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Local government Bill: New programme to roll January 2015

The local government Bill, now renamed the Local government reform Bill, concluded, on guillotine, third stage in the Seanad.  This Bill is important because of the process of aligning the Local Community Development Programme (LCDP) and the partnerships therein within local government, §35 of the Bill (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 16th December 2013, 558-610; 19th December, 879-904; 20th December, 928-1001).  

 

Trevor O Clochartaigh (SF, agricultural) expressed his concerns as to the independent work of the community sector, giving the state control of the local element of civil society.  It was vital that sector be autonomous.  He himself had been a member of PLANET, the representative organization for the partnership companies.  The minister was creating a decision-making structure that was centralized under the county councils and who would be given the cheque book.  He was supported by David Cullinane (SF, labour) who spoke of ‘a drift toward centralizing community development and putting it under government’, starting with the abolition of the community development projects.  Their boards had been taken away, removing local accountability and responsibility.  The minister lacked an understanding of community development.  Trevor O Clochartaigh asked what consultation had taken place with the community sector and drew attention to the comments of the Community Workers Cooperative that the changes werte being made in the absence of consultation. He noted the exclusion from consultation of the National Traveller Partnership, the National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks, the National Women’s Council, the Community Workers Cooperative, Pavee Point and the National Traveller Women’s Forum.

 

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, told him that this was the first time that the community sector was being recognized in law.  Community sector members would be a majority of participants in the Local Community Development Committee (LCDC), an even better position than elected members to influence matters.  As for consultation, he had set up a working group under Fr Sean Healy and had received its report the previous day.  He expected that the alignment group would reach agreement in the next couple of weeks.

 

Trevor O Clochartaigh disputed this, quoting the Community Workers Cooperative that the working group had not carried out any consultation.  He asked what would become of the partnership companies: would they be liquidated?  The minister told him that they had not come to any conclusion on that and that local arrangements would be worked out between the LCDCs and the community for the operational delivery of services.  He would not give him the outcome of a negotiation that was still going on.  The local government system would need partners to deliver programmes and he could not anticipate the preferential partnerships or bidding process.  The notion that there would be a disconnect between the community sector and local government was nonsense, for LCDCs would focus strongly on securing partnership arrangements with the community.  

 

Trevor O Clochartaigh pressed an amendment for the voice of minorities, such as disability groups, ethnic minorities, Travellers, the LGBT community, older and young people to be represented so as to ensure social inclusion: ‘we do not want the top down approach again with directors of services driving a particular policy agenda and imposing it on local communities’.  The minister, though, said there could not be room for everybody on every committee, otherwise there would be 30 on them.  Not every organization could be represented, but the LCDCs would consult with all sectors to see how people could be accommodated.  His legislation reflected the balance between the local authority and its independence, but it was a bottom-up approach whereby the majority came from the community.  We had a plethora of large committees and boards whose effectiveness suffered from their size and the recommendation to him by the expert group that studied alignment was to keep the committees as small and focussed as possible.

Meantime, in the Dail, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan told Stephen Donnelly (ind, Wicklow) that the current round of the LCDP would end at the end of this year.  A successor programme was currently in design based inter alia on the findings of the mid-term review.  Transitional arrangements would apply for the first six months of 2014, extending the current LCDP framework to 30th June but from the 1st July the LCDCs would have oversight of the LCDP based on its current framework.  A new programme would roll out January 2015  (Dail Eireann, Debates, 17th December 2013, 246-7).