One of the most striking developments in recent years has been the disappearance of so many once prophetic voices defending the most marginalised in our community Alice Leahy, Director and Co-Founder of TRUST said today (Saturday, March 1, 2008 at the 22nd Pobal Dé Conference), because more and more organisations, often for the best of motives, have become directly involved in providing state funded services.

Describing this process as “privatisation through co-option,” Alice Leahy said that this has compromised the ability of bodies that formerly were to the fore in speaking out as advocates on the behalf of the voiceless and in helping them to secure their rights. More seriously, in the context of homelessness, is the fact that to secure grant support agencies are compelled to only deal with potentially “successful” candidates who can fit in and the more “difficult” are further marginalised. This is a very important issue Alice Leahy maintained because the reason many became homeless in the first place is because they cannot fit in.

Calling on Churches and Church people to become involved and not to be afraid to speak out Alice Leahy said that the message of the Gospel is an inclusive one and surely silence in the face of people being excluded cannot be an option.

Alice Leahy went on:

“In former times, when Ireland was a very poor country, the Churches provided services in almost all areas. Today, people are entitled to health, education and social services as a right. In many areas the Churches, and the Catholic Church in particular is withdrawing. However, it is ironic that many of the lay groups that were to the fore in demanding that the state provide services for the most vulnerable have themselves become involved in providing services using state funds. Clearly this is a win win proposition for the government as they get services on the cheap, often paying workers much less and enjoy the added bonus of silencing or toning down a once prophetic voice in defence of the voiceless.”

Stressing that many groups who become co-opted in providing services do so for best of motives, Alice Leahy maintained that we must never forget that people, especially people who are homeless, are entitled to services as of right and allowing the state to privatise services by co-option undermined the rights of the most vulnerable.

Calling on the Churches to assert the importance of human rights based approaches in all areas of service provision may seem ironic, Alice Leahy said, but with so many organisations no longer able to campaign in the way they once did it is imperative that their voices are heard. “Art 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights calls on all of us to work together to protect and assert the rights of the individual to dignity and respect. This message is consistent, indeed at the core of the teachings of all churches. The fact remains services for the poor will continue to be provided by NGOs of various kinds as well as Churches in addition to the state, and in situations where the state is also providing the resources for the non-state service providers. However, if we highlight human rights based approaches it helps to protect those in need of help as well as reminding all of us they are entitled to that assistance as of right and not as recipients of charity.”

Alice Leahy said that we do not live in a perfect world. The state is happy to avoid responsibility where it can to save us money as tax payers. However, the problem remains that when anything is provided on the cheap those at the receiving end loose out: “We must speak out and defend the rights of the most vulnerable. The Churches in recent year have lost their voices to some extent. However, while we are a non-denominational group, we would call on everyone to join in this effort to ensure that people get help as of right, and are treated with dignity and respect at all times.”