Local Faces: Noreen Byrne
A POWERHOUSE in community circles, Noreen Byrne has been working in the sector for over 30 years, involved in, at one time or the other, a plethora of projects across Dublin.
This includes starting up a womens group, working for various drug projects, and roles which concerned management, training and education.
Her current role is Community Safety Forum and Local Policing Forum Co-Ordinator with the North Clondalkin Community Development Programme (NCCDP).
Considering herself as an activist when she first got involved in management in 1991, Noreen contemplated leaving at the end of 2007, but after the Coordinator role came up, she talked to colleagues she trusted and applied.
“I was conscious the project was a little weak and vulnerable. The role is supposed to be 17.5 hours a week, but anyone in community work always does more. I live nearby in Oatfield and nearly always do a four day week.”
Noreen got involved in this type of work in the first place – to tackle inequality and try to improve life for residents in working class communities.
“I believe an egalitarian society where all can flourish is the best way. It costs less when people are treated fairly. When you have massive gaps in wealth, you will have people trying to take some of that. I’m not condoning that, but crime stems from poverty.”
The NCCDP was one of the first projects formed in 1989 under the National Community Development Programme.
The group got the ball rolling for many issues affecting the community, and led to the establishment of specialist services.
Three key target groups at the time in 89 included unemployment, which was as high as “80 per cent in some local housing estates”, lone parents and Travellers.
“Through a lone parents project, we noticed major issues regarding domestic violence. We got funding to develop a community response to domestic violence, and out of that a domestic violence group emerged and it was handed over to them,” said Noreen.
The task force that was set up 91/92, when work was completed with public consultation, this led to the establishment of probation and welfare Tower Programme, the Dochas support, and Graft garda youth diversion project.
“CDP is not about service delivery but in looking for funding to run the services,” explained Noreen.
“After that, the ADM, now Pobal, approached us to develop an area plan, and out of that came the South Dublin Partnership.”
Noreen is a regular attendee and contributor to the monthly Joint Policing Community meetings for South Dublin County.
“It is excellent, probably one of the best ones around, the responses are good,” she said.
“When the JPC’s were starting up in 2008/09 under the Garda Siochana Act, we made the decision to be involved and lead from a community perspective. We sat with the gardai and the council and explained why we should lead.”
While it has been successful in addressing local issues, one of the prolonged problems affecting the community sector is that funding has never gone back to pre-recession levels, meaning many groups are struggling to provide their services on vastly reduced budgets and staff.
“Funding was cut in 2010 but we knew changes were afoot in 2003. They were telling us it is our job to implement government policy. No, it is our job to challenge it. When policy is about economic violence, we have to challenge that.
After funding was “dismantled at the stroke of a pen”, the State “then came after CDP’s” and “spurious reviews were written”.
“We appealed and were successful in getting them to remove these claims.”
Two “sacred cows” she believes need challenging are charities and volunteering.
“The implication of those models, right wing models, are that it displaces workers and doesn’t allow them to challenge government.”
The establishment of countless charities, and numerous scandals in recent years, has, she believes, led to the “privatization of poverty”.
“The fear is workhouses are the next step after a food bank. Which people decide which poor people get.
“Money needs to stay in the public sector. It is more cost effective. Contrary to the belief that public sector bad, private sector good.”
She laments the lack of support for generational trauma passed down from one family member to the next, and feels strongly that drugs are connected to poverty, “until you eliminate poverty”.
On the issue of volunteering, Noreen is concerned that some aspects of volunteering have effectively led to the “replacement of jobs”, which in turn impacts local families and communities.
Originally from a family of 12 kids in Cavan, Noreen was made an “honorary Dub” by co-workers in Dublin in the early Noughties.
“I have been in Dublin since 1982 and even married to a Dublin man,” she said.
To tackle the monstrous costs of childcare, Noreen would love to see “childcare joined to primary schools and funded by the Dept Education”.
“I’m for high taxes, and the likes of Google paying their fair share, but there is no recognition of women as an economic unit.
“My mother produced 12 people for the labour market, but women like her were dominated by the church, by men.”
Noreen is a currently working on a pilot project she started, which centers around voter apathy.
“We are hosting a Public Participation Network. That’s my idea, we’ve designed it and piloted it in North Clondalkin. Government policy is a cause of many issues, we want to raise awareness of this for people to be fully aware of the policies of parties. We want to run workshops on this all the time and roll it out to other areas like Tallaght.”