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Hayes warns funds crisis will put voluntary sector at risk

COMMUNITY and voluntary organisations across the county are at risk and facing a funding crisis, the chairperson of the Killaloe Municipal District has warned.

Councillor Pat Hayes said that the public health restrictions have left the sector reeling and fighting for survival, despite the fact that it continues to make a huge contribution to the Covid-19 response, particularly in rural parts of Clare. He is now calling on government to open up funding opportunities so that organisations can apply to cover some of their basic running costs.

“What you have here is a double blow to the sector,” the Fianna Fáil member outlined. “If you take a community hall or GAA facility, they’ve had to shut down which means they’ve lost any income they might normally be able to generate. Most of them still have basic costs to cover and restrictions on gatherings have meant that most of the normal fundraising events have been impossible.”

Councillor Hayes said that while there is huge goodwill and a desire to support local organisations, a large cohort of people are unable to do that. “It is encouraging to see that some groups have been able to run online events to raise funds and the response has been positive,” he said. “However, there are still a large number of people who don’t have the skills or the access to the technology. They’d be prepared to take part in the tractor runs or race nights, but those events can’t go ahead. The curtailment of normal fundraising has really impacted a large number of people who would normally be the first to lend support. That has really reduced the contribution that they would normally make to local organisations.”

The success of measures, including last year’s July Stimulus, introduced to support towns and villages in responding to the pandemic was acknowledged by Councillor Hayes, who called for the criteria for the various schemes to be expanded. “The funding provided to do things like widen footpaths, install street furniture and improve outdoor amenities has been very welcome and there has been great support from Clare County Council and from LEADER,” he noted. “What I would like to see is an extension of the eligibility criteria for these schemes so that groups, including the GAA, could access funds for day-to-day running costs. If you take the average community hall, the bill for basic services could come to €6,000 or €7,000 a year. That has to be paid, even if no money is coming in. If groups in the community could even access a couple of thousand euros each, that would go some way towards basic costs. I know that the GAA nationally is doing its best to support clubs, but many of them are facing a real struggle with their costs.”

Councillor Hayes noted that huge contribution of the community and voluntary sector during the pandemic with large networks coming together in East Clare and across the county. “Everybody is praising the great efforts that are being made in the response to Covid-19, and rightly so,” he said. “That support needs to come back now to the groups who are doing so much work. So many groups have been working for decades to build up basic community facilities and they will find their financial position putting them under threat. I have been in touch with our TDs to urge them to fight on behalf of the sector. An awful lot of people in community and voluntary groups are finding themselves so stretched right now that they are not in a position to shout for themselves and they deserve support.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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