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Pike, Brigid (2010) Drug projects and local democracy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 35, Autumn 2010, p. 4.

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For the past decade a public debate has been taking place in Ireland about how to strengthen the country’s local democracy. This debate has taken many forms and covered many topics. Local responses to the drugs issue have been used as examples or case studies of how local democracy might be strengthened. 

The decision-making relationships between national, local and community-level bodies, i.e. the governance framework, have attracted considerable attention in recent years. Following its establishment in 2002 the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs undertook a ‘cohesion process’, whereby it significantly reduced the number of community-based bodies involved in providing local and community development and social inclusion programmes while seeking to maintain service provision across the country. Most recently, in January 2010, the Department merged its own two social inclusion programmes into one integrated programme – the Local and Community Development Programme (LCDP).  In the drugs area, in the course of 2009, the work of the National Drugs Strategy Team, comprising representatives of relevant departments, state agencies and the voluntary and community sectors which supported the work of the local and regional drugs task forces, was absorbed into the Office of the Minister for Drugs, which is located in the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.1
The assumptions underpinning these cohesion and rationalisation processes have recently been challenged in the National Economic and Social Forum’s final report.2 Exploring local participatory governance in Ireland, the authors argue that a certain level of seeming duplication is necessary to ensure that the complex array of needs and circumstances can be accommodated, and that ‘different opportunities for participation and, most importantly, for the realisation of social inclusion’ are provided. Mapping the landscape of participatory processes, they have divided it into four ‘zones’:
1.     in-house participatory government, e.g. strategic policy committees;
2.     moving towards governance ‘out there’, e.g. county/city development boards, RAPID;
3.     participating governance ‘out there’, e.g. area-based/community partnerships, local and regional drugs task forces; and
4.     civil society organisations, e.g. community platforms.
Rather than streamlining structures, collapsing the range of governance frameworks into a one-size-fits-all, the authors argue that greater attention should be given to supporting participation and to strengthening performance within each of the zones. In Zone 3, where the authors locate the drugs task forces, they suggest that participation could be enhanced by strengthening co-operation between the entities and elected local representatives, by promoting an approach to problem-solving based on reference to organisational values, such as social inclusion and finding a voice, rather than stressing rules and procedures, and by ensuring that the local development culture is not weakened.
The authors of the NESF report expressed the hope that their analysis might feed into deliberations leading to the development of the government’s White Paper on stronger local democracy. In the Green Paper published as a preliminary step towards this White Paper,3 the government has suggested that community participatory structures could be strengthened by giving local authorities the leadership role on the county/city development boards. Unlike single-focus agencies, local authorities are regarded as having the flexibility to be creative about new services they might provide.
In a separate study, looking at how to promote innovation generally, Ireland’s National Economic and Social Development Office (NESDO) organised a project, FuturesIreland, to investigate how to develop a capacity for foresight and innovation both in the Irish economy and society and in the nation’s decision-making processes – in short, how to turn Ireland into a ‘learning society’.4 The project reached four conclusions:
1.     Cross-fertilisation between the economy, society and public governance enhances the ability to learn and innovate.
2.     Innovation and learning are systematic, almost always combining initiative, disciplined review and a willingness to confront challenges – institutional, inter-personal and personal.
3.     Systematic review provides the basis for both innovation and accountability.
4.     Organisational systems, particularly systems of control and accountability in the public sector, need to be completely changed in order to promote innovation and learning.
SAOL – Service Provision for Women with Addiction Problems – based in inner-city Dublin was one of several case studies undertaken by FuturesIreland that led to the fourth conclusion. The authors described how the rapid change from heroin to crack cocaine use rendered many of SAOL’s services ineffective, causing the project to refocus its services very quickly. This was done following extensive consultations with colleagues in the Netherlands who were engaged in drug treatment services and had already dealt with this problem. SAOL piloted, tested and reviewed the new approach with women in their rehabilitation project. Notwithstanding this thorough review process, SAOL found it difficult to have the shift in focus accepted by their statutory funding body. FuturesIreland suggested that, ‘To a large degree, the difference between the staff delivering the service and the people in the funding body centred on the willingness, ability and familiarity with data and methods of review’ (p. 41).
The Green Paper on local government3 identified philanthropy as an option worth further investigation: ‘Philanthropy is considerably less developed in Ireland than abroad and there are opportunities to increase its role.’ In launching the National Drugs Strategy (interim) 20092016 in September 2009, the Minister for Drugs, John Curran TD, announced that needle exchanges would be rolled out in 65 new locations across Ireland using funding received from the Elton John AIDS Foundation.(Brigid Pike)
1. Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (2009) National Drugs Strategy (interim) 2009–2016. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
2. McInerney C and Adshead M (2010)The challenge of community participation in the delivery of public services: exploring local participatory governance in Ireland. Dublin: National Economic and Social Forum.
3. Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (2008) Stronger local democracy – options for change. Green Paper on Local Government. Dublin: Stationery Office.. 
4. FuturesIreland (2009) Ireland at another turning point: reviving development, reforming institutions and liberating capabilities. Dublin: National Economic and Social Development Office. Available at www.nesdo.ie/futuresireland/futuresireland_finalreport0909.pdf
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 35, Autumn 2010
Page Range
p. 4
Health Research Board
Issue 35, Autumn 2010
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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