Green Party Representative for Balbriggan Joe O’Brien has called on Fingal County Council to give greater weight to ongoing and sustained community involvement in the implementation of the new €22m strategy for the town. He made the following statement on the night of the consultation process launch:
Its very clear that the Council and those involved have put a lot of thought and effort into the development of the draft strategy document and all involved should be highly commended for this. The consultation phase itself is also very comprehensive and professionally run. However, I would like to see the next phases of the strategy, its finalisation and ultimately its implementation give more weight to direct community involvement. There has been a lot of expert input, which is to be welcomed but its now time to pass more ownership of the strategy to the people. Consultation is important and has been done well, but this strategy should see a dawn of a new way of doing local government in Balbriggan. By this I meant much more direct community involvement in how money is invested in communities.
One tried and tested way of doing this is a measure called Participatory Budgeting. This has already been done by South Dublin County Council which set aside a fund of €300,000 and the local community decided how the funds would be used. Participatory Budgeting is not just a more democratic way of spending public funds it can play a huge role in getting neglected communities involved in improving their locality. Participatory Budgeting is also a measure that the governments own local government reform report ‘Putting People First’ recommends but it has not been implemented yet in Fingal. There is no better time than now in Fingal to run a Participatory Budgeting scheme with local communities in Balbriggan and for Fingal County Council to place more trust in the people.
The communication and consultation process that has been started for this period of the strategy development also needs to be repeated throughout implementation and review phases. A lot has been done to and for Balbriggan in the past with varying results, but this strategy needs to see the dawn of a way of doing local government with the Balbriggan from now on. Key to this is that the Council needs to be honest and direct with the people in terms of what, how and when it is implementing the strategy. While very substantial funds have been secured to implement some of the planned strategy its clear that everything in the strategy cannot be implemented in the next 3 years.