Cashel delegates, Seamus King and Niall Gregory attended the recent Charter of European Rural Communities meeting in Portugal. The meeting, hosted by the town of Samuel from 25th to 28th October saw two delegates from each EU country engage in the conclusion of a two year programme on Demographic Development.
The Demographic Development Programme commenced in Bucine (Italy) in February 2010. It saw all representative towns to the Charter actively engage together to discuss the impacts of European-wide employment and population trends and its effects on their towns. Cashel’s hosting of the European Charter in 2011, formed part of this process. Some of the notable results of the programme common to the Charter towns identified an increasingly elderly population proportionate to that of births and a relatively smaller young population. At the same time the recession has been a harbinger of low employment confidence amongst all age groups. This has also been of particular concern for the younger age cohorts, who have had to travel further afield for education and work. They thus feel it is more difficult to reach the daily support of the family home. This connectivity to the home town was a burning issue for the Youth Programme of the Charter. The challenges, such as transport, housing and education identified common requirements of support services. The Charter Youth had the opportunity to present their findings to Members of the European Parliament in the Netherlands.
The programme identified a desire for improved social cohesion through fulfilment of increasing demand for support services, from child care through to active inclusion of the elderly. The maintenance and focused enhancement of youth services relative to the proportionate population decline was recognised. At same time there is a necessity to shift resources to account for the increasing numbers of elderly through engaging their active participation and provision of services. The project identified that both private and public supporting infrastructures should be implemented in a complimentary manner. This concerted approach would invariably enhance the cohesive social fabric of the community.
With the exception of a couple of the eastern European member towns and their accessibility to the growing markets of Russia, employment proved a significant concern. The meeting in Portugal showcased some of their factories and businesses, all of which were based on agricultural production. Factories support the rice and wine production of the region. In recent years they have diversified their products to accommodate shifting global trends. This has enabled them to maintain and even enhance their market shares across the world. Another factory imports their raw product – nuts – for supply to the local and international market. Recently they have diversified into confectionary. One commonality amongst these businesses is that they are family owned firms, which have taken their ethos to have a responsibility towards employment in the area. This has ensured the maintenance of jobs, lessened migration and both directly and indirectly contributed to community service provision and support of secondary businesses.
Delegates stayed in the homes of local families. This allowed them to fully experience the lifestyle and culture of the country they visited. The programme also entailed visits to sites of cultural heritage such as the extensive Roman ruins at Conímbriga.
The findings of the European Charter multi-annual project will be presented to the European Commission through the Europe for Citizens Programme. These results can have a positive impact upon the daily lives of all EU citizens. 2013 t0 2014 will herald a new multi-annual project titled the Impact of Climate Change in Rural Areas and the measures that can be taken. With the advent of water charges, the introduction of septic tank charges and continuing waste charges in Ireland, as well as increasing global energy prices, the project will allow the representative towns to learn from each other. It will compare the legislation of each country, address measures and schemes undertaken, from household plans and local business initiatives to town council and regional proposals. The aim is to learn and understand from the differing environments of each country the impacts and implementations of this global concern.