Speech by the
 Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan T.D.,
       to announce the allocation of funding to Social Enterprises through the Probation Service KickStart Fund

 

2 May 2019
 

I am delighted today to officially announce the allocation of funding to support the development of Social Enterprises in the criminal justice sector through the Probation Service’s KickStart Fund.

 

It is nearly two years since my Department launched their Social Enterprise Strategy, which is now in its final year.  The launch of this Strategy marked the beginning of a new and innovative way of tackling re-offending rates, creating safer communities and ensuring fewer victims, by providing more employment opportunities for people with a criminal past. It highlighted my Department’s continued commitment to seeking alternative approaches to reducing recidivism rates within Irish society.  Today’s event reaffirms this commitment.  It recognises the important role securing meaningful employment can have on an individual, their families and the wider community.

 

‘People with education and training, who are in work, are less likely to offend’.

 

That is the underlying principle of our Social Enterprise Strategy.  For those who have been excluded from the mainstream labour market due to their criminal record or who are not quite ready to take that leap, supported employment in a Social Enterprise can and does provide a much-needed buffer.  It allows them to gain confidence in their own abilities while also earning a wage.

 

I look forward to the forthcoming National Policy on Social Enterprise, the draft of which has just been released for a public consultation by the Department of Rural and Community Development.  I am sure that a number of the organisations here today will wish to become involved in the consultation process and I encourage you to do so.

 

The Government is justifiably proud of the fact that the unemployment rate, at 5.4%, is the lowest it has been since February 2008.  However, as we approach near full employment in Ireland we need to make every effort to ensure no one is left behind and that employment options are there for everyone should they so desire.

 

Having a criminal record, regardless of how long ago it was, remains a significant barrier to securing gainful employment.  The employment rate of people leaving prison and those on Probation remains poor. 

 

Since the launch of this Strategy, a lot of work has been undertaken to support Social Enterprises operating within the criminal justice sector.  Their role, as a mechanism for creating jobs for people with a history of offending behaviour, is pivotal to the strategy and its ability to make a difference to individuals, their families and wider Irish society.

 

Social Enterprises are increasingly seen as real contributors to the economy providing much needed goods and services to their customers.  According to the 2018 Certified Public Accountants of Ireland Report, the social enterprise sector has the potential to create up to 40,000 jobs and to contribute €2 billion to the Exchequer. 

 

It will require a change of perspective of business type from State funders, as well as state agencies becoming customers of social enterprises through their procurement processes.  For both ends of the sector, this is just the beginning.

 

Recognising that securing employment plays an important role in reducing re-offending rates and creating safer communities, the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service, supported by my Department, established a Social Enterprise Steering Committee in 2016.  The purpose of the Committee was to oversee and drive the development of ‘social enterprise’ initiatives as a way of increasing employment rates of people with criminal convictions.

 

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the important work of the Social Enterprise Steering Committee.  I commend Vivian Geiran, Director of the Probation Service and Caron McCaffrey, Director General of the Irish Prison Service for their continued support of social enterprise and for thinking innovatively about tackling re-offending rates.

 

The implementation of any strategy will always experience some challenges.  While significant progress has been made on a number of objectives, a lot of work remains to be done in order for Social Enterprise to become embedded as a core aspect of Ireland’s approach to rehabilitation and community safety.

 

Social Enterprises play a key role in an individuals’ journey to long-term, well paid, sustainable employment.  By creating a much-needed buffer between prison, or engagement in a community Probation project, and the mainstream labour market, they create a pathway. For many, this does not exist outside of these developments.

 

The social enterprise sector will not flourish if it is not adequately resourced. One of the important actions included in an Action Plan developed by the Steering Committee was the development of seed capital fund specifically to support social enterprise activity in the criminal justice sector.

 

Last year, the Probation Service, in collaboration with the Irish Prison Service, submitted a proposal to access funding through the Dormant Accounts Disbursement Scheme 2017–2019 to support the development of social enterprises operating within the criminal justice sector.  The proposal was approved for funding, and the KickStart Seed Fund was launched here in Smithfield last June. 

 

I am delighted to announce today that 14 organisations were successful in securing funding through the first round of the KickStart Fund.  This includes funding to enable six organisations to conduct a feasibility study or market research and funding for a further nine organisations in respect of start-up and development costs.

 

We look forward to supporting each of these organisations to maximise the outcomes of this funding.  I am optimistic that this funding will be used to generate new opportunities, to create employment and to allow people to make sustainable change to their lives so that they can become active and contributing citizens to Irish society.

 

I wish all 14 of the organisations allocated funding today the very best. I look forward to hearing of your progress over the coming months. You are doing tremendous work and I will conclude by reiterating my Department’s full support for this important initiative.  Thank you.

 

ENDS