I thank the Ceann Comhairle for choosing this issue which is of extreme importance to my constituency.
I am delighted the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, is taking this matter tonight which concerns the expansion of the CLÁR programme, particularly in areas in my own constituency of Donegal North East. There are areas in Fanad and, more particularly, in Inishowen which can and should be included in the programme. That will be the crux of my argument.
The manager of a Leader programme wrote to the Minister recently. The letter stated: "We believe that Inishowen's exclusion is a statistical anomaly . . . that can be overcome". That anomaly must be overcome.
They say flattery gets one nowhere but it must be used in this case because the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, introduced the CLÁR programme, which has been excellent. I am sure the Minister will agree that it has been seen to be an excellent programme and that is the reason people like me are asking the Minister to extend CLÁR. CLÁR has proven itself throughout the country but the peninsula of Inishowen has lost out on what has been a very good programme to date.
I ask the Minister to expand the CLÁR programme in our area. We are jealous of the areas which benefit from CLÁR. We read about the success stories that have come about as a result of the money provided under it. We look at our own difficulties in terms of getting funding for group water and sewerage schemes, etc. We need that funding and I ask the Minister to expand CLÁR into our area.
Inishowen qualifies not only in terms of the criteria but also the general reason CLÁR was set up in the first place. If CLÁR is not extended to my areas, as Chairman of the Oireachtas committee on rural development I will press the Minister in the future on what he will do for areas such as Inishowen which is at a comparative disadvantage in terms of attracting business and infrastructure when compared to urban centres.
CLÁR's roots are in the wish to target areas of particular disadvantage in the rural community, as outlined in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. With a score of 9.7 in the 1999 Hasse Report, Inishowen was ranked as the most disadvantaged area in rural Ireland.
The decision taken on the basis of population statistics in relation to the CLÁR programme leads me to ask if many areas lost out because people who had holiday homes were included in the census. Was population decline the best guide to use in that regard? The fact that parts of the Inishowen peninsula are 90 miles from the two mile corridor that connects Donegal to the rest of the Republic should have shown that rural disadvantage exists. In regard to other examples from the Hasse report, the peninsula of Cooley was included but did we not have a strong argument in our constituency post-Fruit of the Loom with the enormous number of job losses and the social implications arising from that? People are travelling to and from Dublin on a weekly basis to engage in the only employment they could obtain, which puts extreme stress on family life.
Taking population into account, information from the new census indicates that areas near the large urban centre of Derry have attracted population increases but many other rural areas are still struggling, particularly northern Inishowen, and they need a CLÁR type programme. Leader has drawn up supporting maps which graphically outline the problem. Areas such as Ard Malin, Dunaff and Tremone had a population divergence of 53%, 54% and 63% from 1926 to 2002. On the larger scale, there is a 43% population decrease in those years with a population of 3,116 or a population decrease of 37% with a population of 8,437. These are significant figures which would support the other issues to which I have already alluded. I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts on the concept that a rural popu lation of over 10,000 which showed a decrease in population between 1996 and 2002 could be included in the programme.
CLÁR has been a great invention of the Minister. I congratulate him and ask him to extend it to the areas in my constituency which are at the very core of the purpose of the initiative. I assure him he will be giving a lifeline to a community which badly needs it.