Excellent speakers attended The Wheel’s conference during the summer, among them Martyn Evans, Mary Murphy and Brendan Halligan, REPORTS ALLEN MEAGHER.
Company boards were identified as the greatest barrier to advocacy work, co-operation is the way forward (no surprise) and we’ve to be wary of the market and “sharp-elbowed people”.
Martyn Evans, CEO of the Carnegie UK Trust noted that the average life expectancy of Irish males had risen greatly in the past 100 years (from 53 to 79 years) and the current social system appeared to have served us well,
We're all healthier, wealthier, wiser, and certainly better educated. But income inequality in Ireland has changed very little, he noted. For example, 10% of children leave school unable to read.
While there have been massive improvements, they have been differentially distributed which is a sign of “system failure”.
One outcome, he said, was that less than 50% of people across Europe have trust in their governments, according to the OECD.
Martyn proposed “an enabling state”, which is not one where things are done for people, but where actions take place with people, they are co-produced, meaning that users and producers of services work together.
He also proposed that where the State has failed, it should engage in community solutions.
Complex social challenges, he said, cannot be resolved by one sector alone, only by co-operation between sectors.
Mary Murphy from NUI Maynooth spoke about a vision for a new republic and pleaded for us “to put care on the agenda, from our elders to our ecosystem.”
“We don't know what it means to be citizens in a republic,” she said. She told a story about being on holidays in France and seeing their republic’s values set in stone outside local schools. She admitted she could not name the values in our Irish republic.
“In one way, it seems there's a lot of change, with the ‘pencil revolution’ knocking Fianna Fail out of power. But it's shifting back,” she warned.
She criticised our deference to power and called on us to “rethink the market and what we allow it do to our society”.
Market practices were being brought into the third sector: “Some are good, some are questionable.” She criticised attacks on public goods, services, expenditure, accountability, academia and solidarity.
The “defunding and disinvestment” by the State in the Community and Voluntary Sector was a major issue and people were busy defending their patches, rather than pulling together as a sector.
“We shouldn't be ‘sluggish in the doldrums of what happens’ as Seamus Heaney put it,” she said.
While she felt there was “a poverty of ideas of political vision for Ireland”, she equally believed that change probably will not come from the political system and through political parties.
“It's up to us and to force it on the political system, we've to be political actors as well. Change if it is to come will come from below not from above,” she said.
She also spoke to the audience about our need to “take environmental responsibilities seriously”. As we listened, the air-conditioning whirred overhead and the windows that might have allowed a breeze to enter were shut tight.
Other speakers provided enlightening moments and insight.
A conference attendee working with a Local Development Company in Mayo noted that the trend was towards centralization and communities were contesting the State over territory.
She said, “Fat wallets and sharp elbowed people will take advantage of the new relationship between the State and the Community and Voluntary Sector."
She also talked of an “information deficit disorder, whereby great reports are produced but nothing happens.”
Guest speaker Brendan Halligan called for the appointment of a junior minister for community and voluntary affairs in the Department of the Taoiseach.
Speaker Mary Cunningham noted the following:
- 60% of the Sector's income from the State.
- 11% of the Sector's income comes from private donations.
- One-third of Community and Voluntary Sector organisations do not fundraise through the public.
And finally, we had Tim Delaney from the USA. In a powerful presentation, he asked why it was that voluntary boards of management were largely responsible for organisations holding off on engaging in advocacy work.