Written Answers. - Social Inclusion Measures.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty


341 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the way in which his Department promotes the objective of social inclusion as expressed through the national development plan; and the way in which this objective can be squared with recently announced budget cuts in his Department. [3739/03]

The Deputy will be aware that one of the key objectives of the establishment of my Department in June 2002 was the Government's recognition of the need to address the issues of regional and social balance in a more effective way and the achievement of a more co-ordinated engagement by the State with communities around the country.

In the western region, the counties of Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo, the Western Development Commission manages the western investment fund. In support of its brief to promote economic and social development, it has funded 18 community-based projects amounting to €1.4 million.

In Gaeltacht areas and off-shore islands the national development plan funds the improvement of infrastructure which benefits the entire community in these regions.

In addition to the national development plan investments, I also introduced, in October 2001, the CLÁR programme for disadvantaged rural areas. An Agreed Programme for Government includes a commitment to continue the CLÁR programme, ensuring annual funding, and to consider additional areas for inclusion in light of the 2002 population census results. Last month I announced the revision of the CLÁR areas.

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

The rural development fund is available to finance research, evaluations and pilot actions to provide information and advice to policy makers.

Under the local development measure of the regional operational programmes of the national development plan, funding is available to the 38 partnerships, 33 community groups and four territorial employment pacts that deliver the programme at local level. Partnerships and community groups operate in areas that are designated. Some €45.5 million was allocated to these groups in 2002. The corresponding allocations for 2003 have not yet been finalised.
The national drugs strategy forms part of the wider social inclusion strategy and the strong commitment to areas of disadvantage in the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Under the plan, just under €155 million is available to fund the strategy, the bulk of which is earmarked to fund initiatives in the local drugs task force areas. In 2003, over €16 million is set aside in the Vote of the Department to the fund the strategy, of which approximately €12.5 million is NDP – related.
My Department is also responsible for the RAPID, revitalising areas through planning, investment and development, programme. RAPID is a focused initiative by the Government to target the most concentrated areas of disadvantage in the country. The programme calls on Departments and State agencies to bring about better co-ordination and closer integration in the delivery of services. There are two strands of the RAPID Programme – strand I targets 25 urban areas while strand II targets 20 provincial towns around the country.
My Department operates a variety of grant schemes which concentrate on a wide range of support for local self-help groups, community development, a scheme of community support for older people, and on the provision of seed money to enable community groups to pilot initiatives identified as meeting new and emerging community needs.
In addition, long-term funding is provided to locally-based voluntary and community groups involved in anti-poverty and social inclusion initiatives through the community development support programmes. My Department's community development support programmes are included in the national development plan with a commitment of almost €140 million, £110 million, over the lifetime of the plan 2000-2006. These programmes are included in the sub-programme for social inclusion in the Regional Operational Programme.
Some €30.09 million has been committed to community and voluntary services in 2003, which will enable my Department to continue the above programmes, albeit at a somewhat reduced level. Due to the tighter economic situation, it may not be possible to progress the expansion of the community development support programmes at the same pace as in previous years. Any further expansion will have to take account of our existing commitments and the available resources.
Given these budgetary constraints, it is necessary to ensure resources are best deployed and address priorities. In that context, I intend to undertake a review of all the programmes and activities which come within the remit of my Department with a view to achieving optimal coherence across the various schemes and maximising the effectiveness of the programmes for local communities. This process will shape the future development of the Department's pro grammes. It is intended that the results of this review will lead to the targeting of available resources in a more strategic manner for communities across the country.