Cooperative working and mutual reciprocal support has been at the heart of rural communities in Ireland for a long time. These values are particularly embodied in the tradition of neighbours helping each other during times of heavy seasonal farm work, particularly harvesting crops. These cooperative arrangements between neighbours were known in the Irish language as “meitheal”. The spirit of community entrepreneurship and self-help supportive of local initiative did not just appear in Ireland with public funding for local development from the late 1980’s. Local development’s long history in Ireland is rooted in the Irish cooperative movement founded by Sir Horace Plunkett in the late 1880’s who convinced Irish farmers that “pooling resources, thereby creating strength in numbers, was the only way for them to survive”. The first dairy co-operative was set up in 1889 and by1900 there were 87 co-operatives with 46 independent agricultural societies throughout the country. Community development, neighbourliness, self-help and self-reliance was also at the core of, Munitir na Tire , the national voluntary organisation established in 1937. This organisation promoted a rural movement organised from local parish level. Community development, particularly as practiced in Muintir na Tire, was seen as a “conservative movement” with close ties to the church (Lee, 2003: 49; see also Varley and Curtin, 2002 both cited in Motherway, 2006) and rooted in Catholic social teachings.
Over the last 20 years, local development has become an important arm of economic and social policy promoted by EC policies, supported under the first wave of Community Initiatives (NOW, EUROFORM, HORIZON) and later mainstream EU Structural Funds. Local development expanded in scope over the years to place a strong emphasis on social inclusion as well as continuing to address the longer-standing issues of local enterprise and employment development. It also addressed cross-cutting issues including citizen and community participation in decision-making on public policy and multi-agency partnership.
This paper reviews the experience of local development in Ireland. It describes the origins and evolution of local development and its “institutionalisation” and mainstreaming in public policy and describes and reviews recent changes. It identifies conclusions and lessons from experiences of local development, current issues and future challenges.
2. ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION OF LOCAL DEVELOPMENT
Local development structures have recently completed a restructuring process, and there has been some reformulation of the local development programme in Ireland. This section briefly describes the origins of local development from the late 1980’s and its evolution to date.
2.1 State Support for Local Development in Ireland
The origins of local development in the 1980’s in advanced European states – in the form of local employment initiatives – to a large extent were rooted in problems of economic adjustment in local areas linked to the impact of globalisation. The model of local development was also influenced by policy development especially at EC level.
Ireland was a late industrialising country and well behind the EU average level of development in the 1970’s when it joined the EEC (1973) and into the 1980’s. Ireland did not have problems on the scale of the mono-industrial areas in the UK and advanced states in the core of Europe but problems of adjustment were experienced in various forms following EU accession in 1973. These included a major loss of jobs in manufacturing as domestic firms were fully exposed to international competition, and consolidation in agriculture towards larger and more efficient holdings resulting from the Common Agricultural Policy. Difficulties of adjustment at local level were reflected in the emergence in the 1980s of unemployment “blackspots” and high levels of long-term unemployment which particularly affected unskilled manual workers in urban areas (including relatively small towns). Long-term unemployment proved to be particularly intractable through the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
The first integrated area-based interventions in urban (and some rural) environments, the Area-based Response to Long-term Unemployment, was specifically introduced to address to this issue. This involved setting up 12 partnership-based structures in 1991 by the Central Review Committee within the Office of the Taoiseach or Prime Minister. These were set up in different parts of the country based on two criteria: (i) areas with high rates of unemployment and long-term unemployment and (ii) where there was evidence of local capacity for action, a history of cooperation and some pre-existing structures. On their establishment, the12 local partnership were not allocated specific funding for local initiatives (the funding from the Department of the Taoiseach was provided to establish and operate the structures). In the first two years, the partnerships drew funding from sources including LEADER, HORIZON, Poverty III and national statutory sources.
The Area Based Response to Long-term Unemployment from 1992 was supported under a Global Grant for Local Socio-economic Development, co-financed by the European Commission. This initiative operated as a pilot project until the end of 1993. The initiative was introduced in the context of the social partnership agreement in place at the time, the Partnership for Economic and Social Progress (PESP) (Craig and McKeown, 1993). Following the pilot phase, the local partnership model was extended to other areas of the country, and supported under the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development in the Irish Community Support Framework (1994-99). Effectively, this involved the “mainstreaming” of local development in public policy in Ireland. A local development programme has been included in each successive round of EU Structural Funding from this time onwards and into the current National Development Plan (2006-2013).
While the local partnerships were associated more with urban problems, some were also set up in rural areas. In rural areas, development problems were reflected in high levels of unemployment in some cases, but more typically under-employment and low rates of labour market participation linked to a lack of local economic opportunities, and imbalanced demographic structures associated with the exodus of young people and females. The first area programme for Integrated Rural Development (1988-90) was established by the Department of Agriculture in 12 pilot areas to respond to these problems, and pre-dated the Area-based Response to Long-term Unemployed (as described above) and the LEADER Community Initiative, launched in 1991 by the European Commission. The first Integrated Rural Development experiments had a particular focus on community and local enterprise (Walsh, Craig et al, 1998). LEADER I followed from this and fitted with that thinking.
Generally, the LEADER approach has been particularly successful in Ireland. It was constructed in a cultural context in rural areas that was particularly receptive to the approach of bottom-up cooperative working. The pilot phase of LEADER I (from 1992) supported 17 Local Action Groups; by LEADER II, from 1994, the Initiative was extended to 34 Local Action Groups. There was continuity into LEADER+, implemented through 35 Local Action Groups and three National Bodies. LEADER-type activities continue in the 2007-2013 period of EU funding (36 LEADER Partnerships) and are part of the broader Rural Development Programme for Ireland.
By the 1980’s, poverty had emerged as a strong theme in community development (Motherway, 2006). While this is certainly associated with changing socio-economic conditions in the state from the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, it was also influenced by a new emphasis on poverty in policy and especially the influence European Commission initiatives at that time. The origins of the association between community development and poverty in Ireland are in the EC’s Poverty I programme of the 1970s, ‘“the first attempt by statutory authorities to promote, resource and support the development of community organisations to tackle poverty” (Cullen, 1994 cited in Motherway, 2006), then through the EU Poverty II programme (1985-1989) leading to the establishment of the community development fund in 1990 and then of the Community Development Programme (CDP) itself”.
2.2 Local Institutional Structures: Programmes and Funding
The recent restructuring of local development in Ireland involves a consolidation of two local and community development programmes in place since the early 1990’s, namely (i) the Local Development and Social Inclusion Programme (Local Partnership Companies); and (ii) the Community Development Programme.
At the time of its restructuring (up to December 2009), the Local Development and Social Inclusion Programme was implemented through 37 Local Partnership Companies, 17 Urban Partnerships and 2 Employment Pacts. These structures, based on a social partnership model, had evolved from the original structures supported under the PESP. The substantive agendas of the Local Partnerships changed over the years. As the policy priorities focused on the concept of social exclusion (i.e. multi-dimensional aspects of poverty and processes of exclusion), the Partnerships also broaden the scope of action beyond employment and engaged with target groups beyond the unemployed. An important role of the Partnerships was to improve service delivery (including more responsive and better coordinated local services) for those most disadvantaged in the labour market and in society and “give them a voice” in the process. The Local Partnerships accessed funding from various public funding sources including the Local Development and Social Inclusion Programme (2000-2006) and sources such as training and labour market services (FAS – the national training and employment services, Local Employment Services) and social and health initiatives (the Health Services Executive, Department of Education and Science) (Fitzpatrick Associates, 2007).
The Community Development Programme (CDPs), at the time of the restructuring in 2009, supported some 180 organisations which were also set up in local disadvantaged communities throughout the state. These organisations operated as local resource centres typically run by a small staff (2-3 people) providing information, advice and support to disadvantaged target groups, including unemployed persons, lone parents, young persons, young families and elderly people. They provided support for community development including practical assistance for community groups (places to meet, facilitation etc.); adult education courses and training opportunities; and support for participation in local development initiatives. The CDPs also promoted a civil society agenda.
Together these two programmes (the Local Partnership Companies and CDPs) accounted for some €72.64 million in state funding in 2009 and, based on returns for 2008, supported some 400,000 beneficiaries (Bamber, Owens et al. 2010). A review of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, set up in 2008 to make recommendations for reducing public service numbers and ensure “a return to sustainable public finances”, estimated public expenditure in excess of €350 million per year on non-statutory local service organisations (including Local Partnership and LEADER Companies, CDPs, Community Service Projects, and other organisations). A further study to review area-based interventions in disadvantaged urban areas, based on 2006 data, identified 23 national-level programmes that, to varying degrees, could be counted as providers of area-based interventions. They accounted for €968.8 million of public expenditure, of which €688 million was direct expenditure and €280 million consisted of tax breaks for commercial development in run-down urban areas (Fahey, Norris et al., 2010).
In addition to the Local Partnership Companies and CDPs, there were, as described above, 36 LEADER Groups in rural areas (and some overlap here with other local development structures). These have also been absorbed in the new arrangement in that they too are re-constituted as integrated Local Development Companies.
In addition, there is a further set of local structures established in 51 disadvantaged urban areas in cities and towns under the RAPID (Revitalising Areas through Planning, Investment and Development) programme. The RAPID Programme was first launched in 1991 (Strand I, 25 areas), was extended over time (20 additional areas under Strand II and an additional 5 areas in 2009). Responsibility for the programme was held by the Department of Environment and Local Government, later by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DCGRA) and most recently by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the former DCGRA having been disbanded. The Programme is managed on behalf of the Department by Pobal (formerly Area Development Management Ltd. which was established as a non-for-profit intermediary organisation in 1991 charged with the management of the Global Grant for Local Socio-Economic Development).
RAPID is implemented in the designated local areas through a cross-sectoral Area Implementation Team (AIT), supported by a Coordinator. The Coordinator is employed by the relevant local authority. The City/County Development Board (within the local authority) monitors the programme locally. Each RAPID area is required to produce a local plan which contains proposals to Government departments and state agencies for project funding. The main objectives of RAPID are to “fast track” and prioritise resource allocation and to coordinate funding from mainstream government programmes into these areas. Following on from the recent reforms of local development structures, it is expected that RAPID structures will be absorbed into the new local development arrangements.
2.2 Reform of Structures and Re-formulation of Local Development
The process of reform or consolidation of the local development structures was called “cohesion”, meaning more cohesion in the structures and rationalisation of administrative arrangements. It was first announced in 2004/2005 (Cohesion 1) and was completed in 2010 (Cohesion 2). The process was not without its difficulties in agreeing the precise re-constitution of the local development structures. Local personalities, the quality of local leadership and the distinctive profile of the individual companies (i.e. the extent to which they prioritised and engaged with certain issues) influenced the outcomes. In a small number of cases, agreement was not reached and there are local variations on the general model (e.g. for Travellers). In the rural context, cohesion was less of an issue (or less difficult to agree) in those areas where multi-functional organisations dealing with both social inclusion and rural development already existed.
From the central administration’s perspective, “cohesion” was driven by various factors including the perception of fragmentation and duplication / overlaps in local development structures. Some of the existing structures were seen to overlap in terms of scope of activities, target areas and target groups while, at the same time, some territorial areas at local level were not within the remit of any such structures. It was also problematic that, over successive evaluations, it has proved to be difficult to identify and provide a quantification of the impact of local development programmes (NDP/CSF, 2003; Fitzpatrick Associates, 2007). This is in a context where there is increasing emphasis on strengthening accountability for public money and strengthening the evidence base for policy interventions. More recently, the need for financial rationalisation in view of the public funding problem and the scale of the public debt crisis in Ireland were important factors driving the reform. In addition, there was a perspective that governance was weak in some cases. The cohesion process gave an opportunity for the Board structures of the delivery organisations to be re-configured.
2.3 “Cohesion”: Were these Local Structures Operating to the Same Objectives?
In practice, while the role of the organisations looked much the same on paper and there could be overlaps, the various local development structures (i.e. Local Partnerships, Community Development Programme organisations, LEADER Groups) often had different objectives, prioritised different issues and were dealing with different target groups. In some cases, the initiatives were driven by different priorities – for instance, social inclusion (Local Partnerships) v. economic development (LEADER). The more subtle differences between a strong focus on civil society development in the CDPs and social exclusion in the Local Partnerships were not so clearly articulated nor understood. The CDPs were more engaged with the grass-roots community associations and informal groupings. As all structures were “local” and operated in different conditions (different population densities, demographic profiles, local economic structure etc.), there were locally-specific differences in terms of what these structures actually did “on the ground”. For instance, as one CDP manager commented recently as the new structures were being negotiated, local development may look “chaotic” on paper but “that is part of local development and the chaos works”. These types of views, however, are not particularly appreciated by central government, charged with the task of reform and rationalisation especially where the total impact of these local activities have not proved to be amenable to quantification.
2.4 The New Local and Community Development Programme (2010): Overall Structure and Objectives
“Cohesion” has been completed and a new consolidated programme, namely the Local and Community Development Programme, managed by Pobal (which, as stated above, is itself an intermediary non-profit body managing programmes on behalf of government) has been agreed and is in operation from January 2010. This programme is co-financed by the EU under the current National Development Plan (up to 2013).
New integrated partnership structures are now in place comprising 52 Local Development Companies and other local development groups. Both the membership and governance arrangements of the Partnerships have been specified by central government. There is comprehensive geographic coverage of all areas of the state by the local development structures in that their geographic remit covers all urban and rural areas. The former LEADER Groups (36), now reconstituted as Local Development Companies, continue to be the local structures responsible for the administration of funds for LEADER-type actions under Axis 3 and 4 of the Rural Development Programme.
In terms of objectives, the new Local and Community Development Programme focuses on alleviating poverty and social exclusion, targeting especially most disadvantaged micro-areas and groups furthest from the labour market. Those companies which administer LEADER-type actions also have an economic diversification focus. While some former LEADER Groups had a focus on social exclusion as well as rural diversification, some did not. The history of these companies influences their capacity to address the current social inclusion agenda. All companies have a more explicit role in promoting awareness and encouraging uptake of the wide range of statutory, voluntary and community services available to people, and active engagement of local communities in policy, practice and decision-making processes on matters affecting local communities (promoting the local governance agenda).
2.5 Implementation Arrangements in the New Local and Community Development Programme
In the framework of the new Local and Community Development Programme, the Local Development Companies operate within a more defined (some would say less flexible and more rigid) framework. They are required to prepare, drawing on process of local consultations, and have recently submitted, local strategic plans for Social Inclusion (June 2011) to Pobal. These plans address the following objectives.
- Promote awareness, knowledge and uptake of a wide range of statutory, voluntary and community services.
- Increase access to formal and informal educational, recreational and cultural activities and resources.
- Increase people’s work readiness and employment prospects.
- Promote active engagement with policy, practice and decision making processes on matters affecting local communities.
Each of these objectives is quantified (with limited scope for variance) in terms of the resources expected to be utilised under each objective. Following from a review of local and community development conducted by the Centre for Effective Services , a logical framework for the monitoring and evaluation of the strategy and action programme of the Local Development Companies has been put in place.
As part of the reformed governance arrangements, the previous arrangements Local Partnership Companies had put in place to engage with the local communities (e.g. sub-committees of the Board as working groups) have been abolished. In their place, the Local Development Companies have already or are in the process of setting up local “Community Advisory Councils” as consultation mechanisms. Participants on these structures receive information and feedback and present views but they have no decision-making role vis-à-vis the Partnership (decisions are taken by the Board).
2.6 How Does the New Programme Fit as Part of Evolution of the Partnerships?
To some extent, the reformulation of the objectives of the local development programme and the scope of the Local Partnership Companies in disadvantaged areas reflected the evolution of the Local Partnerships over time, to respond to changing conditions in the policy and institutional landscape and changing needs. The new structures also seek to encourage citizen participation in governance. This gap, increasingly, was seen as evidence of a democratic deficit. Community engagement was an area where the Local Partnerships, when they were first developed, were considered to offer strengths (i.e. they promoted the concept of participative democracy to complement representative democracy).
The need for wider reaching reforms to strengthen local government and its resource base (including broadening powers of local authorities to raise own resources) and functions have been debated over many years in Ireland. While there have been new structures and initiatives, particularly to enhance the local authorities’ role in economic development and local service coordination (most recently in the structures of the City and County Development Boards set up to integrate local development and local government, and Strategic Policy Committees involving participation of a wider range of views in local authority decision-making processes), the more extensive reforms have not happened. The latest experiments in integrating local development and local government (the City and County Development Boards) have not been particularly successful. Both public sector reform and wider-reaching institutional reforms of government and governance are on the current government’s agenda. It is proposed, inter alia, to have new property-based taxes and some amalgamations of local authorities in place by 2014.
The dominant relationships in the public administration in terms of control and decision-making on remit and scope in the local arena are vertical relationships. Coordination across policy fields at central government level (across departments) is weak. A policy / institutional framework for more productive relationships and locally autonomous decision-making are not in place. Local development structures still report upwards to the central administration (via Pobal). Pobal itself has taken on the management, on behalf of the central administration, of numerous programmes including many programmes co-financed by the EU. There a view that the central administration still tries to “micro-manage” local development via highly centralised procedures for drawing down funding and reporting on activities (which influences what they can do). As such, truly integrated or more coordinated development across policy fields / types of intervention at local level, which has also been a central policy objective, has not happened to the extent required, particularly in view of the challenges now presenting in an advanced and increasingly more complex society.
The changes in the scope of activities of local partnerships were influenced by changing contextual conditions in Ireland (from boom, to bust to “super bust”). In conditions of economic boom (late 1990’s to 2006/07) when there was considerable advancement in general living standards (reflected in changes in GDP per capita from well-below the EC average in the 1980’s to now well above the EU average), some areas in the rural environment and particularly parts of urban areas were unable to benefit from the new opportunities because of the deeply embedded structural problems in these areas. Linked to this, there were changes in the profile and needs of disadvantaged target groups. Some sections of the population became much more excluded, particularly as the society in general advanced. The problem could not be articulated only or mainly in terms of exclusion from employment through long-term unemployment but in terms of greater distance from the mainstream society across a range of outcome indicators (education, health profile, social capital indicators such as trust, employment / occupational history). A small “hard core” had become effectively unemployable. With buoyant government revenues, a more generous welfare regime of primary (payments) and secondary benefits was possible for this population. This, in turn, led to the emergence of a culture of dependency in certain section of the population, low expectations and the emergence of poverty and welfare traps. These areas of policy (e.g., within social protection) are relevant to and influence conditions, but any adaptation of the rules are outside of the domain of local development.
Over the years when there was no shortage of public money, there was a proliferation of small-scale social projects implemented by voluntary bodies. These were mainly funded by the state, particularly in the disadvantaged urban areas, to address a wider spectrum of needs (e.g. poor family functioning, drug addiction, early school leaving, basic educational and skills deficits, financial indebtedness, poor health, housing estate management etc.). These projects were and continue to be poorly resourced and operate from year-to-year, staffed by people on short-term employment contracts. While these initiatives and the new services they put in place may have achieved some good outcomes at a small scale, a macro-level impact was not apparent from this pool of micro-level interventions; as these social initiatives were increasingly supported, the mainstream services of the state tended to “withdraw” from these areas and were to a lesser extent “on the front line” and in touch in terms of having a sense of the problems and empathy with the population affected. In addition, there is now a pattern of more fragmentation of services, wider scope of local action, and even greater need for improved coordination at local level.
Over the years, the local partnerships were placing themselves in a “different space” in the local institutional landscape and in terms of their role in policy delivery. Increasingly, they were taking on a more strategic role in the local development and local institutional environment. They had become more engaged in participation in local coordination and wider partnership structures (mainly ad hoc) with public agencies and voluntary sector bodies on a range of issues. These included the difficult social issues affecting most disadvantaged populations (e.g. mental health, crime, early education, school-based interventions to improve attainment level and encourage retention, family support and parenting etc.). The Partnership Companies were working to a lesser extent directly with unemployed and socially disadvantaged people and more with grass-roots organisations, supporting these groups through grants and technical assistance. The Partnerships engaged more in strategic level actions compared with the past, including research and information gathering, for instance, on local needs analysis and thematic issues and dissemination of information. Some of the Local Partnerships are more successful than others in terms of their profile in promoting social inclusion and social innovation. Participation in EU Initiatives such as LEADER and its continuity in the Rural Development Programme, and EQUAL, for instance, have been very important in promoting this agenda of innovation. In the framework of EQUAL, this has enabled or provided stimulus to further developing the local partnership model.
The smaller-scale CDPs operating more at grass-roots level, on the other hand, had a stronger focus on civil society development (as stated above) but increasingly, were driven (by funding criteria) into a stronger service delivery role in areas such as adult education, family support and services for elderly populations. Depending on local circumstances and local personalities, there could be tensions between the various structures – Local Partnerships, CDP, LEADER – in the local environment.
3. CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION
This section presents conclusions of this review and in the discussion, identifies lessons from the experience, current issues and future challenges.
Local and community development has had a long history in Ireland, initially rooted in a rural small farm culture, a conservative tradition, and strongly reflecting values of neighbourliness, self-help and self-reliance. Local development, as it emerged in changing conditions in the late 1980’s, was developed in a culture supportive of collective action. It has evolved to respond to the great changes in socio-economic conditions linked to the impact of globalisation and exposure of Irish society to wider influences. Local and community development took on new issues as they emerged, particularly the problem of unemployment as it affected local areas and later problems of social exclusion.
Local development in the early years was influenced by a top-down supportive policy agenda, particularly from EC level. This involved the promotion of local development approaches (i) as part of the response to unemployment, poverty and later social exclusion and (ii) to address the challenges of under-employment, the narrow base of economic activity in rural areas and associated problems. Both strands of policy were promoted by the EC, initially in Community Initiatives and pilot programmes / projects, to complement the larger-scale strategic interventions in mainstream Structural Funds.
In Ireland, local development approaches made an early and quick transition from bottom-up local initiatives to formalised and mainstream programmes delivered through local partnerships. This process was linked to capacity to take advantage of the opportunities presented, particularly “a glut” of EU funds at the time, good capacity in the public administration to access and manage EU funding, “gaps” in this area due to weak local government and other factors including a strong social entrepreneurship spirit, especially in rural areas and / or associated with a rural culture.
Local development in Ireland now has a long track record. Since the mid-1990’s, it has been mainstreamed in state policy and institutionalised in local partnership-based and not-for-profit organisational structures. Local development operates with multi-purpose structures and multiple objectives (social inclusion, economic development, civic participation). It draws on various sources of funding and has been associated with a culture of innovation. The concept of local development in Ireland now encapsulates the broadest agenda – local strategies, local partnership, multi-stakeholder and policy coordination, local initiative including promoting enterprise and employment, targeting most disadvantaged areas, social inclusion and local governance / promoting citizen participation in decision-making.
The local development sector now has a wealth of experience and “soft” results but it has been difficult to quantify outcomes and the impact of local development.
The lengthy process of state-imposed rationalisation of local development structures and programming (2005-2010) has led to a single programme (from 2010) and more organisational uniformity with less emphasis on social partnership. Indeed, social partnership, which was a key feature of the model, is no longer so important. This is not a feature of the decision-making arrangements promoted by the current (new) government.
3.2 Lessons and Issues
While there are new structures, a new programme and new procedures in place, it will take some time to see how well these will function in promoting local development and social inclusion. In the current climate of great economic difficulties, problems of social exclusion in society (and people with low education, social problems, health problems and little experience of work falling further behind the mainstream) and much less public money, there is likely to be more pressure to show “hard” impact on the problems and, with deeply embedded problems and less favourable economic conditions, it may be more difficult to do so. In the interest of greater accountability, models of development which are less flexible and are not particularly amenable to the spirit of local development (taking local initiative) and innovation are now in place. There are great challenges here.
The structures are established as not-for-profit bodies and so too is the central intermediary body, Pobal, responsible for management of these initiatives. To a large extent in the public mind, these are seen as an extension of the state apparatus. It could be argued that overdependence on state funding is incompatible with the role in promoting civil society development and, over recent years of social partnership, the whole approach was based on a consensus model. Over-dependence on state funding has led to sterility in local development. This may be the result of local development being treated as a delivery system for public programmes? It has certainly evolved in this direction.
Linked to this and the new governance debate, the civil society agenda and the role of advocacy are likely to be diluted in the local development structures. However, it could be argued that the more strategic structures (local partnerships) were not strong on this in recent years. This space may be filled by more political activation, led by elites, and working to mobilise people from the grass roots – e.g. platforms to promote organisation and engage citizens, promote protest and alternative policies especially now linked to the substantial cuts in public expenditure on services and increased taxes associated with the EU/IMF bailout. More engagement by citizens and communities is desirable. It can be argued that genuine change requires a move away from consensus politics led by organisations almost totally dependent on state funding. In changed circumstances, community engagement might not be so elusive but different processes may be required to develop it? This is a further challenge.
The wider reform of local government is still outstanding. There is a view that when this happens, the local development structures will be brought within the control of local government. At present, this is not a scenario favoured by the local development sector as it is considered that the sectors (local development v. local government) operate with very different institutional cultures. The latest reforms of local development (cohesion) may be one step before formal absorption into the state. The structures are clearly moving in this direction.
While local development in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s developed in response to crises in local areas particularly unemployment, it took on its own momentum and developed in conditions of strong economic growth and advances in general living standards. The question is raised as to whether (i) there was greater justification for local development at this stage (to work with those who were unable to take advantage of the new opportunities) or (ii) more tolerance towards local development in boom times. In this period, there were many opportunities and no real shortage of public money. The question is raised as to whether local development in promoting the social inclusion agenda was used as a substitute or add-on for social protection and redistribution in society. Funding into this sector increased substantially in the late 1990’s / 2000’s and the agenda broadened in scope. Has local development the capacity to make an impact on these very serious structural problems which are complex in terms of the inter-relationships between different aspects of the problems and are deeply embedded?
The state, society and the economy is now operating in much more challenging times. The knowledge drawn from the past seems less relevant in these times when the solutions to employment problems and social cohesion are much less obvious but have an even higher place on the political agenda. It is not just about creating jobs but social, community and environmental sustainability and how we go about collective decision-making into the future. Perhaps there was never a greater need for social innovation and the re-invention of the spirit of local development?
In preparing this paper for LDnet, the views of colleagues / former colleagues namely, Dr. Chris McInerney, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick and Ciaran Lynch, Development Manager, Tipperary Institute and Director of the Rural Development Support Unit, Ireland and who are themselves experts in local development in Ireland were sought, in informal conversations and to review the draft. Haris Martinos, LDnet also provided comments on the first draft. I would like to acknowledge and thank them for their contribution. However, the views expressed are the opinion of the author who is also responsible for any errors or omissions.
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