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Adjournment Debate. - AIDS Funding.

Thursday, 28 March 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 463 No. 5

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Ms F. Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I raise this matter because of my concern at the drastic cut in funding for Positively Irish Action on AIDS in London. PIA is a casualty of a 7.7 per cent reduction in the UK Department of Health's allocation to health and local authorities for HIV-AIDS treatment and care in London. The organisation offers a range of support services to Irish people living in the UK, or travelling between the UK and Ireland, who are affected by HIV and AIDS. It is a community based initiative working not only with people affected by HIV and AIDS but also with their partners, families and carers. It is a flexible, proactive and culturally sensitive service. Over half of the clients who have attended this service have not utilised services at the time of initial contact with the group. This is a stunning statistic.

A recent study concluded that this service met the needs of a client group who are otherwise hard to reach and who experience difficulties in assessing generic HIV and AIDS services. The isolation experienced by this group should cause us to examine our own [1473] standards. Until these attitudes change, services such as PIA are essential. It is recognised internationally as responding to a complex problem, which crosses geographic welfare and community boundaries. The organisation is at risk of closure from 1 April. This will leave a significant number of Irish people, with HIV and AIDS, living in London without an essential source of support and possibly unable to access other more mainstream services.

The withdrawal of this service means that many Irish people may find themselves isolated and lonely. I understand from the staff of this service, which totals eight, that there has been a huge outpouring of support from the families of people who have used the service in the past in London. They are extremely concerned that the service will not now be available. It has provided a vital bridge between the clients and their families in Ireland. If the service is withdrawn, many people will lose the support which has enabled them to form more stable lifestyles, obtain the help they need and, in some cases, stabilise their drug abusing patterns.

Ireland is a small country. We know each other well, perhaps too well. Many young people who have contracted HIV and AIDS do not wish to stay here and have gone instead to bigger, more impersonal, less intrusive London. They are entitled to their anonymity but this does not mean they should feel isolated or be isolated in London.

I acknowledge the role of the Irish Embassy so far in addressing this issue. It is important that the UK authorities, in this instance, acknowledge their statutory obligations to the welfare of Irish people living in London. I ask the Minister to make representations to his counterpart in the UK Department of Health. I also ask the Department here to consider providing some funding to the organisation as a gesture of support and a recognition of the work being done there. The vulnerability of people affected by HIV and AIDS fully justifies this kind of intervention.

[1474]Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I thank Deputy Frances Fitzgerald for raising this very important matter. I agree that Positively Irish Action on AIDS does excellent work for Irish people in London affected by HIV and AIDS and their dependants. It plays a particularly important role as a link between counselling and support agencies in Ireland and London in assisting those people.

Assistance to voluntary Irish advice, counselling and welfare bodies in Britain is provided from the Enterprise and Employment Vote through the Díon Committee which is chaired by the Labour Attaché at the Embassy in London. The Díon Committee has been supporting PIAA since 1989. This is evidence of our recognition of the way PIAA addresses the otherwise unmet needs of Irish people affected by HIV and AIDS in a culturally sensitive way. PIAA is regarded by the Díon Committee as one of the most professional of the voluntary organisations which it supports.

The Government would be concerned at any negative development, such as the cessation of funding from other sources, liable to affect the ability of PIAA to continue to provide its services to members of the Irish community in London. As soon as we heard from PIAA of the possibility that funding by the Inner London HIV Health Commissioners' Group might be withdrawn, the embassy there discussed the matter with PIAA and, on that basis, made our concern known to the relevant British authorities, including the Department of Health. It was asked to defer any decision until a full service review of the needs of the HIV-Aids community in London is carried out and to meet the shortfall in PIAA's budget for 1996-97 to give it an opportunity to rebuild confidence in the solvency of its operations and to ensure its survival.

One of the health authorities in London has offered short-term transitional funding amounting to 50 per cent of what PIAA has received in 1995-96. [1475] PIAA's future is not yet safeguarded and negotiations are continuing between PIAA and the health authority concerned. PIAA has also requested an increase in the level of funding which it has been receiving direct from the European Union's Europe against AIDS programme. A decision on that application is still awaited.

PIAA is also seeking replacement funding from the British Department of Health's communicable disease programme. These negotiations are continuing. I understand that there is no immediate risk to PIAA's continuing to operate. The embassy in London and the Díon Committee are continuing to monitor developments closely and will do what they can to ensure that its valuable services continue to be available to Irish people who need them.

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