Frontline Services ‘To Be Devastated’ In Ireland

SIPTU members demand action to defend jobs in the health service
SIPTU members demand action to defend jobs in the health service

In the Republic of Ireland, a government report has been released which shows that public sector cuts will mean 23,500 workers lose their jobs, devastating frontline services and resulting in 40 decentralisation projects being abandoned.

However, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, has insisted that the plan would be achieved without any compulsory redundancies.

Fianna Fáil’s Sean Fleming has accused the Government of ‘taking a machete to public service numbers’.

The published document confirms that the number of public sector workers will have been reduced by a further 23,500 from the beginning of 2011 to 2015.

There are currently just under 300,000 public service workers.

Challenged over how it would affect frontline services, Howlin has admitted he would not pretend that the reform agenda would not cause problems, but claims that his department would deal with issues as they arise.

The towns affected by the decision to axe 40 decentralisation projects are: Arklow, Athlone, Ballinasloe, Carrickmacross, Carrick-on-Shannon, Cavan, Portlaoise, Galway, Claremorris, Donegal, Drogheda, Dungarvan, Edenderry, Enniscorthy, Fermoy, Gweedore, Kanturk, Kildare, Kilkenny, Killarney, Macroom, Mallow, Mitchelstown, Mullingar, Naas, New Ross Portarlington, Roscrea, Shannon, Waterford, Wexford and Youghal.

There are 32 projects where accommodation is already complete or almost complete that will be left in place. Another 22 projects will be reviewed.

The Government says it will have rationalised 48 State bodies by the end of 2012 and will be reviewing the position of a further 46.

Local leave arrangements, such as for festival and race days, will be abolished, and the same cap on leave allowance will apply across the public sector, with a maximum leave entitlement of 32 days.

Previously, some staff were entitled to over 40 days, as well as further time off for so-called privilege days or local events.

Kenny said the reforms were essential to keep costs to a minimum, and avoid additional tax increases.

It is understood that the Public Service Reform programme contains around 200 key actions, some with timelines for their implementation.

People Before Profit Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett has described the reforms as ‘jobs destruction’.

Boyd Barrett said: ‘The Government is destroying jobs and announcing it as if this will somehow save the struggling economy.

‘This move will only further depress demand in the economy and is utter madness.’

The total of 40 decentralisation projects cancelled would have resulted in 4,553 positions being decentralised to towns around the country.

The worst hit town is Drogheda, which was to have received five separate projects and 602 jobs. None of these will now be going ahead.

Over 700 jobs that were to be taken up in the southeast will now not happen.

The Department of Environment was to move 225 posts to Waterford, 125 posts to New Ross in Co Wexford and 62 posts from the same department to Kilkenny.

Kilkenny was also expecting another 49 jobs from the Arts Council and Wexford was to get another 63 from the National Building Agency.

A further 206 jobs were to go to Dungarvan in Co Waterford from Ordnance Survey Ireland.

Under the original decentralisation plan, a section of the Department of Social and Family Affairs was to move to Donegal Town and 258 staff were to be based there.

Also in Co Donegal, 25 people were to work in Foras na Gaeilge in Gweedore.

There were 159 people moved to Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim to work in phase one of the decentralisation of a section of Social and Family Affairs and under Phase 2, which is not now going ahead, 90 further civil servants were to move.

Carrick-on-Shannon was also expecting 54 jobs in the Central Fisheries Board decentralisation.

l Meanwhile, Irish union SIPTU has accused the Government and the HSE of targeting the elderly with budget cutbacks and hospital closures.

The union’s leader John Hubbard said the decision to close a long-stay hospital for the elderly in Portlaoise and shut more than 20 beds at St Vincent’s Hospital in Athy was ‘unacceptable’.

Hubbard said the decision showed that the authorities were ‘picking on the most vulnerable people in society’.

The HSE has denied there is a coordinated campaign to close public hospitals for the elderly around the country.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said it is seeking a meeting with the HSE to discuss the situation in Athy.

INMO Industrial Relations Officer Derek Reilly said: ‘It is apparent to our organisation that the primary reason for this closure is one of funding.

‘There is sufficient staff within the hospital to keep the beds open.

‘This is another devastating blow to our elderly population and a further erosion of our health services.’

Elsewhere, a Labour Senator has told Minister for Health Dr James Reilly that the party’s ministers in the Cabinet will not put up with the closure of any more public nursing homes.

Senator John Whelan said the closure of army barracks paled into insignificance alongside the downgrading and closure of hospitals for the elderly.

He also said that there would be a national outcry if any more were closed and the Minister did not intervene.

l Residential childcare staff are also threatened by the government public sector cuts.

The Government has imposed a public service recruitment embargo and the IMPACT trade union insists that Social care staff, who work with vulnerable children, should be exempt from the embargo.

IMPACT said: ‘With over 6,000 children in care in Ireland, managers are forced to hire expensive agency staff to maintain child protection and foster care services because they are not allowed to replace professionals who leave.’

Speaking last Wednesday at a seminar called ‘Putting children first: The role of social care professionals’, IMPACT official Christina Carney said agencies charged up to 5,000 euros a week to provide residential care for a single child.

She went on to explain that the HSE also paid fees ranging from 1,200 euros to 1,790 euros per child per week for private foster care arrangements.

‘This simply makes no sense when investing in our own child and foster care services is better for kids and better value for money’, she said.

Carney gave the Government credit for exempting other key professionals who work with children, like social workers, psychologists and speech and language therapists, from the recruitment embargo.

However, she insisted that social care staff should be added to the list.

The seminar, which was also addressed by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald and the HSE’s national director of children and family services, Gordan Jeyes, also heard IMPACT demand that proposed fees for health professionals’ statutory registration be brought in line with those for other professions.

The Government has set fees for social workers at 295 euros a year, compared to just 90 euros and 80 euros a year for teachers and nurses respectively. Social workers in Britain pay just £30.

‘Can someone please tell us why social care workers have not been exempted from the moratorium?

‘There are more than 6,000 children in care, and yet the HSE and voluntary bodies have not been allowed to replace social care staff who leave the service.

‘The HSE’s Department of Children and Families is at least 40 million euros over budget.

‘Yet, because local and regional managers are not allowed to employ social care workers, they have to outsource the protection of children to private agencies, which charge at least 5,000 euros per week to provide residential care for one child.

She said: ‘There is absolutely no logic or justification for continuing the moratorium on this basis.’

Carney added: ‘IMPACT supported calls for professional registration because we support high professional standards.

‘We welcomed this development, but now that it has arrived, we find ourselves having to campaign to reduce the cost to health staff, because it has been set at far too high a personal price for the dedicated professionals concerned.

‘We have had some success as the cost for existing and graduate social workers – the first group to become registered – was reduced from 380 euros to 295 euros (and from 175 euros to 100 euros for students) on foot of IMPACT’s intervention.

‘But the proposed registration fee is still way out of line with those for teachers and nurses – currently just 90 euros and 80 euros a year respectively – while social workers in Britain pay just £30 pounds.’

IMPACT also expressed concerns over vulnerable children on waiting lists for social care, and those on the ‘unallocated’ list.

‘The latter are a huge concern. They have been assessed by the social work team but, solely because of caseload pressure and inadequate numbers of social workers and social care workers, they are not receiving a service. This cannot be allowed to continue,’ said Carney.

Carney welcomed the new ‘Children First’ child protection guidelines, but said more was needed on the ground to turn their ambition into reality for vulnerable children.

Carney said: ‘In the past, the State and its agencies have not always put children first.

‘Too many times and for too long – through its actions and its failure to act – the State and its agencies have hurt, rather than protected, the children in its care. Sometimes in persistent and horrific ways.

‘If the new children’s first guidelines – or any other initiative for that matter – are to have real meaning, they must guarantee that the children of today and tomorrow never suffer the neglect or harm endured for decades by many, many, children in this country.’

She called for a consistent multi-disciplinary approach to social care across the country.

She said: ‘Why does a vulnerable child’s chance of an adequate, rounded, service depend on geography, a forward-looking manager, or just plain luck?

‘Why is there no co-ordinator of social care workers in the community, other than in one or two counties?

‘Why do we not scream that there must be more urgency about the delivery of a good transparent, consistent, high quality service?’ she asked.

She also called for more clarity over Government plans to create a single agency for child and family services.