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'Are there no people with disabilities north of Dublin?': Anger over lack of funding in northwest

An organisation in “urgent need of funding” has criticised the lack of funding given to projects in the northwest as part of a new initiative.

CONCERNS HAVE BEEN raised about the lack of funding given to projects in the northwest as part of a new programme that aims to assist young people with disabilities upskill and find employment.

At the start of the month, the government announced that €16 million was being allocated across 27 projects.

The Ability Programme aims to support over 2,600 people aged 15-29 years transition from school to further education, training and employment.

Census 2016 figures show that the employment rate for people with disabilities of working age is 36.5%, compared with 72.8% for people of working age without a disability.

The minimum grant is €200,000 and the maximum grant is €750,000. The majority of the projects which received funding are in Dublin and the surrounding areas. No projects in the northwest received funding.

iCARE, a Donegal-based organisation which provides support and respite for people living with autism, released the below map which highlights the locations of the projects being funded – 13 of the 27 are based in Dublin.

34644255_10156415712646119_919562750160535552_n Map showing the locations of projects which received Ability funding. Source: iCARE

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) said the likelihood that an application would receive funding was based on its overall quality and “the number of applications from that county”.

iCARE jointly applied for a grant with two other Donegal-based organisations, the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation and Extern, in January. Their application was the only one from Donegal.

In a statement, iCARE manager Liam Gill said the groups were “extremely disappointed to be turned down for this funding, but more disappointed when we examined what areas through Ireland received funding”.

“We do not think any of these organisations are less deserving than us, but we do believe that the allocation is not spread out throughout Ireland fairly.

Are there no young people with disabilities north of Dublin or Galway?

The three groups in question are “in urgent need of funding”, he said.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Gill added: “The fact that above Roscommon no one was successful in getting funding is really, really disappointing. Believe it or not, there are a lot of young people and adults with disabilities up around this direction too.”

Noting that 13 organisations in Dublin received funding, Gill said: “I’m not saying for one second that they’re not worthy organisations but people in other areas need to be taken into consideration too.”

He said the feedback the Donegal organisations received about their application included criticism that they only included “a limited response from clients, carers and parents”.

Gill said this is “a joke in itself” as “some of our young people are nonverbal”, adding: “That was another kick in the teeth, we weren’t happy with that.”

The three organisations had applied to receive a €750,000 grant over a three-year period. The money would have been spent on career guidance and employment advice workshops as well as upskilling programmes and other supports.

Gill said it costs about €100,000 annually to run the iCARE centre, the vast majority of which comes from grants and fundraising by “parents who are exhausted”.

There’s a lot of anger … It just feels like we’re forgotten about up here all over again.

“Our community is really resilient, surviving up to now providing respite for younger children. Now they’re forgetting about older people too. It’s like the government thinks, ‘They can just get on with it.’ It’s not good enough. It’s rural Ireland that really needs [the funding].”

Person-centred supports 

The objectives of the Ability Programme include:

  • To bring young people with disabilities who are not work-ready closer to the labour market using a range of person-centred supports
  • To assist young people with disabilities to develop life skills required to participate in education, training and employment
  • To assist young people with disabilities at key transition points between education, training and employment
  • To support young people with disabilities who are not in education, employment or training to access and participate in education, training and employment
  • To build the capacity of mainstream employment services, education and training providers to support the progression of young people with disabilities
  • To build the capacity of employers to recruit and retain young people with disabilities within their workforce

Pobal, a non-profit organisation that works on behalf of the government, has been contracted by the DEASP to manage the programme including the application and evaluation process for the proposals received.

A spokesperson for the DEASP said: “Following an extensive information campaign (including information events held in Cavan, Dublin and Limerick) and an application process, the Ability Programme attracted applications from 59 projects.

“A detailed and independent assessment process was undertaken by Pobal.”

Pobal awarded scores out of 100 for all applications, with scores being assigned to each proposal based on a weighted marking system linked with the scheme’s evaluation criteria as follows:

  • Meeting the programme/measure priorities (40%)
  • Need for the proposal (20%)
  • Capacity of the organisation (20%)
  • Value for money (20%)

“Only projects receiving a score of 60 or above were deemed by Pobal to be of sufficiently high standard to be recommended for funding.

“On this basis, Pobal recommended 27 projects as being suitable for funding; this represents some 46% of the proposals received.”

The spokesperson said these recommendations were accepted as they were made by Pobal “on the basis of the above objective criteria only, which were communicated to all applicants equally”.

Applicants who believe Pobal’s recommendations are unfair can appeal a particular decision.

“The assessment process was based on the material provided by the applicant as to how they proposed to address the objectives of the scheme in line with award criteria as set out above. This process was applied irrespective of where the application originated.

Therefore, the likelihood that an application based in an individual county would receive funding was based on the number of applications from that county and on an objective assessment by Pobal of the quality of that application.

The spokesperson said, of the 59 applications, organisations from 22 counties were represented.

“There were 13 counties in total (including Donegal) for which only one application was received. There are other counties for which an application was received but not recommended for funding who are not in the northwest (such as Carlow, Clare, Westmeath, Waterford).

“It is also important to note that while some of the successful applications came from organisations that are headquartered or based in particular locations, some of the projects will be providing services beyond that county in which they are based, and in some cases providing services across the country,” the spokesperson said.

When asked about how the funding was allocated, a spokesperson for Pobal told us: “While recommendations for funding are provided by Pobal based on strict criteria laid down in the programme guidelines, the Department for Employment Affairs and Social Protection is responsible for processing final decisions.

“Pobal does not comment on specific programmes or decisions made by the Department.”

Increase in funding 

Initially it was expected that funding for the programme would amount to €10 million over a three-year period.

However, a DEASP spokesperson said, given the quality of the proposals received, this funding was increased to €16 million to support all 27 projects recommended by Pobal.

Speaking at the announcement earlier this month, Employment Minister Regina Doherty said the funding “seeks to directly address the barriers faced by young people with disabilities” and help those who are willing and able to work “to navigate their individual transition period into employment”.

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath said that funding the projects was part of the government’s response to delivering on commitments in the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities (2015-2024).

“For all of us a key period in life is that transition period between school and education or employment, as we seek to follow our own individual career paths. This transition period, as we know, can be difficult for people with disabilities,” McGrath said, adding that the projects in question will help young people “achieve their own employment ambitions”.

The initiative is co-funded by the Irish government and the European Social Fund as part of the ESF’s Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020.

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Órla Ryan

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