Neart Le Chéile is due to close at the end of next month Neart Le Chéile
Neart Le Chéile

Service users 'devastated' amid plan to shut down 'vital' addiction support service in Dublin

Employees at Neart le Chéile in Clondalkin have been told the centre will close down at the end of next month.

DOZENS OF FAMILIES in Clondalkin in Dublin may be left without vital support if a centre that provides services for drug users and their families is shut down as planned, staff have warned.

Employees at Neart le Chéile have been told the centre will close down at the end of next month.

Neart Le Chéile (meaning Strength Together in Irish) is a community-based organisation which provides two main services.

Cumas works to support children and other family members who experience addiction within their families, while Cairdeas works with people who use drugs or have a history of drug use.

Over 40 families regularly engage with the service.

Lisa Collins, who has worked at Neart Le Chéile (NLC) for over 20 years, said staff and service users are “devastated” by the imminent closure.

It’s a really, really valuable service, it just cannot be lost. It’s in one of the most deprived areas in Clondalkin.

“People rely on it, there is no other service in Clondalkin that provides everything we provide under one roof,” Collins told The Journal.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, local Sinn Féin TD Mark Ward said: “Seven workers were put on unofficial notice in July of this year – protective notice – some have over 20 years of service.”

At the time staff were told that the board was exploring merging NLC with another addiction service, Frontline in Inchicore.

However, during a Zoom call last month, Collins said the board told staff that a merger was not feasible and NLC would cease operating on 31 December.

She said they have spent the last few days “contacting and meeting with all the service users and their families”. 

Collins said service users are distraught.

It’s going to be a huge loss to them, they’re devastated. We’ve spent the last few days wiping tears, not only our own tears but their tears.

“We’re trying to ease the panic, but we are backed up against the wall now and we just don’t know what to do.”

Collins said seven people currently work at the centre – four full-time and three part-time employees. It is understood that there have been difficulties filling management positions. 

In a bid to keep the centre up and running, staff members have suggested adding new members to the board, including Deputy Ward.

He told The Journal: “If anybody knows how vital that service is, it’s me, I worked in drug addiction agencies in Clondalkin for numerous years before I got involved in politics.

“So I know what role Cumas and Cairdeas play in our community. They offer a unique service, there’s no other service in our community that will help the actual children of people who are affected by addiction. If that was to go, it’s frightening to think what will happen.”

WhatsApp Image 2023-11-16 at 12.50.44 (1) Lisa Collins (far left) and Mark Ward (third from left) with NLC staff members this week Lisa Collins Lisa Collins

Ward said there is “intergenerational trauma” in Clondalkin and NLC is vital in helping to prevent young people from starting to take drugs in the first place, breaking the cycle of addiction.

“Sometimes they’re the best chance for the kids that they are dealing with now not to get involved in a life of addiction or not to get involved in crime, to be able to become productive members of society.

“They really work face to face with these families and it has to continue, there’s no way it can’t,” he stated. 

When raising the issue in the Dáil yesterday, he called on the Department of Health and HSE to intervene.

“The workers disclosed there has been no communication with them since they were served this notice,” he said. “The staff have been left without proper management and proper guidance from the board for some time.

“It’s to the credit of this staff that Neart le Chéile has continued to operate and to provide a service to some of the most vulnerable people in my community.”

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny confirmed to The Journal that he is also willing to become a board member on a temporary basis if it means services can continue. 

“Obviously the workers are not happy and I understand that, and the service users are not happy because the project has been ongoing over the last two decades. So there needs to be clarification on what exactly is happening to the project,” Kenny said.

Trade union intervention

Collins said recent attempts by staff to contact the three remaining board members have been unsuccessful.

“They’re busy, they have their own jobs, they work full-time, but we need any type of communication, even just to say ‘Look, we’re sorry, we know how you’re feeling, we’re trying to sort something in the background, we’re doing everything we can’,” she said. 

The Journal has asked the NLC board for comment. One board member told us they were working on the issue behind the scenes but were not in a position to comment further.

Siptu, the trade union which represents NLC workers, has called on the board to engage further with staff.

Karen Smollen, Siptu organiser, said: “Siptu calls on the board of Neart Le Chéile to immediately sit down with these workers to clarify both the future of the programme and their jobs.”

NLC is funded by the HSE and the Clondalkin Drugs and Alcohol Task Force (CDATF).

Financial accounts submitted for last year show that NLC received €502,885 in funding from the HSE in 2022, as well as over €18,000 in other grants and income.

NLC had net assets of €103,232 as of 31 December 2022 (mainly in cash), up from €58,041 at the end of 2021, according to the accounts.

In a statement, CDATF said it has “had a great deal of communication with the board of Neart le Chéile over the past few months” and has been “working closely with the HSE to support the project to this point”.

At a meeting in June, CDATF said the board “laid out several issues they faced” and, following further correspondence, the board confirmed on 16 October “that they had made the decision to wind down the Neart le Chéile project by the end of 2023″.

“The winding down of the project is a matter for the board of Neart le Chéile,” the statement added.

“Neart le Chéile is funded to provide services to vulnerable members of the community in Clondalkin.

“The priority of the Clondalkin Drugs and Alcohol Task Force at this time will be to ensure that a plan is put in place to support these people in the short term.

“In the longer term we will aim to ensure that funds are retained in the area and that any new service offering is in line with our local drugs strategy.”

The statement added that the task force is in discussions with the HSE to retain funding for these services.

“The Clondalkin Drugs and Alcohol Task Force would also like to clarify that there have been no funding cuts made to Neart le Chéile.

“Our thoughts are with the staff and service users of Neart le Chéile, who are undoubtedly experiencing a lot of uncertainty and anxiety at this news.”

In a response to Ward’s questions in the Dáil, junior minister in the Department of Health Mary Butler said she was not familiar with the case so requested to be copied into correspondence to the Health Minister and the HSE. 

“I’ll speak to Minister Hildegarde Naughton,” she added. “It comes under her remit in relation to the drugs strategy and we’ll see can we get a response for you.”

‘They’ve nowhere to turn’

Cumas, NLC’s family support programme, works with a wide range of people – from young children up to grandparents.

Collins explained: “They work with children from the age of four all the way up to grandparents, there is no age limit.

“Some grandparents are looking after their grandchildren because their own children are dealing with addiction or passed away or locked up.”

Collins said she and other staff don’t want to give up hope that the centre can remain open, but time is running out.

She said drug use in the area is a massive, intergenerational issue, and closing NLC will only make the situation worse.

“We’re dealing with kids as young as eight or nine years old who are vaping, nitrous oxide is a huge problem amongst young people, never mind the heroin, crack cocaine is rampant, weed is rampant.

The drug issue is not going away, it’s only getting worse. These people are being put in a position where they’ve nowhere to turn.

“I’m not just talking about the drug users themselves, I’m talking about the family members who are trying to manage everything, manage new drugs on the scene, manage the younger kids using all this stuff.

“I’m reading reports that fentanyl and [other opioids] are going to be hitting the area soon. That’s going to create a whole other set of problems that we’re not equipped to deal with.”

Collins expressed concern at the decision to close down the centre at such short notice, adding that attempts should be made to prevent or at least postpone this from happening.

This week, The Journal’s podcast The Explainer features Dr Austin O’Carroll, a GP in Dublin who specialises in addiction services. They take a closer look at the marked increase in the number of drug overdoses in Dublin in the past week.  

The Explainer / SoundCloud

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