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Social Dialogue for Local Government crucial for Rural Development

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted, among other things, the importance of community and a community-based response.  Yet this importance is often not reflected in the decision-making processes that affect those communities.  While the draft Programme for Government makes welcome reference to Social Dialogue at national level, there is a role for local level Social Dialogue also.

Public Participation Networks (PPNs) were established under section 46 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 to support a process of deliberative democracy at local government level.  Each PPN consists of three Colleges – the Social Inclusion College; the Community and Voluntary College; and the Environmental College.  On joining a PPN, Member organisations select their College based on their core work.  Members organisations are also encouraged to join Linkage Groups to elect and support Representatives on Local Authority Boards and Committees (e.g. County Tourism Boards, Strategic Policy Committees, Joint Policing Committees, Local Community Development Committees and so on). 

The PPNs are the primary mechanism for Local Authority engagement with communities on consultations and the representation on Boards and Committees referred to above is legally mandated.  While this is an important step in fostering a more democratic local government structure, there is some way to go to build real participation and partnership in local government decision-making. 

PPNs can provide an opportunity for real engagement between local people and the local authorities across the country on issues that are vital to the future of their communities.  This engagement is critical as Ireland strives to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and well-being at a local and regional level.  A dialogue forum needs to be established, involving the PPN and the Local Authority in each area, to discuss the implementation of the Vision for Community Wellbeing that the PPNs are developing for their local areas and how this Vision can be used as the basis for a local Social Contract so that the wellbeing of this and future generations are protected and respected.  This Forum should become an essential part of the ongoing Local Economic and Community Plans processes and of the annual Local Authority Budget process.