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Launch of SJI research on PPN participation – (Minister of State Joe O’Brien)
26 January 2021
- I’d like to start by thanking Social Justice Ireland for the work they have put into this report. I’d also like to extend my thanks to the PPN stakeholders who responded to the survey that formed the basis of this report. It’s important to acknowledge that most respondents, and indeed most PPN stakeholders, are volunteers who work in their own time on behalf of the volunteer-run groups that are members of the PPN. The fact that they took time from other commitments to respond to a survey of this nature is a great testament to their dedication to public participation at local and national level.
- Social Justice Ireland have a high level of experience with Public Participation Networks right from their inception when the framework for participation evolved from the working group on citizen engagement. Social Justice Ireland have continued to build good working relationships with PPNs, and the fact that the survey received 223 responses reflects that.
- The starting point of this report is the guidelines and principles set out by the Council of Europe to facilitate greater participation by members of the public. These principles are truly foundational to the mission of PPNs, as they are deeply rooted in the original report of the Working Group on Citizen Engagement with Local Government. That report, back in 2014, was the founding document of the PPNs, and recommended their establishment as well as setting out the vision and structures underpinning them.
- The report we are launching here today has brought to light some very interesting findings. It is extremely positive to see that a clear majority of respondents agree that local authorities are actively encouraging participation by the PPN, and a majority regard decision-making processes in the Local Authority as open and accessible. Overall, a majority of the respondents also agree that the relationship between the Local Authority and PPN is based on transparency, respect and mutual reliability.
- This is a strong indicator that Local Authorities fundamentally embrace the PPN concept, and that PPN members are recognising this in turn.
- I am also encouraged to see that the PPN stakeholders by and large agree that Local Authorities are facilitating a high level of participation when set against the Council of Europe’s principles. Many respondents have agreed that their Local Authority is engaging in real dialogue with the PPN at different stages of the decision-making process. The overall national picture portrayed in this report shows PPNs moving in a very positive direction where public participation is concerned.
- We have evidence of the positive influence that PPN’s can bring to the local decision making process and this is demonstrated by an example from County Kerry, where the County Council and PPN collaborated to work towards a future where people with disabilities can fully participate in community life.
- Kerry PPN connected with the Disability Federation of Ireland and local access groups to hold a series of structured workshops to discuss the physical accessibility of spaces throughout the county. Following these workshops, they produced a report recommending actions that would improve the lives of those with disabilities. This report has already had
an effect on future planning: Kerry County Council has established a Disability Housing Group, and Kerry PPN has representation on that group.
- Following the accessibility workshops, a member of a local group who has a visual impairment saw the importance and impact of engaging with formal structures and stepped forward for a position on a Strategic Policy Committee, which is a first and a real testament to what PPNs can achieve.
- This example clearly shows that by working in partnership, our local communities are the ones that win. Decisions are reflective of the views of the community for which they made. This is where we all want to be and reviewing where we are gives us a pathway to getting there.
- We note that some of the findings point towards areas for improvement in terms of relationships between PPNs and Local Authorities and in the implementation of a full partnership model of public participation. These will be taken on board and given consideration.
- The publication of the report is timely, given that we are embarking on a review of the PPN structures. This will be an independent “root and branch” review to ensure that PPN structures are fit for purpose and are truly enabling the PPNs to live up to the ideals of participation in decision-making. The review will consult directly with key stakeholders to give those directly involved with PPNs a say in their future.
- From that perspective, this report serves a very useful function in collecting and documenting the views of the PPN stakeholders.
- I am sure that all PPN stakeholders will find the report’s findings valuable. The report is an insightful guide to how PPN stakeholders currently view our position within the participation dialogue structure.
- Reviews of this nature give us the opportunity to take stock of where we are, to consider if we are all on the same page, and to make sure that we have a common understanding of where we want to get to. It allows us to see things from all perspectives and make the necessary adjustments so that we are all travelling in the same direction.
- It also serves as a useful reminder of the principles that underpin PPNs, and I acknowledge the good work of all those who contributed to it.
- Last year was a particular challenge for PPNs, but also an opportunity for them to shine. They played and continue to play an important role at local level in responding to Covid-19. They have been pivotal in organising the community response and meeting the needs of vulnerable people during a difficult and uncertain time. I wish to take this opportunity to applaud their work. Their collaboration with Local Authorities in the community response across the country demonstrates the value of coming together and taking a shared approach.
- Positive steps are being taking to support the role of the PPN’s and this is clearly demonstrated by the supports provided by my Department. The last time I spoke to many of you towards the end of last year, was at the webinar on the PPN Handbook and the launch of the PPN Annual Report. The recommendations from the PPN Annual Report, the findings from this report, and the outcome of the PPN structural review, will no doubt be useful in terms of how we best support PPN’s to achieve their aim.
- Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you all today and I am delighted to launch the Social Justice Ireland Report – ‘Delivering
Deliberative Democracy – Participation by the Public Participation Networks in Local Government Decision-Making’.