Trust publishes Cross-Border Seminar Report
As part of its Creative Space for Civic Thinking area of work, the Building Change Trust recently hosted an event looking at research carried out by Andy Pollak and Brian Harvey from the Centre for Cross Border Studies.
Commissioned by the Trust, the research and looked at the potential learning and collaboration between the Community and Voluntary sectors on each side of the border in Ireland.
A total of 71 participants from Community and Voluntary organisations across the island of Ireland were in attendance, as well as representatives of government departments, social enterprises and political parties.
They heard responses from leading figures in the sector such as the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland’s Avila Kilmurray, The Wheel’s Deirdre Garvey, Seamus McAleavey from NICVA, Paddy Logue, Co-Operation Ireland’s Pete Sheridan and Breege Lenihan from the County Monaghan Community Network.
Throughout the event there was energetic and lively debate about how, why and whether cross-border collaboration should be a priority, with widespread agreement that cross-border work has been in decline since its heyday in the 1990s when the work was funded under various Peace programmes.
Participants noted a number of opportunities and potential benefits to greater cross border collaboration in the future.
Northern Ireland has a number of award winning Social Enterprises and this sector is growing rapidly in the Republic of Ireland too, with real opportunities for the exchange of expertise, as well as tapping into all-island markets for products and services. In fact, Social Enterprise NI is already looking into this.
Also, in terms of peace building, a number of participants felt that a strong cross-border, North-South dimension is essential to underpin the on-going peace process.
Furthermore, stronger cross-border collaboration was identified as helping to reconnect hinterlands cut off by the border in both jurisdictions, combatting and managing the impact of government austerity and cuts and establishing and maintaining the independence of the Community and Voluntary Sectors.
In terms of challenges to greater cross-border collaboration, participants and speakers also identified a number of issues.
A general ambivalence North and South to this type of work was identified. Some participants felt that the government in the Republic of Ireland has prioritised a better working relationship with the British Government, whilst the Northern Ireland Executive remains internally focussed.
Those at the seminar believed an ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ approach had been adopted in the respective governments and sectors.
The role of the North-South Ministerial Council was called into question, in particular the lack of a policy framework to support cross-border, North-South co-operation.
This is alongside, in these austere times, a greater need for those advocating this type of work to demonstrate real, practical benefits for people and organisations.
An absence of funding for this work, compounded by the fact that many funders preclude expenditure in other jurisdictions and the winding up of a number of large, independent funders over the coming years threatens to exacerbate this situation even further.
Paul Braithwaite, Development & Implementation Officer at the Building Change Trust, said: “The attendance at the event and the debate around the issue show there is a real desire for the sectors on each side of the border to look at how they may work better together.
“We have produced a full report of the day which goes into more detail about the thoughts and feelings of some of the leading figures within the Community and Voluntary Sectors on each side of the border.
“Here at the Trust, we are dedicated to continuing the debate and will work with groups to foster further debate and possible collaborative actions.
“This report is part of our Creative Space for Civic Thinking strand of work, which forms just part of our portfolio.
“We are also committed to working in the areas of Social Finance, Social Innovation, Collaboration, Impact Measurement and Leadership”.