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Transnational cooperation between rural areas

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North and south working
together for local development

Brenda Hegarty [LEADER Fermanagh, Northern Ireland]
and Adge King [Cavan/Monaghan, Ireland]


Our LEADER areas - Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and Cavan/Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland - share an 80 km border and have a lot in common. They are both isolated rural areas (30 inhabitants per km2) on the periphery of the British Isles and Europe and very dependent on agriculture. Their population of 160,000 persons is both young (25.7% are under 14) and old (22.3% are over 65) and has a rather high unemployment rate (14.4% in 1997).

But the conflict in Northern Ireland created a “psychological border” that until recently prevented our counties from even attempting to cooperate. The situation worsened as relations between the Catholic and Protestant communities, and in some cases between individuals of the same community, deteriorated.

To put an end to this waste and draw maximum benefit from the opportunities offered by our proximity, our two local action groups decided to set up a transnational partnership aimed at identifying and implementing joint development projects.

Cooperation between our two LEADER groups truly began in 1996 when we started discussing the terms under which the partnership would operate. Very quickly we decided to appoint a working group comprised of members of each LAG and representing a wide spectrum of socio-economic sectors.

A key element of their consultancy job was to involve the local community as much as possible. This involved the organisation and facilitation of meetings across six thematic areas, including rural tourism, heritage business development, agriculture, community development and crafts. These meetings enabled activists north and south to share and debate ideas on how best joint thematic initiatives could be pursued and developed. In total over 300 people were involved in this process.

Thirty one ideas were worth examining in greater depth. They ranged from the organisation of an annual food fair to guided tours of local businesses. Eight options were short-listed and subjected to further scrutiny including appraising issues such as their value for money, feasibility and their capacity to deliver benefits to a wide spectrum of the economy.

Finally, three projects were presented as offering real potential:

  • the establishment of an organisation to assist with the promotion and marketing of local quality products;
  • the organisation of a training programme for craft businesses and SMEs;
  • the initiation of a counselling service for rural areas.

Our two LEADER groups intend to pursue all three projects but are currently in the process of setting up a pilot rural counselling service. According to the preliminary study, there are at least three reasons why the service should be created: the social and psychological effects of rural isolation, the problem of increased suicide among males in farming communities, the growing number of farmers with financial problems.

The counselling service project would first involve the training of local health professionals and development workers to provide guidance to farmers and other people suffering economic and social difficulties The aim is to identify problems before they become too serious, then to provide support and assistance for the people concerned.

At this stage, it is expected that in each of the six pilot areas of intervention (three per county), two or three people will want to follow the programme, meaning a total number of about 24 people. We have estimated that the 45-week training programme for two groups of 12 people (3 terms of 15 weeks each) would cost approximately EUR 35,000. Funded out of the budget of the two LEADER groups, the programme should become operational this autumn.

Although there is no guarantee that the service will be a success, it is obvious that the entire process leading to the project’s materialisation has already enabled people from both sides of the border to “break the ice” and work together to the greater benefit of our two areas.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.21 - Autumn, 99

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