Wednesday 16 May 2018
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I’d like to begin by thanking Dr Maura Farrell and her research team for their work, and Nina and Volunteer Ireland for the opportunity to speak here today.
It is wonderful to be given the opportunity to publicly acknowledge the work of the volunteers who work so hard in our communities and I am delighted to be here at the launch of this report.
All those of us involved in volunteering know the importance of volunteering in developing communities and making them more vibrant and sustainable.
However, this very insightful report grounds this knowledge in hard evidence, and so is very welcome.
We need to consider the development opportunities afforded to communities by volunteering, and be conscious of the fact that volunteering provides very real economic, cultural and social benefits.
I’m often struck by how reliant we are on people selflessly giving up their time and expertise for the good of the community. Volunteering is something all of us have encountered, whether it be through the GAA or Meals on Wheels. We all know a volunteer, though perhaps we don’t think of it in exactly those terms.
The report notes that 62% of rural volunteers have a weekly commitment, which is extraordinary when you consider all the demands on people’s time; our normal work and family commitments.
Thankfully, Galway has a very active volunteering scene and I’m told that over 12,000 members of the public have used the volunteer service over the last ten years, not to mention the people who volunteer directly.
We shouldn’t be complacent about this: many areas would benefit from more people taking up voluntary work.
This underlines the importance of events like the recruitment fair that the Galway Volunteer Centre ran in January 2018.
Volunteering has a huge role to play in developing sustainable
communities, and the benefits are clear to us all.
I believe that the sector can and will play an important role in the social and economic development of Ireland – not just as a provider of valuable social services and social capital but also as a contributor to job creation and economic growth.
Volunteer involvement is also crucial to the success of nationally and internationally known events like the Tidy Towns competition and the Galway Theatre Festival, but is also central to smaller, local schemes.
The Bohermore Community Project provides a fantastic example of the impact of volunteer work in the heart of the community. When you consider that the project has been running homework clubs and activities for school going children of all ages for 30 years, it starts to dawn on you the scale of volunteering in Galway and the incredible contribution volunteering makes.
Volunteering isn’t just about what services are provided; it’s about belonging to your local area and being proud of your efforts to make it a better place.
It really is true that volunteering builds stronger communities, as Nina says in her foreword to the report.
Although it may sound jarring, volunteering costs money and much of this excellent work would not be possible without the backing of the State.
So, I am very proud that my Department, through our Programme of Community & Voluntary Supports, provides a cohesive framework of support for the community and voluntary sector. This programme supports volunteer centres and volunteer information services nationwide, as well as a number of national organisations including Volunteer Ireland and Young Social Innovators. This year, some €3.5m is being provided for this purpose.
The funding of these organisations is designed to strengthen and foster volunteerism in Ireland. And to build a support structure to develop volunteering from the bottom up.
The funding for local volunteer centres helps them carry out their core function which is to match volunteers with the skills required by local community and voluntary organisations.
This volunteer network and volunteer infrastructure is growing, and promises to enrich Irish society. I am confident of this because of the level of professionalism, skill and cooperation that now exists in communities and within the voluntary sector in Ireland.
While the report identifies support from Government and training for volunteers as areas where further improvement is necessary, it must be acknowledged that we are moving in the right direction and Volunteer Centres across Ireland continue to go from strength to strength.
Another interesting theme in the report that I think deserves attention is the social aspect.
No one doubts that modern society faces complex problems that cannot be simply addressed by channeling more funds – important though funding is.
The report raises challenges like accessibility, connectivity and social isolation, which are often particularly acute in rural Ireland.
Volunteering has a huge role to play in building communities, developing the links that exist between the people who live in the same area or share the same interests.
Be it providing social activities for teenagers, supporting senior citizens or fundraising for local community projects, volunteering adds value to communities.
However, volunteering is a two-way street and the benefits are not all stacked up on the side of the community.
Volunteering is good for individuals. Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends and brings you into contact with people who have similar interests.
Volunteering strengthens your ties to the community.
It is good for your health and your mind.
This is the social capital that the report is speaking about – communities are made of people, and volunteering brings people together.
To conclude, I believe the future is very bright, and I’m absolutely confident that volunteers and Galway Volunteer Centre will have a massive role to play in making Volunteer Week a success this week.
I’d like to once more thank Dr Farrell, NUIG and Volunteer Ireland for collaborating to produce this report.
I am delighted to be here today and I will continue to work to support the further development of volunteering and communities in Ireland.