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SIPTU’s campaign to reverse the decision to cut funding to Art Ability continues. Thankfully as a result of the Campaign some element of funding has been secured but not sufficient to ensure it can continue to cater for the needs of the most vulnerable in society. Indeed 4 members of staff have been forced to seek alternative employment despite having initially worked on without pay to protect the needs of the clients of the centre.
Art Ability provides training and support for 48 young people aged between six and 16 as well as 24 adults.
(Belfast Mayor Niall O'Donnghaile at Art Ability)
Manager Richard Long said they would need around Ł150,000 in the next three years to continue operating.
"We are a cross-community organisation and have children and adults from right across Belfast," he said. "If this place closes then there will be no respite for families and people with learning difficulties will have to stay in their own homes."
Martin O’Rourke Lead Organiser stated.
“SIPTU wrote to Belfast City Council prior to the election of the Lord Mayor requesting that the first official community function of the new Lord Mayor would be a visit to Art Ability.
Following his election as Belfast's youngest ever Lord Mayor, Niall O'Donnghaile confirmed his acceptance of the invitation and became the first-ever republican first citizen to visit the loyalist Shankill Road in an official capacity.“
SIPTU members from Denmark Street Community Centre gave up their time to assist with the visit, to ensure the clients, families, and visitors needs were met during the engagement.
The Lord Mayor Mr O'Donnghaile stated:
"This was one of the first invitations that I received since becoming Mayor and I was really, really eager to do it. Art Ability is an excellent facility and I am really happy to be here.
"I have relatives with learning difficulties and I appreciate the support and respite that places like this give to families.
"I have listened to the concerns and will do all in my tenure as Mayor to give them a lift."
Also in attendance yesterday was Jim McVeigh, a SIPTU Community Sector Activist and Councillor for Lower Falls. Jim stated,
“It is vital that people working in the Community Sector come together under a trade union banner and ensure they enjoy the same collective voice as public sector workers.”
Art Ability chairman Albert Hewitt, who is also a SIPTU activist who works with loyalist ex-prisoners on the Shankill, said they had no qualms about welcoming a Sinn Fein man to the area.
"It doesn't worry me the fact that he is Sinn Fein," he said. "The fact that he has come here and supported us and brought such publicity is fantastic.
"We didn't know who to turn to or where to go, thankfully SIPTU came to the rescue and they have worked tirelessly to protect Art ability and the vital services provided by the Community Sector."
Funding for the centre, which provides respite for parents and young adults with disabilities, was stopped in March by the then Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey.
Meanwhile, SIPTU organiser Teri Cregan said:
"There has been a blatant disregard for the impact that cutting services such as Art Ability has on parents who depend on the respite, but most importantly on the children and young adults that use the centre.
"Art Ability helps these users lead a much fuller life and it enables them to integrate more fully into their communities and interact much better with other users.
"The callous decision to cease this funding says a great deal about the lack of recognition of what centers, such as Art Ability, mean to local communities and
how they help the most vulnerable in our society."