Concern was expressed about a proposed new structure to promote community engagement as part of ongoing local government reforms at a meeting held in Longford recently.
Chairman of the Working Group on Citizen Engagement Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland together with Michael Ewing, Co-ordinator of the Environmental Pillar who is also on the working group held a seminar in Longford Women’s Link recently to outline how the new Public Participation Networks which will be used to engage community groups in the local government process.
Representatives from community groups and community and voluntary fora from across the region attended the event to hear how the new structure will work.
The Public Participation Networks will nominate representatives to a range of County Council committees including the new Local Community Development Committees.
There will be three electoral colleges in the new structure - Environmental, Social Inclusion, and Community and Voluntary.
Speaking on the night Fr Sean Healy acknowledged that the plans for the PPNs had been developed over a six week period and that the structure had some deficiencies.
However he told the meeting “the challenge was to develop effective processes for real engagement”.
PPNs will be developed at municipal district level and every organisation can be represented there.
There will also be a PPN structure that deals with issues at county level.
A secretariat at county level that is a facilitation and communication mechanism but not a decision maker.
Members of the secretariat will be elected through the municipal district PPNs.
At the recent meeting in Longford a number of people expressed concern that the new structure was effectively getting rid of the community and voluntary fora.
Various contributors acknowledged that there has been an inconsistency in the effectiveness of these fora across the country.
“If there is a community and voluntary forum that is flying,” Fr Sean Healy stated, “ it is not going to take much to transfer across.”
He added : “In many counties, they [the community and voluntary fora] are not operating to this level so what we are trying to do is provide an opportunity for real and genuine engagement.”
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