Guarding community development

 

Sir, – We call on Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan to reconsider the provisions set out in Putting People First – Action Programme for Effective Local Government . We are particularly concerned that the actions as set out in Section 4 of the policy document, would, if pursued, undermine community and local development, alienate volunteers and further marginalise disadvantaged communities.

The document proposes that certain community and local development functions that have resided with Leader local action groups and local development partnerships for more than 20 years, be transferred to county and city councils. The proposals suggest the boundaries of local development organisations be aligned with those of local government. Such proposals would immediately lead to job losses, the depletion of skills from several communities, the imposition of inappropriate geographies, the loss of local services and dynamism, and ultimately be bad value for taxpayers.

While we recognise the need for stronger and more accountable local government, we caution against any attempt to subsume community-led local development bodies into local authorities.

Local government performs many important functions, but its role is distinct from that of local development organisations that have been largely driven by communities and volunteers.

Ireland’s local development and Leader companies have been successful in delivering on job creation, supporting communities, enabling new businesses to develop and promoting environmental and infrastructural projects. Their achievements and demonstrable value for money have been verified by several national and EU-wide independent evaluations and by the OECD.

Since the publication of “Putting People First” a few months ago, the local development companies in general and Leader local action groups in particular, have been the subject of unscrupulous and unfounded accusations, including suggestions of poor financial management. These have not stood up to strict scrutiny. Inaccurate allegations about the salary scales they operate have made their way into the public domain and only serve to distract from what could happen to communities were there to be any diminution in the role and standing of Leader and local development partnerships.

We would urge Mr Hogan to pursue an evidence-based approach to the implementation of policy, and to strengthen the local development sector. We endorse the European Commission’s blueprint for community-led local development and we support the Irish local development network’s proposals for stronger local democracy in which Leader and local development partnerships can play an enhanced role in delivering local services, supporting job creation and promoting economic and community development. – Yours, etc,
Dr ALMAR BARRY, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra; Dr HÉLÈNE BRADLEY-DAVIES, Mary Immaculate College, UL; Dr ANGELA CANNY, Mary Immaculate College, UL; Dr MARY CAWLEY, NUI Galway; Prof CHRIS CURTIN, NUIG; Dr ETHEL CROWLEY, Dr EOIN DEVEREUX, UL; Dr MAURA FARRELL, NUIG; Dr MARY GILMARTIN, NUI Maynooth; Dr IRIAL GLYNN, University College Cork; Dr MARK HENNESSY, Trinity College, Dublin; Dr FRANK HOUGHTON, Limerick Institute of Technology; Dr DENIS LINEHAN, UCC; Prof DONALD LYONS, UCC; Dr JOHN McDONAGH, NUIG; Dr BRIAN McGRATH, NUIG; Prof GARY O’BRIEN, Mary Immaculate College, UL; Dr BRENDAN O’KEEFFE, Mary Immaculate College, UL; Dr EILEEN O’ROURKE, UCC; Dr NIAMH MOORE-CHERRY, University College Dublin; Dr SARAH MURNAGHAN, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dr TONY VARLEY, NUIG & Dr BRENDAN O’KEEFFE, Mary Immaculate College,UL, South Circular Road,
Limerick.