500 people thronged the Abbey Court Hotel in Nenagh last Thursday night, April 10th, to voice their concerns at plans to dismantle existing community development structures, and lose 20 years of local development expertise.
- Crowd assembled at the April 10th public meeting Abbey Court
At a 2 hour meeting moderated by Ciaran Lynch of LIT Tipperary, leaders from communities all over North Tipperary spoke passionately about the quality of work delivered by North Tipperary LEADER Partnership and called on all election candidates and TDs to reverse the plan to centralise community development work into the local authority.
According to NTLP CEO, Michael Murray, “Last night’s meeting showed the depth of support that is there in the community, for North Tipperary LEADER’s work to continue. Our track record, and that of our predecessors over the last 20 years shows that we manage these community services in an “efficient, productive and cost effective” way. Local Authorities are creating a body with the appearance of independence in the new “Local and Community Development Committees,” when genuinely independent organisations already exist, local development companies. We want to see social inclusion and supports to communities to continue into the future. As was said from the floor: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Speakers on Thursday night included Jim Finn (Chairman of NTLP), Padraig Moran (North Tipperary Community and Voluntary Association), Con Ryan (Upperchurch Development Association), Con Harrington (Drombane Energy Team), Tony Brennan (Roscrea SVP), and Charles Stanley Smith (representing Friends of Dromineer Castle). Eamon O’Toole of Rearcross Food Centre and Timmy Delaney of Holycross Community Childcare also contributed.
Chairman Jim Finn summarised the changes planned under the alignment: “this will see some of the key programmes operated by NTLP including LEADER and the Community Development Programme coming directly under the new Local Community Development Committees of the Local Authorities. This committee will only have five community representative from across all of County Tipperary. Compare this with the current situation where there are sixteen community representatives and ten social partners in North and South Tipperary. Is this ‘putting people first’? These are the darkest days of the local and community development sector in Ireland since I joined it. The work of the last half century is about to be undone as a thriving civil sector is about the collared and pulled back under state control.”
- Some of the speakers at the April 10th public meeting Abbey Court
Con Ryan from Upperchurch outlined how through LEADER support over 25 years, his community had moved from a situation where the population had continually fallen to one where it had stabilised, and where the parish was now strong and vibrant, with a Community Childcare facility, sheltered housing, a renovated community centre, a climbing wall, and a yearly walking festival. According to Con, while council staff do excellent work, he feared the focus of work would not be the same. Con Ryan expressed fears that centralisation of community services into the local authority, would set back communities 20 years. He said: “Why should we damage something that works so well? NTLP and the LEADER approach has shown itself to be an efficient, productive and cost effective model of local development.” According to Con, at the upcoming election, his loyalty would not be to political parties but to candidates who would guarantee continued support to community development and local job creation. This was received with great applause.
In the view of Con Harrington, without Development Staff going out to communities, many successful community schemes would not have happened: “No amount of schemes or grants can replace the need for development workers to stand in the kitchens of communities, and help them to develop their own proposals.” With support from NTLP, Con said that his community had moved from a dependence culture to one of self-help:“Now the community is able to develop its own plans, seek partners from other communities and agencies. It is vital that the expertise and commitment of the NTLP team is not was lost.” (Soundclip www.bit.ly/conhldc1)
There were also a cross-section of contributions from the floor expressing grave concerns about the impact of the planned changes. Padraig Moran feared that community development would become a 9-5 job. “It won’t work as a 9 to 5 job,” he said. Liz O’Sullivan Manager of Loretto House said that “if NTLP is placed within the county council, its independent advocating voice will be lost.” In the view of Joe Bourke, of Thurles “this is moving to a top-down approach. The community sector needs to re-assert its strength – we are strong enough.”
- Members of the community signing the petition in support of NTLP
In a further statement on Friday April 11th, Jim Finn complimented the support committed by Sinn Fein MEP candidate, Liadh Ní Riada, who he had met with earlier in the day on this issue. In a statement of support, Ms. Ní Riada said that “25 years of independent community development is threatened by these plans. The focus and interaction with Statutory Bodies will not be the same. I am coming across these concerns with community groups right across Munster.”
The meeting was also attended by MEP Phil Prendergast, Mattie McGrath TD, and a number of local councillors. An online support petition has been opened on www.bit.ly/ldcpetition which members of the public are encouraged to complete.