My Department has extensive engagement with the community and voluntary sector as part of its ongoing work to support empowered, inclusive and resilient communities and a thriving volunteer culture, and to help this sector to contribute fully to civil society. In the last year, in particular, my Department has put in place various initiatives including:
- Worked with Pobal to put in place guidelines for the community and voluntary sector for reopening or operating their premises safely, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Worked to support the Community Call initiative which was an unprecedented mobilisation of both state and voluntary resources to combat the effects of COVID-19. This included providing funding for a COVID-19 Community Outreach initiative implemented by the Wheel and Irish Rural link, which supported the voluntary sector.
- Provided flexibility under the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) to allow Local Development Companies work to support initiatives put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Funded programmes in 2020 including two rounds of the Community Enhancement Programme (€7m) and two rounds of the COVID-19 Emergency Fund (€4.2m).
- My Department currently supports over 420 community organisations under the Community Services Programme, or CSP, to provide local social, economic and environmental services through a social enterprise model. Pobal, who administer the programme on behalf of my Department engage with organisations under this programme on a regular basis.
- In response to the difficulties being experienced by organisations due to COVID-19, my Department developed an additional Support Fund totalling €4.75M which assists CSP supported organisations to continue to retain CSP supported employees on their payroll and also provides assistance towards the cost of the Employers PRSI contribution, during this crisis period, and up to April 2021. My Department and Pobal are continuing to monitor the situation closely.
- The CLÁR 2020 programme placed a particular focus on supporting CLÁR communities to deal with the impact of COVID-19 in their areas through the addition of a new funding measure - Meals on Wheels and Linked Services. This measure was open to established organisations and groups involved in the provision of meals on wheels with linked services. Funding of €340,000 was announced on 20th November 2020 for 45 projects under this Measure. The programme also supports voluntary organisations who provide transport for service users in rural areas under the Mobility and Cancer Care Measure. On 11 December 2020, I approved funding of almost €1.3 million for 26 organisations under this measure. I anticipate that the measures to be funded under the CLÁR 2021 programme will be launched in the coming weeks.
- My Department takes a partnership approach to its work with the voluntary sector and this will continue through the implementation of many of the strategies and action plans under the aegis of this Department, in the development of policy and delivery of services, and through the networks and support structures, many of which we help to maintain. In doing this, we will continue to put communities at the centre of finding and implementing solutions for their own areas.