Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (55)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

55. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the supports offered towards the provision of services by organisations (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53372/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Defence)

I refer to the supports offered towards the provision of services by certain organisations. I salute our serving soldiers, including those on peacekeeping missions, as well as members who have retired. The organisations to which I refer try to represent former members as best they can. The veterans gave gallant service under the Irish flag through the United Nations in the Congo and many other places and put their lives at risk. We need to support and look after them and thank them in some small way.

I recognise the valued public service given to the State by retired members of the Defence Forces. I and officials from my Department hold regular meetings with three veterans’ associations, namely, the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, IUNVA, the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel, ONE, and the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers, ARCO. The veterans’ associations raise issues of concern to their members at the meetings.

As part of the supports currently offered to veterans, my Department has service level agreements with ONE and IUNVA which set out the services the Department provides to these associations. Under the terms of the SLAs, my Department provides financial support by way of an annual subvention to ONE and IUNVA to support their work and the range of services they offer to ex-service personnel. Under my direction, the annual grant given to ONE increased from €44,000 to €100,000. This significant increase in funding has made a substantial additional contribution to the work of ONE, which provides accommodation to homeless, elderly and disabled ex-members of the Defence Forces in Athlone, Letterkenny and Smithfield in Dublin. The subvention to IUNVA is €11,000 per annum. The funding provided by my Department is to support the general overheads of the organisations.

I am strongly supportive of ONE’s plans to increase the number of its veteran support centres, VSCs, around the country and, where possible, I have permitted the use of premises in functioning barracks to accommodate such centres. The purpose of a VSC is to provide a location for veterans to receive information and advice, as well a welcoming place to meet former comrades. The availability of VSCs can assist in preventing homelessness through early intervention. They also serve a critical function in addressing loneliness and isolation.

I wish to acknowledge that the Department has provided €300,000 towards the funding of services offered by ONE and IUNVA to former members of the Defence Forces. I seek clarity and a guarantee that the funding will be ring fenced. I ask the Minister of State to provide further detail on the nature of the services that will be resourced from that allocation. Specifically, I ask him to detail the funding for Post 24, the south Tipperary branch of IUNVA. It was formed in 2004 and initially held its meetings in the famous Kickham Barracks, Clonmel, which has since closed. It does tremendous work and is a link for the former members, some of whom have been left in poor circumstances after many years of service.

I ask the Minister of State to join me in offering sympathies on the death of Jimmy Cagney, a member of the Clonmel branch and a veteran who served in the Congo. He passed away in November.

I offer my condolences to Jimmy's family and thank him for the service he gave to this country on peacekeeping duties for many years. I recently announced I had secured total funding of €300,000 to be awarded to ONE and IUNVA. I recently held a meeting with Ollie O'Connor from ONE and Jim Casey from IUNVA and explained how I would like to strand this funding to both organisations. It is only right and proper that we look after both associations, as well as the officers' association.

IUNVA has a drop-in centre in Clonmel, Post 24, which is located at the former stationmaster's house in the town. I understand that it is leased on a ten-year basis from Iarnród Éireann. There is an office and a meeting room, manned daily by its members. It appears to attract many visitors. If its members seek assistance, they can put their project forward through the IUNVA leadership to apply for the additional funding.

In 2011, after many months of frustrating work, Post 24 took up residence in the former stationmaster's house at the railway station in Clonmel, as the Minister of State noted, where it continues to improve and develop its highly regarded drop-in service. Many functions have been held there, and this week, as Christmas approaches, dinner is being provided in the same building by volunteers to less fortunate people who will not have their own dinner, such as those who are homeless.

The group's primary role is providing support, advice and counselling to members of the Defence Forces and their families who have been affected by overseas service. That is why I ask the Minister of State to provide a guarantee that funding assistance for the wonderful organisation of the south Tipperary branch of IUNVA will continue. As veterans of UN operations worldwide, the Clonmel branch continues to support current soldiers, gardaí and civilian personnel who serve in often dangerous and difficult circumstances, such as retired personnel in the UN service, who have represented their country in the best possible way, sometimes at a cost to their health, mental welfare, personal relationships and, in some cases, lives.

The association has the approval of the Government. It is non-denominational, non-sectarian and non-political. It does what it says on the tin and looks after current and retired members of the Defence Forces. It is trying to help itself, and all its members want is to be allowed to support one another. Ní neart go cur le chéile.

I fully agree with the sentiments the Deputy expressed. I meet representatives of both IUNVA and ONE and former officers of the Defence Forces yearly, while officials at the Department are in regular contact with them. I recently secured funding to address an issue at the IUNVA building in Arbour Hill, where we installed a new roof, and for the museum’s roof, which will undergo renovations. It is very welcome that visitor centres and support centres have opened throughout the country, including at the barracks in my constituency of Wexford, where a new support centre will be manned by former members of the Defence Forces. It is only right and proper that there are facilities for them where they can seek support. Furthermore, other services are offered through the Department.