A local senator has this week questioned the democracy of a decision to withdraw social inclusion funding from FORUM Connemara. The organisation has administered social and community assistance programmes in Connemara for the past 25 years, but was informed last month that service will shortly come to an end.
The County Galway Local Community Development Committee decided to reduce the ‘lots’ for the delivery of social inclusion funding in the county from two to one. FORUM Connemara lost the bid to tender, meaning east-Galway based Galway Rural Development will deliver all social and community assistance programmes across the county for the next five years.
Eleven members of FORUM staff have been put on notice as a result of this decision and there is extremely strong resistance to the plans within the local community. Six hundredpeople attended a public meeting about the issue in Maam Cross on March 12 while up to 70 people held a peaceful protest outside the monthly meeting of Galway County Council in Furbo last week.
In a motion debated with the Minister for Environment Alan Kelly, Independent senator Fidelma Healy Eames again pointed out that the best outcome would be that Galway be divided into two distinct lots for tendering purposes - one west of the Corrib that FORUM Connemara could apply for and one East of the Corrib that Galway Rural Development (GRD ) could apply for, among others.
Senator Healy Eames said it was obvious that the municipal district of Connemara should be designated as a separate standalone 'lot' for social inclusion funding. “For reasons of geography, rural isolation, unique needs and local decision-making it is best that Connemara make its own decisions. This is also the very clear will of the people. Likewise, it is best that East Galway [east of Corrib] has its own autonomy.”
Minister of State with responsibility for Rural Economic Development, Ann Phelan, said this was an issue that needed to be resolved at local LCDC level. Essentially she said the problem was created locally and had to be resolved locally. The Minister pointed out that a judicial review is in process which prevents any intervention by the Department.
Senator Healy Eames is questioning the decision made at LCDC level, overseen by Galway County Council. “I question the validity of a committee where only five out of 19 people could cast a vote. I would strongly encourage all partners to the LCDC to meet to resolve this issue. Until that happens the needs of Connemara people are sidelined and the jobs of people working in FORUM are in doubt.”
Last week FORUM Connemara was granted a judicial review by the High Court. It is hoped the review will examine the decision of County Galway LCDC to allocate one lot for County Galway for the delivery of SICAP. The case will be heard in the High Court on May 12. All protest marches have been suspended until after this date.