THERE has been a very strong response in county Limerick to proposals which could see West Limerick Resources and Ballyhoura change out of all recognition.
The changes were announced by Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan late last year when he proposed that Social and Economic Committees be set up in each local authority area.
Such a committee in Limerick would apply for funding, would oversee the work currently done by West Limerick Resources (WLR) and WLR, which has been in existence for over 20 years, would have just one seat on this committee.
As far as Tom Madigan, the voluntary chairman of WLR, is concerned, this would spell a loss of autonomy for the company, a loss of power over its own budget and a possible loss of local jobs.
WLR currently employ up to 40 people on a full or part-time basis. Even more crucially, he believes, such a move would undermine the strong, voluntary local input and involvement, which have made WLR a model of its kind in Ireland and throughout Europe.
Mr Madigan fears that stripped of its core functions and resources, WLR would not be viable and would have no future – and more than two decades of experience and hard work in developing local communities would be lost to a more bureacratised structure.
WLR has joined with some 50 other local development companies in a bid to modify the proposals.
And so far, they have succeeded in bringing Minister Hogan to the negotiation table and in postponing a pilot scheme tipped to begin in Limerick this March.
Last week and this week, WLR has held a series of information meetings in the West Limerick area which have been attended by several hundred people.
At these meetings, they have pointed out that the Social and Economic Committees will be convened by the county manager, and will be led by Limerick City and County Council, who will provide the secretariat.
Effectively, this will mean that the allocation of local development resources will be controlled by the council.
County councillors voted in January in favour of maintaining the local development companies “in their present format” but many councillors have adopted a wait and see policy, arguing that change is inevitable.
The fear is that, with funding to the council squeezed, the Social and Economic Committees would be seen as an attractive source of project funding by councillors and by council officials.