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25-11-1999 Taoiseach speaking at Integrated Services Process Meeting

 

I would like to welcome you all here today. You will recall that it is a year since I called you together to launch what was then the Integrated Services Project. Today is another very important one. I called this meeting to review what real progress has been made in the last year and to give us a sense of where the ISP is going in the future.

Background.

I believe that urban deprivation is one of the fundamental problems in Irish society today. The way we tackle the reality of poverty will be the measure of this Government's performance in years to come. On a personal level, I sincerely hope that one of my lasting legacies as Taoiseach will be that I played a part in redressing this situation and ending the inter-generational cycle of deprivation and disadvantage. I am determined that the urban black-spots that exist in our society will be targeted in a systematic way. I am determined that this Government will do its utmost to redress the social injustice which gives rise to urban deprivation.

There are still far too many people experiencing social injustice. They are living in dismal communities torn apart with drugs. They remain isolated and looked down on by their contemporaries who live in more affluent surroundings.

Is it any wonder that people suffering like this have little appetite to fight for their rights and avail of the educational and employment opportunities that exist today. It is all too easy to criticise and condemn, but if you were reared in a run-down, crime-ridden area, where your parents and neighbours had never worked, where you went to school hungry, where your older brothers and sisters were heroin addicts and where the outside world treated you with contempt because of your postal address - where would you be today?

Integrated Services Process

One of the Government's priorities on coming into office in 1997 was to address the endemic problems of urban deprivation. I asked my colleagues to look at ways in which this problem could be dealt with and my colleague Chris Flood T.D., Minister of State for Local Development, responded with the idea for a pilot process to improve the quality of life in urban communities suffering severe disadvantage.

As you are aware, four of the most deprived urban areas (Dublin's North East Inner City; Dublin 8 Flats Complexes; Jobstown, Tallaght and Togher in Cork) were specially selected for the Integrated Services Process to find out why these areas have not been able to participate in the major improvements in living standards which the wider Irish population have been enjoying over the past decade. We need to find out why nothing so far seems to have improved living standards and to find a new way of working which will enable these communities to participate and share in the wider prosperity.

New Approach

The need for greater co-ordination and a different type of planning in the provision of State services is the reason for the Integrated Services Process. To date, State agencies have not targeted deprived urban communities differently. They have not come up with policies that recognise and take account of the specific needs of the people who live in these communities. That is what we now need to do.

The lessons learned in the four targeted areas must be used to identify models of best practice that can be used in other urban black-spots. This is the test by which the success or failure of all our efforts will be measured.

First Interim Progress Report.

As I said to you last year, because of the importance I attach to this issue, I established the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion to give a real and meaningful impetus to addressing the problems of disadvantage. The Committee, which I chair, continues to meet on a monthly basis and I believe, has made a significant difference to the approach taken by Government Agencies and their political leaders to solving these multi-faceted problems.

The First Interim ISP Progress Report went before the Cabinet Committee in July and was endorsed fully by myself and my colleagues. I asked Margaret Hayes, Secretary-General of the Department of the Department of Tourism, Sport & Recreation, to write to you all in July and impress upon you the importance of examining the Interim Progress Report and addressing the issues relevant to your own particular agency.

I was impressed by the advances being made locally that are documented in the report. I would like to pay tribute to the commitment and energy invested in the process by all involved - the National Co-ordinator and his predecessor, the four Development and Monitoring Officers, the area Implementation Teams, the Task Groups and the Community Forums. Statutory representatives, in particular, have gathered and shared data not previously available and agreed to revisit programmes and policies in an effort to find more effective ways of doing things.

The report also indicated that the Implementation Teams are proving very effective vehicles in driving the process forward. One Department has commented that 'the experience for all the agencies involved has been the learning to work together and to begin to identify the potentials offered by the combined approach to common situations and individual cases'. This is the kind of feed-back which the Government and I are very pleased to hear.

The original response to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion in October 1998 contained a number of generic recommendations to initiate change centrally. While there is evidence that advances are being made locally, the Interim Report indicated that the generic recommendations need to be re-visited if the ISP is to be successful.I am asking all of you now to ensure as a top priority, that you will focus and deliver on these recommendations which underpin the whole process.

Local Priority Issues

It is also heartening to see in the First Interim Progress Report that Priority Issues for action in each area have now been identified and agreed with the local communities. It is the first time fundamental themes such as early school leaving, localised services and family supports have been looked at within a geographic area. You are all aware, that at national level, we are also looking at social inclusion issues thematically through initiatives such as the National Anti-Poverty Strategy. I place great importance upon this way of working.

Traditionally, State agencies have not conducted their business in an integrated way. We all know that at times a culture of 'protecting ones own patch' has prevailed. This institutional bias has been compounded by the way the State is organised and the functionally based programmes of different agencies. The lessons to be learned by State agencies in relation to service delivery should give us concrete examples of where change has to take place. We must ensure that it does.

Early School Leaving has emerged as the single greatest priority locally. The challenge for all of us is to find a better way of serving the youth of this nation who are at risk of dropping out of school early, which all too often leads to a life of crime and drug abuse. The sad reality is that today's school drop-outs are tomorrow's prison inmates.

Future policy must look at how to foster partnership at all levels so there are greater opportunities for training, work experience and other measures that promote life-long employability. At all stages there must be a seamless or 'progressional path' that ensures the most vulnerable do not slip through the net and drop out into a void of isolation. This work must start at a very early age. It is a classic case of shutting the stable door before the horse bolts.

Community Involvement.

We should never forget that the sole purpose of all of this work in the ISP is to improve the quality of life for those who live in the most disadvantaged areas of our towns and cities. It is our duty to ensure that the weaker sections of our community reflect credit on mainstream society.

The ISP is not about creating layers of bureaucracy and more meetings 'behind closed doors'. It is about listening to and responding with specific actions to the needs of the people who live in the four areas.

I understand that this is an issue that can also present problems for central organisations. One of the most important generic recommendations, in my opinion, is the need to employ staff , especially on the front-line, with the requisite skills to engage effectively with local people. It also means, however, that central management must understand and empathise with the people on the ground.

National policies can not be developed in a vacuum. The endemic problem of social exclusion can only be solved by recognising the multi-dimensional and deep-rooted nature of the problem. It is only by responding to the problems in partnership with local communities that the real needs of real people will be served. This is what community participation should mean. It is not just about consultation for its own sake, while the policy-makers still make their decisions based on their own perceptions.

Commitment from Departments and Agencies.

At this point, the amount of work, support and commitment required by the State sector to address the problems of these black-spots must be adequately understood at central Department or Agency level in all cases. What is now critical if the Process is to succeed is that an all-out effort is made to heighten the engagement of central Departments and Agencies and to ensure that the ongoing experience of the designated ISP personnel is reflected and fully utilised within the wider organisations.

I would like to underline the need for central management of participating Departments and Agencies to buy-in fully to the process. They must support and resource local nominees and recognise that the ISP must become embedded deep within their organisation's culture. It is not simply an 'add-on' task and or the sole responsibility of one person locally. As I said at our meeting last year, the ISP is not an optional extra. It is your job.

Responsibility of Central Management

I strongly believe that the involvement of central management is the nut that needs to be cracked if the generic recommendations are to be fully adopted. It is central management who can promote and advocate changes in the deeply embedded culture of organisations. It is central management who can ensure that models of best practice can be replicated to other urban black-spots. It is central management who have the duty to lead this process.

I don’t underestimate the task which is facing us in the successful implementation of the ISP. If we are successful, it will represent real and meaningful change. That change may be difficult and even painful.

We know that other initiatives haven't worked in these areas. I am slow to paint a doomsday picture, but if the ISP doesn't work the future for these pockets of deprivation is bleak. That is all the more reason why we have to make it work. We cannot contemplate failure, it simply cannot be allowed to happen. Let there be no doubt here. I am making you all accountable for the success or failure of the ISP. I am investing in you this responsibility.

National Development Plan.

The National Development Plan launched last week will lay the foundations from which the country will continue to grow and prosper in the millennium. Social Inclusion measures are at the heart of the Plan so that all of our people share fully in the economic and social success of modern Ireland.

I want to impress on you that there is a very clear and direct link between the ISP and the implementation of Plan. The Plan makes significant provision to tackle social exclusion over the next seven years. Over one billion pounds will be expended at local area level, via special Social Inclusion Sub-Programmes in the Regional Operational Programmes.

When you count in the provisions made in the Inter-Regional Programmes under Education, Social Housing and Employment Services, the total allocation for Social Inclusion exceeds £14Billion.

I am very conscious of the need for appropriate structures to be put in place at local level to coordinate the overall planning and delivery of the range of social inclusion measures included in the Plan. I strongly urge the relevant departments to use the experience and expertise derived from the ISP as they consolidate their planning and expenditure processes.

We have never before, in the history of this State, been able to make this kind of investment to counteract disadvantage and to bring about a more equal society. This opportunity must not be wasted and frittered away in a series of disconnected measures administered by departments and agencies in isolation from each other.

County Development Boards

And finally could I add a word about the planned integration of local development and local government systems. This will be an important new step towards co-ordinating both strategic planning and the delivery of services at local level. The new County/City Development Boards which will shortly be up and running in all counties and cities, including Dublin and Cork, have a key part to play in promoting an integrated approach. I am therefore asking all concerned, and especially the state agencies here today, to participate fully as members of the Boards, to contribute to drawing the local plans and to work in partnership with the other strands of the Boards.

I hope I have conveyed to you my strongly held views and aspirations on the ISP. I cannot overstate my own personal commitment and that of the Government to making the process work. I will repeat again in no uncertain terms. I am investing in all of you the authority and responsibility to ensure that the ISP makes a real and lasting change. You will be credited with its success or you will be blamed for its failure.

I want the ISP to change the way national policy-makers develop policies for urban black-spots. I want these areas treated differently so in the long-term they are no longer different or socially excluded from mainstream society. That is your task, I trust you to see it through. You are the people with the power to make a positive difference in the lives of a significant minority of our people. To succeed in that is indeed worth celebrating in the millennium.

I will now hand you over to my colleague, Chris Flood, who will talk to you about progress being made and the future plans for the ISP.

ENDS