The morning of the first day of the seminar focused on Brexit and its implications for Ireland, highlighting the large number of people and goods that cross the border daily, the number of crossings that exist along this border compared to those on existing EU/Non-EU borders, and the predicted impact Brexit will have on various sectors, particularly the food and agricultural sector.
During the panel discussion and Q&A that followed the presentations, it became apparent that the room was split 50/50 as to whether people thought that the UK would actually be able to leave the EU, but seemed unanimous in agreement that things would be difficult for Ireland if it did.
Although much of the attention has been on how the border regions will be affected by Brexit, the reality is that the whole of Ireland will suffer both the economic and social impacts, and that point was hammered home. However, a glimmer of positivity came with the general consensus that Ireland’s councillors are ready to step up to the plate and do whatever it takes to mitigate these impacts for those living in their local authorities.
AILG also launched their Brexit Issues Paper, a publication highlighting ways in which local authorities can assess the way that Brexit will affect the delivery of day-to-day local government services. LGiU Ireland delivered a briefing providing an overview of this paper.
In the afternoon, there was a presentation by Rod King MBE from Love 30, the campaign for introducing 30 km/h speed limits to residential areas in Ireland. Rod highlighted the success of existing 30 km/h speed limits in the UK and Germany in not only reducing pedestrian casualties, but also as a foundation for encouraging active travel in towns and cities. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog from Rod explaining more about the role of local government in introducing and implementing such speed limits.
There was also a presentation by Clann Credo about the community loan finance they give to fund local projects around Ireland, focusing on the community impact of the loans that they provide and the unique user-friendliness of the entire borrowing process. We’ll also be publishing further material about this in the coming weeks.
The conference dinner was preceded by speeches from AILG’s President Damien Geoghegan and John Paul Phelan TD, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Cllr Geoghegan sounded a rousing call to action, making the case for a rejuvenation of local democratic leadership. He advocated greater powers for local authority members and an acknowledgement that they should be properly supported to carry out their roles. Mr Phelan, an ex councillor himself, recognised the points being made and reaffirmed his support for councillors all over Ireland.
The following morning, we heard from Sligo County Council’s economic and community development team about the challenges they face and the importance of councils moving from being facilitators to drivers of economic development. This was followed by a presentation and panel discussion led by Niamh Gallagher of Women for Election about the importance of getting more women standing in local elections, the training and mentoring they provide women with to overcome the challenges and make it happen, and the successes they have had so far, which have been filtering right up the political system.
So what started off with some reasonably depressing Brexit-related projections ended up on a uplifting note. Yes, the economic and social fallout from Brexit is certainly the issue at the front of everybody’s mind, but there is evidence that Local government is willing and able to handle whatever it throws their way, and will be better equipped to do so if empowered and supported by central government.