This article was written as part of Youth Media and the Irish Presidency, a European Movement Ireland initiative that aims to bring a unique and youth-focused perspective to coverage of the Irish Presidency and to encourage regional engagement with the Presidency and Europe.
On Monday, April 8, a Regional Dialogue took place in the Council Chamber of Galway County Hall to mark the European Year of Citizens 2013, in association with the current Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The dialogue was one of a series of events that are taking place around the country throughout the year, organised by independent, not-for-profit organisation, European Movement Ireland. It followed on from the success of the first Regional Dialogue in Cork in February, and the national Citizens’ Dialogue in Dublin on January 10, in which a number of Galway residents took part. The aim of these events is to offer local citizens an opportunity to engage with the Irish Presidency and the Year of Citizens through debate with international, national and local experts.
Noelle O Connell of European Movement Ireland moderated the event, which was opened by Mayor of the County of Galway, Councillor Thomas Welby.
‘As 2013 marks the fortieth anniversary of Ireland’s accession to the EU, and is the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of EU citizenship, it is an appropriate time to engage in a local dialogue on our relationship with Europe, past, present and future,’ he said. ‘It is important that every citizen engages in an open and honest debate about what it should mean to be a citizen of Europe, and the kind of Europe we want to be a citizen of.’
The Mayor’s speech was followed by short presentations from the Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton TD; the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Ireland, H.E. Tomáš Kafka; and Deputy President of Galway Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of the Marine Institute, Jim Fennell.
Fennell spoke about the services Galway Chamber provides through the European Enterprise Network, as well as the benefits of European Social Funding and the European Regional Development Fund to both GMIT (Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) and NUIG (National University of Ireland, Galway).
Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Ireland, H.E. Tomáš Kafka, and Deputy President of Galway Chamber of Commerce, Jim Fennell, at the Regional Dialogue in Galway County Hall. Photo: Órla Ryan
A number of Councillors and local figures were present at the Dialogue. Councillor Michael Fahy expressed concern about the Single Farm Payment grant, which is very important to the rural countryside of County Galway, and asked if it will be affected by the reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Minister Creighton assured the audience that the current state of CAP negotiations suggests that the country will get a very good deal, which will be welcome news in the West of Ireland.
Responding to questions on the importance of regions to the future of Europe, Minister Creighton stated her belief that governance should begin at the lowest possible level. She described Ireland as far too centralised in Ireland and highlighted the important role regions play in delivering power locally and connecting citizens to decision making.
Councillor Donal Lyon’s question about the delay of ‘one of the major projects that’s holding back the city’, the Galway outer bypass, in the European courts was not directly addressed by the panel.
The event came to a close with Minister Creighton stating her determination that the discussions at these events will have a serious impact on government EU policy.
Overall, the Dialogue was well coordinated and a step in the right direction for local democracy. However, ordinary citizens were thin on the ground, and there was a sense that tough questions were avoided, especially when compared to how vocal participants were at the national event in Dublin.