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Is youth justice intervention a good use of state funding?

Last week the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced that her department is granting €4.6 million to groups that are involved in supporting the victims of crime. This represents an increase of €800,000 on the amount given to those groups in 2021.

The 68 groups that were supported last year included Women’s Aid, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, a number of organisations that assist victims with counselling and court appearances, as well as a range of local groups which provide refuge and assistance to the victims of domestic violence and abuse.

A recent Dáil question from Carol Nolan the Rural Independent TD for Laois/Offaly elicited the information that the Department of Justice had made grants of almost €29 million in 2021. This was broken down into a number of categories and it is noticeable that support for the victims of crime was considerably less than the €22 million devoted to different bodies under the general heading of Youth Justice Intervention.

Presumably, that money – which is channelled through various groups which work with young people – is meant to discourage young people from engaging in the sort of criminal and anti social behaviour that their victims have to then cope with. With a considerably smaller budget.

One of the recipients of youth justice funding is the University of Limerick, to the tune of over one million. The university even has its own Adjunct Professor of Youth Work, one Dr. Seán Redmond. He is involved with a project that is investigating how children in certain urban settings are taken into crime networks.

Some of these, such as the Greentown programme, are also beneficiaries of other funding streams including through Extern which describes itself as a “social justice charity” that oversees more than 80 projects involving 25,000 children and their families.

According to its last financial statement it had an income of over €11 million from the state in the 18 month period to the end of March 2021. This included almost €9 million from TUSLA, €2 million from the HSE and €779,703 from the Department of Justice for supervising young people who are on bail. In her reply to Carol Nolan, Minister McEntee said that Extern had received over €2.3 million for that purpose between the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2021.

Crosscare received over €2 million to engage in youth justice matters, and Foróige was granted a whopping €7,495.748. According to its 2020 report, Foróige had an income of over €31 million, the vast bulk of which came from the state. Its staff costs amounted to over €25 million.

Youth Work Ireland was given over €5 million by the Department of Justice in 2021, which on its own is more than the total of this year’s funding for victim support. It is impossible to tell of course to what extent the apparently unrelated issues of sexuality and climate change highlighted in Youth Work Ireland’s reports influence youth crime, but there you go. It too spends most of its income on paying its staff even though the words “volunteering” and “volunteers” spring up quite a lot.

One could go on. It might well be that all of these charities are providing unique services outside of the state bodies that are already supposed to be responsible for much of what they do. That applies across the spectrum of NGO land, where the suspicion is that money is recycled to maintain a thriving part of the economy that is totally dependent on state support and which in effects duplicates what statutory bodies do.

Or perhaps more accurately, are supposed to do, and one wonders what the rationale sometimes is for the HSE or Tusla to be contracting out work to private companies legally constituted as charities and effectively ensuring that the taxpayer is paying twice for the same thing. Or not for the same thing in many cases as the money spent appears to have little positive return in terms of the citizen.

That is not to argue that people engaged in youth work and in activities that clearly do have a positive impact on younger people and provide them with positive alternatives to malign influences ought not be funded. And they are.

Indeed, anyone familiar with communities the length and breath of Ireland will be familiar with the excellent work that is carried out by genuinely voluntary groups that include a rich spectrum of sporting, musical, scouting, educational and cultural activities. Such groups are properly supported by public money and their benefits represent an obvious and valuable return on that investment. Very few of the people involved in this receive a wage or any other money for this.

In specific relation to justice matters, the relative paucity of funding for the victims of crime in comparison to some of the above is stark. The responsibility of the Department of Justice is the protection of the citizens of the state. The main focus of that ought to be efficient policing and the efficient administration of justice so that the sort of serial offenders who contribute to the vast bulk of crime, including youth crime, are kept out of circulation as soon as and for as long as they represent a threat to the people who end up being their victims.

Would it be mad to suggest that some of the millions spent on Woke youth work – with which the sort of creatures that plague many communities in Ireland are unlikely ever to come into contact with – might be better spent on that?


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