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Participatory Democracy in Local Government, an Irish perspective

Community Workers Co-operative & Local Government Reform

A Community Workers Co-operative had been an issue of local government reform for a number of years in Ireland. A Community Workers' Co-operative (CWC) was finally created aiming to promote and support community work as a means of addressing poverty, social exclusion and inequality and ultimately as a means of achieving social change that will contribute to the creation of a more just, sustainable and equal society.

The CWC published a report, no longer available in their WEB pages, "Participation Not Representation - Community Groups and Reformed Local Government", to be submitted at that time to the Advisory Committee on Local Government Reform and Reorganisation. It set out the deficiencies in the Irish system of local government from the perspective of community-based groups, presented principles which should inform any reform process and made practical recommendations for the active participation of community groups in development at the local level. This document identified a number of key principles upon which local government reform should be based.

These included:


  • Community participation in local government and an appreciation of the value of participatory democracy.
  • The design of integrated and co-operative development strategies.
  • Greater autonomy for local government.
  • Accountability and greater access to local government for community based organisations.

Why is Local Government Reform an Issue for the Community Sector?

  • It offers new opportunities for the community sector to become involved with local government.|
  • This involvement in turn offers the opportunity to place issues of poverty and social exclusion on the agenda at the local level.
  • Local government has been identified as having a particular role in the implementation of the National Anti Poverty Strategy. Local authorities need to be encouraged to take this role up in a meaningful way.
  • The Local Development Programme and partnership companies have been important in placing issues of social exclusion on the agenda at local level. Proposals to more closely integrate local government and local development potentially run the risk of diluting this emphasis. Community groups and others must ensure that this doesn't happen.
  • The increased involvement in local government offers a valuable opportunity to increase the public accountability of local government, a function which to date is confined mainly to local government elections, the last of which took place in 1991.
  • Finally, the involvement in reformed local government offers an opportunity to promote participatory democracy, which can operate alongside and as a vital supplement to representative democracy.

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