National Public Participation Network Conference

National Public Participation Network Conference

National Public Participation Network Conference Minister of State Sean Kyne with members of PPN Secretariat and Sligo County Council staff

Sligo Public Participation Network (PPN), in conjunction with the Department of Rural and Community Development and Sligo County Council hosted the first National PPN Conference in the Clayton Hotel on Thursday 19th October 2017.

It was during a PPN work planning session for 2017 that the idea of holding a PPN Conference in Sligo was first discussed by the PPN Secretariat.  It was initially discussed as a Seminar to be held locally in Co. Sligo, but as is usual with all good ideas it soon became something much bigger and more challenging.  The Secretariat members agreed that as Sligo has the honour of being European Volunteering Capital (EVC) 2017, the PPN should also highlight Sligo EVC 2017 and build on the links between volunteers and the PPN.  Sligo EVC 2017 provides a unique opportunity for Sligo PPN to create a greater awareness of the PPN, raise its profile and highlight the work of the PPN.  The Secretariat agreed that this was too good an opportunity to miss and so began the mammoth task of organising the first ever National PPN Conference. 

Former Governor of Mountjoy Prison John Lonergan addressed the conference

There were over 200 delegates in attendance representing the 31 country wide Public Participation Networks, Local Authorities, Local Community Development Committees, Community and Voluntary Groups and many National Organisations.  Many of the National Organisations had stands on the day providing information and advice on what their organisation had to offer to PPNs.  PPNs and local community groups in Sligo were also invited to bring along their banners for display at the Conference, which provided a colourful backdrop to the proceedings. 

The Conference was officially opened by Sean Kyne, T.D, Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development.  In his opening address the Minister noted that one of the most important principles enshrined in the new Department of Rural and Community Development, is the recognition that local communities must have their voices heard on local and national policy issues which have either a direct or indirect effect on their lives. 

MC for the day was Ms. Vanessa Clarke, Secretariat member.  Delegates were welcomed by Councillor Hubert Keaney, Mayor of Sligo Municipal District and Mr. David Tuffy, Acting Chairperson of the PPN Secretariat.  In welcoming the delegates Councillor Hubert Keaney, Mayor of Sligo Municipal District, said

“I think of all the initiatives introduced by the recent transformation in local government, the establishment of the Public Participation Network was certainly one of the most popular, successful and valued”. 

In his welcome address Mr. David Tuffy, Acting Chairperson of the PPN Secretariat said the overall objective of the Conference was to focus on creating a greater awareness of the PPN, while also highlighting the importance, to community groups, of being involved in influencing policy at all levels, both locally and nationally.

He also referred to the EVC 2017 Volunteer Clock which is capturing the many hours contributed by Volunteers in Co. Sligo this year.  He noted that

“It is very important that we highlight the impact volunteering contributes to our wellbeing and society, by tracking as many volunteer hours as possible in the county.  Therefore, the PPN Secretariat is encouraging all voluntary groups in the county to record their volunteer hours on the digital clock”. 

Mr. Tuffy acknowledged that the process of developing Sligo PPN had been challenging at times, given that it is a totally new venture.   As a leader in this field, he said that

“It is important that Sligo PPN continues to work effectively to engage its members, have a clear policy agenda for its Linkage Groups and Colleges, and manage its resources to be responsive to the needs of the community and voluntary sector in the county.  It goes without saying that Community and Voluntary representatives bring valuable experiences and knowledge to the table and this must be valued, nurtured and continuously developed”. 

He thanked the Department of Rural & Community Development and the PPN National Advisory Group, the EVC 2017 Steering Committee and Creative Ireland for funding the conference.  He also thanked Sligo County Council for its commitment to and support for the PPN, which is reflected in the provision of Council staff to a designated PPN Team, working with the Secretariat to oversee the establishment and continued development of the PPN. 

His parting words to the delegates were

“Don’t ever think that any task for your PPN is too great!” 

Mr. Jason Kearney, Principal Officer with the Department of Rural and Community Development, gave an overview of “Where we are now & What Next” in terms of the development of PPNs.  Mr. Michael Ewing of the National Environmental Pillar spoke about the development of a Toolkit to support PPNs in developing a Statement of Wellbeing which will be a vision for their communities for the next 10 years.  There was then an opportunity for the delegates to attend six different workshops dealing with Environment & Sustainability, Participation, Democracy and Good Governance, Health, Social and Community Development, Economy and Resources and Value, Culture & Meaning.                

Mr. John Lonergan, Former Prison Governor Mount joy Prison was first on the Agenda for the afternoon session speaking about “Why Local Communities should be Active and Inclusive”.  While being insightful and attention grabbing, he also warned that a lot of voluntary infrastructure was being lost.  

“If anything is going to roll this back, it is what you are about today, networking and pulling people together and being active in doing that”, he told participants.

Dr. Sean Healy and Ms. Sara Burke of Social Justice Ireland spoke about the Journey to 2017 & Beyond for PPNs. Mr. Jamie Moore, Resource Worker with Fingal PPN gave a very interesting overview of the work of other PPNs in the country and their progression to date.  This was then followed by a very lively and informative Panel Discussion, chaired by Mr. Niall Delaney of Ocean FM.    Ms. Dorothy Clarke, Deputy Chief Executive of Sligo County Council gave the closing remarks.  She gave an overview of the key messages and learning from the day and acknowledged that the Conference was a fantastic opportunity for Sligo not only in terms of the PPN, and Sligo’s designation at EVC 2017, but also as an opportunity for Sligo to put itself on the national map in terms of a National Conference venue.  It is also a great opportunity to showcase Sligo and all it has to offer as a Tourism destination