The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) celebrated its 16th birthday yesterday 7th March 2021. The RSS has been such a success in delivering community support within our area over these years. The RSS is an employment scheme that supports the farming and fishing families of Donegal.
International Women’s Day plays an important role in the lives of women globally and women play an important role within the RSS. To highlight the wonderful and essential work of the RSS female participants we would like to introduce you to Mary Boyle who would like to share her story with you.
“I had been in working in Abbotts in Donegal Town for some time when I was made redundant in 2006. This was a major blow to me and indeed a lot of my friends and neighbours from around the area. I live in the Glenties area and Abbotts had been major employers and unemployment levels were very high in my area.
The next 13 years were filled with Community Schemes and various courses. The courses were classroom-based and I used the opportunity to gain new skills and knowledge. I had to start with the beginner’s course and worked my way up to certificate level.
I am also a live-in carer for my elderly parents. Being in employment was a fact of life for me. I did not know any other way of life and it was the normal thing for both my parents for me to be in paid employment. It was also very normal for people in the Glenties and surrounding areas to move away to find employment. But moving away to find employment was not an option for me as my parents needed me. They needed the security of me being local. The Schemes were a lifeline for me as I was able to remain local.
I remember well going to the local social welfare office to make my application for the Job Seekers Allowance. It was all very foreign to me. I admit I did not feel good in myself that day but it had to be done. I needed the income it provided. But it certainly was not for me.
It was at the end of 2019 that I met someone and during our conversation, she told me that she was working as an RSS participant for DLDC. I had never heard of the RSS. She gave me some information on the Rural Social Scheme. I made contact with DLDC and discovered that I could use my brother’s herd number and Basic Payment Application solely for the purpose of joining the RSS and it would not affect his farming entitlements in any way at all.
The application process to join the scheme was simple enough. I was interviewed and was really put at ease immediately by Maura Moss. She understood exactly why I was unemployed and why I need to stay local. That was important to me.
I had to bring along identification documents along with my brother’s herd number and I needed a form completed by the local social welfare office to prove that I was in receipt of a mean tested welfare payment. The interview was a real game-changer for me. I was able to work 19.5 hours per week, receive a weekly contribution towards my contributory pension, receive training, get holiday pay and sick pay and still be able to look after my parents. This was indeed amazing.
I started in the Glenties Community Centre on the 24th of February 2020. But none of us knew what was going to happen in March 2020 when the entire country went into lockdown.
I never really got a “run at” the work in the centre due to the lockdown but I am still very busy with it. I do call in when it’s safe to do. The centre still needs looking after and the court is still in action. I receive telephone calls from people who would have been involved in the centre which keeps me updated with my neighbours and friends. This social part of life is necessary as it provides a break from being isolated with my parents. It also keeps the old grey matter in the brain alive. Despite the lockdown and the closure of the centre, I am aware that things still need attending to so I love being able to be organised. When I go to bed on a Sunday night I don’t really know what the week ahead will bring but I do know that it will involve the centre and the RSS to a certain degree. This in turn ensures that I have things at home organised and sorted. This way of life suits me very well.
The RSS had given me the opportunity to work and provide an income for myself. It also allows me to keep contributing towards my contributory pension. Those things are important to me.
But they are not as important as being able to provide care for my parents. The security that I can give them knowing that I am local is unmeasurable. I am also able to help my brother on the farm especially at lambing time. All sheep farmers know that it’s all hands on deck when its lambing time. Farming can be a very isolating industry with so much uncertainly for future income. It’s important to me to know that I can support my brother when he needs it.
I thoroughly enjoy my time on the RSS and as I joined in 2020 I am aware I can only stay for 6 years. But I hope that someone somewhere will change that decision and I can remain on after 2026″.