Community-led initiatives in Ireland

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Ireland has many networks working towards sustainability and its low carbon future. Several of these organise across the island of Ireland, that is Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Some of these networks are exclusively community led while others are supported within state structures. There are also many initiatives that are not formally in a network, for example the many Plastic Free and Zero waste initiatives which have sprung up over Ireland in the last few years. The People’s Energy Charter set up in 2013, and outlined below, is an example of community led public participation. Since 2015 the Local Authorities across the Republic of Ireland have set up the Public Participation Network with the remit to engage citizens in local decision making while Ireland‘s Citizens’ Assembly may prove to be the democratic process which brings about real action toward building its low carbon future.

Transition in Ireland

Main page: Transition in Ireland

The Transition Network lists 10 initiatives in Ireland.[1]

TINI, the national umbrella organisation for Transition Ireland & Northern Ireland, is currently operation as an is an informal network with a Facebook page[2] and plans to re-develop the website and organisation structure.[3]

A survey carried out in in 2017 endeavoured to establish who and what the TINI Network was. A commonality was found across the network with most initiatives engaged with awareness raising and food projects e.g. community gardens and a smaller number facilitating energy forums. Initiatives were collaborating locally with groups such as Tidy Towns and local schools while also liaising with National bodies such as Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland and environmental networks. Funding sources were also found to be similar e.g. Leader. Several initiatives made submissions to the local area Development Plan Reviews and were endeavouring to engage with their Local Authority regarding climate action e.g. through the Public Participation Network. [4] [5] [6]

Initiatives active online in 2018 include: An Lianadh (Dublin City Transition Initiative),[7] Transition Derry,[8] Transition Town Dundalk, [9], Transition Galway,[10] Transition Kerry [11] and Transition Town Kinsale.[12]

Permaculture in Ireland

Main page: Permaculture in Ireland

Permaculture Ireland is a group of likeminded individuals working together to support one another, offer events, courses and promote permaculture across the island of Ireland. There is no central organisation, rather a distributed network of volunteers who come together to create positive change. [13]

The All Ireland Permaculture Gathering is about bringing people and ideas together who share a common interest in sustainable and ethical methods to building a better world. First held in Co. Wicklow in 2011 between 200 & 300 people have attended the gathering each year since. It is a weekend camp in a private location to support the development of Permaculture in Ireland & Northern Ireland by providing an opportunity to network, celebrate and learn together. It is not a passive event laid on by others, but rather an active participatory gathering which is co-created by a year team and camp attendees. People come and host talks and workshops, share skills and information and participate in this dynamic community event. The gathering steering group formed from past gathering members works to give continuity from year to year. [14] Summer 2018 saw the European Permaculture Convergence held in Wicklow. [15]

There are many Permaculture Courses offered in Ireland. The one in Kinsale College, County Cork is supported through Cork’s Education and Training Board. [16] [17] [18] [19]

Ecovillages in Ireland

Main page: Ecovillages in Ireland

The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) lists 2 projects in their database. This number is however only reflecting the projects that have registered themselves on the database. The ecovillage database contains ecovillage projects of all sizes and in all stages of development.[20]

Cloughjordan Ecovillage in County Tipperary is a neighbourhood working towards best practice in community development and rural regeneration. It is being developed by Sustainable Projects Ireland, a registered educational charity and national NGO. The project is a mixed use development with a strong emphasis on economic, social and environmental sustainability. All decisions are made by the consensus of those involved, with matters of general policy and direction decided at the monthly Members’ Meetings. Their strategy is to be a centre of excellence for awareness raising and education in the areas of: energy conservation and production; reduction and recycling of resources; sustainable livelihoods; sustainable, local, food production; broad community understanding of the converging environmental, social and economic challenges and the need to develop resilience as the key response.[21]

The Hollies is a centre for training in Practical Sustainability on about 25 acres near Enniskeane, in West Cork. It is owned by An Baile Dulra Teoranta, a company with charitable status for the educational work it promotes. It aims to create working examples of what a sustainable society might look like in the areas of housing, energy, gardening, economics and community development.[22].

Enriched Earth is a project designed to advocate, in collaboration with the Global Ecovillage Network, for the development of a series of Ecovillages across Ireland. As part of this remit Enriched Earth is working to pioneer an educational Ecovillage in North Roscommon as a prototype model of regenerative living. Enriched Earth is also seeking to develop a cluster approach to uniting small holdings and eco projects in local areas under GEN Ireland umbrella.[23]

Enriched Earth, with Cloughjordan, are also working to found GEN WISE as a regional network across Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England.

Community Energy in Ireland

Main page: Community energy in Ireland

The Irish Sustainable Energy Communities (SEC) network is made up of over 200 communities around Ireland who are interested in community energy. Some communities have been influencing local energy use for years, while others are thinking about it for the first time. The aim of the network is to encourage and support a national movement in every part of the country. This network is supported by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. An SEC can include a range of different energy users in the community such as homeowners, sports clubs, community centres, local businesses and churches. In this way, an SEC connects sustainable energy, local economic development and public wellbeing.[24] [25]

Some examples of well-developed Community Networks include: The Tipperary Energy Agency,[26] Aran Isalnds Energy [27] and Kerry Energy Agency.[28]

Energy Cooperatives Ireland[29] supports community based renewable energy co-operatives at every stage of their development, guiding them through the legal process of setting up a co-operative, advising them on their dealings with state agencies, introducing them to our network of co-operatives where they can learn from best practice examples, helping them communicate their message locally and nationally.

Solidarity Economy in Ireland

Main page: Solidarity economy in Ireland

President Higgins gave a speech in 2018 where he describes ‘rediscovering solidarity as vital to the Future of Europe. [30]

"The Solidarity Economy in a European Content: 43,328 people were in paid employment in cooperatives in Ireland between 2009 and 2010. 650 were employed in Mutual societies and 54,757 were employed in Associations. In total 98,735 people or 5.34% of the total workforce, were employed through the Social Economy in Ireland in 2009. Ireland falls behind other European countries when it comes to legal structures for the Social Economy. As it stands there are only a few statutory provisions regulating cooperatives, and these are parts of different laws. Ireland currently has no legal provisions for mutual societies, associations or foundations. Also, unlike many other EU states, Ireland does not have a specific set of tax treatments for organisations within the Social Economy, except for a number of specific treatments for some forms of cooperatives." [Challenging the Crisis - A Guide to Social and Solidarity Economy is a 3-year Development Education project led by IDEA [31]]

SUSY - "SUstainability and Solidarity in Economy“ [32] informs about social economy alternatives on a local and international level. This website is a starting point for people who want SUSY in their lives, and want to know how to get involved themselves. It has one Irish listing Waterford One World Centre.[33]

Social Justice Ireland is an independent think tank and justice advocacy organisation that seeks to build a just society. It provides independent social analysis and evidence-based policy proposals, with the aim of creating a sustainable future for every member of society and for societies as a whole. In all of this, we focus on human rights and the common good. [34]. In 2018 Social Justice Ireland launched the Sustainable Progress Index. This index is based around the Global Goals, measuring how Ireland is performing on social, economic and environmental indicators, and comparing Ireland with other members of the European Union, specifically peer countries in the EU-15. [35]

Irish Networks for community and voluntary organisations, charities, social enterprises and cooperatives.

The Wheel is Ireland’s national association of community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises. It is a registered charity in Ireland. The Wheel’s simple but ambitious mission is to strengthen the capacity and capability of community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises to play their part in changing Ireland for the better. We champion the sector by being its representative voice and we provide practical advice and training to help organisations be more impactful. [36]

The Irish Social Enterprise Network offers to help social enterprises, social entrepreneurs and social innovators in getting their idea off the ground and providing the supports to grow. [37]

Change X believe that people getting together in their local communities to improve health, sustainability or education can contribute towards achieving the Global Goals. On ChangeX, everyone can play a role - citizens, businesses and governments. Change X acts as a market place for social exchange. It can be used to start, spread or invest in ideas that are transforming the communities across the world e.g. Grow Your Own. [38]

The National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS) is the representative and negotiating organisation for community-owned rural water services in Ireland. [39]

The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) serves and promotes commercial co-operative businesses and enterprise, across multiple sections of the Irish economy. [40]

Community Food Production in Ireland

Main page: Community Food Production in Ireland

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in Ireland

According to URGENCI, the International Network for Community Supported Agriculture, the first CSA initiatives in Ireland was started in 2009 and the URGENCI report "Overview of Community Supported Agriculture in Europe" names 7 known initiatives providing for 485 people in 2015. CSAs are connected in the CSA Network Ireland which was founded in 2015.[41] Each year, Cloughjordan Ecovillage invites farmers, community food activists and connected organizations to the Feeding Ourselves event.

Community Gardens Ireland (CG Ireland), was created in 2011 as an online support network for the Island of Ireland. It is a voluntary, independent, inclusive group that works with all agencies and groups that promote environmental awareness and support community gardening and food growing. There are almost 200 Community gardens listed on their network page. Their vision is that social community garden spaces are created in every village, town and city in Ireland and Northern Ireland, creating opportunities to empower local communities and provide outdoor environmental places of education where people of all ages, genders, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds can learn about gardening, food growing and food sovereignty, the environment, biodiversity, climate change, sustainability, community resilience, as well as about the positive mental implications and physical health benefits of being outside in nature and being sociable around food. [42]

A list of Farmer’s Markets can be found on the Bord Bia (Irish Food Board) site. There are 138 listed. [43]

There is also a Country Market Network. There are 44 listed. [44]


The Irish Climate Case

This legal action taken by Friends of the Irish Environment is the first case in Ireland in which citizens are seeking to hold their government accountable for its role in knowingly contributing to dangerous levels of climate change. They argue that the government’s approval of the National Mitigation Plan in 2017 was in violation of Ireland’s Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 (the Climate Act 2015), the Constitution and human rights obligations. We also claim that the Plan falls far short of the steps required by the Paris Agreement on climate change. [45]

Standalone CLIs

Many community initiatives in Ireland are not part of a Network but work as standalone organisations for example Sustainable Skibbereen. [46]

Several towns, villages and communities have set up community gardens, plastic free and zero waste initiatives independently.

There are a number of religious Centres in Ireland that have promoted sustainability for many years. For example, The Presentation Sisters at the Nana Nagle birthplace in County Cork [47] and An Tairseach run by the Dominican sisters in County Wicklow. [48]

Note, [49] is being redeveloped to include stories and links of Irish community led action that address the Global Goals. Sustainable Ireland Cooperative Society, the originator of, was born in 1999. Sustainable Ireland’s initial offering was the Source Book, a guide and directory of green businesses and sustainability organisations operating in Ireland. The cooperative now runs Cultivate and Global Green at the Electric Picnic

Change of focus or emphasis within existing networks.

The Irish TidyTowns Network is a good example of a community led initiative which has increased its focus on sustainability and biodiversity in recent years. This network is supported through the Department of Rural and Community Development and by SuperValu (Irish Supermarket Chain).[50]

TidyTowns has always been about the National Competition. However, the spirit of TidyTowns has permeated Irish society far deeper than that. Many people today are not even aware that TidyTowns was originally linked to a single competition organised for 37 years. First of all by Bord Fáilte, then the Irish Tourist Board, and now by the Department of Rural and Community Development.

The reasons for this are many, but a major factor was the success of the National Competition from the 1950s onwards. This encouraged many other bodies, notably local authorities and communities themselves, to organise their own initiatives under the TidyTowns banner consequently spreading the message far and wide. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in local initiatives of every shape and size over the last fifty years. Their input has made a massive contribution to making TidyTowns the national movement that it is today. Year on Year the competition is thriving with committee entries increasing and exceeding over 800 for the last 3 years.

Many of these local initiatives are still going strong, some with a new title and different focus. Their ongoing success is a constant reminder that TidyTowns means far more than just the national competition. It is a spirit alive and well in all those initiatives and those who participate in them. Thousands of individuals and organisations who every day take some action, large or small, to improve their local environment. [51]

Other Networks

An Taisce [52] is a charity working to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. It is funded through a variety of sources, including Membership fees, donations, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Irish Environmental Network (IEN), Local Authorities through Local Authority 21 (LA21) grants. Community Initiatives include Green Schools, Clean Coast and Climate Ambassadors.

• Green-Schools is Ireland’s leading environmental management and award programme, working with primary and secondary schools across the country. [53]

• Clean Coasts engages communities in the protection of Ireland’s beaches, seas and marine life. The programme is operated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce and is currently funded by the Department of the Housing, Planning & Local Government and Fáilte Ireland. Clean Coasts is made up of two main elements; Clean Coasts Volunteering and the Green Coast Award. [54]

• The Climate Ambassador programme is Ireland’s first ever initiative to train and support individuals taking action on climate change. The programme is co-ordinated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce with support from the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment. [55]

The Irish Environmental Network, or IEN, is made up of nationally active Irish Environmental NGOs. The groups represent a broad range of environmental issues including everything from wildlife conservation to climate change. [56]

Internationally, Friends of the Earth is the world's largest network of environmental groups with over one million supporters and campaigners organized in 70 countries. In Ireland, Friends of the Earth was launched in October 2004. It promotes education and action for environmental sustainability and environmental justice. It focuses on Ireland's response to the big environmental challenges of our time such as climate change and energy, the waste crisis and the spread of GM crops and food. [57]

Stop Climate Chaos is a coalition of civil society organizations campaigning to ensure Ireland does its fair share to tackle the causes and consequences of climate change. Current members include development, environmental, youth and faith based organisations. Their vision is That Ireland makes a rapid and just transition to a carbon free future. [58]

Cork Climate Action has members from several organisations -Cork Environmental Forum, SHEP Earth Aware, Trócaire, UCC Green Campus – as well as some individual members. Its first action was a march through Cork city to coincide COP 21. It has since organised a number of Forums, where local politicians face questions about their climate-related policies. Another march was organised through Cork city in September 2018. [59]

Grow Your Own (GIY) is a not for profit social enterprise helping people to grow some of their own food at home, at work, at school and in the community. With our amazing partners, this year we are supporting over 500,000 people and 8,000 community food groups in the UK and Ireland. [60]

Zero Waste Alliance Ireland (ZWAI)[61] is a registered environmental charity, nationally based, and is a member of the Irish Environmental Network (IEN) and the Environmental Pillar of Social Partnership. ZWAI is a policy oriented organization, established in 2004, to focus on Zero Waste principles (whole lifecycle approach) where waste is seen as a resource. ZWAI promotes a rethink of current discard, disposal practices and works towards a circular economy. They are engaged at national and EU level in policy initiatives and information campaigns. Communities trying to achieve Zero Waste include Cashel, [62] Cobh, [63] Galway [64] and Kinsale. [65]

SHEP Earth Aware, founded in 2014, is a volunteer-based section of SHEP (the Social and Health Education Project), a community education project focused especially on personal development, emotional literacy and facilitation skills. SHEP Earth Aware seeks to expand awareness of earth-related issues, especially climate chaos and climate justice. It organises talks, DVD showings, courses, workshops, and nature walks. It seeks to build collaborations with various other groups, and has organised events with UCC Environmental Research Institute, Wilton Parish Justice Group, NCE Energy Hub Farranferris, Climate Case Ireland, North Cathedral Parish Council, Carrigaline Parish Council and UCC Centre for Law and the Environment. It also plays on active role in Cork Climate Action. [66]

VOICE (Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment) is a member-based Irish environmental charity that empowers individuals and local communities to take positive action to conserve our natural resources. VOICE advocates for the government and the corporate sector to adopt environmentally responsible behaviours, and for the development of strong national policies on waste and water issues. VOICE was founded in 1997 following the closure of Greenpeace Ireland. [67]

Repair Café Ireland aims to promote and support the development of repair cafes across Ireland. [68]

Collaboration with Local Government

Funding for the networks described above, or the Projects their members are involved with , may have come through community funds such as Leader, Local Agenda 21 and other community funds or directly from the Government Departments of Rural & Community Development and Communications, Climate Change & the Environment or other. [69]

Many of these networks make submissions to their Local Area Development Plan, Regional or sector Strategy Reviews and regional and national Policy documents being prepared by the Irish Government.

The Environmental Pillar

This organisation is comprised of 26 national independent environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who work together to represent the views of the Irish environmental sector. The Environmental Pillar was established as an independent national social partner by decision of the Government in 2009. The work of its members covers a broad range of areas including habitat conservation, wildlife protection, environmental education, sustainability, waste and energy issues, as well as environmental campaigning and lobbying. The members work towards achieving Sustainable Development, according to the Rio Declaration of 1992. These principles require the balancing of the three pillars of Sustainable Development – social, environmental, and economic. [70]

Ireland’s Public Partnership Network (PPNs)

A PPN is a formal network which allows local authorities to connect with community groups around the country. PPNs are up and running in all 31 local authority areas around Ireland. PPNs are supported by the Department of Rural Development and Community Development and local authorities on a shared funding basis. [71]

The three main community groups are – •voluntary groups working in our communities, like sports clubs, cultural societies, Meals on Wheels or Tidy Towns •local organisations formed to protect the environment, like An Taisce or Birdwatch Ireland •groups representing people who are socially excluded and whose voices are not heard in our society, such as people with disabilities, migrants or Travellers

PPNs are endeavouring to give citizens a greater say in local government decisions which affect their own communities.

PPNs came about with the passing of the Local Government Act, 2014. This law followed the 2013 report of the Working Group on Citizen Engagement with Local Government, which was chaired by Dr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland. The Working Group’s report recommended more input by citizens into decision making at local government level. It recommended that PPNs should be set up in each local authority area. This would allow the public to take an active role in relevant committees of the local authority.

Community groups register to join the PPN in their local authority area. These groups meeting all together elect an organising committee, known as the “PPN Secretariat”. The PPN may also appoint a “Resource Worker “whose job is to support the “PPN Secretariat” and coordinate the work of the PPN. In about one third of the PPN’s in Ireland this coordination sits outside the Local Authority e.g. Clare PPN. [72] For the remainder of the PPNs this role sits within the Local Authority e.g. Cork County PPN. [73]

Community Led Public Participation

An example of community led public participation was the formation of the People’s Energy Charter [74] in 2013 which evolved to address the lack of comprehensive public participation in the development of Ireland’s Energy Policies. Laois Environmental Action Forum (LEAF) set the wheels in motion at an energy event that would bring ordinary people together to devise a grass roots led charter for energy transition in Ireland. A summary of this process can be read on Theresa O’Donohoe’s blog. [75]

Cork Environmental Forum

Cork Environmental Forum (CEF) was founded by Cork County Council as an instrument for applying the principles of Local Agenda 21, as agreed by the United Nations Global Conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. They were the only Local Authority to form such a forum. CEF’s initial brief was to bring various stakeholders together at a local level throughout Cork city and county who would not ordinarily have occasion to meet to discuss local sustainability and environmental issues and agree on an appropriate action plan. CEF is now an independent limited company with charitable status and has a variety of funding streams on which it depends. However its raison d’être remains the same: to foster, promote and implement sustainable development at a local level in the Cork region.

When CEF was founded it was to create a forum in the Roman sense of the word where there was an inclusive representation and where all viewpoints on the topical environmental issues of the day could be expressed and debated openly. CEFs representation reflects our broader society and is drawn from 4 pillars – Business & Commercial, Public Sector, Community & Voluntary and Individuals. This democratic and equitable structure allows for new people to lead and direct the organisation and bring new ideas, energy and commitment to promoting, fostering and implementing sustainable development in the Cork Region. [76]

Intersections and Interactions

Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly

The Citizens' Assembly was an exercise in deliberative democracy, placing the citizen at the heart of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society. With the benefit of expert, impartial and factual advice the 100 citizen Members considered a given topic. Their conclusions formed the basis of a number of reports and recommendations that were submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas for further debate by our elected representatives. [77]

The Assembly on ‘How the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change’ has made strong recommendations to Ireland’s two houses of the Oireachtas (Parliament). A cross party committee is currently looking at these recommendations and will revert to Government in January 2019. The recommendations were reached by ballot paper voting and followed two weekends of deliberation which focused on the energy, transport and agriculture sectors, international best practise and existing national policies and activities. A total of 13 questions appeared on the ballot and the recommendations were reached by majority vote.[78]

Ireland’s National Dialogue on Climate Change

The National Dialogue on Climate Action is a Government of Ireland initiative delivered by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, in engaging people in collaborative action.

As part of the National Dialogue on Climate Action, a series of regional and local meetings are being organised across Ireland to generate awareness, engagement and a motivation to act, in relation to the challenges presented by climate change. The first of these gatherings was held June 2018 in Athlone and the second was held in November 2018 in Tralee. [79]


  1. Accessed on June 10th 2018
  2. Accessed on June 11th 2018
  3. Accessed on June 11th 2018
  20. Accessed on May 23rd 2018
  41. Volz, P., Weckenbrock, P., Cressot, N. & Parot, J. European CSA Research Group (2016): Overview of Community Supported Agriculture in Europe. Accessed on June 7th 2018