Ireland's first green regeneration project launched in Lough Boora

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john.ocallaghan

Green Offaly, Ireland’s first Green Regeneration Project, was officially launched in Lough Boora last week.

Green Offaly is a Public Participation Network Initiative which has been set up as a response to the Government’s Project 2040 seminar, “Empowering Communities in the fight against Climate change.”

The launch featured a poignant performance of “Water is Life” and a rousing rendition of “Bog Man” from singer Luka Bloom. Physicist Alistair McKinstry made a stark presentation on the harsh realities of Climate Change and what the future will hold on both a global and a local scale as global warming continues.

TV personality and environmentalist Duncan Stewart spoke passionately about how we are “stealing our children’s future if we don’t make fundamental changes in our society,” and applauded Green Offaly and Public Participation Network on this collective approach to effect change from the ground up. The peaceful outdoor setting of Lough Boora Discovery Park brought a palpable perspective to the subject matter and for some it felt like an important moment in time.

The gathering was told that it is widely acknowledged that communities have a pivotal role to play in the decarbonisation of Ireland and yet how to engage communities in this greatest of challenges remains elusive. Leah Comiskey, MC for the launch, told us that the mission of Green Offaly is “the mainstreaming of low carbon sustainable lifestyles through innovative initiatives.”

Rebekah Keaveney, Environmental Representative for Offaly Public Participation Network, pointed out that Green Offaly is a Development Trust founded on the Welsh model. “They have worked very well in Wales,” she said. “Over the last couple of months we have been very busy consulting with communities throughout Offaly, talking to them about this enormous challenge for our generation.” She said Development Trusts in Wales acquired land and buildings to further their good work and this could happen with Green Offaly. She said Green Offaly will hold forums with Tidy Towns committees and with farmers and discuss the problems and ways of tackling climate change. Green Offaly will also engage in education and training programmes.

Rebekah pointed out that Development Trusts are “in for the long haul. They are sustainable organisations for a sustainable future. Development trusts operate under a proven model which enables communities to undertake regeneration and development projects themselves. In Offaly, it is proposed that this model can be used for the County Community as a whole for the specific purpose of assisting in the delivery of Environmental Projects. This is green regeneration and it has never been done in Ireland before.”

She pointed out that Offaly is rich in natural capital and being a predominantly rural County there is an excellent and unprecedented opportunity to become a leader in Sustainable Development and guide from the centre. She said this is an initiative which, if fully supported, could be the blueprint for how to empower communities in the fight against climate change across the country.

“Agriculture and the power supply industry have been the predominant aspects of the economy in the midlands. These two economic streams have both been centred on working with the Earth. There is no reason why this can’t continue to be the case.”

Green Offaly says the abundance of Natural Capital is an ideal foundation for Community Enterprises centred around the following:

Biodiversity - Preserving and increasing our natural habitats and plant life.

Energy - The exploration and installation of renewable technologies via wind, water and earth.

Green Agriculture - The conversion of a percentage of our farms to organic food production. Farms which maximise the capture of carbon into the soil. Farms which increase biodiversity.

Eco Tourism - The utilisation and restoration of our bogs and unspoilt land as geoparks as exemplified by Lough Boora Discovery Park.

Phase 1 of Green Offaly is being funded by Offaly Local Development Company and the LEADER progamme.

Alistair McKinstry is Environmental Activities Leader at The Irish Centre for High-End Computing in Galway. He works with other scientists on Climate Models which predict what course climate change will take in the world and in Ireland over the coming decades.

“We are communities of the Earth here in Offaly,” said Rebekah, “grounded in the bog. We have the agriculture, the waterways, the rural villages, the mountains and incredible people in our communities. Now we are bringing it all together and showing the rest of the country how we do ‘green regeneration’ Offaly style. We will use the information and insights gathered from our meetings with communities over the last couple of months to form the basis of a Sustainable Development Plan for the County. If you would like to have your say or find out more contact us at greenoffaly@gmail.com”. Rebekah quoted Petra Kelly who said, “If there is a future, it will be Green.”

The MC said the basic purpose of Green Offaly is to enable communities to undertake regeneration and development projects themselves. “In Offaly,” added Rebekah, “we propose that this model can be used for the County Community as a whole for the specific purpose of assisting in the delivery of Environmental Projects. We will achieve this via the medium of a vibrant Green communities asset transfer portfolio that includes assets that were previously redundant, derelict or under utilised within Offaly. Community ownership of assets will assist us in building business capacity and will help us to achieve community renewal combined with local economic resilience, centred on the creation of a green economy.

“Development Trusts are organisations that are community based, owned and led. Green Offaly aims to cultivate green community enterprises for long term sustainability. We will be trading for social purpose – where surpluses are reinvested into further enterprises for community benefit. The Community ownership of assets (buildings, land and other assets) will assist us in building business capacity and will help us to achieve community renewal combined with local economic resilience.”

She said Green Offaly’s vision includes: 1. Delivering on Ireland’s legal commitments to the decarbonisation targets. 2. Decoupling Economic growth from Environmental degradation. 3. Creation of Sustainable Employment via the Green Economy. 4. Exemplary countywide educational training programme. 5. All contributing to the green regeneration of the county and a shared prosperity.

“By working in partnerships that support the individual needs of our Communities, we can learn how to power our homes naturally, how to restore lost biodiversity and discover creative ways of changing our consumer choices.”

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