Tuesday 20 February 2018

Community spirit stronger than ever across the country

with Simon Harris

LAST WEEKEND I had the pleasure of launching the Annual Report of Youth Work Ireland and presenting Volunteer Achievement Awards to some very impressive individuals whose voluntary work helps so many young people.

In light of the current economic difficulties this country finds itself in, many of the reports I get across my desk document problems, failures and errors. It was so refreshing and uplifting to be gathered with young people and those who work with them and to take the time to acknowledge all the great work going on in youth clubs right across Ireland.

Being in my 20s, much of the Ireland in which I grew up in no longer exists; guaranteed employment straight from college, give-away budgets and a city sky-line dominated by cranes are all but distant memories. What this youth event reminded me though is that community spirit and a sense of volunteerism in Ireland is very much alive and well - in fact, perhaps it is even stronger today than in what is the years when the roar of the Celtic Tiger somewhat drowned out many important things.

Whilst voluntary groups are finding the recession difficult, they are meeting the challenges and using every possible innovative approach to ensure that the services they deliver can continue.

There is an obligation on those of us in political life to ensure that the Government does everything it possibly can to help them carry out their work. This means more than just funding - it involves ensuring they are consulted on issues in which they have garnered a real-life expertise and also making sure that bureaucracy doesn't get in their way.

Specifically in relation to youth work and those that volunteer in this field, it is heartening to see young people who availed of the facility of a youth club or cafe now being empowered as leaders. They have benefitted from the services of volunteers and now they themselves are giving back to their own community and the next generation.

It is easy in politics to extend platitudes to young people by referring to them as the "leaders of the future" or "Ireland's tomorrow" but the reality is they are an important part of the Ireland of today. If we want them to grow into the leaders, the parents, the social innovators and the entrepreneurs that this country wants and that the world needs, there is an onus on us all to meet their needs today.

The new Ireland that we are all striving to build should not be a revival of the Celtic Tiger. That beast is dead and gone. Never again should the desire for commodities trump the importance of community. A recession, as appalling difficult as it is for so many, can pose opportunities. It gives us the space to look the youth of this nation and to see how we can meet their needs. The Celtic Tiger never delivered youth mental health services in this country nor did it deliver sustainable employment and careers for many young people.

Government could do an awful lot worse than take the time and the space to talk with the volunteers and their groups throughout this country - the people who through good times and bad have been working with our young people and meeting their needs, often where official Ireland has failed.

This is the message I will be talking back to Dáil Éireann. This country might be cash poor - but it is community rich. As we set about trying to repair our economy, let's try to remember that.

On a side note - I am looking forward to attending my first ever Presidential Inauguration in Dublin Castle this Friday. Will report back to you on the event and my thoughts on it in my next column!

Simon Harris is a TD for Wicklow-east Carlow.

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