Future of commnunity development groups under threat

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

MORE than two decades of experience and hard work in developing local communities could be lost if the government proceeds with proposals to restructure companies such as West Limerick Resources and Ballyhoura.

MORE than two decades of experience and hard work in developing local communities could be lost if the government proceeds with proposals to restructure companies such as West Limerick Resources and Ballyhoura.

And the loss would be enormous, and possibly disastrous, for the great many communities, voluntary groups, individuals and small businesses in West Limerick which have benefited over the years, and continue to benefit, the chairman of West Limerick Resources, Tom Madigan warned this week.

His greatest fears are the loss of autonomy for the organisation he chairs on a voluntary basis; the lack of power over their own budget and the loss of local jobs. Up to 40 people are employed by West Limerick Resources on a full or part-time basis, he pointed out.

He is also deeply concerned that the strong local and voluntary involvement, which is the backbone and real strength of the company, would be diluted – or disappear altogether.

The proposals for change are contained in Putting People First, a document published late last year by the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan.

The main proposal is that a Socio-Economic Committee would be set up in each local authority area on a public private partnership basis.

This committee would apply for the European and other funds which pay for the programmes operated by companies such as West Limerick Resources. Its board would also oversee the work of implementing these various programmes. “These are the two red-letter issues,” Mr Madigan stressed.

In Limerick, this could mean that the work currently carried out by West Limerick Resources, Ballyhoura and the Paul Partnership could be subsumed into one organisation covering city and county with a 15-person board.

The real problem, West Limerick Resources manager, Shay Riordan, explained is that there has been very limited discussion or negotiation about the detail of the proposal.

And he believes far more clarity is needed. However, he added: “It could be the death knell of the organisation if we are not careful. It is the reach and voluntary effort that make this work.”

A number of pilot schemes based on the new model were due to begin this March – with Limerick strongly tipped to be one of them. Now, to their relief, this has been put on hold, to allow discussions to take place between the 50 or so local development companies in the Irish Local Development Network and the Minister Hogan’s department.

But, Mr Riordan said: “We are in no-man’s land at the moment.”

Mr Madigan added that the uncertainty is something that needed to be addressed rapidly, for the benefit of the company’s employees but also for the people and communities served by West Limerick Resources.

The company had served West Limerick well, Mr Madigan said, adding that there wasn’t a village, town or community which had not benefited. Playgrounds, resource centres, community development plans, have all been supported by the company as have alternative farm enterprise and small, start-up businesses. “If West Limerick Resources go, what is going to fill the vacuum,?” he asked. And he is convinced that a bigger, more anonymous organisation would not work as well.

A series of open meetings has been organised to explain the issues, beginning next Tuesday in Broadford and followed by meetings in Foynes, Abbeyfeale, Rathkeale and Newcastle West.

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