Margaret Gillan


As a young art student in Belfast in the mid 1970's I was challenged by the stark contrasts between the realities of a war zone, prevailing censorship in the Republic, the priviledge of education, and the importance of voice. It's perhaps no surprise then, that I became involved in community media – in London from the mid 1980's, and iwhen I returned to Ireland, from 1996 until 2012, I worked as Co-ordinator for Community Media Network (CMN, Ireland), an all-Ireland not-for-profit organisation promoting use of media for social justice. The role demanded engagement with a wide range of actors – learners, community based activists and organisations, academics, institutions, and public authorities - and a passion for emancipatory and informal learning. While CMN's operation are now at a minimum, I still maintain some activities with members in a voluntary capacity.

Community media itself as a concept needed visibility in Ireland, CMN's magazine “Tracking”, created a space where collective ownership of media was promoted and where the use of media as a tool for social justice and community development could be explored. As Editor I facilitated a collaborative process for each issue, designed to bring activists together in a collective effort and to expand CMN as a network [1].

Like many community initiatives in Ireland throughout the 1990's and into the 2000's, the CMN project combined grant-aided project work (through which professional workers were employed) with labour schemes, engaging with job-seeking participants and with learners. A skill sharing ethos supported everyone in this environment and for a number of years it was an enjoyable and rewarding project, thriving on diversity and a strong mix of class, gender, and nationality. Transnational networking was important to CMN, providing key inputs to training programmes, campaigns and lobby actions for the sector; it was also a means whereby CMN could draw together Irish activists who otherwise may not have met[2].

After 2000, CMN's focus moved to establishing community television, my PhD research project (2001-2010) supported the development of community television in Ireland using PAR methodologies. The fieldwork was situated within CMN, working with its network members, and within a campaign that saw three community channels established in the RoI with their all-Ireland network – Community Television Association (CTA) from 2006. As the first ten years of CTV  licensing now draws to an end, CTA links with UK and EU networks to support activists dealing with a changing technological as well as political environment.

Our context is an Ireland in which a more than twenty years old community development sector has been decimated; at the same time large movements are emerging in a way not seen since Carnsore. I think it important to document and understand how those community development activists are engaging with new movements in the current political context, the challenges this brings to their community organising, how the experience of community development in Ireland is being re-viewed, and what learning spaces and practices are now evolving. 

[1]             Issues of “Tracking” are  now available on the Internet Archive, see
[2]               Projects included all-Ireland training programmes in media using community development methodologies, some of which reported to EU funding programmes e.g. Integra; Information Society, and Year against Racism, all of these were integrated with the Community Employment Project and participants took an active role in the projects.