Ireland in Social Europe Closing Event

EAPN Ireland hosted a closing event for the Ireland in Social Europe Project on Friday 10 June, in the European Parliament Office Dublin.

The event marked the conclusion of the two year joint project implemented by:

  • Community Workers Cooperative
  • Cork City Council, Social Inclusion Unit
  • European Anti-Poverty Network Ireland
  • Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed
  • Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network
  • Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice

This saw presentations on:

  • Integration of social inclusion strategies in Cork
  • Burning issues: adequate income, inclusive labour market activation, and quality services.
  • Effective consultation and participation of those experiencing poverty and their organisations.

The first session of the event, chaired by John Stewart of the INOU, saw presentations from Maria Minguella of Cork City Council and Fiona O’Sullivan, a UCC student and member of CWC and EAPN focus groups as part of the “Ireland in Social Europe” project.

Maria Minguella from the Social Inclusion Unit of Cork City Council made a presentation which takes a look at the experiences in Cork City of people who have encountered social exclusion and those who provide services to them.  She highlighted the need to attempt to find out the correct “ingredients” of social inclusion.  Maria raised the idea that differing agencies are at a loss to explain why it seems that at local level investment seems to be present but deprivation patterns remain the same.

In her study, Maria tried to take a holistic approach to social, economic and cultural division, in an attempt to understand the commonalities of all those involved.  Overall, Maria’s analysis of national policy on social inclusion reported on experiences of unemployment, discrimination and isolation.  She recommended in best practice case studies greater integration and cohesiveness of services, and claimed that areas in the social inclusion sector will become dysfunctional if there’s no investment in education.

To view Maria’s presentation, click here

The second session of the event focused on effective consultation and participation and included presentations from Ann Irwin of the Community Workers’ Co-operative and Barbara Nolan of the European Parliament Office while our key note address was delivered by Julien Van Geertsom, President of the Belgian Federal Public Planning Service for Social Integration, which discussed the intricacies of Anti-Poverty Policy in Belgium, National Action Plans, Participation and Working Principles.

Ann Irwin praised the work of the project partners and thanked them for their work on the project over the two years.

She spoke of the consultation fatigue suffered by the partners which seemed to be a collective experience of all those involved, and that it was necessary to look elsewhere for examples of good practice, of how consultation happens, and what happens post-consultation.

Ann stressed that it is unfortunate that much of the energy of civil society is spent on “invited” terms.  That is, NGOs are invited to participate/give an opinion but only on others’ terms.  She went on to claim that there is a danger of the de-radicalisation of the Community and Voluntary sector, with the amount of cuts in recent years, and the fear that speaking out against the government will lead to a cutting off of funding.  This is a great danger to the sector, a traditional area which provided insightful criticism of government, which is in danger of having its thoughts heavily censored.

Ann highlighted the need to find a way how to make participation work, along with providing suggestions about future directions of the sector:

–          Revisiting attitudes towards democracy

–          Developing a legislative basis

–          Addressing capacity deficits among those in public administration

To view Ann’s presentation, click here.

Julien Van Geertsom‘s address asked “What strategies and instruments are being developed at national level to make progress on poverty and to implicate all the Stakeholders?”

This involved an examination of Anti-Poverty policy in Belgium, an overview of the National Action Plans, Participation and conclusions on when participation works.

To view Julien Van Geertsom’s speech, watch this video, or alternatively you may view his presentation.

Finally, Barbara Nolan of the European Parliament Office spoke about how the most vulnerable in our society bore the brunt of the economic crisis, and while the 2010 Year for Combating Poverty didn’t necessarily help that, it did put issues of social exclusion and poverty on the political agenda and keeps it there.  It lends a certain amount of credence to the issues.  It is also important to ensure that the year itself wasn’t a “flash in the pan” and succeeded in amassing resources that can be used well into the future.  It was also important to get people experiencing poverty involved again, and provides a grounding for those affected by the issues we represent and champion to be involved first-hand in the attempts to eradicate poverty and social exclusion.

The year, and the Ireland in Social Europe project, has moved the whole area of the political agenda and has succeeded in building up the momentum to push the important issues forward.

Barbara made a point of how “Europe 2020” wasn’t just about smart and sustainable growth but also inclusive growth”.  It is a testament to the Year itself and the amount of effort many groups put in that “inclusivity” was included in the plans for Europe 2020, and is a measure of the progress made by many groups in the Community and Voluntary Sector across Europe.  She specifically pointed to how important the reduction of poverty target is on focusing member states’ minds, as it invokes peer pressure from others to meet targets, along with obliging member states to set national targets.

A sign of the progress made in the field of poverty and social exclusion is that it is included as one of the seven flagship targets for Europe 2020, something which even five years ago, would’ve been unthinkable.