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Fury at plan to cut community scheme funds

HUNDREDS of community workers are protesting against Government plans to slash funding for Community Employment Schemes.

Siptu warned today that a 66pc cut in grants provided to the schemes -- as contained in the Budget -- will devastate local communities.

And pressure is growing on the Government to abandon the proposal completely, after Social Protection Minister Joan Burton admitted that the 1,143 schemes across the country will now be reviewed.

The schemes are in place in every county and are designed to help the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged people return to work.

The Budget proposes to cut the training and material grants from €1,500 to €500, as well as removing the entitlement to social welfare payments for new entrants.

Although conceding that the proposal to slash €36m from the schemes has now been parked, the minister suggested that some groups could manage with the cuts in place.

"There are community and voluntary sponsoring organisations that receive funding from a multiplicity of State agencies," she said.

"These will be examined in terms of their ability to continue the programme with reduced funding," she added.

However, both Siptu and Fianna Fail have warned that the proposed cuts would devastate communities.

Union representative Darragh O'Connor -- organiser of today's march -- said that people from all walks of life will be affected by the proposed cut.

"Anyone who is in the community can see the value of what community employment schemes do all around the country -- out of care, childcare, drug rehabilitation, GAA clubs -- there's a long, long list of things that they do," he said.

"I believe and Siptu believes that these are worth protecting, they are vital for local communities to keep communities not only vibrant but to sustain local services in them as well."

And Fianna Fail Public Expenditure Spokesperson Sean Fleming told the Herald today that the move would particularly "cripple" rural communities: "I can't emphasise enough how vitally important these schemes are for communities."