Marginalised areas starved of funding
Disadvantaged communities in Co Wexford which are supposed to benefit from Leader funding are not able to access it because a handful of areas have the know-how to access the money.
This was the view put forward by Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael Sheehan. Ger Mackey of the council's community section said Wexford has one of the highest allocations of funding nationally.
Mr Mackey said substantial money is being pumped into communities through the funding stream.
The €10.55m funding pot is distributed over five years but concern was expressed that 28 small areas in County Wexford in need of development are not benefiting.
The Local Government Act 2001 provides for the establishment of Local Community Development Committees in all local authority administrative areas 'for the purpose of developing, coordinating and implementing a coherent and integrated approach to local and community development'. Wexford County Council's programme began in April 2018.
Under LEADER, any project to receive funding must be aligned with the priorities of the Local Development Strategy.
Grant aid is provided under the following headings: social inclusion, rural environment, providing basic serviced targeted at hard to reach communities, rural youth.
The allocation for Wexford County Council is €9,840,140. The funding of projects is expected to come to €7,580,105 and administration and animation costs of €2,260,036.
Cllr Malcolm Byrne said: 'I would need convincing that the money they have spent has adequately tackled the question of social inclusion. Let's look at the statistics: have the areas of greatest social deprivation improved under this, the answer is no. We pay lip service the whole time to tackling social inclusion but everyone knows there are communities in this county that are continually excluded. If they don't have support to be able to apply for this funding they are not going to be able to get it.'
Cllr Byrne said the unequal distribution of funding is leading to resentment in these communities.
'It's also leading to social divides. We are pumping in money but it's not really tackling some of the root causes of the problem. I want to see very clear measurable ways we are tackling social inclusion because as far as I can see we are not investing in our most disadvantaged communities in this county.'
Cllr Barbara Anne Murphy said: 'I agree. We have 28 small areas that are among the highest areas of deprivation in Ireland. They are still the same as five years ago. If the investment, time and effort was put into capacity building in these areas change would happen but it's not being done. Wexford Local Development like to think it is but the proof is on the ground. When you go to any of these areas they haven't invested a cent. The €5m should be put into these areas which we need to bring on in baby steps. A lot of money has been spent but it hasn't been spent in the areas of greatest need.'
Cllr Ger Carthy said the LCDC group has worked pro-actively in communities across the county and have been part of a task-force for Rosslare Europort. 'A lot of communities need a help up, not a hand out,' he said.
Mr Mackey said: 'We are working on how we can measure the success of our programmes. If we spent another €10m we mightn't have more success. The key to this for the LCDC is getting agencies on the ground delivering social inclusion programmes to young unemployed people, people with substance abuse problems. Groups are working on their own. There is an opportunity here to deliver a coordinated whole government response.'
Cllr Byrne said: 'The programmes were designed to measure social inclusion within specific areas and targets. By the measures that are being used the programmes have failed. We are forgetting these particular communities in Co Wexford. I agree with an all agency approach, but if we spend €10m we should see improvements and we are not.'
Cllr George Lawlor said the Mauldintown area of Wexford is a prime example of agencies working together for the common good and benefit of the community. He praised Wexford Local Development's work in the area.
'I won't be told there is no good end product there. At one point Maudlintown had the same poverty index as Moyross in Limerick and now it's a model community thanks to councillors working on the ground just as Tony Dempsey is working day in, day out (in his area). It's not just about pointing the finger at organisations, people have to work with them as well. The results are there (in Maudlintown) and the entire community has benefited.'
Cllr David Hynes said when the recession hit substance misuse projects saw their funding drastically cut, as did child and adolescent mental health services.
'A long as we lag behind in jobs and education we are going to be behind. There are the parts of New Ross and Wexford town that are the old chestnuts. I think there have been improvements but not to the extent that needs to be happening. Unless we tackle mental health and substance misuse we are going to continue to have deprivation.'
Cllr Jim Moore said there are communities who haven't been availing of the funding 'for whatever reason', calling for interventions to ensure they benefit from money available to them.
The meeting heard that the €10m is split between different programmes, including education and training and community development.
Cllr Michael Sheehan said money given to mens sheds and community schemes will have a hugely positive effect. He said if there is someone in a community who is good at filling out grant applications that community will reap the benefits time and time again, adding that it would be doing the people working on the LCDC an injustice to say they've been squandering the money.
Cllr Robbie Ireton said Riverchapel benefited from new sports facilities, but as the fifth biggest urban centre in the county, more funding and facilities are needed for the area.
'We are crying out for a community centre and none is coming. We are told there is no money available and the space is being used for a pop-up cafe. When is this committee going to sit down and work with us? We have a school with over 400 kids going to it and we need a new national and secondary school. When are we going to be included?'
Cllr Fionntáin O'Suilleabhain called for more training for communities on how to work the system.
Chairperson of the LCDC Cllr Kathleen Codd Nolan said it is working so hard in communities, adding that even one or two thousand euros can make a big impact in areas.
'We are going to make sure people who haven't been reached will be reached in the next six months,' she said.
CEO Tom Enright praised the community section team on their work on the LCDC. He said it was a positive move to involve councillors in the body as in the past they had no input or oversight. 'As councillors you have a role to decide what priorities are there. We now have a role and can see where the money goes.'