Westmeath County Council
Annual Cathaoirleach Awards by Cllr Frank McDermott
Belvedere House and Gardens
12th May 2017.
Address by Minister Damien English.
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Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
As Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government I am delighted to be here with you this evening for this important annual event, the Westmeath County Council Cathaoirleach Awards ceremony.
Thank you to my colleague and friend, Cathaoirleach, Frank McDermott, and to all the members and management of Westmeath County Council for your kind invitation to be here.
As a public representative serving North Westmeath in Dáil Éireann, I am aware of the important role that the community and voluntary sectors play in the wellbeing of our nation.
I want to personally thank each and every one of you here tonight for your active participation in the community.
Thank you for giving your time so selflessly; for sharing your energy, enthusiasm, and expertise for the betterment of County Westmeath.
From the individual working on their own, to the group of like-minded people, you are ones who have a sense of social concern, of shared values, who have a sense of pride in their place and a sense of service towards their community.
Small tasks make a big difference to those who benefit directly, but, in many ways, the real winners are our communities which are made healthier by the multiplier effect of a positive volunteering spirit running through our society.
Each act of voluntary participation combines to form the cement that binds and unifies our society in common purpose and makes it a better place for its entire people. Voluntary participation is at the very heart of active citizenship and enriches and energises our democracy.
A key determinant of the health of society is the degree to which individuals are prepared to come forward to give of their own time on a voluntary basis. This essentially sums up the value of volunteering and the significance it has for the maintenance of a healthy society.
The extent of volunteering in a society is a barometer of its civic health. And in County Westmeath the barometer is set high.
On behalf of the Government I want to recognise the value of your engagement in volunteerism. I believe that a better and more inclusive society can be created by Government listening to the voluntary and community sectors as a reflection of the views of large numbers of its citizens.
My Department supports a range of volunteering organisations, including 21 volunteer centres across a range of counties, volunteering information Services in counties without a full-time volunteer centre and a range of volunteer supporting organisations such as Volunteer Ireland and Young Social Innovators.
While central Government has a key role to play in supporting the volunteering sector, local government also has an important role to play. In this context, I wish to acknowledge the significant funding distributed each year by Westmeath County Council to community and voluntary groups in the form of awards and grants.
The benefits of this level of engagement at local level are clearly demonstrated in the awards being given out tonight – across a range of very worthy categories including eco-schools, Tidy Towns and Person/Group of the year.
In Westmeath and equally throughout the length and breadth of our country, thousands of individuals and community organisations contribute, each and every day, to society in a number of ways from providing essential services in areas such as social care, to education, the environment, sport and much more.
Young and old together with a shared vision for their community, united in a common goal to carry out fundamental and crucial jobs for the betterment of others.
We must not and should not forget that or even take that dedication as a sort of ‘given’, as if it will happen anyway.
To do so, devalues and undermines selfless effort and most certainly does not bode well for the future of any community let alone any society.
I’ll conclude on a slightly different, but none-the-less related, theme. Government is, and remains determined, to promote active citizenship, to support a vibrant, diverse and effective community and voluntary sector.
Engagement with the community and voluntary sector can, and should, lead to a better reflection of the views of larger numbers of the population and, as a consequence, to the creation of a better and more participative society.
Government is also determined to facilitate having your voice heard and heeded in matters of importance to the locality.
In that regard I wish to highlight to you here tonight the work of the Public Participation Networks (or PPNs), which are the main link through which local authorities connect with the community and voluntary, social inclusion and environmental sectors.
While still relatively new, I believe that the PPNs will be critical in facilitating greater engagement between active citizens, communities and local government into the future.
Finally, I would like to congratulate everyone involved in this very prestigious event here this evening. I am confident it will be a tremendous success and in my mind everyone here present tonight is a winner.