From Socialist Voice, June 2010

State v. community: Government dismantles local organisations

In the midst of all the babble about “naked short selling” and “sovereign debt” you can pick up the threads of the greater scandal. Behind the talk about the “national interest” and “Ireland Inc.” we can see the truth of it. The present Government, after presiding over a social and economic disaster, is cloaking its message in Brian Cowen’s technospeak and waffle and simply and calmly ensuring that working people will pay for the collapse of the banking, capital and financial systems in this state.
     On top of mass unemployment, tax increases and special levies, the coalition Government is setting about the dismantling of our basic community infrastructure to subsidise their bail-outs.
     All over Ireland, local projects, training and community development schemes are being axed in the name of “efficiency” and “protecting front-line services”—simply lies, doublespeak for stifling independent critical thinking, dissent, and the emergence of alternative approaches.
     At a time when communities in crisis need to band together, help each other, and maintain a sense of hope and common purpose, these low-cost and no-cost organisations are being chopped. After all the state’s talk of “active citizenship,” we now see that the state really wants a passive public. These community organisations harness tens of thousands of volunteers and unpaid workers, are governed by elected community committees, and work directly in and with communities experiencing poverty and crises. The few paid posts co-ordinate a wealth of grass-roots action, for all ages, at the point of need and at all hours of the day and night.
     Up and down the country, community creches, support groups, unemployed forums, Traveller organisations and youth and older people’s initiatives have either closed already or will disappear at the end of 2010. The state both recognises that these are soft targets and sees this basic level of organisation as a threat to its ideology of division and isolation. We see wedges being driven between public and private-sector workers and between the working and the unemployed.
     A process is already under way to “integrate” (doublespeak for annihilate) all remaining 150-odd community development projects with local partnerships. This will mean the forced dissolution of more than 150 limited companies and hundred of job losses, most in the heart of the most disadvantaged communities in the country.
     There are surprisingly few voices raised loudly in protest. It is sadly true that senior civil servants are using the tactics of bullying and fear to try to force through this process. The net result, if they succeed, will be the loss of some of the most skilled managers, activists, planners and organisers to the communities and districts that most need them.
     These groups provide meals, run homework clubs, manage community employment schemes, run affordable child-care facilities, run primary health projects, manage drug and alcohol programmes, and much more. No international agencies, consultants or lobbyists will argue in their defence: only we can do that. Only we can win that battle. Only the communities, their supporters and progressive organisations in Ireland can stop this robbery.
     Left parties, unions and community groups themselves need to lose their inhibitions and take to the streets, and take positive action to protect what is theirs, and not the state’s to take away.
     The left and progressive organisations need to step forward and recognise what is being done. The community development projects are basic democratically managed units of civil society that are being destroyed, and PEACE-funded and Family Resource Centre and other community bodies will be next in the frame.
     The left in Ireland must take up this issue and fight back, to organise to protect these people’s services.

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