Mayor of Athlone, John Dolan (FG ), led a delegation of Community Environment (CE ) supervisors to meet Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, in the Dáil late last week regarding the future of CE Schemes.
CE Schemes are designed to help people who are long-term unemployed to get back to work by offering part-time and temporary placements in jobs based within local communities such as Tidy Towns and local GAA clubs. However, eligibility restrictions and increased competition from JobPath have resulted in a drop in the number of people available to take on these roles.
Currently, people under the age of 55 are permitted to undertake CE Schemes for up to six years, while those over 55 are restricted to three years. Cllr Dolan said it is important that these conditions are revised, as when people of this age complete the schemes their chance of obtaining employment is slim.
"There is a bit of disquiet in different communities at the moment," Cllr Dolan said this week. "The work JobPath is doing is great, but it is also having a serious effect on CE schemes. As it stands, more people are being directed to JobPath rather than to CE Schemes, so this is making certain positions very hard to fill. These schemes are the backbone of community organisations, so there is a little bit of concern there."
At the meeting, which was facilitated by Fine Gael Deputy Peter Burke, the delegation stressed the important role CE Schemes play in local communities.
"We were received well, but he did make the point that JobPath is reducing unemployment, and that is his main preference," Cllr Dolan said. "But he did say that he does not want to see numbers drop in CE, so he is hoping to bring a report to Cabinet committee in February with recommendations to changes in eligibility.
"We are hoping that some of what we said to him will feed into that, and we're hoping that there will be a change in the length of time people can do the schemes. Maybe older people, who mightn't find employment as easy to get, will be allowed to stay on in the schemes for a little longer.
"Between 70 and 80 per cent of CE Scheme participants end up in employment, so it is vitally important we continue to support it in whatever way we can."