A group of about fifty people gathered in Croke Park last Wednesday and, apart from the occasional peep, they were not there to watch the Irish soccer team preparing for their match against Wales. This particular group had gathered from all parts of the country and was made up of elected politicians(both national and local), public servants and leaders in the community sector. The event was organised by the Dialogue on Democracy Sector, an initiative of the Irish Jesuits which is being coordinated by Edmond Grace SJ.
The event itself was funded by the Dublin City Development Board, which has given its official endorsement to the Dialogue on Democracy Seminar. The opening speaker was John Tierney, Dublin City Manager, followed by John Dardis, Provincial of the Jesuits, and Eamon Ryan TD.
Eamon, along with four other Oireachtas members (all from differing parties), is a member of the Dialogue on Democracy Seminar which held its first meeting on 27 June, 2003. In addition to members of five parliamentary parties, the Seminar includes five senior public servants, and nine prominent figures from the community and voluntary sector. It is chaired by Brendan Halligan, Chairman of the Institute of European Affairs.
In the first stage of the Seminar’s work a number of papers were prepared by Edmond Grace which the members met to discuss and critique. The outcome of this process is a book soon to be published by the Institute of Public Administration entitled ‘Democracy and Public Happiness.’ [Of which more at a later date!] Once that task was complete it was decided that the tripartite process involving elected representatives, public servants and community and voluntary leaders was a valuable experience in itself and should be tried out on a wider scale.
The result was a Pilot Project which was designed and run by Edmond with a team of experienced facilitators – Declan Kearney, Michael Kenny, Dee O’Donnell, David O’Gorman and Des O’Mahony. The Pilot Project took the form of a series of workshops in ten different local authority areas around the country. Each workshop was made up of ten to twelve people, including elected politicians public servants and community and voluntary leaders, who were invited to address the question: ‘What makes people mad with public administration in this country today?’
The first of these workshops took place in Dublin’s City Hall on 10 October 2006 and the process culminated in the Croke Park meeting last Wednesday which was attended by people from Louth, Cavan, Donegal, Galway County, Limerick county, Kerry, Cork city, Waterford City, Dublin City and Westmeath. This meeting addressed a further question: ‘Now that we’ve asked the question “What makes people mad… ?” what can we do about it?’ It was clear from the reactions of those present it that this process has a future and they were concerned that it should be as effective and focused as possible. At the end of the day the facilitation team was left with the task of responding to that challenge.