Tony McDaid has been the driving force behind the Raphoe Family Resource Centre for the last decade. He also served as a Donegal County Councillor from 2004 to 2007.
From Strabane, but long-settled in Lifford, Tony has been involved in community development issues since the late 1970s.
His involvement started as a reaction to circumstances during a housing crisis in Lifford in 1978. The town at that stage was referred to as Bundoran without the sea; such was the number of mobile homes in backyards providing accommodation. He became involved in a housing association and also in a local employment action group to help combat the unemployment problem in the area. In 1994 he became involved in the Lifford-Clonleigh Family Resource Centre through a training programme with former members of the clergy who had worked as missionaries. They introduced him to the principles of renowned Brazilian educationalist, Paolo Freire, and coming in contact with his views would be a watershed for Tony. “He always asked the question why? He took everything back to why? - and that led back to the symptoms and cause of the problem.”
The course transformed how he looked at his community and when he got a job in 1998 at the Raphoe Family Resource Centre he brought with him what he had learnt from the teachings of Paolo Freire. “It was a big turning point for me and how we do our work here is based on Paolo Freire’s methods and it is all about listening to the needs of the people and responding to those needs.”
He sat on Donegal County Council representing Sinn Fein from 2004 to 2007. He felt a frustration at how long it took things to get done although he admits this may have been as a result of naivety on his part. He does miss the engagement the roll gave him with people on the doorsteps and dealing with the frontline staff. One of his frustrations with the council was that local issues which could have been dealt with at local area meetings were brought to the main council where he felt only decisions affecting the whole county should have been discussed.
But he summons a real passion when talking about the resource centre and the enthusiasm of the people of the area for it. He has a real pride in the team of workers and volunteers that is behind the project.
Speaking in the offices of the project he has gathered the team together to discuss the project – he stresses the team approach of the initiative and group mentality.
Last year the project carried out a survey earlier on problems and issues in the area following a similar survey carried out 13 years ago. Tony said the issues raised then are very much the same issues today.
“When we did it first there were a lot of questions about young people and the people who responded now were children then and have grown up and have their own families.” The majority of respondents highlighted underage drinking as a serious problem.
As part of the philosophy of responding to the needs of the community the project has reacted with a Community Mobilisation project in conjunction with the cross-border health agency Cawt.
The approach to dealing with issues around young people is preventative and about providing information, he says.
Other issues affecting the community that arise are mainly with social housing, such as the length of time it takes to get repairs done.
People coming to the centre also often have issues about access to health services and the transport deficit in the area.
What the recession has done is make the availability of funding more difficult and the recession has put strains on the services. “We have always worked with people in a recession and we have a new constituency that we have had to try and support on top of what we were already dealing with. That has been the challenge for the centre but there has been a great reaction from those involved in the centre to the changed situation. Our resources are quite limited and it is only right to acknowledge the work that is going on with the people we have here and how the staff have responded to the changing needs.”
The volunteer element - which includes 16 members of the management committee and up to 12 “friends” of the centre - plays a key roll and has allowed the three fill time staff and five part time staff to be freed up to take on other work and help develop the services.
Tony is pleased with the involvement that comes from the community because it is a sign that they are getting something from the project and want to repay that. “We think we are doing something right when people come back.”
Looking back at the last ten years Tony says that for the staff and management committee the success of the centre is gauged in what they call “magic moments”.
“They are small things that mean a lot to the person here. It could be someone who comes in and needs a little support and comes out feeling that they have been supported – that is a magic moment.”