Pictured are Jackie Murray, Deacon John Taffee and Gwen McKenna of the Family Addiction Support Network, FASN, who organised a Mass of Healing at The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Kingscourt for all families who have suffered bereavement through addiction or suicide.

‘It can’t be sustained on volunteerism’

Eddie Butler

Kingscourt was the site of a major fundraiser for the Family Addiction Support Network (FASN) last weekend.

Over 300 lorries were in the town to raise money for the charity, which works with the family members of someone tackling addiction (see p28 of the newspaper).

It comes as the charity has warned that it will be unable to continue its work if it does not see a realistic funding stream established.

It currently receives annual funding of just €7,508, which project co-ordinator Jackie McKenna says “doesn’t even cover travel expenses”.

FASN operates across four counties - Cavan, Meath, Monaghan and Louth - with its main office based in Dundalk. Over 250 people engaged with the service across the region last year.

It was set up in 2002 by Jackie McKenna and Gwen McKenna, two mothers looking for support for family members.

“There were very, very little services back then in the northeast region,” says Jackie.

The group, which is entirely staffed by volunteers, runs support groups across the north east, including in Cavan Town.

The peer-led approach FASN takes is important because it allows for specific plans to be set out to deal with that person’s issues.

“It’s not us telling them what they should do. We create that environment where they can learn for themselves,” explained Jackie.

“People come in absolutely devastated, so worried, so gripped by fear, trying to fix that person because they love them so much and their whole focus is on them, so their own health and mental health can be neglected.”

That model is described as “very cost effective for the government” because it allows people to receive the help they need without having to engage with statutory agencies or directly with the health service. However, this isn’t backed up by adequate funding.

A funding application for €138,000 submitted earlier this year is described as “conservative” for what is needed to keep the service running at the same level across the four counties. But again no extra funding was allocated.

Jackie says the group has good relationships with statutory agencies like the Gardaí and HSE, built over two decades of work on the issue.

“This is a golden opportunity for the community and gardaí to work together to break that grip of fear in their communities,” she says.

However, the lack of funding and a voluntary staff seeing an increasing workload cannot continue and Jackie is worried about its future if under funding persists: “Core funding to anchor the project [is needed] so that, if anything happens to the volunteers, the position can be advertised and somebody brought in to do that [work]. It can’t be sustained on volunteerism.

“If anything happens to volunteers that’s 20 years of work, relationships and everything gone down the drain.”

Former Bailieborough priest and now Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh Michael Router has been vocal on the need for more supports and funding to tackle drug and alcohol addiction.

He has highlighted increasing drug debts and the intimidation of family members.

Jackie agrees and says groups like FASN are important because it’s often not just the person who is tackling addiction that is suffering.

“People are afraid because of crime. They don’t want to get involved because they might bring it onto themselves or their friends or community.”

She suggests there’s stigma on families, who fear they are perceived as ‘guilty by association’.”

The Family Addiction Support Network can be contacted on 087-9046405 or at www.fasn.ie