Social Justice Ireland publishes Social Justice Matters ‘Participation’ Policy Brief

Brigid Geoghegan
Brigid Geoghegan • 26 July 2021

Citizen participation and building real engagement at local level is vital to re-engage people in the democratic process

Social Justice Ireland publishes Social Justice Matters ‘Participation’ Policy Brief

Westmeath PPN is a collective of 800 environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary organisations in County Westmeath which facilitate the participation and representation of communities in a fair, equitable and transparent way through the environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary sectors on decision making bodies. We look to strengthen the capacity of communities and of the environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary groups to contribute positively to our community and provide information relevant to our members, acting as a hub around which information is distributed and received.

“Ensuring that people are involved in making the decisions that affect them and their communities is a key element of real democracy. True involvement requires participation that goes beyond voting and representative democracy. Local and national Government policies affect every one of us, and every one of us should have our say. At a time when the very fabric of democracy is under threat across the globe, this is something we must strive to protect” – Brigid, Resource Worker, Westmeath PPN.

Main Findings

•             The Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing health advice meant restrictions on movement, gathering, on being together, on taking part, on participation. However, new communities were forged both online and in “real life” as a result of looking anew at issues as diverse as housing, mental health, creative arts, fitness and sports, nutrition, education, digital skills, access to safe outdoor spaces for those with mobility issues and wellbeing.

•             Citizen participation is key to a thriving democracy. Individuals and groups need access to relevant information and ways to engage with policy makers.

•             The infrastructure, services and policies that a country develops and implements are determined in large part by that country’s demography, that is, the make-up of its population.

•             Every person should have a right to have a say in how and where infrastructure is delivered, what services are required and provided and what policies are implemented to shape their communities.

•             Building real engagement at local level is a developmental process that requires intensive work and investment.  Public Participation Networks 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.

•             Our highly centralised government, both in terms of decision-making and financially, means that citizens are represented more by professional politicians than by their local constituency representatives. While there have been some structural improvements, such as an enhanced committee structure, the introduction of Public Participation Networks (PPNs), better success rates for Bills led by the opposition and a budgetary oversight process, much remains to be done before Ireland has a genuinely participative decision-making structure.

Policy Priorities for consideration

•             Adequately resource the Public Participation Network (PPN) structures for participation at Local Authority level and ensure capacity building is an integral part of the process.

•             Promote deliberative democracy and a process of inclusive social dialogue to ensure there is real and effective monitoring and impact assessment of policy development and implementation using an evidence-based approach at local and national level.

•             Implement the Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities Strategy.

•             Resource an initiative to identify how a real participative civil society debate could be developed and maintained.

“One component of real participation is recognition that everyone should have the right to participate in shaping the society in which they live and the decisions that impact on them. In the 21st century this involves more than voting in elections and referenda. Ireland needs real, regular and structured deliberative democracy to ensure that all interest groups and all sectors of society can contribute to the discussion and the decision-making on the kind of society Ireland wishes to build.” – Brigid Geoghegan Resource Worker, Westmeath PPN.

 

Westmeath PPN is a collective of 800 environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary organisations in County Westmeath which facilitate the participation and representation of communities in a fair, equitable and transparent way through the environmental, social inclusion, community and voluntary sectors on decision making bodies.

The Social Justice Ireland Participation Policy Brief is attached and also available here. https://www.socialjustice.ie/sites/default/files/attach/publication/6547/2021-07-21-serpolicybriefparticipationfinal.pdf?cs=true

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