The recent closure of 12 community welfare clinics in Co Donegal was raised in the Dáil by Independent Dáil Deputy Thomas Pringle. Clients are being asked to make their way to larger towns to avail of community welfare services, he said.
“This does not recognise the geography of rural Ireland and counties and the difficulties many of the clients of the Department face in accessing services,” he said. “The 12 clinics are in outlying areas where there is no transport link to get people to larger towns to access the clinics. It does not recognise that these are the most vulnerable people in society and, through their need to access services, they must have a lot of contact with community welfare officers. Many will be reviewed for rent supplement and must access the service on that basis. Others may be looking for exceptional needs payment and simply cannot afford to travel across the county to access these services.”
The letter issued in County Donegal states that it is due to the roll-out of the Intreo programme and a One-Stop Shop for employment services, he said.
“However, I fail to see what the community welfare offices will bring to the roll-out of the Intreo service when they need to be kept in place to provide the services which are vital to those using them,” he said. “The Department has not taken account of the difficulties of people in rural areas in accessing services. In recent years we have seen the closure of post offices and Garda stations and threats to rural schools. People see these public services being withdrawn and it leads to a huge amount of concern and difficulties in our communities.”
In reply, the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the Department is examining the operation of all its services, including the community welfare service, in the context of the Pathways to Work commitments and the development of Intreo services nationally.
“The Pathways to Work programme represents a significant reform in the social welfare system and highlights the need for the Department to focus its resources on the provision of opportunities, supports and assistance for unemployed persons,” she said. “Overall, this will result in a rebalancing of resources across the Department’s range of activities, including the relocation of some staff to main centres, primarily Intreo offices. Intreo centres will provide a full range of services, including the community welfare service, and these will, in general, be available in one location. As a consequence, it has been necessary to restructure the operation of community welfare services, including those in County Galway, where changes came into effect and elsewhere in Galway and Mayo. In preparation for these changes, the Department contacted all affected customers directly, advising them of the changes in the services.