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Money Advice and Budgeting Service and Citizen Information Centres: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins] They all knew that the report of the committee would be brought to the Minister in order that we could discuss with him where we saw problems and how to fix them. On 15 February, however, the board decided to implement this plan. Why did it jump ahead of the committee's report after all the years of negotiation and consultation? The Minister is using that as an excuse not to intervene but he should ask why that happened. It could have at least waited for a week or two after we gave the report and made some sort of decision. There might then have been time and a breathing space to discuss the areas where there are problems.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I acknowledge the work of Deputy Willie O'Dea in bringing forward this motion which reflects the enormous concerns among the volunteer staff in MABS and the Citizens Information centres around the country. People would have been adrift in the past few years but for MABS. I recently asked the Minister in a parliamentary question to outline the plan to centralise the operations of the MABS and the CICs. The first line of the Minister's reply states: "[It] is important to note that the Citizens Information Board, CIB, assures me that there will be no job losses, no closure of services, no change to service delivery locations and no change to the terms and conditions of serving staff during the lifetime of the restructuring programme. Most importantly, there will be no disruption to CIS and MABS services for those who use them". This is the kind of language that has proved over time to be misleading. What does the Minister mean when he says, "no job losses, no closure of services, no change to service delivery locations and no change to the terms and conditions of serving staff during the lifetime of the restructuring programme"? This is the problem. The Minister has been told several times tonight if it is not broke do not fix it. Where is the cost-benefit analysis of the valuable service they give? Why is there so much centralisation of everything? We spent years trying to decentralise things.

I want a value-for-money audit carried out of the extreme value and lifeline support given by MABS and the CICs. There has been attack after attack, first on the community welfare officers, now post offices and this area, and local government. What have the Minister and Fine Gael got against the people outside the Pale? The attacks are relentless. As the Minister of State from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Seán Kyne, is sitting beside the Minister for Social Protection I have to say I cannot imagine what it is like on the islands. The Minister should withdraw his draconian amendment because it is ridiculous and support Deputy Willie O'Dea’s motion.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy Rae Zoom on Danny Healy Rae I too thank Deputy Willie O'Dea for giving us the opportunity to talk on this very important matter this evening. People with mortgage and financial problems relied on MABS. The local offices provided really valuable help and service to vulnerable people at pivotal times in their lives. The same is true of the Citizens Information centres, dealing with all the new rules and regulations for social welfare payments. They always gave prompt and accurate information to vulnerable people. How does the Minister expect that reducing the number of centres or companies from 93 to 16 will provide a service to people in rural areas? I say without fear of contradiction if this happens the rural areas will be worst affected. Reconfiguration of services means reduction of service. No one ever complained about the service from MABS or the CICs.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Hear, hear.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy Rae Zoom on Danny Healy Rae These vital services were invaluable to poor people who badly needed help and advice. What is the Minister trying to do, keep people in the dark and not let them know what they are entitled to? Shame on him if that is what he is doing. That is what it looks like to me.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I thank Fianna Fáil and, in particular, Deputy Willie O'Dea. I compliment the great work that the staff in MABS and the CICs do because the service they provide to the public is second to none, especially in the past few years when people have been very badly affected by the recession. In some cases if it was not for the service provided by MABS they would not have been able to cope.

I completely disagree with the decision by the CIB, to regionalise the structure to deliver the CIS, in MABS. This would impact directly on how the service is delivered locally. Local voluntary boards, made up of representatives from key agencies, will be dissolved which will significantly reduce the ability to meet the needs of the community they serve. The Kerry CIS board will be dissolved and there is no guarantee of proportional representation at regional level. Kerry will potentially be swallowed by Cork as there is only one CIS in Kerry and four in Cork. The proposed change will undermine the independence, strong community ethos and voluntary nature of the service. The CIS services I have been in contact with appreciate that some sort of rationalisation is required and have presented alternative proposals but these have not been taken on board. This approach included a county model which is the preferred option for the CIS. I am glad to support the motion.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I also thank Deputy Willie O'Dea for bringing forward this vital motion. The CIS and MABS play a significant role in the communities in which they are situated. I am aware of this not only in a personal and political capacity but also as a former voluntary member of the board of management in our local CIS in west Cork.

The proposal by the CIB to abolish the 93 CIS and MABS boards and replace them with 16 regional boards will be detrimental to the local services, not alone in rural Ireland but also in large urban areas. CICs started with local groups of volunteers establishing an information service in the 1970s. They and MABS are distinctly local services, delivered locally. Volunteers play a huge role and are the backbone of the service. This proposal appears to totally underestimate the contribution of the local volunteers and to change the ethos of the CIS and MABS. There are 1,089 volunteers in the CIS network and over 500 in MABS who have a right of participation on boards. These volunteers will not be represented or allowed participate in new regionalised boards. Volunteers are effectively being disenfranchised in this model. Is the Minister actively trying to end volunteerism in this service? Are we going down the road that the last Government under Fine Gael went with the Leader companies? That was very like this situation, wipe out the volunteer and make a complete mess as it did with the Leader programme. Today there are huge concerns that the introduction of a new layer of regional management will create a new layer of bureaucracy and hamper the ability of the service to respond in an efficient and flexible manner to local needs as they present.

The West Cork CIS is an example of one of the 42 CIS entities. It provides a top class information, advice and advocacy service to the people of west Cork. In addition, staff deliver information talks all over west Cork throughout the year in response to requests from community and voluntary groups. For West Cork CIS and most CIS entities this proposed restructuring will result in their having much less autonomy and remove community ownership and active citizenship. I am sure the Minister is aware of the saying, "If it ain't broke don't fix it". There could be no more appropriate saying in this instance. MABS and the CIS must be maintained in our communities and constituencies. They must not become another victim of regionalisation at an additional cost to the taxpayer.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae The previous Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection in her infinite wisdom thought of removing the one representative from County Kerry from the CIB. It was a totally unfair decision but because she had such a majority she decided to pick on me and take me out. It was totally wrong and completely politically biased.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I think the Deputy is taking a little licence.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae We have the time. I have 11 seconds left to attack her. She was wrong, unfair and used her political influence.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath It was anti-rural.

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