As chairman of Irish Rural Link I attended, along with over 400 other delegates from all over Scotland, the inaugural Scottish Rural Parliament last November, the culmination of years of hard work by the organising committee with support from the Scottish Government. Rural Parliaments are a growing European rural movement that offer people who work and live in rural Europe an opportunity to develop a shared vision for their rural areas that is captured in this quote from the vision statement of the Scottish Rural Parliament, ‘ it is important that those who live and work in rural Scotland are not disadvantaged by challenges arising from their location, and that rural life is sustainable socially, economically and environmentally in the long term and for future generations.’
To deliver on such a vision the ingredients have to be in place to create the right environment for rural communities to flourish, to this end I welcome the appointment of the CEDRA implementation committee and wish them well in their endeavours. As rural communities begin to fight back against the worst recession in the history of the state is it time to enshrine in legislation the rights of communities as has happened in the UK Localism Act 2011?
While the jury is still out on whether the Localism Act has delivered on its primary objective, of being the catalyst for devolving decision making powers from central government control to communities, however elements such as, ‘Community Right to Bid’, ‘Community Right to Challenge’ and ‘Community Right to Build’ have enabled communities acquire valuable local assets, provide local services and have an input into local planning and development.
Furthermore the potential growth of Social and Community Enterprises should be further aided by such initiatives, estimated by the European Commission’s ‘Europe 2020’ strategy to contribute 6% of GDP across Europe with the potential to grow to 9% of GDP over the decade to 2020. It is estimated that in Ireland this could mean a growth in employment in social and community enterprise from 33,000 people to 65,000 people, jobs that are local by their nature. I would encourage the CEDRA implementation committee to examine the enshrining of community rights in legislation, consider the recommendations made by Forfas in their report ‘Social Enterprise in Ireland’ and explore the possibility of hosting a Rural Parliament in Ireland.
Tidy Towns Committees the length and breadth of the country are, as I write this piece, busy at work in and around their towns and villages contributing to, in a very tangible way, the recovery of rural places and making them good places to live, work and play. I feel that if the Tidy Towns energy could be captured for the benefit of all rural places, the contribution to the common good and well-being of Ireland would be immense. With this in mind I would like to offer the services of IRL to any Tidy Towns groups who might see the value in establishing a national Tidy Towns Network, at the very least IRL could facilitate exploratory meetings in our offices in Moate or elsewhere.
As we approach our annual conference, I would like to thank my colleagues on the Board of IRL for their continued support and hard work and would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution to IRL of the staff ably marshalled by our CEO Seamus Boland, thank you. Finally to you our members and the wider rural community with whom we have had the opportunity to engage with through our seminars, Benefit 4 training, campaigns and meetings over the past year, it is you who set the agenda for IRL and ensure that rural Ireland is not disadvantaged.