Transnational cooperation between rural areas
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
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
- 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
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