Other Questions. - Community Development Promotion.

Dan Boyle

Question:

95 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the consideration which has been given to the establishment of a single national agency for the promotion of community development. [3732/03]

The Deputy will be aware that one of the key objectives underlying the establishment of my Department is the achievement of a more co-ordinated engagement by the State with communities around the country as they pursue their development.

In accordance with this objective my Department will seek to improve arrangements in relation to structures, processes and schemes to achieve more effective and efficient support for communities. Proposals in this regard will be developed in consultation with all relevant interests including other public bodies that provide support to communities.

Is the Minister aware that in the 1930s his grandfather promoted the idea of a national community development agency and offered the role to Canon Hayes of Muintir na Tíre who turned down the offer? It says something about the role of community development in public policy that the suggestion has not been taken up in the ensuing 70 years. Is the Minister of State satisfied that many areas relating to the co-ordination of community development are covered by different agencies while some areas are not covered at all? An element of the work is done by the Combat Poverty Agency and by Comhairle but much of the support work that needs to be done on a national level is not being done by any agency. There is logic in looking at the feasibility and promotion of a national community development agency.

I suggest that the Department is the national co-ordinating agency. Perhaps that is why the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was set up last June. I agree that up to then community development was being done by many agencies who answered to different Departments. They are all under the one Department now and we are trying to pull them together. We do not intend setting up another new agency. We are trying to rationalise and pull together what is there, trying to see where the gaps or overlaps are and trying to give a better service to the community. I accept the Deputy's point but feel he is in effect congratulating the Government on setting up the new Department.

This is an interesting departure in Government policy. Is the Minister saying the policy now is that the National Roads Authority should be the responsibility of the Department of Transport, the Environmental Protection Agency should be the responsibility of the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Courts Service should be the responsibility of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform? Either we have a standard where independent and autonomous agencies stand alone and operate regardless of which Government is in power or we have the maximum political control through having all these agencies being funded through a Department. The Government cannot have it both ways.

I do not suggest that at the end of our examination no agencies will exist but there will only be a Department. The Department is giving direction and is trying to pull groups together and maximise the benefits for the community. It may well be that after this study and consultation we will have a new lead agency. For the moment that is not the intention. We intend consulting widely with the various groups involved to develop a plan to improve the service to the community.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

96 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on the fact that the 2000 review of the community development support programme, which stated it had contributed very significantly to changing circumstances and creating opportunities in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, is sufficient for this programme to be given continued funding, and that such funding should be extended. [3738/03]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

167 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his plans to present a more secure long-term form of funding for community development support projects. [3735/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96 and 167 together.

The Deputy refers to the evaluation of the community development programme which was published in May 2002. As stated by the Deputy, this report confirms that the community development programme has contributed significantly to changing circumstances and creating opportunities in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. In this regard, I can assure the Deputy that my Department is committed to ensuring that available resources are directed to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.

The Deputy will be aware that a review is being undertaken of the programmes and activities which come within the remit of my Department with a view to achieving optimal coherence across the various schemes and to maximising the effectiveness of the programmes for local communities. Any decisions regarding the future development of the community development programme, including decisions relating to long-term funding, will be taken in the context of this review.

It is ironic that the Government, having commissioned a report that tells it that the way money is being spent represents good use of and value for public money, subsequently decides that the bodies dependent on such funding should do with less, as if somehow they are being rewarded for being efficient. This seems to apply more to the community sector than to any other area of policy and we need to challenge the Government strongly on that.

In regard to the community development projects, does the Minister of State accept that many of them face an uncertain fate? There is no promise of ongoing funding, there is a hand-to-mouth attitude towards funding on a day to day basis and funding is subject to renewal and discussion on what the Government agrees each project will perform. That is no basis on which to run a community development programme. The Government seems to be putting a brake on community development. It wants the projects that are up and running to justify themselves in political rather than community terms and it asks those working in the most disadvantaged areas to fulfil a role they should not. There is a distinct difference between community development and the imposition of a Government policy. It is a philosophical difference which the Department must be made understand. It is the difference between development from the ground up and decisions being imposed from the top down.

The report was about the community development programmes. To make a general comment on that would be to focus on a narrow part of the issue. Community development supports and programmes have developed in a manner that is all over the place. The new Department is trying to pull them together. In my area there are local drugs task forces, area partnerships, community development programmes, Leader groups and so on. The Deputy mentioned Combat Poverty and other agencies. Because many of these agencies and schemes were under different Departments they were all doing a bit of the work. However, their key purpose is to serve the community and not necessarily the people who might work with any particular agency. Now that they are under one Department we are trying to consult with everybody in the field to see how the situation can be rationalised in order to give better support to communities. Many of those involved as community activists for years admit that there are gaps and overlaps and that matters could be improved.

I am trying to get across to the Minister of State that because there is no Government commitment to ongoing funding of community development projects which have been operating successfully, there is a sense that they are being punished for the type of work they are doing, their community development work or their energising of local communities. This is a problem with people involved in local government in particular. Part of the role of community development projects is to encourage people to take more responsibility for life in their own communities. It means people inform themselves and challenge systems around them, including the political system. By the uncertainty of its spending and funding priorities the Government is sending a bad message. I ask the Minister to address the uncertainty as soon as possible.

There are 135 or more community development programmes. They are funded on a three year basis and a third of them come up for renewal each year. We have given those whose contracts expired last year between two and 12 months of a roll-over period. During that time we will consult them in regard to their future work plans. The community development programmes did some great work and aspects of their work at local level must be retained. We will try to pull them together and get better use and service to the community from the different groups and structures.

There is concern that the community development programme might be swallowed up by the area partnerships or some such group. We have to be careful that that does not happen. The community development programme did great work on the ground and it is my intention to make sure it is preserved in any changes that come about.