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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 17 Dec 2002

Vol. 559 No. 5

Adjournment Debate. - CLÁR Programme.

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.

In picking population decline I was conscious of a need to pick something to which people could relate. The original proposal had been to use the Hasse indexes but my contention is that it throws up semi-urban areas. In rural areas that experience large population decreases, the people migrate to the cities for houses and jobs when they are not available locally. Furthermore, I am convinced that rural depopulation has been the biggest scourge of rural Ireland, just as overgrowth has been the biggest scourge of our cities. It was on this basis that I decided to pick very simple criteria, with the exception of the Cooley peninsula, for picking CLÁR areas. It was also with this in mind that we fixed on a population decrease of 50%. In the last two years the question of population decrease has become one of major national focus and is now a major political issue.

As the Deputy is aware, the programme for Government contains a commitment for annual funding for the CLÁR programme and to consider additional areas for inclusion in light of the 2002 population census results. The National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at NUI Maynooth has recently completed its analysis of the 2002 population census and my Department has examined the results in the context of the review of the areas in the CLÁR programme.

Today, the Government approved the proposed changes to the CLÁR areas and arrangements are being made to publish the maps and data as soon as they are received from NUI Maynooth. All old CLÁR areas have been retained and 189 new DEDs are being added bringing the population in CLÁR areas from 287,270 to 361,901. One new county is included while extra DEDs are being added in 13 counties, including County Donegal. To extend CLÁR any further would be too spread a finite sum of money over such a large area that it would not have any effect.

I am thankful to the Deputy for the kind words she used in describing the CLÁR programme. It is modelled on what I, and every Deputy, hears on the ground as the daily requirements of people living in isolated areas of our countryside. I hope that in the next five years it will begin to redress the imbalance in development between the growing and declining areas of the country.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 December 2002.