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 Header Item An Garda Síochána: Statements (Continued)
 Header Item Money Advice and Budgeting Service and Citizen Information Centres: Motion [Private Members]

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] I think that is a function of the reforms that are there.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Thank you, Tánaiste.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Policing Authority has been questioning various issues and this type of information is now emerging. I want to welcome that, but it is extremely disturbing, as I said.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Given the necessity for the public to have absolute confidence in the police force, in this case An Garda Síochána, and given that over the past ten or fifteen years there have been numerous questions raised about the operation of An Garda Síochána, is the chain of command applicable in An Garda Síochána at the present time? If not, to what extent can it be addressed in the interim period? Notwithstanding the proposal for an inquiry or review, the chain of command must be observed. That applies to those in operation at ground level observing authority and those at the top. Otherwise, we are wasting our time having a discussion. In the shortest possible time, I ask the Minister to try to ensure that that authority is stamped on and through the force to all sections without delay.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Deputy Durkan makes an extremely relevant point about the chain of command. It is one of the more disturbing aspects of this entire affair. Why did the chain of command not work more effectively? What was the chain of command doing about these issues? As other Deputies have said, there are procedures for reporting back on these breath tests. There are people who have responsibility for these issues other than the garda out on the beat. I absolutely believe that that is one of the issues that need to be examined in this independent inquiry.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I thank all Deputies for their co-operation in giving everyone the opportunity to ask questions.

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

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

accepts:

— the vitally important work undertaken by the Citizen Information Services (CIS) and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) offices across the country in providing information, advice and also helping citizens to manage and overcome debt; and

— the significant role these services have had in recent years assisting families with distressed mortgages;

recognises:

— that MABS and CIS offices are an intrinsic part of, and deeply embedded in, local communities who depend on them greatly;

— that volunteerism is a central component of the MABS and CIS services and ethos;

— the genuine and growing concern about the manner in which the restructuring of MABS and CIS is being undertaken and the potential negative implications of the proposed regional model;

— that the restructuring process is disenfranchising volunteers, which is counterproductive;

— the growing concern about the proposed changes to local boards and the implications for members and services; and

— that those directly affected by this restructuring process believe that it is taking place without any meaningful dialogue; and

calls on the Minister for Social Protection to:

— immediately utilise the power he has under the Citizens Information Act 2007, to issue a directive to halt this proposed regionalisation;

— conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the restructuring process and the proposed regional model;

— heed the concerns of those who have voiced their strong reservations about the restructuring process and to ensure that all stakeholders involved are consulted and allowed to engage in meaningful constructive dialogue to secure an outcome that is agreeable to all; and

— ensure that any restructuring process does not result in the downgrading of the quality, effectiveness and accessibility of services to citizens.

  I seek the permission of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to share my time with Deputies MacSharry, Curran, Scanlon and McGuinness.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call for self-discipline. I am not going to interrupt the Deputy.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I will listen very carefully to Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as always.

The conventional wisdom is that if something is not broken, one should not fix it. That wisdom seems to have been turned on its head for this particular proposal that we discuss tonight. The advice in this case seems to be that if it is not broken, fix it and fix it good. The proposal, in short, is to abolish all MABS and Citizens Information companies throughout the country and replace them in each case with eight regional boards. The theory is that this will give rise to savings in administration, etc., and that that money will be redirected back into front-line services. It is a lovely theory, but unfortunately the facts do not bear it out.

I have consulted widely on this matter with the staff of the relevant agencies, volunteers, without whom the agencies could not operate, and most importantly, perhaps, the end users - the people who depend on the services. To say that their reaction is aghast is a huge understatement. They are horrified by this proposal and they cannot believe that such a proposal is being put forward, particularly in view of how successful both organisations have been in dealing with the people who depend on them. I have had representations from all over the country. I could spend the next several hours reading them out. One representation I received from the Citizens Information centre in Kildare stated that this is a completely destructive and over the top proposal and is akin to demolishing one's house and rebuilding again in a different site, when all that may be needed are some minor repairs.

The common tendency of all of the people who contacted me is that they admit that there are some problems. There is no service that cannot be improved. They are willing to change and to embrace change, including structural change, provided that the restructure is part of a wider strategy to address identifiable problems. They insist, rightly, in my view, that such restructuring must remain community-based and independent, while also taking into account factors such as geography, demography and socioeconomic factors. They have put forward the idea of a county model. They are even prepared to accept the idea of aligning both organisations with a view perhaps to ultimate amalgamation. Therefore, there is no lack of appetite for change amongst those organisations.

The problem is that the proposed change is all about structure and nothing else. The chief executive officer of CIB, which is driving this change, admitted as such. In a speech to the National Association of Citizens Information Services, NACIS, Ms Angela Black stated that the focus was on structure and how a national structure is best configured. It is all about structure. The problem is that not one ounce or iota of evidence has been put forward to explain how this structural change alone will obtain a better outcome for those who depend on the services, whose interests we should be mainly concerned with in this House. However, there is copious anecdotal evidence from the volunteers, the service users and the staff that the contrary is the case. Both services grew organically from the communities they serve. That is their great strength. Since they started, both services have operated on a communitarian basis funded by the State rather than as a centralised service provided by the State. The proposal to regionalise and centralise the services will fundamentally change this ethos. The services are Government-funded but they cannot be nor can they perceive to be Government-run.

The staff who co-operate the services have had little or no consultation about this change. It is a change of huge magnitude but there has been a total lack of consultation. One would think that for services like these, consultation should start with the front-line people providing the services rather than in this top-down approach where the interests of the service users are the last to be considered. It is interesting to note that the United Kingdom, which has been providing this type of service for longer than we have, has enthusiastically embraced the structure and type of system that we are now trying to jettison. Not only has it embraced it, it has made a virtue of it. For example, the report of the UK Citizens Advice Bureau services of 2014 stated: "Our bureaux are staffed by local people who are passionate about their community and sensitive to local needs". Notice how the thread of "local" runs right throughout. It will be impossible to sustain this model if local ownership and autonomy are weakened. It will mean that the service will look less like a local community-based organisation and more like a regional bureaucracy. The current community-based structures provide a service that the users see as independent of the Government. This is what brings people through the doors. Without this, there is a real possibility that they will lose confidence and trust in the services provided.

The local MABS companies throughout the country are run by voluntary boards comprised of volunteers from the locality. The Citizens Information services throughout the country depend on volunteer professionals to come in and give people advice. Volunteerism is central to the ethos of MABS. Without volunteers, the Citizens Information system as we know it could not survive. Scant attention has been taken of the fact both in the Pathfinder report and in these proposals, which derive from the Pathfinder report, of the role of volunteers. For example, there seems to be no realisation that while volunteers will readily sign up for a local service, they will be much less inclined to do so for a service which is remote from them and is based or headquartered in another part of the country.

The Citizens Information Board tells us that the new system is going to cost less. It tells us that eight regional bureaucracies suitably staffed, etc., will cost less than the present system. We are supposed to accept that. Why? Because the Citizens Information Board tells us so. It has not produced one single figure. No cost-benefit analysis has been done. No single figure has been produced to support that contention. On the other hand, the MABS submission to the social protection committee produced detailed figures that convinced me, anyway, beyond any shadow of a doubt that instead of costing less, the new structures will actually cost more. The National Development Managers Network made a very detailed submission to the social protection committee.


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