Seanad Éireann - Volume 138 - 18 November, 1993
Adjournment Matters. - Funding for Co-operation North.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
Mr. Ross: Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for the prompt way in which you are conducting the proceedings. This concerns the need for the Government to give more funds to Co-operation North. The Minister will be fully aware of the existence and activities of Co-operation North but maybe I could put one or two of them on the record of this House. It is possibly the most worthy and practical of the non-sectarian groups which work both north and south of the Border. I say it is practical because the Minister and the House will be aware of the enormous amount of visible work that Co-operation North has done in both parts of Ireland.
At a time of immense tragedy and great tension it would be appropriate if the Government were to make a significant contribution to this group, and indeed other groups if it sees fit, to promote the work of conciliation and cross-Border co-operation in a practical way. As the Minister  will know, Co-operation North runs residential conferences, exchange schemes and the well publicised maracycles. It concentrates as far as it possibly can on communication and exchanges between young people. The results of these activities have been tangible.
The problem for Co-operation North has been funding, as it is with many voluntary organisations. It is a mystery why funding from the Government has decreased so much in the last ten years. To quote the figures, in 1982 Co-operation North received £50,000 from the Government and in 1993 it received only £20,000. That is inexplicable given the extraordinary cross-community work that it has done in that time. It is not a recognition of the great work it is doing.
In comparison to that, the British Government, which always used to fund Co-operation North on a pound for pound basis, paid £40,000 sterling in 1982 and in 1993 that contribution has risen to £100,000 sterling. The disparity between the Irish and British Governments' contributions is clear. I cannot understand why the Irish Government has decided, at a time when the situation is not getting better but worse, that this is not a priority. It has decided that this is one of the programmes it will cut by £30,000. Last year Co-operation North only got £20,000 but in 1991 it got £50,000. In the last two years a decision was made at Government level that this particularly worthy organisation should get less money. The Minister should look at that in the light of what the British Government is giving, and adjust the figure for the 1994 Estimates.
It is always dangerous to anticipate what the Minister is going to say but I have to because one of the procedural problems of this House is that we do not get a chance to reply to the Minister. I imagine he will say that Co-operation North has been very successful in getting IFI funding. That is true, but IFI funding is project based. When a plan is presented to do X, Y and Z, the IFI  will evaluate it and approve funding. Co-operation North and others are extremely grateful for that IFI funding, which is a tremendous boost for them. The Government's money is needed, however, because outside that project base it is impossible for Co-operation North to expand on only £20,000 per annum. In other words, it cannot plan ahead. It has no idea what funding it is to receive from year to year because it has to apply to the IFI which, by its nature, takes a long time to decide. Co-operation North does not know if it will receive funding for a particular project or not. Neither does it know whether it will be able to fund more staff, projects and cross-Border activities or whether it will be able to expand co-operation and cross-community work.
The Government ought to guarantee a minimum figure which is much more than £20,000. At the very least, the Government should go back to the 1982 figure and link it to inflation since then, which it has done with other activities. Alternatively, the Government should match the British Government's £100,000 per annum. In that way it would allow Co-operation North to plan its activities for the years ahead. We all have great respect for this organisation and pay it verbal tribute but we do not all contribute in financial terms, including the Government. It is impossible to expect such an organisation to have a bright future if it does not have a reasonable, guaranteed sum from the Government.
Co-operation North has done some wonderful work in both communities. One of its great successes in recent times has been to hold two media conferences north of the Border. These are spontaneous efforts to get journalists from North and South to meet each other. One of the most striking aspects of the media here and in the North is that nobody ever reads each others newspapers. It is extraordinary how few people here read the Irish News, the Newsletter or other  northern newspapers. Very few people north of the Border read the Southern newspapers. This conference brought people together from North and South, without any press coverage, in quiet surroundings, to exchange views. On both occasions the conference was tremendously successful with over 80 people attending. It is a vital means of exchanging ideas. Tomorrow Gilbeys are going to sponsor a young enterpreneurs conference in the Davenport Hotel which will be attended by 100 people as part of a business training programme.
It is essential the Minister realises this is more than just a voluntary organisation. The findings of several independent surveys have recognised the great work Co-operation North has done. The concrete, tangible results are there for everybody to see.
It might be appropriate to mention the reaction north of the Border to the recent Shankill bombing. There was an extraordinary and new spirit of reconciliation after it. The sight of priests walking along the Shankill in gestures of reconciliation and the sight of people from both communities making gestures of reconciliation to the other offended community, in the aftermath of atrocities on both sides, is a tribute to Co-operation North and other reconciliation movements with which it works in Northern Ireland.
Independent assessments show progress has been made. Such progress, by its nature, is slow because extremism cannot be countered overnight. In recognition of that work it would be a tremendous gesture if the Minister acknowledged reducing funding for Co-operation North was a mistake and agreed that in the future such funding will be at parity with that provided by the British Government.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. T. Kitt) Tom Kitt
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. T. Kitt): I thank Senator Ross for his contribution and am grateful for this opportunity to pay  tribute to the excellent work being undertaken by Co-operation North in the promotion of reconciliation and better understanding between people in both parts of Ireland. Since its foundation in 1979, Co-operation North has made an important contribution to efforts to break down prejudice and change attitudes throughout Ireland. Co-operation North has a continuing and significant role to play in helping people everywhere in Ireland to increase their knowledge of, and respect for, the different traditions represented on the island.
Co-operation North is grant aided under the North-South and Anglo-Irish Co-operation subhead of the Vote of the Department of Foreign Affairs. This subhead was set up in 1982 to assist organisations involved in reconciliation work and in efforts to create better understanding between people in both parts of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. Since the subhead was set up, Co-operation North has received grant assistance totalling £525,000, including assistance of £20,000 in 1993.
The Department of Foreign Affairs maintains regular contact with Co-operation North and advises it on a wide range of issues relating to the objectives which it is pursuing. In addition to Co-operation North, a wide range of organisations are being assisted under this subhead in 1993. These include Anglo-Irish Encounter, established by the Irish and British Governments to contribute to the improvement of understanding between the peoples of both islands; the Irish School of Ecumenics, which promotes enumenical contact between North and South and between Ireland and Great Britain; the Between organisation, based in Cork, which seeks to relieve distress in the deprived areas in Northern Ireland by sponsoring holidays in Cork for children from both nationalist and unionist communities; and the secretarial and administrative expenses of the International Fund for Ireland, which the two Governments committed themselves to  paying in the agreement setting up the Fund.
Due to the very difficult budgetary situation, the allocation to the subhead was reduced from £200,000 in 1991 to £115,000 in 1992. Because of continuing budgetary difficulties it has, unfortunately, not been possible to increase the overall allocation to the subhead this year. As a result of the reduced allocation, assistance to Co-operation North totalled £20,000 this year. I am, however, pleased to note that Co-operation North has received substantial assistance from the International Fund for Ireland since 1989. Senator Ross said he would like to see a greater long term commitment to allocating funding to Co-operation North rather than a commitment on a year to year basis. The International Fund for Ireland has agreed in principle to assist Co-operation North in 1994.
In addition to the budgetary restraints, we are, at the same time, faced with growing demands on the limited resources available under this subhead. The allocation to the other organisations assisted under the subhead have come under similar pressure. In this situation, endeavours have been made to spread as equitably as possible the necessary cuts across the grants being made.
Bearing in mind the invaluable work being sponsored under this subhead, it is the Government's intention to allocate resources in 1994 and subsequent years to this subhead at the highest possible level consistent with the budgetary constraints which apply in any given year. I hope the budgetary situation next year will offer greater flexibility in regard to assisting Co-operation North and the other organisations assisted under this subhead.
I reiterate the reductions in 1992 and 1993 were because the very difficult budgetary situation and in no sense implied any diminished appreciation of the importance and value of the work being done by Co-operation North.
Mr. Ross Mr. Ross
 Mr. Ross: I thank the Minister for his reply even if it lacked any commitment. Could he give an assurance not only to increase the funding in the future but to allocate it at the highest possible level consistent with budgetary restraints and equivalent to the amount the British Government gives, as it was in the past?
Mr. T. Kitt Mr. T. Kitt
Mr. T. Kitt: Senator Ross made a very good case and I thank him for raising this matter. I want to assure the House of my personal interest in this matter but I  cannot give a commitment at this time. The Senator's views have been noted and I have put on the record that we will do our best within budgetary limitations. I said we would endeavour to achieve the highest level of funding consistent with budgetary restraints. This sounds like a formula. I appreciate the points made by the Senator and in my response I was as forthcoming as possible.
The Seanad adjourned at 4.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 24 November 1993.
Seanad Éireann 138 Adjournment Matters. Funding for Co-operation North.