Ceisteanna – Questions (Resumed). Priority Questions. - Disadvantaged Areas.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

90 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason after almost two years of the RAPID programme being in existence, funding still has not been allocated to the Dublin City area implementation team to implement the services and programmes that were identified in each RAPID plan; the way he plans to ensure that the programme will be capable of directing the funding required to get these services and programmes established in 2003 in view of the downturn in the economy and budgetary cuts; and his plan for the future of RAPID, specifically his position on the possible amalgamation of the local drug task forces and RAPID area implementation teams. [4042/03]

As the Deputy will be aware, the RAPID programme is a focused Government initiative which targets the most concentrated areas of disadvantage. The programme calls on Departments and State agencies to bring about better co-ordination and closer integration in the delivery of services. The RAPID programme has two strands, the first of which targets 25 urban areas, while strand II targets 20 provincial towns around the country. It is the role of my Department, supported by Area Development Management Limited, to co-ordinate the programme's implementation. It is a matter for individual Departments to report on progress in relation to implementation of RAPID proposals that fall within their remit.

In each of the areas in question an area implementation team was established to prepare a plan. Plans were approved by the relevant city or county development boards prior to being sent to the national programme co-ordinator at Area Development Management Limited. Proposals from those plans were then forwarded to the relevant Department for consideration. The scale of the proposals in the plans is grand and in many cases the work involved in analysing projects is proving to be intensive. A number of indicative projects contained in the plans have required additional information to enable Departments to clarify the nature, scale and cost of the projects. While progress in implementing the plans has been slower then anticipated, the funding agencies need time to consider the plans to ensure that the correct decisions are made and that funding is available to meet the priorities identified. In the meantime, it is important that the other key element of the RAPID programme – bringing about greater coherence in the delivery of all social inclusion measures – is addressed and implemented.

The Deputy will be aware that there are 14 RAPID areas in Dublin. As regards my Department, 39 proposals from the Dublin RAPID plans fall to be considered under the young peoples' facilities and services fund, the community development programme and funding for local drugs task forces. In the case of proposals relevant to the young people's facilities and services fund, the national assessment committee of the fund, chaired by my Department, is examining capital proposals submitted by the development groups under round II of the fund.

Additional information

With regard to services projects, the committee awaits the completion of the external evaluation of the fund before seeking such proposals under round II. The first draft of the evaluator's report was received in mid-January and is being considered by the NAC at present. Proposals submitted under the RAPID plans will be considered in the context of decisions to be made under round II and in light of the overall funding position for 2003. A number of proposals in RAPID plans relate to the community development programme and while there has been no additional allocation of funding in respect of projects to date, Deputies should note that in many cases pre-development work is under way. The full establishment of groups as community development projects in 2003 is subject to available resources, but those in RAPID areas will receive due priority. A number of proposals from RAPID plans are also being pursued through the local drugs task force plans.

One of my Department's primary objectives is to maximise the impact, coherence and effectiveness of the programmes for which it is responsible. As a first step towards achieving this objective, I will undertake a review of the programmes and activities that fall within the remit of my Department with a view to achieving optimal coherence across the various schemes. I will consult the relevant parties, including the local drugs task forces and the area implementation teams, and all views will be considered in the context of this review. I have an open mind with regard to the possible rationalisation of structures, including RAPID and the local drugs task forces and I am happy to await the outcome of the review. My overriding concern is to ensure that expenditure on such programmes has the most effective positive impact on the communities involved.

It is important to re-state that the Government remains committed to the RAPID programme and its implementation. The 45 areas selected have been consistently targeted as areas of special need through various Government interventions in recent years and this will continue under the implementation of the different RAPID plans. In this context, Deputies should note that my officials have had a number of bilateral meetings with other relevant Departments in recent months to try to advance the implementation of the programme. I hope to meet my ministerial colleagues in the other Departments in the coming weeks to further advance the plans.

When RAPID was announced it was welcomed by many, but two years down the road there seems to be a problem. Many community workers have taken much time and effort to prepare their plans, but two years along there is no indication of when money will be forthcoming. If this dithering continues, frustration will increase. How much, if any, front loading of investment under the national development plan has been effected in the strand I areas given that they were the first to see the launch of programmes? If there is to be further dithering and delay in front loading investment, what hope is there for those who are dependent on future RAPID funding?

I accept that the method involved is rather complicated and, at times, cumbersome and I applied a different approach when it came to the CLÁR programme which is much more focused. I could describe a large number of major projects which have gone ahead since the initiation of the RAPID programme, but it is more appropriate to determine whether they would have happened anyway or whether front loading and prioritisation were major factors. I am open to discussing that. I am continuing discussions with my colleagues in an attempt to clarify the matter.

The plans were very thorough and they brought a huge number of issues to the fore, some larger than others. We must discover how to sort out the smallest problems at the lowest level possible, rather than fund everything downwards through a complicated Government system. I am working on this and the Deputy can rest assured that it is my desire to bring much greater focus and clarity to the scheme. I also want the people at whom it is directed to feel a sense of ownership and to feel that it is delivering to their areas.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

91 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the way in which he will fund the new extended CLÁR areas in view of the decrease in funds available for the existing areas from the Book of Estimates; and if so, when he will bring in other areas along the Border in counties such as Monaghan and Donegal. [3844/03]

The agreed programme for Government contains a commitment to annual funding for the CLÁR programme and to consideration of additional areas for inclusion in light of the 2002 population census results. Arising from the analysis of the 2002 census, which I commissioned from NUI, Maynooth, the Government decided on the additional areas for inclusion in the CLÁR programme and I announced these additions on 17 January, 2003. The critical review criterion was maintenance of the 50% overall reduction which involved identifying and including any DEDs with a 50% plus population decline contiguous to or near existing CLÁR areas.

In the case of Donegal contiguity was taken to include contiguity across narrow inlets due to the extreme remoteness of the area and its unusual geography. Fifteen additional DEDs were included with a corresponding additional 8,570 population. In the case of Monaghan, seven additional DEDs were included with an additional 2,705 population benefiting from the programme. These DEDs meet the criterion of the review in that they are both contiguous to an existing CLÁR area and maintain the average population decline for the revised areas.

Although the provision for the CLÁR programme is reduced from the 2002 allocation, I expect to be able to complete a comprehensive work programme in 2003. CLÁR funds act as a lever to elicit funds from other sources and the 2003 allocation will be sufficient to continue this leverage and sustain an effective programme.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am concerned because when the Minister announced the additional programme a major increase in Cavan was included with a small area of Monaghan. I represent the Cavan-Monaghan constituency and I welcome the major addition in Cavan, but there is a very large area of Monaghan along the Border that has experienced a major decrease in population. It includes Knockatallon, a mountain area of north Monaghan, as well as Mullyash. A large part of the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal has not been included either, although it is a fairly difficult area.

The Minister's colleague in Cavan went on local radio and said the reason Cavan was included to such an extent was that having visited Cavan and met Fianna Fáil councillors, the Minister agreed to their request to have that area included. The insinuation was that if we had done the same thing in Monaghan we would have had a much greater area of the county included. I know what the Minister's answer will be to that point but I beg him to re-examine the Border areas which are not contiguous to the other areas, as they are in Monaghan. If the Minister ever has the opportunity of visiting the Knockatallon mountain area of north Monaghan and the Mullyash mountain region near Castleblayney, he would understand the point I am making, that there is justification for including those areas on the basis of population trends. The only thing that is keeping them out is the contiguous area. A Border area that has suffered so much over the past 30 years of the troubles should be treated in such a way as to ensure they receive the most favourable entitlements.

As the Deputy is probably aware, I was asked about this matter on the radio station, Northern Sound. I pointed out, for example, that in my constituency there were no additions to the CLÁR programme. Having examined the statistics and consulted the experts there was no justification for such additions and I assure the Deputy, therefore, that this was done on an objective basis. I used the good offices of NUI Maynooth who were very helpful and oversaw the project.

The reason Cavan increased so much was that, to be honest, we were not as comprehensive and thorough when we did the exercise the first time. We had not developed as good a methodology as we used this time. I do not have the statistics relative to a percentage point but if the Deputy checks the record, the population of the existing CLÁR area in Cavan before readjusting the areas was less than 55%, which was way above the national average required. In Monaghan it was about 51% and still is. When we examined the map of Cavan we discovered there were many population decreases outside the CLÁR area and, staying within the 50% cut-off point, we were able contiguously to add many areas.

In Monaghan the situation was different. As the Deputy is aware, we added in the 70 DDs that were contiguous to the existing CLÁR areas. If my memory serves me correctly, I think the Deputy has written to me about this and I have arranged for a map to be sent to him. When we had finished the whole process on a national basis – we had the new CLÁR areas and none of the old CLÁR areas had been knocked out – I requested a final map to show all the remaining DDs in the country with a population loss of 50% or more. I examined each one of them individually and their surrounding areas, and I found that there was no basis nationally for acting otherwise. The Deputy will see the map with the little blue spots on it. I have the figures and when the Deputy examines them he will see it was as objective an exercise as was possible.

Cooley was included for genuine reasons and I believe there are also genuine reasons for including the areas in County Monaghan which I have mentioned. The Minister should re-examine the matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

We must move on to Question No. 92.

The Deputy has a fair point. The case was made, for other reasons, to add in areas in Inishowen. We decided to keep within the previous terms of reference because otherwise there would be no limit to it. Within the terms of reference, however, we proceeded as objectively as possible, despite anything anyone might care to say. I am open to scrutiny of what we have done and I will forward the information to the Deputy.

I accept the Minister's point but he should accept mine, as should his colleague, the Minister of State.