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Poverty Debate - The Irish Experience

4 August 2003 at 1:08 pm
Staff Reporter
This year's St Vincent de Paul Society’s Ozanam Lecture in Melbourne entitled “The Irish Approach to Combating Poverty” was given by the Director of Ireland’s Combat Poverty Agency, Helen Johnston.

Staff Reporter | 4 August 2003 at 1:08 pm


Poverty Debate - The Irish Experience
4 August 2003 at 1:08 pm

This year’s St Vincent de Paul Society’s Ozanam Lecture in Melbourne entitled “The Irish Approach to Combating Poverty” was given by the Director of Ireland’s Combat Poverty Agency, Helen Johnston and offered some relevant insights for the Australian scene.

Helen Johnston detailed Ireland’s National Anti-Poverty Strategy before an audience of more than 300 and concluded that that there was good evidence that the Irish strategy had made a difference in that country.

Success came because:
•It has strengthened political and societal consensus on the need to reduce levels of poverty in Ireland;
•It has raised awareness, particularly within the administrative system of the
need to address poverty, for example through poverty proofing;
•The targets in the strategy have created a focal point for poverty reduction;
•It has formally acknowledged the need to involve the community and
voluntary sector; and
•It recognises new and emerging causes of poverty.

However Johnston says the strategy clearly has weaknesses which remain to be addressed. These include:
•The need to ensure a stronger commitment at political and administrative
level to implementing the strategy;
•The need to put in place systems to ensure better access to services;
•The need to better match inputs to outcomes;
•The need for a stronger commitment to delivery of the Strategy at local level;
•The need to ensure a greater involvement of people experiencing poverty and the organisations which represent them in the design and delivery of services.

In response to the question should Australia have an anti-poverty strategy, Johnston said yes because n the words of your founder Frederick Ozanam “To become better – to do a little good”.

Over the past 10 years, Helen Johnston has been active in addressing poverty related issues through her roles as Head of Research at the Combat Poverty Agency and Head of Research at the National Disability Authority.

For the past two years, Johnston has been Director of Ireland’s Combat Poverty Agency. Her main tasks have included: the development and implementation of a new Strategic Plan; contributing to the implementation of the new Irish National Anti-Poverty Strategy; contributing to the development
of the Irish National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion for submission to Europe; leadership of two EU funded social inclusion projects – one on Mainstreaming and one on Local Authorities.

In responding to Helen Johnston’s lecture, Fr Mark Raper, the Provincial of the Australian and New Zealand Province of the Jesuits said the difference between Australia and Ireland is that the Irish strategy has firm targets
that have won broad political acceptance and commitment across party lines.

Raper says the elimination of poverty can only be achieved if it is a goal for the whole of society, not just for government. Regretfully Australia is far from this consensus.

He says another difference concerns the multicultural nature of Australian society. Ireland has only recently begun to receive immigrants in any number, and that brings new challenges both to the community and to its Department of Justice which is rushing to catch up with adequate policy.

He says Australia is by contrast, after Israel, the most multicultural society in the world, and despite our shameful history of a White Australia policy, immigration has served us well. Apart from the discriminatory treatment of
persons on Temporary Protection Visas, migrants can quickly find their place in society and benefit from it.

Helen Johnston has held discussions with key community agencies to discuss the Irish poverty eradication model, she will also meet with government representatives and officials.

If you would like an electronic copy of Helen Johnston’s Ozanam lecture just send an email to

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