Other Questions. - Departmental Programmes.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

99 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the stage the review designed to achieve optimal coherence of the management and co-ordination of programmes under his responsibility is at. [3737/03]

Joan Burton

Question:

157 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made to date with regard to the review of the programmes and activities that come within the remit of his Department, with a view to achieving optimal coherence across the various schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3674/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 99 and 157 together.

I am fully committed to securing the most positive impacts for communities arising from expenditure through programmes under the aegis of my Department. This will be a guiding principle throughout the review process. As the Deputies will know, many of these local and community programmes were established under different Departments years ago, in some cases almost decades ago. It is essential therefore that measures to improve their underlying coherence and effectiveness are well informed and focused.

I am currently concluding discussions with a number of ministerial colleagues who have an involvement with similar programmes. I hope to be in a position to initiate a full consultation process with other interested parties, including the social partners and the providers of such programmes, shortly.

The phrase "The optimal coherence of the management and co-ordination of programmes" is a beautiful phrase. Will the Minister explain what it means and how will we know when we have achieved it? It is important that the language of Government, especially in an important area such as community and rural affairs, is understood by the people with whom we are supposed to be communicating and that they know what we are collectively working towards. When the statement of strategy is achieved by the Minister and his Department perhaps he will be prepared to look at this area of communication.

I used this phrase in September 2002. I have always stood in awe at the ability of my colleague in Galway West, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, to use the most beautiful English in answering questions. It was an art form from which I have learned much over the years.

We have many schemes in many different areas. I have spent most of my life in community development and I am still involved in it in my spare time. We want to tailor schemes to the people's requirements and this is what people who are involved in community development tell us to do when we go around the country. There are differences between the requirements of different communities, whether rural or urban. Deprived urban communities have totally different requirements from some of the rural communities.

Schemes originated in different places. For example, there are partnerships which came from the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the CDSPs came from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. One must always question which scheme is best for each community. For example, there are only 3,000 people living on our islands. On Gaeltacht islands there are Gaeltacht co-operatives and on non-Gaeltacht islands there are CDSPs. These are chalk and cheese operations although there is no difference between the islands except that the people speak a different language. I must ask myself which is the optimum model. Maybe the optimum is half way between the two but the question must be answered.

I must dispel the idea that the Minister of State or I want to do down community development. We want to listen to what we are being told by the community developers and to make the schemes responsive to what they see as the requirements in their daily work. They are not uniform across the country. We want to get away from a uniform prescription by Government as to what CDSPs, Gaeltacht co-operatives or partnerships are about and to devise a more locally flexible model.

I listened carefully to what the Minister has said. Will he assure us that we are not just getting into a cycle of consultation which will end with the major issues being shoved off in the direction of consultants? There seems to be over-emphasis on the use of consultants. Endless talking might not lead to an improvement in management, co-ordination or anything else, but some consultants might be well off at the end of these exercises.

I assure the Deputy that he is totally wrong. One must decide where consultants should be used and where they should not. The Minister of State mentioned consultants in the context of evaluation of applications received under a scheme. Under the federation and training scheme the idea is to have an arm's length evaluation system for a scheme the shape of which is already decided centrally with the partners. It is reasonable that the successful applicants would be selected by an independent evaluation process. Asking the groups themselves to make their own evaluations would be like asking half the population to mark their own leaving certificate and then to mark those of the other half as well.

We will use consultants in a targeted and sparing way. Some jobs are better done at arm's length, and I believe it was to this Deputy Boyle alluded earlier. There are other jobs which should be done by the policy maker in consultation with the groups on the ground. These will be done by the policy maker and not at arm's length. This is where we must make the differentiation.

The Minister describes his Department as an enabling Department. I would like to see more of the machinery of these schemes inside the Department. The networks and federation scheme has been sent out to consultants for processing. Will that happen every time this scheme is advertised or will a process be put in place which cannot allow for accusations of vested interest in the allocation of funds to the federations and networks?

That is the why the scheme is being processed with an arm's length approach. It is a once-off scheme. It will be advertised once and the money will be allocated. That commitment was made in the White Paper. It is not intended to run the scheme again and again.

If I had one wish it would be that more of the money was delivered to services on the ground and that we minimised the money spent in transmission. Every area wants to be included in the scheme and will plead disadvantaged. However, we must focus on areas of real disadvantage such as the RAPID areas. If we do not have the courage to do that and insist on giving a gift to "everyone in the audience" we will do a huge disservice to those in the greatest need of help for self-development. When partnerships began they were focused but they later spread out into various areas.

If one has a limited amount of money, which is always the case, the more it is spread out the less will be available for the target areas. This is a re-balancing position that will have to be taken into account in moving forward.

I agree with the Minister in regard to RAPID. Would it be a good idea if RAPID was solely under the aegis of his or some other Department? Given that the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children are also involved it is hard to get a handle on exactly what is going on or to ensure there is clarity and that the money is getting through to the deprived communities. Will the Minister please comment on that?

My Department has sole responsibility for co-ordinating RAPID I, RAPID II and CLÁR. When it comes to delivering an educational aspect, the Department of Education and Science has to be involved. That is what is making it complex. I am looking at ways of making it more effective.

I accept that when I came into the Department I was not convinced, and the more I go around the communities I am not convinced that the communities themselves see a huge effect.

They do not.

I would claim that RAPID III, otherwise known as CLÁR, has been very focused in getting on the ground and there are tangible effects. Clearly we can identify a measure, even if it is done by various Departments and there are co-funding arrangements. How do we ensure that RAPID operates in a way that delivers and is seen to deliver by those to whom it counts, namely, the people living in the area? Certainly from my point of view, it is not any PR exercise.

On the issue of delivery, it is vital to use council structures and existing bodies as much as possible rather than outside consultancy groups. It is important to work through groups who know exactly what is needed such as county community structures which are working with the council. The issue is to maximise the amount of money. There is anxiety that is takes so long to actually get the programmes into operation. This is one issue I raised recently. While task force money is not the Minister's area of responsibility, it is often allocated in July and must be spent by November. That is not logical. We should know about it three years in advance. The money should be available early in the year in the form of a co-ordinated programme rather than a slap-dash programme.

On the issue of co-ordination and localisation, many of the RAPID actions in the IAGs should not have come back to central Government. We will have to look at a local structure, be it the CDT or some other structure to kill them at local level and get them done, otherwise talking about localisation or regionalisation is a nonsense. I agree fully with the Deputy on that issue. There is no point in having a system of paralysis by analysis and consultation on an ongoing basis should be proactive. To stop or freeze programmes for a year or two years to allow for a a consultation process is a nonsense. I have always been of the view, whether in rural or urban areas, that anyone of us could write on the back of an envelope issues with which everyone would agree. While looking at the more complex issues we should get on with the simple issues on which everyone is agreed. We have gone from a situation of no consultation to – if I may mix Irish and English together – ró-consultation. We need to return to a happy medium. One way to ensure consultation works sensibly is to provide quick and efficient access to the system where there is a need but in the meantime allow those who are taking the action to get on with the job.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.