Patrick Costello TD speaks on community development and the Green Party’s core belief that we need to work with communities not for communities
Full Speech Transcript:
A few jokes were made to me from one or two other Deputies about how there is probably not much rural development happening in Dublin South Central. This is, however, a session on rural and community development, and at the heart of that are the same fundamental principles. Community development is about the empowerment of local communities, be they geographic or based on identity or interests. This concerns strengthening the capacity of people as active agents and active citizens through their networks and the institutions which are available to them.
During the early 1990s we in this country had what was described as the flagship of Europe in terms of community development and anti-poverty work. Two strands were working in co-operation. There was a locally focused, community-driven process that was grassroots and bottom up, and there was a centralised, Government-led approach. Over the years we have created a major imbalance and have moved away from the local grassroots focus to an overly centralised, overly prescriptive and overly prescribed system that provides community supports for people, not working with them. This shift has been to the detriment of the definition of community development I spoke of earlier. This move happened long before the recession. We cannot simply blame the recession for cutting local services. The move away from the local to the central was already happening.
Yes, the amount of money we put into services is important, and we need to spend on community development services, but how we spend that money and how it is given is just as important. We need to be putting it into the grassroots and allow communities to spend the money themselves on the problems they identify, instead of an overly centralised, overly prescriptive and top-down approach. We need to be doing things with communities instead of for communities.
Essentially, the system we now have is the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, model. Recent studies by the ESRI on SICAP have highlighted the top-down approach and this overly restrictive and overly bureaucratic approach. We look at quantitative outputs instead of qualitative outputs. We measure numbers and tick boxes instead of looking at the empowerment of the communities and the strengthening of the capacity of local groups to address their own problems themselves, which has a transformative effect beyond what we initially put the money into. It builds that capacity to look at problems that come next, and the next problem and the next problem. We need to move away from that system and get the balance right. We need to look at ways we can empower communities more. I welcome the Minister of State’s comments earlier when he spoke of moving to the community-led community development model. That is how it was previously when community development worked best in the State and when it was a leader across the European Union. We need to get back there again. I am hopeful and I have great faith in the Minister of State, Deputy O’Brien, to deliver the change we need.