Irish President, Michael D Higgins, welcomed the role that co-operatives have played in Ireland and praised them as “vibrant example of creative communities” at a conference last month.
The President spoke at the national conference in Dublin, which was called 'Co-operatives the Way Forward'. Mr Higgins explained he had given a commitment in his inagural speech saying there is a need for a "common shared future built on the spirit of co-operation, the collective will and real participation" and that there needs to be "positive change at local level".
He continued: “Today as we struggle in very difficult economic circumstances the values of the co-operative movement are critically relevant and your leadership in transforming our society is needed more than ever.”
The speech praised the work of the Ireland Credit Unions and co-operatives’ “substantial economic contribution to the Irish economy".
“Clearly, we cannot go back to doing things in the same way as we did before. We need new models of working together that will transcend the shortcomings of our recent experience,” he added.
Co-operatives have played a significant role in Ireland, well known figures Sir Horace Plunkett, George William Russell (AE) and Father T.A Finlay played an important role, particularly in the agricultural sector, establishing the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS).
Agricultural co-operatives account for around €12 billion turnover annually with some 150,000 individual members, employing 12,000 people in Ireland and a further 24,000 people overseas.
“The United Nation's International Year for Co-operative provides us with the opportunity to increase public awareness and promote the co-operative sector here in Ireland. It is also an opportunity for us to look at co-operative societies across the globe, learn from their experiences and mirror some of their achievements here in Ireland;” explained Mr Higgens.
Other attendees at the conference spoke about the important role co-operatives can play in Ireland’s future.
Peter Couchman, Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation, said: “Ireland has a proud history of co-operative development and needs to rediscover it to face the challenges of today.
“At the turn of the 20th century, when the English Co-operative Movement was at the height of its expansion, Ireland was forming co-ops six times faster given its size.”
Ireland's President finished his speech by praising several co-operative enterprises such as the National Association of Building Co-operatives and the Bord Bia's Bloom Festival.
He ended by stating: “I wish to salute the co-operative sector on its achievements to date. The Irish co-operative business model has proven to be a successful, enduring and sustainable business model and I am sure this will only continue and develop further in the years ahead, enhancing its capacity to contribute to economic and social well-being into the future.”
The national conference was held on 15 May to mark the 2012 IYC.