Monday, June 26, 2017

“WE ARE SERIOUS AS A DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITIES”

BY ALLEN MEAGHER

Read the full article in Issue 56 - Winter 2016/’17 of ‘Changing Ireland’!

Community groups and interests can work outside the formal structures or within those structures and in many cases they are obliged to do the latter. In practice, many do both:
“We are serious as a Department of Communities,” Minister Simon Coveney 
assured people attending a ‘National Forum’ meeting for ‘Our Communities’, held in
November, in the great hall at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Answering the call,
community reps gathered to see about turning policy into practice that will work on the 
ground and deliver community-driven, bottom-up social inclusion.
Opening the proceedings, Minister Simon Coveney, noted that in the most recent budget “we saw an increase in funding” for community programmes.

While this was a positive, he noted that “the approach towards community development has 
changed.”
“In rural Ireland, it was very much led by LEADER funding, financing ground-up led projects and we’ve been through a painful enough policy change, but I think we can make it work in ways that are more effective than before - even though there are many good and strong things about previous decision-making and funding structures which we don’t want to lose.
“The opportunities are there now for real engagement and genuine partnership between community leaders, community groups, sectoral interests and local and national government.
“And getting those structures right is key,” he said.
He listed the five priorities in the Government’s Framework Policy for the sector published last year, saying, “They’re all fine and aspirational, but what I’m interested in is their pragmatic implementation. How do we ensure that the community has had involvement and a say in the process when I make decisions based on the basis of recommendations that come up to me from talented and serious civil servants in the Department. Ensuring that involvement is the only way we’ll start to light a fire again under communities and empowering them … as opposed to top-down instruction.
One of the reasons that I took the ministry I was offered was because I wanted to close a 
gap that had opened up in the past decade between communities and (the State). One of 
the reasons we’re insisting for instance on mixed tender housing development rather than 
segregated builds is because we are serious about community and community relations and 
diversity and we are trying to learn lessons from the past. 
“We’re not going to be able to do everything, but I hope ye see me as somebody who if you have good ideas you want to share and incorporate into policy that we can do that,” he said. 
While “sometimes, we disagree” it was essential to have a forum, an open line of communications, to work together.
“Communities have to be involved in decision-making”, said the Minister, adding that people should get in touch with him directly if they feel they are being ignored by the process.
Among those to also address the conference were Anna Marie Delaney, CEO of Offaly County Council, who outlined the extent of the policy changes in recent years. 

Rachel Doyle (CWI), in her contribution, reminding the audience of the critical role of community work in addressing poverty, social exclusion and inequality, and building participation of communities in decisions that affect their lives. She stressed that this work cannot take place in the absence of strong, autonomous community development at local, national and international levels.
 _______________________________________________________________________
Policy into practice: What happens next?

The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government held a forum meeting with community representatives in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in November.
The aim of the day was to help develop an implementation plan for the Government’s ‘Framework Policy for Local and Community Development’.
The implementation plan is expected to be completed by the middle of this year.
Community and Voluntary Sector groups, while to a degree welcoming the Framework policy statement when it was approved by Government in late 2015, had also expressed criticism. The Framework Policy seeks to promote “a joined-up, collaborative and participative approach to local and community development at local level.”
Minister Coveney acknowledged there were some difficulties with the Framework and the forum event gave community representatives a chance to strengthen it from the ‘bottom-up’.
The event included five workshops themed around the Framework Policy:
1. Engaging with Communities; 
2. Working with Partners; 
3. Planning for Local and Community Development; 
4. Achieving with Partners; 
5. Securing best outcomes for Communities.
Since the Forum, the Department has been busy preparing a detailed Forum report to be published early in the new year. 
Also, a cross-sectoral group is being established, guided by advice received through the Forum, to assist and advise in the development of the implementation plan. 
Meanwhile, Community Work Ireland planned to meet with the Department to review the Forum event and hoped to also meet with Minister Coveney

AWAY FROM THE 
MAIN STAGE 

  Away from the main stage, the ‘Our Communities’ forum event was hailed by manias significant because it had been quite some years since the communities department had called a meeting of community representatives to discuss future possibilities.
The last occasion for such a gathering heralding in amalgamations, closures, cuts and cohesion, leading to the ‘alignment’ of community development with local government work.
In Kilmainham, the interaction between people was high, the venue was spectacular, the food excellent, the atmosphere good and promises of change were made that impressed a mature audience normally given to healthy skepticism.
One of the community rapporteurs remarked on stage that people present had put a lot of trust in the Department and now they expect action in the coming months.That echoed what Minister Coveney said will happen, what civil servants said will happen and what is expected.
“About a half-dozen people 
remarked to me about the 
food.” 

Meanwhile, there was an update from Junior Minister Catherine Byrne who spoke about a new SICAP being introduced in 2018 and promised investment in training and capacity building for LCDCs to support the delivery of the Programme on the ground.
Her audience included people there who, while unhappy about elements of their work, obviously hold out hope for true bottom-up community development.
As was emphasised at the Forum, community involvement isn’t an add-on; it’s central to the whole thing. Community development must be bottom-up and ideally the country should be led by bottom-up influenced policies.
The relationship between the State and the Community and Voluntary Sector may indeed be improving.


TRUST AND RESPECT
Two key words came through today, 
trust and respect. We acknowledge 
it was a great day. But, there’s a trust 
that we’ve been listened to today and a respect 
that something will happen out of today.
- Community Worker addressing the Forum 

Food might not seem important but the hot lunch with dessert for people grown used to sandwiches and soup at best sent out a positive signal. About a half-dozen people remarked to me about the quality of the food.
However, time will tell – depending on the quality of the implementation plan for the ‘National Framework’ – if communities are turning a new corner.





No comments:

Post a Comment

IF POSSIBLE, GIVE YOUR NAME AND WHERE YOU WORK. GO ANONYMOUS IF NEED BE.