Filling the gap and empowering people: lessons from the research stay in rural Ireland

Local public authorities are widely absent in delivering core services to communities in rural Ireland. This is one of the striking observations we made during the research secondment in the rural mid-west of Ireland in November and December 2016. Political representation and administration are concentrated in cities like Limerick, Cork and Galway. Rural communities are remote controlled by authorities located in these urban centers. Social enterprises like Ballyhoura Development fill the gap that public authorities left in the rural hinterland. They, for example, improve the employability of unemployed people, facilitate help for self-help activities of rural communities, support small and medium size enterprises in the search for funding and promote the region as a tourist destination.

David Doyle (Liskennet Social Farm), Ralph Richter (IRS) and Matthias Fink (IFI) during the secondment in rural Ireland

David Doyle (Liskennet Social Farm), Ralph Richter (IRS) and Matthias Fink (IFI) during the secondment in rural Ireland

During the 6-week research secondment we visited many Ballyhoura Development projects like training courses for young unskilled people on catering, retail or furniture making. We came to see how the support of a social farm enables treating autistic people (see the photograph) and how the social enterprise contributed to make once deprived villages flourishing communities.

While in regional development participation and empowering people often remain lip service only, we found Ballyhoura Development to succeed in supporting community initiatives without forcing their ideas on them. Once communities recognize a common need and search for ways of realisation Ballyhoura Development comes into play with their expertise in mediating community activation as well as in mentoring application processes for suitable funding schemes. However, they are very clear about the fact that the impetus has to remain with the communities. This keeps community members engaged and makes rural communities more inclusive.