Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Questions (44)

Christopher O'Sullivan


44. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence if additional funding will be made available to support an organisation (details supplied) in view of the fact local training centres are struggling financially with the lack of revenue-raising events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36599/20]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Defence)

My question relates to the Irish Red Cross and its funding. In fairness to the Minister and the Department, they fund the Irish Red Cross to the tune of almost €1 million per annum. However, the local branches of the Irish Red Cross depend heavily on fees they get from attending events, concerts, race meetings and so forth. An extra cash injection is needed to keep these branches afloat in the current circumstances. Can that funding be provided?

I am aware the Irish Red Cross has been particularly active in west Cork, especially in response to flooding incidents and supporting businesses in the aftermath. The Irish Red Cross is an independent charitable body with full power to manage and administer its affairs. It has approximately 3,200 members based in 86 branches spread throughout the country. My Department makes an annual grant payment to the Irish Red Cross, towards the administrative running cost of its headquarters.  In 2020, this grant amounted to €965,000, which includes Ireland’s contribution of €130,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross.  The grant has been increased by 11% since 2017, following consideration of a business case made by the Irish Red Cross at that time.

A number of other Departments and bodies provide funding to the Irish Red Cross in respect of various programmes provided or administered by them, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Protection, which has responsibility for rural and community development, and the Department of Transport, as well as the HSE and various county councils. Full details can be found in the 2019 annual report of the Irish Red Cross.

On the specific issue raised by the Deputy, I am acutely aware of the difficulties that have faced many charities in 2020 due to Covid-19.  It has been particularly challenging for charities similar to the Irish Red Cross whose branches throughout the country generate most of their income from community activities, such as attendance at sporting events, concerts, road races and so forth.  Unfortunately, Covid-19 has prevented many of these community events from taking place in 2020. The extent to which such events will be possible in the near future will depend on the evolution of the virus over the coming months.

To assist the Irish Red Cross in these difficult times, my Department supported an application for financial assistance from the Department of Social Protection's €35 million Covid-19 stability fund for the community and voluntary sector earlier this year. The Irish Red Cross was allocated the maximum of €200,000 from this fund. I am aware that an additional €10 million in stability scheme funding was allocated to that Department in budget 2021. This will provide further assistance to community and voluntary groups providing critical front-line services to the most vulnerable in our communities.  I understand the process for distributing the additional allocation will be finalised shortly. I have asked my officials to bring the challenges being faced by some local branches of the Irish Red Cross to the attention of that Department to ensure they get prioritised.

The Minister mentioned the stability fund and the fact the Irish Red Cross received €200,000 from it, but, unfortunately, it is not enough to keep the branches afloat. The Minister hit the nail on the head in terms of the challenges faced by the branches. The best I can do is offer him the example of the Clonakilty branch of the Irish Red Cross. It is an incredible branch and covers all of west Cork, a huge area. As the Minister mentioned, it deals with events, race meetings, summer shows, concerts and festivals. None of these has happened this year, so its income stream has been cut off completely. That has left it in a very precarious position. The Clonakilty branch had established a state-of-the-art facility in Clonakilty, but it has had to leave the premises. It had two ambulances and now the ambulances have nowhere to go. There is nowhere to conduct its training or to store the ambulances. It is in a very severe predicament. I am requesting a further injection of funding from the Minister's Department. As regards the situation in Clonakilty, where the branch does not have a premises anymore, could the Minister intervene and see if it could somehow secure a premises or land on which to build a premises?

Regarding the securing of land locally, I am not familiar with the individual case, but I suggest that a conversation with Cork County Council might be helpful.

An extra €10 million was allocated in the budget for this community stability fund, if one can call it that. The fund provided €200,000 to the Irish Red Cross so far this year, so I would be hopeful that the organisation may be able to secure more money through the allocation of that sum. I do not know if the Deputy has raised that with the relevant Minister, but following this question I will try to ensure that the concerns of the Irish Red Cross are part of the consideration when allocating that extra €10 million. That is probably the most likely source of funding in the short term for the Irish Red Cross. I accept that it has been put under significant financial pressure this year, as have many community organisations for the reasons we outlined.

I thank the Minister. I assume he will liaise with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, on that.

That would be fantastic. I have had correspondence with the local branch. Despite the fact the funding goes to the Irish Red Cross nationally, that funding does not always drip down to the branch level. The case that was made to me was whether there was any way the funding mechanism could be amended in such a way that the annual allocation of almost €1 million in funding from the Department could go directly to the branches. Is that something that could be considered? I am hearing that the funding is not necessarily dripping down to local branch level.

If I were to decide where almost €1 million goes on the basis of branches in individual parts of the country, I have no doubt that I would try to prioritise parts of Cork, but that would not be appropriate. We provide a funding package to the Irish Red Cross. Some of that funds its affiliation to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is €130,000 each year. The rest of it goes on running the activities of the Irish Red Cross here. We must work on the basis of dealing with a central body that then makes the decision on where money is most needed. I am sure the Deputy knows how the Irish Red Cross functions. How it spends the money we provide for it must be a matter for the Irish Red Cross. If we went into the space of providing funding for specific parts of the country or specific branches on the basis of the assessment of a Minister or Deputy, it would probably be a dangerous space to move into.