The vital role of local community and voluntary effort for social cohesion was stressed by Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament at an event for local community groups in Kells on Thursday.
It was hosted by the Wheel, a representative and support body for the community and voluntary sector, for such organisations in Co. Meath to share the issues they face, network among each other and to learn about available supports.
“Over 500,000 people volunteer every day and more than 50,000 are involved in helping to run charities, large and small,” Ms McGuinness said.
“This is a vital contribution to society and is sometimes overlooked and not fully appreciated.
“The message from the groups involved is that funding is needed to support their work, but it can be difficult to access and excessively bureaucratic.
“This is a recurring theme and one which can be addressed nationally through Government departments recognizing that it is a real issue,” Ms McGuinness said.
And she said a case in point is the low level of allocation of LEADER funding to projects countrywide. “The question must be asked if the application process is overly complicated and off-putting and if it is, this has to be tackled.”
Addressing the topic of how civil society can engage with the EU, and the future of Europe she said there is a risk that Brexit, though very important, could overshadow the debate on the future of the EU.
“We cannot allow that to happen,” she said. “There is an increase in popular support for the EU in many member states since Brexit. And perhaps it is the case that Brexit has focused minds on membership and what it means.
“This does not mean that people are happy with the status quo, but rather that there is a belief, perhaps an emerging realisation for some, of the value of countries working together, even if it’s in need of reform and renewal 60 years on from its creation,” she said.
“In a world that has become smaller in many ways, in terms of technology and communication, there are many new challenges thrown up by those very wonderful technological developments and big issues like migration. In fact change is happening so big and so fast that many are feeling deeply uncertain.
“This is all the more reason why we need to talk, to debate and come to an informed view on the direction in which the EU should go. What are the areas in which we need more Europe and what are the areas in which we need less Europe,” she asked.