|Foyle Search and Rescue staff pictured searching |
the river bank under the Foyle Bridge
Since it's inception in July 1993 Foyle Search & Rescue has been an invaluable resource for the people of Derry City. In the years from 1993 to 2012 the Charity has stopped over 2200 potential suicides, rescued over 278 people directly from the water & recovered 112 bodies.
Not only do they have regular patrols Foyle Search & Rescue respond in emergencies 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The service they provide to this city cannot be measured, from intervening when people are in distress, entering the river to search for people, assisting families in searches for loved ones, sadly helping recover the remains of those lost or helping people in the aftermath through counselling services.
They also maintain the City’s lifebelts, promote water safety & suicide awareness by giving talks to schools & youth groups and facilitate a support group for people who have been bereaved by suicide.
So the question has to be asked why this group which has done so much for the city would be denied funding from the DUP/SF Slush fund, officially known as the Social investment fund.
Foyle Search and Rescue in conjunction with HURT (a Derry charity that helps people who have suffered as a result of drug & alcohol abuse) had applied for funding to create a counselling facility for people found in distress around the River Foyle.
Foyle Search and Rescue has expressed disappointment at failing to secure the £220,000 needed for the project. If you consider that they have prevented over 2200 attempted suicides and rescued 278 people from the River Foyle it works out at less than £100 for each life saved, which in the grand scheme of things is a small price to pay.
It could be argued that there are other counselling facilities in the city who could benefit from the funding and I am not in any way taking away from the excellent work other groups carry out, however a core difference for me is that not only do Foyle Search & Rescue deal with people in distress and in situations where their lives are in immediate risk, but they also deal with people who have not completed suicide and the families of those who are still reeling from the aftermath.
Less than a year ago Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds stated in Westminster that death by suicide in Northern Ireland has increased by 100 per cent in less than 15 years.
This figure came mere months after it was stated by DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots that people who are unemployed are at an increased risk of suicide. Mr Poots said studies indicated that a 1% increase in unemployment was met with a corresponding 0.79% increase in suicide.
Now consider that figure in the following context that Derry is the unemployment blackspot of the North. Figures released in October 2013 show 6,098 were unemployed – 4,172 male and 1,926 female, 8.6 per cent of the population are unemployed. Derry City Council also has the highest level of child poverty in all 26 council areas of Northern Ireland at 35%, within this, the figures for the wards of Brandywell, Creggan South and Creggan Central soar to 61%, 63% and 59%.
In light of this there seems to be a lack of joined up thinking, a level of unparalleled ineptitude or a decision to fund pet projects in areas that will curry favour at election time for the two parties behind the Social Investment Fund namely the DUP & Sinn Fein. Both the SDLP & UUP have described the Social Investment Fund as nothing more than a slush fund.
The former leader of the UUP Tom Elliot claimed 'Grants from the funds are disbursed by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) which is controlled by the DUP and Sinn Fein. I suspect that money will go into projects in Sinn Fein and DUP constituencies or areas which they favour,”.
Initial Steering Groups were established for the nine Social Investment Zones. The fund is being delivered in partnership with communities across nine social investment zones. Each zone has a steering group with up to 14 members from the business, political, statutory and voluntary and community sectors. The steering groups developed plans for each social investment zone. They will manage the plans.
|Members of the Derry Steering Group|
What should be noted is that two out of the four members of the voluntary/community sector. Noel McCartney & Charles Lamberton are leading Derry Sinn Fein members. And whilst I'm sure Mr McCartney & Mr Lamberton would argue their independence separate from their political affiliation, I myself would consider the steering group to be weighted favourably in Sinn Fein's favour.
One other person on the steering group who also merits a mention is Darren Kirby of the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership. Mr Kirby once infamously told residents in the area of a contentious planned development that they had been excluded from discussions because they didn't agree with the people who had the plans, although his major claim to fame was that he met the Department for Social Development over them providing information under Freedom of Information legislation to members of the public.
Let's just say I'm not filled with optimism, and sadly this seems to have been confirmed by one of the initial announcements of a decision made by the 'Steering group'.
£4.5 million will be used to build new sports pitches.
£3.3 million will go to delivering community employment projects for young people, the long-term unemployed and those in low wage jobs.
This disparity begs the questions:
Why is more being spent on sports pitches than on delivering employment & training opportunities? And if these pitches are to be sustained how will they be paid for? Will a fee be charged to children already in poverty? If they are to be free how will they be sustained?
When you consider the figures that spell out the level of child poverty in the city, you have to marvel at the decision made. Statistics published by Barnardos show that a child is at greatest risk of poverty if they live in a family where no one works, however a substantial and growing number of poor children are living in families where at least one a parent is in paid employment. In 2011, nearly two thirds of poor children were living in families where someone was in work. So why invest more in pitches than employment?
People are stuck in a vicious cycle which unless addressed properly may end up with more people needing the services of Foyle Search & Rescue among others. The only sure winners out of the Social Investment Fund have been the consultants who to date have received nearly £400,000, nearly double what Foyle Search & Rescue had requested. I wonder how many of those consultants patrol the river Foyle on a cold winters night?