By Allen Meagher, editor 'Changing Ireland'
The public generally understands two things about local authorities. On the one hand, the elected representatives deserve more power - too much rests with officials. The second commonly held view is that local authorities are sometimes responsible for the problems they’re trying to solve.
They struggle to connect with ‘hard-to-reach’ citizens.
Recently, in Moyross, we had 30 balaclava-clad young people riding around on horseback firing stones at public buildings after dozens of horses were taken by the pound on orders from the local authority. More restrained horse-owners protested outside council offices. Neither the crude and dangerous protest nor the dignified one sought jobs or training, just social inclusion and an end to persecution. However, all four could be delivered together if those holding the reins of power put their thinking caps on.
It costs the taxpayer a small fortune to round up urban horses and after over a decade of ineffective round-ups, the council could try a different tack. A community development approach would cost less and guarantee a different outcome.
Nationally, in terms of reforming local government and introducing a more joined-up approach, “fundamental” reforms announced in October by the Government may, giving it the best view, mark the first real step in a hundred years in improving how local authorities works.
However, one reform element termed ‘alignment’ has been greeted by protests. Local Development Companies view it as “a takeover” of community development funds by local authorities and are currently in talks with officials over the matter.
‘Alignment’ marks the final destination after years of merging local projects and national programmes. It represents a core part of the Government’s plan to reform and strengthen local government, make it more democratic and increase citizen participation.
However, ‘alignment’ also threatens to impinge on the independence of the Community Sector. Increased citizen participation, while there are plenty good examples to choose from, has yet to be delivered.
As this long process has unfolded, the State and the increasingly professionalised Community Sector has creating something of a new development dialect. Some years ago, we had a book on equality called ‘The Spirit Level’ and now we have ‘alignment’, ‘capacity building’, ‘cohesion’ and ‘one-stop shops’. The social inclusion sector has begun to sound like a builder’s yard.
Easy know the man/woman in the street isn’t putting the names to these things.
Meanwhile, the Local and Community Development Programme appears to be having a major impact - review findings about to be published reportedly convey an array of positives.
The Programme is delivered by Local Development Companies and to see what workers and volunteers are doing on the ground (literally as our front cover demonstrates) check out our reports from Waterford, Limerick, Tipperary and Kerry in this issue. It’s a Munster-dominated edition and it’s time for another province to feature in the Summer edition.
The stories are already coming in. Call us with yours today! Your views are also welcome.