‘The Death of Community Development? The Impact of Local Government Reform in Ireland on Local Democracy’
The development of Government support for community development from the 1980s onwards coincided with a recognition that problems such as persistent poverty, educational inequality and social exclusion among lower socio-economic sectors in society were influenced by a disconnect from the centres of economic and political power.
It was argued that liberal notions of democracy were not serving all of the people equally. Representation and influence was ‘systematically biased in favour of more privileged citizens –those with higher incomes, greater wealth and better education –and against less advantaged citizens” (Lijphart, 1997:1) and this in turn reinforced and reproduced “a structure of inequalities” (Dahl & Lindblom, 1976 p. xxxvi).
‘Community development’ was promoted as a potential solution and embraced in Ireland and across much of western Europe.
In recent years, however, an ‘austerity agenda’ has impacted on the voluntary and community sector in Ireland tasked with promoting such ‘community development’ (Considine and Dukelow, (2012), Harvey 2012). Alongside this, has been a policy of increasing local and central Government control over the operation, funding and ultimately the work of the voluntary and community sector, with an associated alignment policy linked to public procurement and competitive tendering, as outlined in the Local Government Reform Act 2014.
This current paper is based on research conducted on the combined effects of austerity, competitive tendering and local government alignment re-structuring on the practice of ‘community development’ in Ireland and the potential impact on democracy itself. The research highlights some of the impacts of recent changes on the independence of community organisations and their ability to engage in community development work and discusses whether ultimately this has the potential to increase the democratic deficit in relation to some marginalised groups in society.
Authors: Forde, C., O’Byrne, D., and Ó hAdhmaill, F., Lecturers, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland