Fire Safety at Halloween 2017

Fire Safety, Firefighters, Halloween, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Trim, Wesmeath

Halloween is a fun time for children and adults alike, but it presents
many fire risks.

Fire Services respond to an increased number of incidents, including
bonfires, at this time of year. Bonfires are extremely dangerous and
can cause people to suffer serious injury due to hazardous items being
ignited.

This Halloween, I am urging people to consider their own safety and
the safety of others by being extra careful. Careful does not mean not
having fun, it just means taking into account some simple steps.

In particular, I am urging people to:

– Attend only legal, safe and supervised organised events in your area
– Keep a safe distance from bonfires and fireworks and obey the advice of stewards
– Use battery-operated candles if possible
– Never leave lit candles unattended. Place them in a safe holder where
they are unlikely to be knocked over, away from fabrics and draughts.
– Make sure that costumes have a CE mark and keep them away from naked flames
– Be sure that children know how to “stop, drop and roll” if their
clothing was to catch fire
– Keep pets indoors
– Test all your smoke alarms and replace batteries if necessary

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

ENDS

€586,186 vote of confidence in Meath West towns and villages – English

Athboy, Ballinacree, Ballivor, Collinstown, Delvin, Dromone, Funding, Meath, North Meath, Oldcastle, Tourism, Wesmeath

Wednesday, 4th October 2017

8 Meath West projects to benefit under 2017 Town and Village Renewal Scheme

The Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, and Meath West Fine Gael
T.D. Damien English has today welcomed news that 8 rural towns and
villages across the Meath West Dáil Constituency are set to benefit
from over €900k in funding under the 2017 Town and Village Renewal
Scheme. The scheme is a key part of the Government’s Action Plan for
Rural Development.

Commenting on the success of the 8 Meath and Westmeath rural town and
villages Minister
English stated: “Fine Gael in Government have placed a particular
emphasis on projects in rural Ireland which have the capacity to
support the economic development of rural town and villages as well as
their neighbouring townlands.  This scheme will also support
improvements to public amenities in town and village centres, to help
make them more attractive places in which to live and work and to
visit. I congratulate the local community groups concerned in
achieving this funding, and the local Councillors and Meath and Westmeath County
Council officials whom they and I liaise with to ensure this vital
funding for local communities. Congratulations again to all concerned”
concluded Minister English.

The 2017 Town and Village Renewal Scheme, which was launched in April
this year, focuses on projects which can help to enhance and develop
rural towns and villages, with a particular emphasis on stimulating
economic development.

The full list of projects funded in the Meath West Dáil Constituency
are set out below:

Athboy Convert Community Centre €100,000.00
Ballinacree Village Enhancement €29,200.00
Ballivor New Playground €90,000.00
Oldcastle Walkway Improvements €78,986.00
Dromone Village Enhancement €72,000.00
Collinstown Develop Village Centre €72,000.00
Delvin Signage,Surface dressing of Laneway,Improve lighting, Provide
Parking. €68,000.00
Killucan/Rathwire Improvement enhancement Town Park,Restoration of
Mass path,Address high level of derelection. €76,000.00

Meath West Dáil Constituency Total: €586,186

ENDS

Meath continues to be at the forefront of Innovation and Entrepreneurship after 5,000 years – English

Action Plan for Jobs, Apprenticeships, Brexit, Business, I.T., Innovation, Jobs, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Research and Innovation, Wesmeath

Friday, 22nd September 2017

“Meath continues to be at the forefront of Innovation and
Entrepreneurship after 5,000 years.” That’s the view of local Minister
for Housing and Urban Renewal, and Fine Gael T.D. for Meath West
Damien English, speaking after comparing and analysing the jobs data
between the most recent 2016 Census, and the 2011 Census which took
place during Ireland’s recessionary period.

“In 2016 83,254 people in Meath had a job, this is 8,917 more people
than in 2011. Meath based companies who were supported by our State
agencies such as the IDA or Enterprise Ireland employed 8,732 people
in Meath in 2016. This figure is up 2,134 people on the 2011 figure,
or 32%. These jobs are particularly important as they represent jobs
within the County meaning less commuting. They represent native
entrepreneurial spirit and local relevant skills and are mostly export
orientated” stated Minister English.

“Companies supported by our Local Employment Office as part of Meath
County Council employed 927 people in 2016.  This figure was up 86 on
the 2015 figures, a rise of 10%.  On the unemployment front 10,533
Meath people were unemployed in 2016, down 5,769 on the 2011 figure,
or 35%.  Clearly the National and Regional Action Plan for Jobs are
working, in tandem with Meath County Council’s Economic Development
Plan and the work of Meath LEO and Meath Enterprise, but we need to
constantly renew and refine our efforts until every one wants a job
has one, and that job is as local as possible. In this regard I will
continue to back plans for the Boyne Valley Food and Innovation Hub
and the Meath Digital Hub for our County” stated Minister English.

“This  month the unemployment rate fell nationally again to 6.1%, its
lowest rate in 9 years.  These new jobs both locally and nationally
represent dignity and opportunity for people old and young.  New jobs
allows people to fulfil their dreams and their potential, we want to
continue creating that opportunity for everyone who wants it”
concluded Minister English.

ENDS

Speech on Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2016

Meath, National Planning Framework, North Meath, Wesmeath

Private Members Bill

Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2016

Dáil Éireann, 21 September 2017

Speech by Mr. Damien English T.D.,

Minister for Housing and Urban Development

 CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY PLEASE N.B.

Firstly, I would like to thank Deputy Stanley for bringing forward this Wind Turbine Regulation Bill which is timely from a number of perspectives. I have no doubt that the Bill is well intentioned and aims to regulate wind energy development by addressing a number of key issues. So I welcome the opportunity provided by the Deputy’s Bill to discuss the current state of play in relation to the development of the wind energy sector which is an important issue for this Government.

 

At the outset of this debate, it is necessary to set out the wider context of this issue. The development of renewable energy, including wind energy, is at the centre of this Government’s energy policy. The availability of indigenous, sustainable power is a valuable national asset which is vital for achieving energy security and reducing fossil fuel imports, as well as for achieving challenging EU emissions reduction and renewable energy targets.

 

A hallmark of our energy policy approach to date has been to encourage green energy investment. Maintaining a favourable investment climate for the renewable energy sector and sustaining regulatory stability in Ireland has been critical in facilitating the build out of renewable energy infrastructure to this point.

 

Given Ireland’s heavy over-reliance on imported fossil fuels, the development of indigenous onshore wind, which in June 2017 accounted for over 2,800 MegaWatts (MW) connected to the grid, is making a positive contribution to our energy security and avoiding approximately 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

 

The development of the wind sector in Ireland is subject to the planning code in the same manner as other forms of development. Local authority development plans are required to achieve a balance in harnessing the wind energy resources of the planning authority’s area in a manner that is consistent with national policy objectives and proper planning and sustainable development.

 

In this connection, planning authorities are required to have regard to my Department’s Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006 which contain advice to assist planning authorities in drawing up their local development plans and making determinations on wind farm planning applications. In effect, this guidance is aimed at ensuring a consistency of approach throughout the country in the identification – in local development plans – of suitable locations for wind energy development as well as in the treatment of planning applications for such developments, while also having regard to relevant national Government policy, including energy policy.

 

As you will be aware, a targeted review of the 2006 Guidelines has been underway since 2013. As set out in the Programme for Partnership Government, this Government is committed to concluding the review of the Guidelines as speedily as possible with a view to offering a better balance between the concerns of local communities and the need to invest in indigenous energy projects, informed by the public consultation process and best international practice.

 

Since reaching agreement on the Programme for a Partnership Government in May 2016, there has been close engagement on the review of the Guidelines at both Ministerial and official level between my Department and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, given its responsibility for renewable energy policy.

 

On foot of this engagement, in June this year the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment announced a key milestone in the review of the Guidelines by announcing details of a proposed ‘preferred draft approach’ to key aspects of the review, which will now be subject to a strategic environmental assessment before the guidelines are finalised and adopted.

 

This ‘preferred draft approach’ was outlined to provide an update to the general public, industry stakeholders and planning authorities on progress being made on the review. It sets out proposals to deal with aspects of the Guidelines relating to noise, setback distance and shadow flicker, community engagement and benefit, and also policy on grid connections from wind farms to the electricity transmission and distribution system.

 

Turning to the specifics of the Deputy’s Bill which is the subject of this evening’s debate, I would now like to outline how the Government is addressing some of its key provisions.

 

Firstly, turning to section 2 of the Bill which provides limits on the export of power generated from wind turbines, the Government’s current policy in relation to the export of electricity is set out in the 2012 Renewable Energy Strategy which, in accordance with European law, supports the export of renewable energy to other EU Member States. However, it is a precondition that any such export would bring clear and significant benefit to the Irish economy, at no net cost to the Irish consumer.

 

This policy is currently being reviewed in the context of the Draft Renewable Electricity Policy and Development Framework, currently being developed by my colleague Minister Naughten and his Department, which will update policy in relation to potential future energy exports. The setting out of national policy on this matter – in Government Strategies or Policy Frameworks – is a more appropriate approach than providing for it in primary legislation as proposed by Deputy Stanley.

 

In addition, the provisions in section 2 of the Bill could result in significant operational and market design implications for Eirgrid, in the management of energy flows on the East-West Interconnector and potentially for future interconnectors.

 

Section 3 of the Deputy’s Bill relates to the location of turbines, providing that all locations for proposed wind turbines must be designated in County Development Plans, be consistent with the development plan and be designated with the approval of the elected members.

 

This is already largely the case but the key point that is missing here is that local development plans must also have regard to national policy, including energy policy, as well as section 28 guidance issued by the Minister to local authorities on the drawing up of development plans.

 

Section 3 is particularly problematic in that it proposes that local authorities could effectively act independently and set their own local wind energy development policy in their development plans without having regard to national policy or guidance. This would be a retrograde step which would militate against the achievement of national policy objectives and accordingly the Government strongly opposes this Section.

 

I would now like to address sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Bill in relation to public consultation, noise limits, shadow flicker and wind farm set back distances. In this context, it should be noted that the recently announced “preferred draft approach” addresses these issues by proposing the following:

 

  • the application of a more stringent noise limit, consistent with World Health Organisation standards, in tandem with a new robust noise monitoring and enforcement regime, to ensure compliance with noise standards;
  • a visual amenity setback of 4 times the turbine height between a wind turbine and the nearest residential property, subject to a mandatory minimum distance of 500 metres;
  • the elimination of shadow flicker through requirements to operate automated wind turbine control mechanisms as a condition of the grant of planning permission; and
  • the introduction of new obligations in relation to engagement with local communities by wind farm developers along with the provision of community benefit

 

In this connection, a wide range of community, spatial planning, energy policy, environmental, technological and industry considerations need to be appropriately balanced. The proposed “preferred draft approach” is aimed at achieving this broad balance which would not be possible under the provisions of Deputy Stanley’s Bill.

 

In addition to the concerns that I expressed in relation to section 3 of the Bill, I must also oppose the setback distance provisions in section 6, which proposes that turbines with a height of greater than 25 metres shall be located not less than a distance of ten times the height of the turbine away from any dwelling. This provision would significantly reduce the amount of land available throughout the country for wind farm development, thereby stymying the industry and minimising the possibilities for achieving our renewable energy targets, while simultaneously exposing the State to substantial EU fines.

 

Another aspect of the Bill that I would like to briefly refer to is the section 11 provisions on co-ownership of wind farms for local communities. In this regard, the Government recognises that community consultation and community dividend are important components of future wind farm development, with both community ownership and part-ownership of wind energy projects by local communities being encouraged.

 

Under the ‘preferred draft approach’, it is proposed to oblige developers of wind farm projects to engage in active consultation and dialogue with the local community at an early stage in the process, prior to submitting a planning application. It is further proposed that planning applications shall contain a Community Report prepared by the applicant outlining how the final proposal has been modified to take account of the community consultations undertaken.

In addition, the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme, for which a consultation was launched on 4 September 2017, has community participation and ownership designed into its fabric. The consultation sets out a number of policy options to support both community-led projects and developer-led projects with material community involvement and benefit.

 

In particular, the Consultation is examining how to facilitate the development of community-led renewable electricity projects by providing initial funding, technical and legal advice to communities seeking to develop renewable projects. Furthermore, multiple support mechanisms including financial supports, infrastructural supports including facilitating access to the grid for community-led projects and technical support for communities as their projects progress through to commissioning are also being assessed.

 

Larger scale developer-led renewable electricity projects will have to meet certain criteria in terms of offering investment opportunities to local communities. The ownership policy option is not limited to offering an equity stake however and the proposals put forward are aimed at maximising citizen and community participation.

 

The Consultation also proposes a formalised community benefit payments register which will provide financial benefits to the entire community, including those unable to participate in the ownership proposals.

 

As each project and each community will be different, I don’t think it is appropriate to provide for co-ownership of wind farms by local communities in the quite prescriptive manner as proposed by Deputy Stanley in section 11 and that instead, this issue can be better addressed in the manner proposed in the ‘preferred draft approach’ and in the draft Renewable Electricity Support Scheme.

Conclusion

Those are some of my initial comments on the Bill and I will elaborate further after listening to the comments of Deputies.

 

 

English urges Meath West Community Youth Groups to prepare to apply to €4m Capital Fund

Agher, Athboy, Ballinacree, Ballinlough, Ballivor, Bohermeen, Budget 2017, Castlepollard, Childcare, CLAR, Clonard, Collinstown, Education, Enfield, Funding, Johnstown, Killyon, Longwood, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Oldcastle, Summerhill, Trim, Wesmeath

Local community youth groups can apply from late September

Monday 31st July 2017

Meath West community youth groups are set to benefit from a €4m
capital fund being established by Government, Minister for Housing and
Urban Development Damien English T.D. has stated.

The money is being made available to allow clubs buy equipment which
will support their work with young people, and applications open in
late September. The Meath West Fine Gael T.D. is urging local
community youth groups to begin thinking about and preparing for their
application.

Minister English stated: “Nationally, over 1,500 volunteer led clubs
will be eligible to apply, reaching practically every community in the
country. I want to see Meath West getting its fair share. I encourage
Meath West clubs to examine which sports, arts, adventure or other
equipment they need the most and be ready to apply.’

Minister English saluted the youth group volunteers, stating: “These
volunteer led youth clubs do so much good work on the ground. They are
in the frontline providing young people with indoor and outdoor
activities to prevent them falling into trouble. They also improve
health, wellbeing and build team spirit in our communities.”

“The value of this work is not under-estimated by Government, hence
this new fund.The Application process for the funding is expected to
open in late September. I am happy to help local community youth
groups with their applications” concluded Minister English.

ENDS

€250k extra funding for childcare services in Westmeath – English

Childcare, Education, Wesmeath

19th July 2017

Childcare services in Westmeath are to receive €246,731 in extra funding, Meath West  Fine Gael TD and Minister of State, Damien English has said.

The financial boost comes at a key moment in Ireland’s move to accessible affordable quality childcare.

Minister English said: “I am delighted to confirm that 13 local childcare services in Westmeath will share in funding of more than €250,000 in extra funding.

“The money will be used to provide more new childcare places, maintenance and building work as well as outdoor play areas and is available for immediate draw-down by providers here in Westmeath.

 “I hold the provision of quality, affordable and accessible childcare as a very highest priority, ensuring local children get the very best start in life.

“My Government colleague, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone, said €8.4m  in capital funding has been allocated through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to 683 pre-school providers nationwide; an increase in €4,4m on the amount announced for this programme in March 2017.

“This funding will benefit children, families and providers under our Early Years programmes, and will contribute to the development of an infrastructure that is ready to meet the radical new approach to subsidising childcare outlined in Budget 2017.

“Since first entering Government, Fine Gael has prioritised hard pressed working families; the people who bore the brunt of the economic recession. A major part of this has been to reduce the cost of childcare for working parents.

“We introduced the free pre-school year, and subsequently extended it to a second year. It is estimated the extended scheme provides an average saving of €4,000 per child.

“We also recently introduced paternity leave for the first time ever. Dads are now entitled to two weeks’ paid leave.

“From September an estimated 70,000 children nationwide will get extra supports. This will really benefit families in Westmeath.

“Families will benefit in two ways. First there is a universal support for all children aged 3 and under then there are supports for those families who need it most.

“The second targeted support is based on income and also for those parents who have had to turn down jobs, training and education because they cannot afford childcare.

“I encourage parents in Westmeath to take the time to study the increased supports which are available and prepare for the autumn, by checking out the new website www.affordablechildcare.ie  or by talking to staff at your local childcare centre.

ENDS

€444k extra funding for childcare services in Meath – English

Childcare, Education, Funding, Meath, Navan, Wesmeath

19th July 2017

€444k extra funding for childcare services in Meath – English

Childcare services in Meath are to receive €444,983 in extra funding, Meath West  Fine Gael TD and Minister of State, Damien English has said.

The financial boost comes at a key moment in Ireland’s move to accessible affordable quality childcare.

Minister English said: “I am delighted to confirm that 35 local childcare services in Meath will share in almost €450,000 in extra funding.

“The money will be used to provide more new childcare places, maintenance and building work as well as outdoor play areas and is available for immediate draw-down by providers here in Meath.

 “I hold the provision of quality, affordable and accessible childcare as a very highest priority, ensuring local children get the very best start in life.

“My Government colleague, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone, said €8.4m  in capital funding has been allocated through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to 683 pre-school providers nationwide; an increase in €4,4m on the amount announced for this programme in March 2017.

“This funding will benefit children, families and providers under our Early Years programmes, and will contribute to the development of an infrastructure that is ready to meet the radical new approach to subsidising childcare outlined in Budget 2017.

“Since first entering Government, Fine Gael has prioritised hard pressed working families; the people who bore the brunt of the economic recession. A major part of this has been to reduce the cost of childcare for working parents.

“We introduced the free pre-school year, and subsequently extended it to a second year. It is estimated the extended scheme provides an average saving of €4,000 per child.

“We also recently introduced paternity leave for the first time ever. Dads are now entitled to two weeks’ paid leave.

“From September an estimated 70,000 children nationwide will get extra supports. This will really benefit families in Meath.

“Families will benefit in two ways. First there is a universal support for all children aged 3 and under then there are supports for those families who need it most.

“The second targeted support is based on income and also for those parents who have had to turn down jobs, training and education because they cannot afford childcare.

“I encourage parents in Meath to take the time to study the increased supports which are available and prepare for the autumn, by checking out the new website www.affordablechildcare.ie  or by talking to staff at your local childcare centre.

ENDS

Increase in minimum wage will benefit lower paid workers – English

Business, Funding, Jobs, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Oldcastle, Wesmeath

18th July 2017

Increase in minimum wage will benefit lower paid workers – English

The Low Pay Commission is recommending an increase to the minimum wage
of 30 cents, bringing it to €9.55 per hour.

Fine Gael Minister of State for Meath West, Damien English TD,
believes this and other supports will greatly benefit lower paid
workers here in Meath West.

“Increasing the minimum wage is just one tool in a wider Government
programme to help the lower paid and incentivise people into work.

“Affordable Childcare is on the way this September, which will see up
to €1,040 per year for children in full time childcare.

“The latest data from the Central Statistics Office shows that show
that that Ireland is becoming more equal and that poverty is
decreasing.

“Fine Gael in Government recognises that higher levels of public
investment in social and economic infrastructure in Meath West, will
improve skills, childcare, and empower our communities.

“These are the building blocks for more inclusive, fairer and
sustainable patterns of economic growth in our society.

“The latest CSO Household Budget Survey shows that our economic
recovery is being used to reduce inequality across the country

“The ‘Household Budget Survey’ found that the gap between the highest
and lowest income households narrowed between 2009-2010 and 2015-2016.

“Economic and social progress go hand in hand. Only a strong economy
supporting people at work can pay for the services needed to create a
fair society.” Minister English said.

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said: “The Government welcomes the
recommendation from the Low Pay Commission to increase the national
minimum wage by 30c to €9.55 per hour. It would work out as a €12
increase in a full 40 hour week.

“This would be a modest increase but it’s ahead of the rate of
inflation and average increases in earnings. It would be the fourth
increase in the minimum wage since 2011, and the second under this
Government, and a further step towards the Programme for Government
commitment for a minimum wage of €10.50.

ENDS

English urges Parents to look into Affordable Childcare Supports

Budget 2017, Childcare, Funding, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Wesmeath

11th July 2017

New website affordablechildcare.ie

Damien English, Meath West Fine Gael TD and Minister for Housing and
Urban Renewal is urging Parents in Meath West to look into the new
childcare supports that can help them financially from September.

There have been over 173,000 page visits to an information website –
affordablechildcare.ie – in the past month alone as more and more
parents look into the supports available to them.

Minister English said, “I strongly encourage all parents here in Meath
West to log on to the website and get informed of the supports
available to them.

“Up to 70,000 children will have extra supports negotiated in this
year’s budget come into force at the start of the pre-school year,
with some children will receive childcare benefits up to €7,500. This
will really benefit families in Meath West

“We are enhancing existing targeted childcare supports by as much as
50%. There will be improved access to subsidies for providers – with
the traditional Community Childcare Scheme (CCS) being extended to
both community and private providers.

“Overall total spending on child care programmes this year is €466m –
representing a 79% increase on figures in 2015. Now we must ensure
that families receive the benefit of this.

“Families will benefit in two ways. Firstly, the changes will see a
universal benefit for every child under 3-years old. Universal
subsidies, of up to €1,040 per annum, which will be available for all
children aged between 6 and 36 months in full time childcare.

“The second targeted support is based on income and also for those
parents who have had to turn down jobs, training and education because
they cannot afford childcare.

“As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone has
said, this is the first big step, but there is still much work to done
in this area. I am assured that the Minister is focused on quality of
childcare, accessibility and also recognition for the workers who
provide services.

“Since first entering Government, Fine Gael has prioritised hard
pressed working families; the people who bore the brunt of the
economic recession. A major part of this has been to reduce the cost
of childcare for working parents.

“We introduced the free pre-school year, and subsequently extended it
to a second year. It is estimated the extended scheme provides an
average saving of €4,000 per child.

“We also recently introduced paternity leave for the first time ever.
Dads are now entitled to two weeks’ paid leave.

“I will continue working to ensure that parents across Meath West can
avail of high quality and affordable care for their children when they
need it. Fine Gael will continue to ease the financial burden on hard
press working families.”

ENDS

Westmeath Co. Co. Annual Cathaoirleach Awards

Wesmeath

Westmeath County Council

Annual Cathaoirleach Awards  by Cllr Frank McDermott

Belvedere House and Gardens

12th May 2017.

Address by Minister Damien English.

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY PLEASE

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.

ENDS