A MAJOR shake-up of local government could lead to the loss of vital local jobs in North Tipperary along with the scaling back of education, training, and community development programmes across the County. Chairman of North Tipperary LEADER Partnership (NTLP) and Ballycahill native Mr Jim Finn spoke out this week on the proposed merger of the County Council with NTLP under new plans put forward by Environment Minister Phil Hogan.
The plans would see the rural development company, based in Nenagh, merged with the County Council after 2014. Mr Finn said that the proposals represent “the biggest threat ever presented to community-led rural and urban development”.
“I am appalled and outraged by the proposals. We engage with our community every day with the ethos of ‘tell us what you want us to achieve and we will help’. Minister Hogan’s proposals would see our community-led structures being replaced by a system led by bureaucrats and officials.”
North Tipperary LEADER Partnership is responsible for delivering a wide range of programmes and services in North Tipperary including; Rural Development Programme 2007-2013; Local and Community Development Programme (formerly LDSIP); THE Rural Social Scheme (RSS); FÁS Community Employment (FÁS CE); Rural Recreation and Walks Scheme, and the Rural Transport Programme. About nine people are directly employed by NTLP in rural development, with another 43 involved in seasonal work across a range of programmes.
Mr Finn told the Tipperary Star that their biggest fear is the potential loss of volunteers in the community, and the loss of a bank of local knowledge that has been painstakingly built up over the years. “We handhold every single project to fruition. Our people are on the ground every single day. That’s why we’re so successful. We feel we just wouldn’t get that from a government department or agency, if we are subsumed into the County structure.” The programmes could still be delivered, but the grassroots “bottom up” led ethos would be lost, added Mr Finn.
NTLP is governed by a Board of Directors, which includes local Councillors and community representatives. It came into operation on 1st January 2009. NTLP is an amalgamation of the programmes and activities of Roscrea 2000 Ltd, Nenagh Community Network and Tipperary LEADER. Its purpose is “to act as a voluntary, non-profit making, private limited company with a mission to promote social inclusion, to promote economic development, increase employment and enterprise and promote wider participation in voluntary activity for the people of the area.”
A spokesperson for rural development companies in Ireland, Ryan Howard, added: “The EU Commission acknowledges that the current Irish development company model is one of the best in Europe. Irish Local Development Companies are effective in channelling an average of €150 – 200 million in funding each year from a range of funding programmes directly into actions needed by communities – creating jobs, supporting enterprise and tackling poverty and social exclusion. It makes no senses to threaten to demote and demolish these proven local and community led structures which have over twenty years experience delivering real outcomes”.
“We certainly agree that the local authority should be involved in improving the coordination and planning of local development and we welcome certain aspects of Putting People First which suggest this. However, we need to be careful not to damage structures that have a long established connection with communities and that have been highly effective in drawing down and distributing EU and national funding,” Mr Howard added.