As the release of the final National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland looms, we take a look at some recent social enterprise activity in the South East.

The public has had its say on a draft National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland, which was published on 23 April. The consultation period ended on 14 May and the next step – after taking feedback on board – will see the document submitted to cabinet for approval.

This is a notable moment in the history of social enterprise in Ireland, and long-time activists and champions of social enterprise are getting excited about the changes that are coming.

Government adoption of the new policy “will be the subject of a major celebration by long-time activists,” said Senan Cooke from Dunhill. “The implementation phase will open up many new opportunities for thousands of social enterprise companies, projects and new startups. The new policy will empower and build new capacity on the ground in communities. Barriers and blockages will be removed. The vast potential of social enterprise will finally be realised,” he said.

Social enterprises have existed in rural and urban Ireland since the 19th century.

The development of the new policy is being led by the Department of Rural and Community Development and has involved 18 months of research, workshops and consultations.

Senan Cooke, author of The Enterprising Community, with PAUL Partnership's Elaine MacGrath

Senan Cooke, author of The Enterprising Community, with PAUL Partnership’s Elaine MacGrath.

In the meantime, Dunhill Ecopark in Co Waterford hosted a public event on 13 May that brought together EU- and national-level experts to debate the potential that social enterprise has to revitalise rural Ireland.

Titled Citizens’ Dialogue: Revitalising Rural Ireland, the event also aimed to tell people of EU-level support available to social enterprises.

The debate involved Gerry Kiely, head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland; Patrick Klein, the EU Commission’s social economy team leader at DG Grow; Brendan Whelan, CEO of the Social Finance Foundation; and Janet O’Toole, community development manager at Connemara West. It was chaired by broadcaster Damien Tiernan.

It was organised by the Waterford Europe Direct Information Centre in partnership with Dunhill and the European Commission Representation in Ireland.

Rural and Community Development Committee tours Wexford and Waterford social enterprises

Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Rural and Community Development visited Gorey, Co Wexford, and Dunhill, Co Waterford, on 27 March, to see enterprise developments in both places for themselves.

The visitors included TDs Joe Carey, Martin Kenny and Éamon Ó Cuív, and senators Paudie Coffey and Grace O’Sullivan.

Committee press officer Shawn Pogatchnik and committee policy advisor Sarah O’Farrell accompanied the public representatives.

Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee at Dunhill Ecopark

Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee at Dunhill Ecopark.

They were welcomed to the Hatch Lab incubation space in Gorey by Tom Banville, head of enterprise; John O’Connor, manager of the Hatch Lab; and Vanessa Tierney, co-founder of resident startup Abodoo.

In Dunhill, the committee ate at the Ecopark and were brought up to date on projects covering social enterprise, the environment, education, geology, voluntary housing, heritage, tourism and adventure pursuits. The group was also taken on a tour around Dunhill’s four villages.

The committee made the visits as part of their work writing a report on the future of rural Ireland. They have made several excursions to different parts of the country over the past year.

Interested in reading more about the state of Ireland’s community development sector? Check out our latest issue.

Main photo: Phil Pankov/ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)