The FULL TEXT of this interview is below - scroll down.
Interview with Doirin by 'Changing Ireland' editor Allen Meagher.
INTERVIEW BACKGROUNDDoirin Graham's company took on a challenge and won. The prize - community-led control over an €8.9million pot of EU/Irish funding for the next five years under LEADER. On Monday, they learned of their success.
That morning, staff and board members literally ate cake (pictured). The cake was a gift from a local bakery.
In impressing the judges, Clare Local Development Company proved to all and sundry that old ways can still be better than new ways. Losing out in the competition was the Local Community Development Committee (LDCD) in Co. Clare. In most counties, such committees confidently expect to oversee the delivery of the next LEADER programme.
However, long-established local development companies are competing with the new committees for LEADER funding in three remaining counties.
Clare was the first to get the green light - they received confirmation that their bid was the favoured one on Monday morning.
It marked “a milestone” in the advancement of Community-led over “Council-led” local development, as Doirin put it.
Clare Local Development Company was established in 1992 and Doirin has been employed by the company since ‘93.
On Thursday, Kilkenny LEADER Partnership learned that they also had been successful. Responding to Doirin's interview, they said: “Well done Doirin on providing an excellent account of the challenges to community-led local development. Also well done of having the ability and courage to resist the pressure to leave the LEADER application process clear to the local authority-led Local Community Development Committee.”
“Local is not enough- it must be community-led to be LEADER,” the statement concluded.
|CLICK TO ENLARGE - Earlier local newspaper coverage of Kilkenny LEADER Partnership's "fight" to continue operating as a Local Action Group for delivering LEADER in the county.|
This first interview regarding the rollout of LEADER funding and the selection of 'Local Action Groups' through a competitive process will be augmented by others.
Doirin Graham, CEO of Clare Local Development Company - one of only four companies that competed for LEADER funding with new Local Community Development Committees... And you were successful, you were informed yesterday... For new people coming into the Community Sector, starting to work and volunteer in it, what is 'Community-Led Local Development' and why is it important?
It’s what we used to call bottom-up decision-making, that process where it’s people on the ground in local areas looking at what they need and making the decisions.
It’s led by communities, rather than by the State at a national level looking at a local picture and saying this is what is needed. It’s driven by what the communities feel that they need and they get to make the decisions and, in many cases, manage the resources to solve the problems that they see in their own communities.
Community-Led Local Development (CCLD) has a very good future at European level. Largely because of the success of the LEADER programme across Europe over the past 23-23 years – including LEADER in Ireland. The European Commission have adopted CCLD as a methodology or an approach for delivering European supports and for addressing problems through European programmes at local level.
It is going to be mainstreamed across more and more European programmes and funds.
AM: In most countries, local authorities, for want of better words, divvy out LEADER funding. Whereas in Ireland, it has traditionally been partnership companies, or local development companies as they’re also called, which have statutory, voluntary, community people on the board…
DG: And local authority representatives…
AM: So that’s the board (structure) and they oversee your work and the direction the community-based companies go in.
That’s great that Brussels is going for the Community-led model. So, why have we a situation where in most countries local authorities implement LEADER and that’s what the government here had an interest in?
DG: Well, that’s one of the reasons why LEADER in Ireland has been particularly successful. If you compare it to other countries in Europe, it’s (successful) because it has been community-led models – organisation with statutory and local authority representation, but with very strong community group and voluntary involvement. That is the secret of why LEADER has been very successful in Ireland – and Europe. If you talk to people at European level and in the Commission, they say Ireland is a very good example of how LEADER can work. Yes, there have been some problems, but by and large it’s a very successful programme in Europe.
And other countries would have adopted or tried to adopt the model we have here in Ireland. Finland for example went for a more non-governmental model for their LEADER groups and they have been particularly successful as well.
AM: Phil Hogan, former minister in the Community Sector and the local authority sector, brought in a new policy whereby new LCDCs were set up in every county. That model wasn’t attractive to you – you obviously competed with them for the bid and were successful. What’s your issue with that approach? Obviously, there is some endorsement that your approach also works, if not work better.
I’m not talking about you Doirin Graham, I mean you, your company, staff, your board
What don’t you like about LCDCs?
DG: They’re essentially mirror images of what local development companies are. If you look at the structure, they’re pretty much the same structure…
AM: So why did Phil Hogan bring them in then?
DG: Because they are committees of the local authority. They are independent in their decision-making function, but nevertheless they are a local authority committee.
AM: Are they not then more accountable to the people?
DG: There’s huge accountability with the existing local development companies
I don’t think there was ever any issue with accountability.
We have three councillors on our board. We got great support from the councillors in the council chamber on two occasions when we spoke to them about the future of LEADER. We got a very strong endorsement or our accountability… they said CLDC are doing a great job in delivering LEADER and we don’t want that to change in Clare. That wasn’t the universal opinion, but it was the opinion of the majority. So, if you’re looking for endorsement and accountability, councillors and Clare County Council certainly felt they were getting that from CLDC.
AM: For students of Community Development, do you see this as an important victory?
It’s a milestone. We never wanted to be in a position where we needed to compete, but we did and thankfully we were successful.
For the future of CCLD, there needs to be a strong, independent sector. Local authorities have a very important role (and we’ve always had a very good relationship with the local authority). However, their role is not the same as a community-led organisation. They are a state body and they have their functions and their skills and strengths.
And the two together can do a lot and we’ve shown that in the past in Clare, and there’s a lot of things we’ve done together in the past, but we are different.
What communities in Clare want and they’ve told us this again and again – they want the non-governmental organisation; they want a community-led organisation that they feel is theirs and that belongs to the communities of the county and they want that organisation to deliver LEADER.
It’s not an anti-county council thing. What we’re saying is this way is better. The community-led way is better. LEADER is a community-led programme and therefore it should be delivered and managed and run by a community-led organisation.
AM: In five years time, would you see more community-based companies competing with LCDCs for LEADER?
I think so. We always said we had no problem with competition, so long as it was a fair competition, which it was. It is good for people to say ‘Hang on, maybe we can do this ourselves. Maybe we could do a better job than whoever the incumbent is.’
I don’t think that competition should be stifled or that that people’s ambitions to do it better or strike out on their own should be stifled.
The reason it’s important that we retain independent LEADER groups is that, for the future, we need to have Community-led development which is driven by community and voluntary people. And I don’t think that will happen if there is a local authority led model of community-led development. I think you wuld lose the participation and the involvement and expertise of the C&V Sector and that’s what’s made the difference over all the years.
AM: You’ve a Bolshie attitude, you stuck your neck out. Do you think there should be more Bolshie leaders in the C&V Sector?
You have to believe. Sometimes it’s hard to hold the faith when government policy and a lot of the bodies we were seeking support from were telling us, ‘Look! This is inevitable’, ‘This is going to happen’, ‘You’re swimming against the tide’ and ‘You can’t change this’.
So, you have to really believe in yourself and believe you can be better and compete and win. It’s about self-belief and also from having experience and confidence from doing it (already). Also knowing that there’s someone else out there that is going to oversee and guarantee a fair process and that was the European Commission.
AM: And twice a majority of the elected councillors in Co. Clare voted in support of CLDC.
DG: Yes, they voted to retain the existing model, that ourselves as a LEADER group would continue to deliver LEADER.
AM: Happy days in Clare?
DG: Whatever disappointment from the local authority side and I’m sure there is disappointment, we had a to lose that the local authority didn’t, because people’s jobs and futures depended on us getting LEADER. But there’s definitely a willingness for us to get on and work well together in the future. Communities won’t thank us if we don’t work well together in the future, so that’s what we’ll do.