LAST month, a selection committee assembled by the government concluded evaluating applications from rural development organisations and from consortia led by local authority committees across the State to select those who will implement community-led local development (Leader) in their regions.
I am dumbfounded that the West Cork Development Partnership (WCDP), one of the most successful local development organisations in the State and a model of best practice in the EU, has not been awarded the Leader programme for the region. This is a bad decision for West Cork and its people, for Irish civil society and for the future of community-led local development in Ireland.
It is imperative that the WCDP seeks clarity on the reasons for this and avails of all mechanisms available to it to appeal the decision and in doing so represents the anger, frustration and disbelief of many in West Cork. The people of West Cork deserve to know.
The success of WCDP in delivering Leader is internationally renowned. In 2016, the European Network for Rural Development held up WCDP as an example of best practice in Leader compliance, accountability and risk management – for the very same programme they have not been selected to deliver.
A 2010 EU Commission audit by the European Court of Auditors of Leader across member states singled out WCDP for praise as an example of programme best practice (for its development activity, its transparency, and its good administration).
Petri Rinne, former chairperson of ELARD (European LEADER network), described WCDP as ‘the inspiring Leader implementation model for many’ and amongst numerous awards and accolades for its work, WCDP was the recipient of the 2008 ‘Innovative Program Award’ by the Community Development Society in North America.
WCDP has 25 years’ experience successfully and fairly delivering Leader across West Cork for its population of 99,000, and this represents invaluable institutional memory. No other organisation has delivered Leader in the region over its 25 years existence (except for its offshore islands, with their total population of just over 500).
Based in the West Cork towns of Bantry and Clonakilty, WCDP’s staff delivers enterprise and social inclusion supports to businesses, entrepreneurs, community groups and vulnerable populations across this large territory with its diverse and challenging geography of inter-dependent towns, villages, countryside, peninsulas and islands.
There appears to be no information available to the public at this time about how Leader will be delivered in West Cork, other than that the implementer is Avondhu Blackwater Partnership based outside of the region in Castletownroche, North Cork. The people of West Cork deserve to know.
Community-led local development, as prioritised by the European Commission, depends on established networks of people whose relationships of trust, goodwill and co-operation, built up over many years and through many trials and tribulations, empower people on the ground, animate ideas into actions and facilitate the volunteerism that multiplies the value of public investment such as Leader right across the State. WCDP is West Cork’s regional co-ordinator and Leader for developing and sustaining these networks of people and for connecting them with networks outside the region and overseas. If you take away WCDP then this vital glue, this immense social capital, breaks down. We will only see this when it is too late.
Leader is community-led local development – development for the people by the people. From 2010 to 2014, WCDP met with, or surveyed, almost 2,600 West Cork people to make future plans for the region’s society, environment and economy.
In 2015, hundreds of citizens with a stake in the future of West Cork responded to WCDP’s widespread public calls to add their voice to the Leader plan. People travelled the highways and byways to attend the ‘standing room only’ public meetings held in towns and villages across the region in order to give their input to the WCDP’s Leader plan.
Their collective vision was presented in WCDP’s application. Whose vision is in the selected application? The people of West Cork deserve to know.
The benefits of WCDP’s delivery of Leader funding through community-wide and local enterprise projects to its communities and local economies are visible across West Cork.
‘I call on the government – do not destroy one of the best performing Leader organisations in Ireland and the EU; do not wipe out community-led local development in our region; do not weaken Irish civil society; do not silence the voices of our citizens and jeopardise the future of community-led local development in the State.
Caroline Crowley PhD is a rural development and social inclusion researcher.