Today, I was at the strangest meeting. I had contacted the Social Intervention Fund through the only name that I could find on the website, Ann-Marie Bermingham. I explained that I am doing a commission for EVA, looking at Regeneration and wondering whether I could talk to them. It seemed all very friendly in the emails. We arranged a date on which the programme manager Sean McGlynn would also be able to attend, and they suggested that I come to the Regeneration Office in Watch House Cross in Moyross.
I sent through some advance questions, fairly non-descript, intended to start a conversation that could lead into something a bit more detailed.
How does the Social Intervention Fund work?
What kinds of projects does it support?
How closely does it liaise with the other pillars of regeneration?
What have been it's successes?
Is there any archive of the projects that have been funded over the years?
The atmosphere from the outset, even before I had my coat off, was surprisingly cold and suspcious. It was all very professional of course. Sean spoke very, very rapidly, with little space for dialogue. He rattled off lots of committee names, but when I tried to get into a little bit more detail about how certain things work, how decisions are made etc. his responses were vague to say the least, and he continuously referred me back to the book that he had brought with him, an official document called Review of the LImerick Regeneration Framework Implementation Plan, Executive Summary, a document that consists largely of inforgraphic versions of bullet point information, a kind of cartoon version of a 2014 document of the same name (there is no other date on this cartoon version). At the start of the meeting, Sean said that all of my questions could be answered by looking at the book, clearly not the case in something so insubstantial. I asked what files were publicly available from the work of SIF. They said that most were sensitive and unavailable, or they were the remit of the Dept. of Housing. In relation to the Civic Engagement Forum, Sean spoke very very fast about how that worked, and when I tried to tease out the details, in the end they sugggested that I speak to the Paul Partnership, a community organisation to whom responsibility for this forum is designated, as far as I could understand.
It was strange because I really did go in good faith. I wanted to be sympathetic to the work that they are trying to do, to understand Regeneration from that side of the table. The defensiveness and obfuscation and evasion actually made me suspcious in a way that I wasn't before.
I maintained a friendly demeanour; I was more curious than anything, not impatient or frustrated. And yet, when the the meeting was suddenly over after 25 minutes, neither of them shook my hand and I was pretty much sent on my way. It was really, really strange. They did themselves so much harm in such a short space of time; I am now completely intrigued about what could possibly necessitate such secrecy and dissembling.
These were the few things that I was able to glean.
The primary purpose of the SIF is the well-being of communities, focusing on education and employment. The SIF like other wings of regeneration is under the remit of the Local Authority and answers to the Directorate of Social and Housing. All funds are distributed based on applications - although there was talk of SIF being involved in producing a new training centre for unemployed 18 - 25 year olds. There was something about creating hubs for services.
When I asked how they measured the success of their projects, Sean referred to the CSO and statistics several times. I asked whether there were any other ways besides statistically that success was measured. Ann-Marie informed me that they carry out a monitoring process, looking at the projects that received funding in previous years. I asked whether the reports from the monitoring process were publicly available and was told no, as they contain sensitive information. I asked whether there were any overview reports.
There was some reference to structures - residents committees and community groups report to the regeneration committee, which in turn reports to SAMG (must look up name) which includes agencies like Tusla, HSE etc.
The Civic Engagement Steering Group caught my attention. I asked how this worked. I was told that there were consultation processes. I asked how those were designed. I definitely hit a bump in the road right there. There was something about the Paul Partnership and 'philanthropists' and Ann Kavanagh but it was all too fast to capture, too difficult to pin down. The Civic Engagement Steering Group is definitely on the cards now!