Meeting of Charter of European Rural Communities

The Nationalist, June 30th, 2011


A meeting of the Charter of European Rural Communities takes place in Cashel this weekend, from June 30 – July 4. It's a huge occasion for the town when close to 300 delegates from 26 countries in the European Union will be hosted by local families and Cashel will be the centre of EU affairs for a brief period.

The objective of the Charter is European integration under the motto 'People meet people'. The annual meeting stimulates the members to co-operate in different projects, to organise bliateral exchanges between the members and to arrange small meetings of member communities throughout the year.

The meeting takes place in Cashel for the first time since 1995 when the EU was a much smaller place and the number of delegates and the organisation of the event was a much smaller affair. Cashel people who remember 1995 will recall that it coincided with the bi-centenary of the building of the parish church of St, John the Baptist and the most magnificent spell of weather we ever experienced in the town.

The Charter of European Rural Communities does not make the impact of the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament but attempts to give a voice to the smallest units within the large political union. Since 1989 small rural communities, one from each of the countries of the European Union, have a bond of friendship, which is registered in the so-called 'Charter of European Rural Communities.

The aims of the Charter are high. It seeks to increase European integration by bringing European citizens together to the "Kitchen table". Hence the idea of host families having the delegates in their homes, seeing how they live, what they do, what their thoughts and feelings are like. The aim is to create friendships and closer understandings across political borders and bring the idea of Europe closer to its citizens.

Cashel's Involvement

It's wonderful that Cashel represents Ireland in this distinguished company. It came about simply enough and as a result of good foresight. In May 1989 the Department of Foreign Affairs were looking for a local council to represent Ireland. They wrote to the then town clerk of Cashel U.D.C., David Coleman, inviting the Council to represent Ireland at the inaugural meeting of the European Rural Communes to be held in Cisse, France. The town clerk passed on the request to the chairman of the Council, Mattie Finnerty, who decided to accept the invitation.

Mattie Finnerty and David Coleman attended the inaugural meeting, which was held in the Municipal Offices in Cisse on June 25, 1989. Councillor Finnerty gave an undertaking that Cashel would be part of the proposed Charter. He also planted a tree in the European Park in Cisse to mark the historic meeting.

The Charter has one main meeting, called a network meeting, in the year and a number of smaller meetings. During the annual meeting the mayors of the connected communities decide about which communities will organise the future annual meetings. From each member community a delegation, consisting of a maximum of 10 persons, including the mayor, participates. At least 4 of the delegation should be young people. The network meeting is based on a current theme. There is a special programme for the youth.

By signing the Charter the communities affirm the principle of unity and working together. The members also have the obligation to communicate with each other and to inform each other. The Internet site is used for contact, communication and to publish information (reports of bilateral and small meetings; minutes of the presidium and mayors' meeting, programmes, photos, etc) Every member has an appointed communication officer to maintain mutual contacts. Dr. Neil Gregory is the Cashel communication officer. The English language is the communication language.

The Presidium is a permanent group. It consists of 6 members chosen by the mayors for 4 years. It prepares the Charter policy. The Mayors meeting is organised once a year during the annual network meeting. It is a decision making body.

This Year's Theme

The theme of this year's meeting, The Effects of Demographic Development on the Rural Economy, was proposed by the Irish delegation at last year's network meeting at Strzyzow, Poland. It will be discussed by the delegates at the conference meeting at Brú Ború over the weekend. The youth delegates will hold a separate conference at Halla na Feile.
The themes of earlier meetings give us an idea of the focus of the Charter. In Strzyzow in 2011 Livability in European Rural Communities was discussed. The previous year in Stary Poddvorov it was the Meaning of Primary Schools in Small Communities. In Lefkara in 2008 Participative Democracy was discussed. Energy was the theme is Lassee in 2008. Childcare 0-6 Years occupied the delegates in Cisse in 2006, and Sustainable Agriculture was the theme in Esch in 2005. Interestingly, in Cashel in 1995, the theme was Young People in Europe.

Spring and Other Meetings

There are other meetings of the Charter, such as the spring meetings, when the business of the annual meeting is organised, and a series of bilateral and small meetings. These result from the networking that takes place at the annual meeting and take the form of annual project meetings, conferences and workshops. These attract smaller and greater numbers of members located adjacent to one another.

Councillor Mattie Finnerty, who retired from the Council in 1999, attended many annual and spring meetings of the Charter, visiting 9 countries between 1989-1999. He was accompanied on most of these trips by Cllr. Michael Browne, SF. In 1998 Cashel UDC received the Medal D'Or for its co-operation with and participation in the Charter. This was presented to Cllrs Finnerty and Michael Browne at a special ceremony in Padua, Italy.

Mr. Finnerty wishes to compliment the present members of Cashel Town Council and the organising committee for their efforts in planning the upcoming Charter meeting. He wishes the event well and is looking forward to meeting some of his old friends from across Europe for the first time since 1999.