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Angry reaction to closure of Ashbourne welfare office

Monday, 16th December, 2013 12:41pm
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Angry reaction to closure of Ashbourne welfare office

With the closure of the Ashbourne Community Welfare office, all Social Welfare related services will now be conducted through the Finglas office.

Angry reaction to closure of Ashbourne welfare office

With the closure of the Ashbourne Community Welfare office, all Social Welfare related services will now be conducted through the Finglas office.

The loss of Ashbourne’s Community Welfare Office has provoked a furious response in the area amid claims that the move hits the most vulnerable in society.

People depending on social welfare will now have to travel to Finglas to avail of the essential services provided by the office, which includes administration of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme.

Residents of Ashbourne and Ratoath were recently informed that the service, which was provided on Tuesdays and Thursdays, will be moved to Finglas from 16th December. The move has led to a war of words between Fianna Fail Cllr Nick Killian and Labour TD Dominic Hannigan following a call by Cllr Killian on the Labour TD to resign.

However, Deputy Hannigan, who met Social Protection Minister Joan Burton this week to discuss the issue, said the government was trying to clean up the mess made by Cllr Killian and his colleagues in Fianna Fail.The closure of the Ashbourne office was condemned as “an appalling act of state thuggery” by Cllr Killian.

He said it was an attack by Minister Burton on the disadvantaged and said users of the service were very angry at the decision.

“I am appalled that a community service operating for the needs of those who find themselves in greatest financial need for the past 40 years has, with the stroke of a pen, been closed under the excuse of rebalancing of resources,” said Cllr Killian.

He pointed out that Meath residents are now asked to travel into Finglas in Dublin to avail of this service. This will apply to those who are on the Meath County Council housing list and are seeking rent supplement.

“One user of the service asked me where he was going to get the €7 needed for the bus fare to go to Finglas. This is effectively a cut in his payment,” said Cllr Killian.

Deputy Hannigan said the government was cleaning up the mess left behind by people like Cllr Killian and his colleagues in Fianna Fail who had brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy, and it was a difficult job to do, he said.
He said Minister Burton “understands why people may be worried about this closure but she assures me no-one will be at a loss and people needing social assistance will have access to a greater range of services by attending the Finglas Intreo office”, he said.

“People who are unable to travel due to illness or disability can contact the Community Welfare Service by phone and, if necessary, a member of staff may arrange to visit them at home.”

Deputy Hannigan said in areas where Intreo offices have been operating, they have dramatically cut waiting times for social welfare benefit applicants.

“The Finglas Intreo service is also a one-stop-shop service for jobseekers that aims to provide customised support based on each person’s skills, experience and qualifications.

“People attending it will find it easier to access schemes such as Pathways to Work, Jobs Bridge internships, plus a range of education and training programmes to improve their skills,” the Labour TD claimed. He added that changes are being made to the way jobseeker and social protection services are being delivered in order to provide a more streamlined approach.

Last year Deputy Hannigan had campaigned to have an Intreo office set up in Ashbourne to serve the region.

Also critical of the decision to close the Ashbourne office was Sinn Féin spokesperson in Meath East, Darren O’Rourke. “I think this is a regressive step that will add an extra burden to already struggling individuals and families. The cost of a return trip to Finglas is a significant expense for those who are experiencing such financial hardship that they require the help and support of the Community Welfare Officer in the first place,” he said.

Standing orders were suspended at the monthly meeting of Meath County Council to discuss the issue last week.

Cllr Killian urged local TDs to have the closure reversed and claimed there was cross-party support for this demand.

Independent Cllr Joe Bonner supported the call for the closure decision to be reversed. He said the service needed to be enhanced, not closed. The proposal to close the Ashbourne office was a “complete contradiction of government policy of putting people first” according to Cllr Brian Fitzgerald. “We should write to the minister and explain that it’s unacceptable because people will have to travel outside the county for this service,” he said.

Cllr Gerry O’Connor of Fine Gael described the proposal as “rebalancing to the disadvantage of people in the county” and said that Meath should not be exporting its problems into Finglas. Cllr Maria Murphy (FG) also spoke of the need to retain the Ashbourne office.

The majority of the work carried out by Community Welfare Officers involves the administration of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme.

The types of payments made under this scheme include weekly Supplementary Welfare Allowance, Rent Supplement, Mortgage Interest Supplement, Diet and Heating Supplements, Back to School Clothing and Footwear Scheme and exceptional needs payments for items such as buggies, clothing and funeral costs.

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