Written Answers. - Rural Depopulation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

353 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the action he has taken to date to address rural depopulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4074/03]

My Department is committed to maintaining the maximum number of people in rural areas and to strengthening rural communities economically, socially and culturally. To this end my Department is involved in a wide range of investment programmes, both EU and national, to promote this objective.

In addition to the EU programmes and 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 also announced the revision of the CLÁR areas.

The CLÁR programme, ceantair laga árd-riachtanais, was introduced on foot of a commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness for a targeted investment programme in both urban and rural disadvantaged areas. CLÁR complements both the RAPID programme for disadvantaged urban areas and RAPID 11, the programme for provincial towns.

The 16 regions originally selected for inclusion in the CLÁR programme were those which suffered the greatest population decline from 1926 to 1996, with the exception of the Cooley Peninsula, which was included based on the serious difficulties caused there by foot and mouth disease. The average population loss in these regions was 50%.

The measures introduced under the programme reflect the priorities identified by the communities in the selected areas whom I consulted at the outset. These measures, under which co-funding is provided to Departments, State agencies and local authorities, support physical, community and social infrastructure.