On Monday December 7th the Cork Equal and Sustainable Communities Alliance (CESCA) held their annual equality day with the theme of Equality in a time of Covid. This annual event is one of CECSA’s contributions to the Cork City Local Economic and Community Plan (LECP) and takes place in the same week as World Human Rights Day, which took place this year on Thursday December 10th.
Unlike other years we could not come together in person to share our thoughts and agree on actions to address the equality issues of most concern in our times. However, this years online event presented even greater opportunities to expand our conversations on equality and social justice. This event reached far beyond Cork City, with participants from across Ireland and a bigger line up of expert speakers than ever before.
The event was officially launched by Lord Mayor of Cork City Cllr Joe Kavanagh. On the morning we heard from CESCA members Fiona Finn, CEO of NASC, The Refugee and Migrant Rights Centre, Breda O Donoghue Director of Advocacy at the Cork Traveller Visibility Group and Mary Crilly, CEO of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre on the impact that Covid 19 has had on marginalised communities in Cork City and beyond.
Next we heard from Independent Senator Lynn Ruane and Dr Sean Healy, CEO of Social Justice Ireland on the ties between participatory democracy and equality.
And finally we heard from a panel of speakers: Professor Kathleen Lynch, Professor of Equality Studies at University College Dublin, Paul Ginnell, Director of the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland, Doireann Ansbro, Senior Research and Policy Officer at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Ivan Cooper, Director of Public Policy at The Wheel.
A full recording of the event and the discussions we had can be found on our Facebook page. and below you can find our full write up of the event which pulls out some of the key themes that emerged from the day which are:
1) Covid 19 has not been the great leveller.
Throughout the morning we heard from speakers about, how despite aspirations to the contrary, Covid 19 has not been the great leveller we had expected it to be and has in many instances exacerbated the inequalities many communities face. It has also raised concerns about the disproportionate effect lockdown restrictions had on some of the most marginalised communities in Ireland.
2) A ‘new normal’ is needed
There was a clear consensus from attendees and speakers that there is no desire to return to ‘normal’ after we emerge from this pandemic but instead, we want a new normal. One that properly addresses the inequalities in our society as highlighted by the pandemic. This new normal should focus on equality, social justice and all communities having a say in decisions that affect their day to day lives. It was strongly felt that now is the time to reflect on the type of society we want to live in and to consider what needs to be done to achieve it. There was a strong sense that we as community organisations need to be much more critical and collective in our approach if we are to achieve the change we want to see for Irish society and if we are to hear from communities who are not currently part of decision making processes.
3) A way forward – Interagency working, participatory democracy and a sustainable community and voluntary sector.
Despite the many concerns shared on the day it was also clear that there is much that can be done to challenge the inequalities in our societies and to ensure that there is not a slide away from the collaborative working we saw during the initial stages of the pandemic. It was clear that there is already much in place both in terms of structures and policy commitments to enable these changes to happen, but we need to work collectively to realise this change and to hold Government and others to account on the commitments made.
- Participatory democracy and a new social dialogue was a key focus of the conversation on the day and an areas that requires much more exploration, particularly in terms of what this would look like for marginalised communities and seldom heard from groups in our society .Public Participation Networks (PPN’s) were mentioned as one key way of achieving a better social dialogue on a local level. Senator Lynn Ruane’s work in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin’s Dr. Robert Grant establishing Philosophy in the Community was cited as another example of how communities can also be enabled to be part of a new social dialogue. But primarily we also need to find ways of enabling carers, those living in institutions and seldom heard from groups to be fully involved in decision making processes and to be part of public dialogue.
- A sustainable community and voluntary sector. Concerns were raised throughout the morning about the funding models of the sector and its sustainability at this time. It was strongly felt by speakers that there needs to be a move away from an increasing tightening of the contractual obligations being placed on the sector and instead the focus should be on a needs-based approach to communities and supports. This would enable a more responsive and cohesive voluntary sector and ensure local communities have access to the supports they need on a consistent and sustainable basis.
- Interagency working. Underpinning these themes was the importance of interagency working, both within the community and voluntary sector but also with and across statutory sectors. Alliances such as CESCA were considered a good example of ways in which collective expertise could be pooled and a larger platform could be built to highlight the concerns for our communities and the sector we work in. Particular mention was made on the day to work of the HSE Social Inclusion Services and Cork/Kerry Community Healthcare for their work and support of communities and the voluntary sector throughout the pandemic and the difference it made to the experiences of many marginalised communities. It was felt important to maintain and build even further on these ways of working to ensure greater progress on issues of inequality as highlighted throughout the morning.
What next for CESCA?
Following our Equality Day we plan on building on the conversations we had on the morning, particularly around ways of supporting our communities to have a voice and be involved in decision making processes either through models of participatory democracy or through community development.
We also are keen to consider our role in raising awareness of the sustainability of the community and voluntary sector and of progressing social dialogue even further in Cork City.
We would like to thank all our speakers for their time and for sharing their insights on the day and to all those who attended for supporting CESCA, equality and social justice.
Care, capitalism and politics by Professor Kathleen Lynch
Building a New Social Contract, Policy Recommendations from Social Justice Ireland