By Allen Meagher
“We’re standing on the cusp of a huge opportunity here,” claims Ryan Howard, talking about Ireland’s potential to unlock EU funds for communities from 2014 onwards.
From 18 months time, the European Commission (EC) proposes just one “programming tool” for all structural funds.
In doing so, the EC has given official recognition and backing to a process knows as Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) and Ireland is better prepared than most to make use of the funding that’s been earmarked.
For a country to have access – by the hundreds of million – it needs to have a network of local action groups in place to channel the funding.
Leading the field, Ireland already has a national network in place, namely the Local and Community Development Programme (LCDP).
“The EC is excited about this and Ireland is in a hugely unique position, through the LCDP companies, in having the whole country covered, including both urban and rural areas,” says Ryan, who heads up a Local Development Company in County Cork.
His enthusiasm reflects his involvement in a European focus group, that reports to the European Commission in Brussels on community initiatives that work.
Since most of us in Ireland have grown used to news from Europe of Troika-related directions and spending cuts, this news runs counter to the regular flow of information on Brussels.
Local development experts across Europe have greeted the announcement as “a great opportunity, not to be missed.” (Ref. LDnet.eu). Meanwhile, politicians are awakening to the possibilities and know it will pass by countries that don’t shape up for it.
It challenges States because the method of delivery is not through national Government agencies, but through regional and local community projects.
“We can offer Europe a community-led platform that works towards social inclusion. We’re seen in Europe as a model, our (LCDP) groups are led by civic society and we’re seen as true Community Development bodies,” says Ryan.
“In the EC, people are reflecting in a far more positive way on what we’re doing than we are ourselves. I find it amazing in Brussels - the level of support, acknowledgement and positivity towards us – it’s a different world here compared to when you go home again. We need to start looking at what’s positive about what we’re doing.
Ryan isn’t blind to the difficulties facing the community sector, including his own Programme, which saw its budget cut to €55.3m in 2012, down from €63.3m the year before.
“The LCDP is dying on its feet because the funds aren’t being put into it. It will be in real trouble if we keep cutting.”
Ryan also recognises that we’re “not at the front of the game” in lining up to access the CLLD funds from 2014.
“Finland is one year ahead of us. Structurally we’re in a great place, but in preparation for 2014 we shouldn’t wait for it to come. Even the EC are saying to get moving before it begins. In Finland, they’ve already started getting out there talking to local community groups.
“This is important because it can’t be accessed through any other structure. To be fair to the Minister (Hogan) – he recognises the importance of the Community-Led process in the future,” said Ryan who met Minister Phil Hogan recently.
“I know other politicians are beginning to become far more aware too – because of the importance Europe will have.”
It’s not easy for everyone, Ryan adds: “We’re not all equal in this; some organisations are very challenged.”
“However, There’s something absolutely critical, amazing and unique about what we’ve done in developing a Community-Led process. And now we’re going to have to start thinking for anew because we can bring value for money that no-one else can.
“It’s not as if everyone’s in the same place. But we’re in a great place for these negotiations. Go look out there because people are reflecting in a far more positive way on what we’re doing than we are ourselves.
“We need to be talking to our communities, our politicians, our leaders … and this is my fear – that it might be seen as not worth the bother.”
· Ryan Howard is the CEO of South East Cork Area Development.
· Ryan was in Brussels as part of a focus group reporting back to the European Commission about Leader within the Rural Development Programme. Leader is one of the four axis of the RDP and was mainstreamed five years ago.
Community-Led Local Development
Features of Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) are that it is area-based, bottom-up, public-private, integrated, innovative, co-operative and involves the use of networking.
It involves directing funding to local community projects via partnerships between EU authorities, NGOs and groups on the ground with the overall aim of realising the long-term potential of their area.
The Commission’s recognition of CLLD is based on the rationale that tackling complex issues such as poverty, deprivation or unemployment, needs an integrated and inclusive approach involving many local actors.
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