Special Olympics chief to head volunteer task force

Special Olympics supremo Mary Davis is to head a new national citizenship task force to urge people to get involved in voluntary work in their communities.

Ms Davis will chair a 20-member board which includes former Government TD Bobby Molloy, outgoing GAA president Sean Kelly and rural development activist Fr Harry Bohan.

Announcing the membership of the Task Force on Active Citizenship, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said today that the Government wanted to revive the tradition of volunteerism during the Celtic Tiger era.

“During decades when the capacity of the State was limited by a lack of resources, it was the commitment of the Irish people that so often, formally and informally, provided social services, community leadership as well as a sporting and cultural life for our people.

“Today, when the scarcest resource of all is time, this role of active participation is being devolved to fewer and fewer people. In the process, we all risk being impoverished, especially those who opt out and leave the responsibilities of citizenship to others.”

Mr Ahern said the Government wanted to understand how public policy helps and hinders active engagement.

“We need to identify practical steps to encourage more of our people to become involved and to stay involved in the life of their own community,” he continued.

Mr Ahern said Ms Davis, as director of Special Olympics Ireland, had succeeded in generating a tremendous response from ordinary citizens to an extraordinary experience that was Special Olympics 2003.

“This is one example of the type of voluntary effort and community participation which sustains a healthy and vibrant society,” he explained.

The task force’s terms of reference will be to review trends in citizen participation across the main areas of civic, community, cultural, occupational and recreational life and examine those trends in the context of international experience and analysis.

The 20-member body will also review the experience of organisations involved in the political, caring, community, professional and occupational, cultural, sporting and religious dimensions of life regarding influences, both positive and negative, on levels of citizen participation and engagement.

It will recommend measures which could be taken as part of public policy to facilitate and encourage a greater degree of engagement by citizens in all aspects of life and the growth and development of voluntary organisations as part of a strong civic culture.

In the course of its work, the task force will consult individuals and organisations throughout the country on their experiences of the influences that shape citizen participation and engagement. It is intended that the task force will report its findings to the Government within nine months.

The membership comprises: David Begg, general secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions; John Bennett, disability officer, University College, Dublin; Fr Harry Bohan, Diocese of Killaloe and Ceifin Centre for Values-led Change; Elaine Bradshaw, chair, Keep Kilkenny Beautiful Committee; Caroline Casey, chief executive, The Aisling Foundation; Mary Cunningham, director, National Youth Council of Ireland; Arthur Duignan, assistant director, Create; Cllr John Gallahue, governing body, Limerick Institute of Technology; Gerry Kearney, secretary-general, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Sean Kelly, outgoing president, GAA; Maighéad Uí Mhairtín, Cathaoirleach, Foras na Gaeilge; Seamus McAleavey, Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action; Dermot McCarthy, secretary-general, Department of the Taoiseach; Sr Bernadette McMahon, Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice; Sylvia Meehan, Irish Senior Citizens Parliament; Bobby Molloy, former TD and Minister; The Venerable David Pierpoint, Archdeacon of Dublin; Dr Mary Redmond, co-founder, The Wheel; and John Trethowan, Business in the Community Ireland.

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