment or to serve their communities are being prevented from doing so because of the changes in the dual payment. I am not sure if the Minister is aware of this but there is a cost to people participating in CE schemes. They have to meet travel, child care and other expenses. One cannot expect a person who is already living on the breadline and struggling to make ends meet to take up a place on scheme for €20 extra. That is the consequence of this policy.

Eight participants on a particular scheme in Cork have gone on to full employment. There is not one labour activation measure that this Government could introduce that would match that type of success. There are social consequences to these cuts. CE schemes in Cork provide child care, drug addiction, elderly and after school services. We will not know the impact of these cuts for many years. It will be our children who will suffer and who will have to pick up the pieces in this regard.

I heard many members of the Government say when in opposition that the previous Administration had decimated this country and brought it to its knees, which is true. However, this Government is giving it a kick in the teeth while down.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis an cheist seo a phlé. Ar fud an Stáit, tá cruinnithe ag dul ar aghaidh. Tá an mhuintir atá ag obair ar na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail agus iad san atá ag baint tairbhe astu ag na cruinnithe sin, cruinnithe atá íontach mór. Tá daoine ag cur in iúil do pholaiteoirí ó gach cearn den saol polaitíochta an tábhacht atá ins na scéimeanna seo, agus ag iarraidh a chur in iúil dúinn go gcuirfidh sé deireadh le cuid mhór des na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail má théann na ciorraithe seo i bhfeidhm.

Agus mé ag éisteacht leis an méid a bhí ráite ag daoine ó Fhine Gael agus ón Lucht Oibre is léir go ndeachaigh na cruinnithe sin i bhfeidhm orthu. There is no doubt, having listened to the contributions made over the past two nights, that at least some of what was said at the meetings across the country on this issue, which many of us attended, has had an impact on Fine Gael and Labour Party backbenchers. It is clear that there is a demand across both sides of the House for these cuts to be reversed. However, the test will be at 9 p.m. when Members will have to vote for or against these cuts.

People working on the front line know more about CE schemes than any of us here. Many of them are in the Visitors Gallery. They have come here from Donegal, Rathcoole, Clondalkin, Drogheda, Dundalk, Blanchardstown and other areas - many others could not come here because of the meeting tonight in relation to supervisors - to demand that this Parliament take action on behalf of communities and those operating and participating in CE schemes.

I have listened to the Government talk time and again about the importance of protecting our communities and creating employment. When one puts these two phrases together, one gets community employment. However, the first action by this Government in relation to community employment is to cut it by 66%. How can anyone believe employment and communities are a priority for this Government? The Minister has told us that the saving to the State as a result of these cuts will be €27.5 million. We have heard from many backbenchers in the Labour Party that everything needs to be cut until we sort out the mess we are in. Yesterday, Deputy Adams learned from NAMA that the legal bill for approximately ten or 12 major legal firms in this State which provided legal advice to it over the past 24 months was a staggering €27.5 million, the same amount which is being cut from 1,143 CE schemes and their 22,000 participants. Who should be cut if one prioritises community and employment? Is it the 12 legal firms which are being paid €3 million plus per year or the 22,000 participants on CE schemes who need help from the State? The answer should be obvious to every Member who has an active conscience.

The Minister told us that she listens to expert advice, that she cannot disregard the type of research and advice given to her and that she takes seriously what researchers say and that such research questioned the value of CE schemes. However, the Minister was selective in terms of the research which she chose to offer this Chamber last night. She used research from the OECD which was critical of CE schemes. She did not refer to other serious and well thought out research such as that carried out by Professor Tony Fahey and Dr. Michelle Norris from UCD or the Combat Poverty Agency, which recognises the true value of CE schemes. It states: "The Community Employment scheme is a core element of much of the area-based social provision now in place in Ireland and its contribution in that regard should be more clearly recognised and incorporated into the rationale for providing it and the bases on which it is evaluated."

I do not have much time but will conclude on this point. These cuts will devastate communities and I note 68 sponsors are located in my native county of Donegal. People argue that one cannot simply call for a reversal of the cuts to the scheme in this House but instead must offer solutions and other ways in which the money can be found. Sinn Féin has done this repeatedly in its pre-budget submission but I will offer Members one other suggestion in conclusion. This time last year, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, stood here on the Opposition benches. She is the iron lady of the Irish Republic now, the person who has gone after community employment schemes in an attempt to dismantle and break them. She is the person who went after mothers when she cut child benefit and is the person who went after the young and disabled. Last year, however, when responding in this Chamber to Fianna Fáil's cuts to social welfare, she stated "some €805 million is to be paid to bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank next week".

The Deputy's time has expired.

That is the equivalent of nearly all the social welfare cuts. The only difference now is that Deputy Burton is on the Government side of the Chamber and instead of €800 million being paid to bondholders last week, €1,200 million was paid to bondholders by the Government just two weeks ago.

I must ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

That amounts to three times the value of social welfare cuts. Shame on all the Government Members if they do not vote to reverse this cut.

I thank all Members for their contributions and for taking the time to debate this important issue of community employment. I wish to restate the Government's commitment to prioritising jobs. The Government is committed to spending more than €960 million on employment supports, including €350 million on community employment schemes, in 2012. This will result in an increase in overall expenditure on employment supports this year from the €882 million the Government spent in 2011. This expenditure in support of employment represents a significant increase on the 2011 figure, particularly at a time when public finances are more constrained than ever before.

At present, there are 1,143 community employment, CE, schemes in operation nationally with 23,300 places, of which there are approximately 22,000 participants and 1,300 full-time supervisor posts. There is no reduction in the number of community employment places for 2012 and no reduction in the number of CE supervisors. Following the changes to allowances for participants announced in the budget, it still is the position that taking a place on a CE scheme is financially beneficial for all participants. Even after the changes in one-parent family payments announced in the budget, a lone parent with two children who is an existing participant in a community employment scheme will receive a payment of €423 per week for 19.5 hours work. Due to the current economic circumstances and the need for the Department to find savings of-----

How much does a new participant get?

The Minister of State, without interruption.

I simply asked him a question.

The Minister of State has the floor, without interruption please.

In order to find savings of €475 million in the budget, it is necessary to examine all aspects of expenditure of the Department. The savings of €27.5 million that the Government had identified in the budget represents a reduction of 7.5% in the overall 2011 CE spending of €360 million.

The Government recognises the valuable contribution that CE can make. However, as with all such large national programmes, not every community employment scheme has the same positive outcomes for those who participate. There have been many commentaries and reports from both national and international research bodies on the effectiveness of the schemes. These were outlined in the debate last evening and the Government must consider them seriously. In this context, it is important that CE and other employment supports are fit for purpose and deliver value to the taxpayer. Among the issues identified were the lack of labour market progression and an increased risk - not a reduced risk - of long-term unemployment. The Government is committed to ensuring that CE and similar programmes enhance the employment prospects of those who participate on the schemes. The Government also recognises the intrinsic social value of some community employment schemes, which play such an important role in communities, in particular by providing services such as helping the disabled to live independently or delivering meals on wheels to older citizens. One cannot apply a purely economic analysis to CE schemes. The OECD similarly recognises there always will be a role for schemes that are primarily directed towards the provision of crucial social services, often for disadvantaged communities that need services such as child care, elderly care and drug treatment programmes. Such schemes have a role where they deliver such services in a cost-effective manner. The Minister for Social Protection is determined to ensure that the contribution of such schemes is recognised in any future decisions on the future operation, funding and role of community employment.

The goal of the Department is to find a solution that ensures the objectives of getting people ready for real and long-term sustainable jobs, getting value for money for the taxpayer and supporting schemes that deliver much-needed social services. While there are changes to grants for CE schemes, it is important to be aware that the current and future participants on these schemes can avail of a wide range of education and training programmes at no cost to the individual scheme. The widespread availability of FETAC awards from publicly funded providers will facilitate the continued achievement of these awards by participants on CE. The Minister has asked for an initial review of the financial resources of all schemes, to be completed by the end of next March, as there is a considerable variation across CE schemes in respect of the amount of training provided, materials required and overhead costs and the potential for sponsoring organisations to meet certain costs. A flexible approach has been adopted and all options are being considered in respect of the sources and availability of funding, and all efforts are being made to minimise the impact of the reductions outlined. The internal guidance to officials is that up to €1,000 per participant may be available to a scheme in respect of the training and materials grant for this year, subject to a demonstration of need. I again assure the House that no CE scheme has closed as a result of the changes in the training and materials grant announced in the budget.

I can assure the House that the contribution of community employment to the range of groups that participate in the programme, from lone parents to jobseekers and the support they offer to local communities, will be enhanced and more focused as a result of the changes being undertaken by the Department of Social Protection.

What a load of rubbish.

Tá an Private Members' business seo an-tábhachtach ar fad agus ba mhaith liom mo thacaíocht a thabhairt dó agus, tá súil orm, aon duine eile atá ag féachaint amach le haghaidh an ghnáth dhuine. Any Government worth its salt would ask its opponents and the people to judge it on its actions, on what it has provided and what it has not only sought to do but also has achieved. Were the present Administration to ask to be judged in this manner, it would be judged harshly. One is told regularly by Government Deputies to be more positive and more constructive but the Government does not seek constructive Opposition. The proof of this is in its complete rejection of the alternative budgetary measures offered by Sinn Féin last December and costed by the Department of Finance. One is told, without even the slightest hint of irony, to put on the green jersey by a Taoiseach who parades and embraces his masters in Europe. The Taoiseach has admitted the Government has never attempted even to negotiate our sovereign debt, even though our Greek colleagues are doing precisely this and are standing still on it.

Do Fine Gael or the Labour Party think it patriotic to cut from those who have the least to give, from those who struggle or for those for whom the Celtic tiger was something about which they only heard? Do they think that people who provide essential work in communities are expendable? Do they think organisations such as local GAA clubs in my constituency like Setanta and Erin's Isle, Finglas Meals on Wheels, Citizen's Information, Glór na nGael child care and many others are the enemies of this country? Do they consider them to be leeches on the society they helped to hold together while others supped from the trough but never paid their share and, at their worst, plummeted this country into the desperate position in which it now finds itself?

In Dublin North-West, approximately 500 people work in community employment schemes. They provide hot meals for the elderly and infirm and help to organise community groups and sports clubs. These people are doing jobs for which the Government and this State fail to provide. They provide these services, which should be full-time posts, to support people and communities who need help, support and care. These are good, hard-working people who come from a wide range of backgrounds and who are trying to return to work. This is not what the Minister has previously characterised as being a "lifestyle choice": it is the reality for people who live in the real world. Those to whom I refer have done their best to overcome many varied obstacles and are now faced with an Ireland in which they cannot obtain employment as a result of the failings of others who go untouched and some of whom continue to be rewarded and will never set foot in a jail not to mention a police station.

One would struggle to find a person who does not know someone benefiting from a service provided with the help of CE workers. Like the carers who have been greatly mistreated, those on CE schemes are saving the State money through their dedication and hard work. The State is only willing to provide them with such work in the form of CE schemes. The State has given away billions of euros to unsecured bondholders and huge amounts in bonuses and pay upgrades for its cronies. In doing so, it has broken its promises in respect of pay but it refuses to support a massively cost-effective programme such as that relating to community employment. The CE schemes have done fantastic work and the State has paid so little for this, particularly in the context of the benefits that have been forthcoming.

If those on the Government benches were serious about the interests of the people they would support the motion and retain the services upon which communities depend and which are provided to the State - at such good value - by the good people to whom I refer. I issue a warning to the Deputies of Fine Gael and Labour. The people are watching and listening. Their words will mean nothing if they are not followed up by more than crocodile tears. The people will give their verdict. Those in Fine Gael and Labour under-estimate and disregard the people at their peril. Ba cheart dóibh an deis seo a ghlacadh agus tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún seo.

I welcome the opportunity to reply to the debate on this very important issue which goes to the heart of our communities. I welcome and extend a céad míle fáilte to the many CE participants, from various parts of Dublin and beyond, who are in the Visitors' Gallery and who have been present during various stages of the debate. Those to whom I refer attended the solidarity protest which took place outside the Dáil this evening and during which Government Deputies were urged to support the motion and oppose the proposed cuts.

I compliment the CE schemes on the excellent service they have provided in communities for many years. Many of them provide services which are vital and which neither the public service or the private sector could provide. I refer to services that range from meals on wheels, community-based drug rehabilitation, child care, and so on. We have all benefited at some level from the provision of such services. In my constituency of Laois-Offaly, towns such as Birr, Tullamore, Edenderry, Portlaoise, Mountmellick, Durrow and Mountrath have vibrant CE schemes which provide vital services.

This afternoon I was delighted to attend a national meeting organised by SIPTU and IMPACT, which took place at the Heritage Hotel in Portlaoise. The hall was packed with almost 500 CE scheme supervisors. That is the largest crowd I have seen in the hotel since the late Mr. Joe Dolan performed there. Today's meeting provides an indication of the level of interest in this. The Government needs to take note of it. Without the energy and vision of the supervisors many of the schemes and those who participate on them would not have reached their full potential. In many instances, the supervisors are the engines who drive the schemes. I take this opportunity to commend them on their excellent work. Long may they continue to do it.

CE schemes are worth every cent they receive. As stated in its election manifesto, Sinn Féin believes there is a need to build on the success of the schemes and that is why this motion was tabled. However, the Government has other plans. Each day, those in government feed us a diet of lies and inform us that there is no money available and that we are living beyond our means. According to the Government's budget for 2012, the funding for community employment is to be cut by €41 million. Interestingly, however, the funding for the Tús community work placement scheme is being increased by €54 million. Tús is the yellow-pack version of community employment. Rather than invest in community employment, the Government has decided to invest in Tús. The latter is a work scheme which offers short-term job opportunities. It is a scheme about which we and many others have grave doubts. There is no education or training aspect to Tús: it is simply a headline-grabbing exercise designed to reduce the numbers of those on the dole.

The Government, particularly the Minister, Deputy Burton, must be reminded of why CE schemes were established in the first instance. Community employment programmes are designed to help the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged people to return to work by offering them part-time jobs and temporary placement in their local communities. Participants are encouraged to seek permanent part-time and full-time employment elsewhere based on the experience and new skills they gain while on CE schemes. There are now more than 183,000 people who are considered long-term unemployed. At a time when the Government should invest in community employment and build on its success, it is instead - via some form of perverse logic - doing the very opposite.

The Government has spun what it is doing as being good and healthy medicine for CE participants. However, neither I nor the supervisors I met this afternoon believe that. When communities saw through the spin, rallied and then applied pressure on Labour and Fine Gael Deputies, the Government buckled and initiated the two reviews to which the amendment to the motion refers. The Minister claimed that no CE scheme would close, that she would head up a review and that all would be safe in the land of community employment. What will really happen is that schemes will be in competition with each other for scarce resources. Those who operate the schemes have received letters, e-mails and telephone calls from Deputies that promised that they have the ear of the Minister and that everything will be resolved. Having engaged with the CE scheme participants and supervisors, I am aware that they do not want reviews. What they seek is a complete reversal of Government policy. There must be no ifs, no buts and no reviews: the cuts must be reversed.

The motion states that Dáil Éireann "calls on the Government to immediately reverse the cut of 66% to the community employment (CE) schemes' training and materials budget". In its amendment, the Government simply reinforces the position by stating "the baseline amount of the grant remains at €500 per participant announced in the budget" but that there "will be discretion to make up to €1,000 per participant available to schemes in respect of the training and materials grant this year, based on a clear demonstration of need by the CE schemes". The will happen when the competition between schemes to which I refer commences. In the Government's words, the cuts will remain the same.

On a point of order, this is an extremely important debate and I find it most disconcerting that the Minister and Minister of State are using it as an opportunity to converse among themselves. If they would pay attention to the speaker and what he has to say on the issue under discussion, that would suit the situation so much better.

On a point of order, I have heard everything the Deputy has stated. I could repeat, word for word, what he just said.

Perhaps the Minister and Minister of State could share their tittle-tattle with each other elsewhere.

If Deputy Ó Caoláin wants me to repeat what Deputy Stanley just said, I can do so. I listened carefully and respectfully-----

No, the Minister is not showing respect at all.

If someone were to test mine and Deputy Ó Caoláin's memories, I am sure I could predict who could quote verbatim what Deputy Stanley said. I cannot speak in the same way for the Deputy's memory as I can for my own.

I will not answer back. We are watching the Minister.

I ask Deputy Stanley to resume. He should be allowed to continue, without interruption.

I also noted all of the misstatements Deputy Stanley has made.

I hope the Minister has learned a great deal from what the Deputy said.

Now that I have the ear of two Ministers and in view of the fact that another Labour Deputy has just entered the Chamber, I will make my concluding remarks.

One of the more vulnerable groups that has borne the brunt of the Minister's cuts comprises those in receipt of lone parent's allowance. They are obliged to struggle to keep their families together and during her short reign, the Minister, Deputy Burton, has managed to do more damage to them than Fianna Fáil did in the previous 11 years. Last year - on foot of the position which obtained under the Fianna Fáil Government - a lone parent with three children who was on a CE scheme was entitled to a payment of €504. Under this Government, the same person would only receive a payment of €297. There is something terrible about that.

The Deputy's figures are wrong.

They are not wrong.

A lone parent with three children was better off under the previous Fianna Fáil Government than under a Labour Party Minister. Lone parents were better off to the tune of €207 per week under Fianna Fáil and the Minister cannot spin or review her way out of that. Labour is making lone parents poorer. This is at a time when the Government has paid the former Anglo Irish Bank, a zombie financial institution, billions of euros of our money. It is taking money out of the pockets of working class people and using it to line those of faceless, unguaranteed bondholders. This is something which the Government is not legally bound to do.

However, it does so because it has its priorities wrong. The Government values Anglo Irish Bank bondholders more than lone parent community employment scheme participants and the communities in which we live. It took Fianna Fáil 13 years to be accused of being out of touch. It has taken the Government 11 months. For the sake of those in need in our society, I hope it does not take it as long as it took Fianna Fáil to go down the tubes.

Deputy Mulherin made a very valuable contribution. She has stated community employment schemes in her constituency are in turmoil, that funding should not be cut prior to a review and that the Minister was badly advised. I hope she will vote with this side of the House. I urge all Government Deputies who have expressed concerns about the cuts made, in particular Deputy Mulherin and Labour Party Deputies who have not been present in the Chamber for much of the debate, to reflect on how they will vote. Many of them were involved in managing and establishing community employment schemes. They now have a very important opportunity to defend them, as they know the services they provide. If they vote against the motion, they will not be able to face their constituents again. They will have lost credibility with the projects and people they once defended. Sinn Féin would welcome the support of Fine Gael and Labour Party Deputies for the motion because it is about defending services, not about parties. They should stand up for their communities and the ordinary people participating in schemes by supporting the motion to stop the cuts being made.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 89; Níl, 47.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Brien, Jonathan.
  • O’Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 90; Níl, 47.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Brien, Jonathan.
  • O’Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 pm until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 February 2012.