Willie Moore has lived in Ballybeg for 30 years. He knows each of its squares, streets and lanes better than those who sat down to blueprint the area’s original four estates.
Sitting in the canteen of the Ballybeg Community Development Project last Wednesday, Willie made a passionate case for the retention of the CDP system that has served the area so well since 1991.
“This project and this centre is the heartbeat of our community,” according to Willie, angered by the deathknell hanging over a management system that’s been moulded, tweaked and improved over two decades.
“Since the first day it operated here, without a doubt it has made a big difference, a massive difference to so many people’s lives. Without the CDP, I don’t know what shape Ballybeg would be in today. The work done here has done so much to make things better for so many people.”
Amanda Power chairs Ballybeg CDP’s management committee. Like Willie and colleagues Una Ryan and Liz Riches, she spoke about the work the project is committed to with tremendous passion.
“There’s a lot of support provided here to help people to better themselves,” said Amanda.
“And what has been proposed isn’t just going to affect one person – the whole community will be affected by changes which will take decision making away from those of us living in this community.”
Government spin will tell you that what’s been put in train is a merger of CDP management committees with local area partnerships.
In its place, a Local Community Development Programme will be incepted and asked to meet four ‘high-level’ goals set for it by the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.
“This isn’t a merger,” according to Sinn Féin Councillor David Cullinane, who is also finance officer of the Larchville/Lisduggan CDP.
“It’s a takeover; part of a rationalisation process which will make it easier to chop some of the existing programmes that have been put in place, as well as doing away with the local management.”
Like his Ballybeg colleagues, Cllr Cullinane is aghast at what’s about to be forced upon a host of committed volunteers who know better than anyone how to respond to their community’s needs and wants.
“What has made CDPs work so well is that they work from the ground up. To try and force a one-fit solution into a system that, for example, responds to specific local needs is simply wrong. After all, what works in Waterford doesn’t necessarily work in Limerick and vice versa.”
The areas where CDPs work (and up until last Christmas, there were 182 throughout the Republic) don’t tend to generate the column inches devoted to the Morehampton Roads and Sorrento Terraces of this country.
When areas such as the Liberties, Mayfield, Southill, Moyross and Ballybeg have caught national media attention, more often than not, it’s rarely been for feel-good purposes.
Vincent Browne’s late night TV3 show has, for the first time, provided a regular nationwide platform for voluntary community activists to air their views on the challenges facing their communities.
Browne, whose repeated noises on community issues has won a fan in Ballybeg CDP’s Una Ryan (to name but one), deserves enormous credit for introducing community workers into his lengthy list of panellists.
If this has achieved anything, then it’s bolstered solidarity between CDPs across the country, all now in the same boat, all now justly questioning why a Government seems intent on worsening levels of social exclusion.
“That this is being done while billions are being given to the banks who have failed this country just escapes me,” said Una Ryan.
“CDPs are a really good example of best practice – be it through the crèche, the role we’ve played in helping develop the RSC, our horticulture project, just to mention some of what we have going on here.
“In fact, if the management and budgeting practices we’ve had in place here had been used by the Government over the past few years, the country wouldn’t be in such an awful mess now.”
Willie Moore doesn’t like what the Government hopes to see achieved by year’s end: the effective winding up of the current CDP operation and the aforementioned ‘merger’.
“One of the big problems I have with all this is that I’d no longer feel comfortable coming into this building. We have a sense of ownership over it, but now that’s all been put under threat.”
Amanda added: “It’s part of our community, probably the only comfort zone we have as a community in Ballybeg – it’s part of this community’s well-being.”
Silencing the voices of those who have done so much to drive communities forward constitutes “a national scandal” in Una Ryan’s view.
To do so at a time when we need volunteers more than ever throughout our city, county and country is absurd, unjust and wrong, heaping further shame on a maligned and thoroughly discredited administration.