The broken pre-election promises of the Government continue to be exposed but the cynical betrayal of disadvantaged communities through the Government's failure to provide promised funding under the RAPID programme would be extraordinarily difficult to surpass. RAPID stands for revitalising areas by planning, investment and development. There has been disjointed planning together with very little investment and development since the programme was first announced by the Taoiseach in February 2001.
On 16 April last, I asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, for the progress made to date in each of the RAPID areas. In reply he stated that his Department is to co-ordinate the implementation of the RAPID programme assisted by Area Development Management Limited. He went on to inform me that under strands 1 and 2 of the RAPID programme an area implementation team was established in each of the 45 areas to develop a plan for the areas. He confirmed that plans for both strands had been completed and proposals forwarded to the relevant Departments for consideration. He then went on to state that it is a matter for each of the other Departments to report on the implementation of the programme that falls within the remit of their Department.
I tabled parliamentary questions to other relevant Ministers, and I will return to that in a moment, but in regard to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, it has provided €2.2 million to area implementation teams. Six community development projects in RAPID areas were announced this year, each receiving a renewable contract for funding of €60,000. Core funding of €152,000 was provided to a community development programme, CDP, building project and towards equipping.
It is roundly to be condemned as a measure of the Government's real commitment to the RAPID programme that since inception only €2.2 million has been spent directly on driving the programme by the Department which is charged with the co-ordination of its implementation. Indeed in this year's Estimates, the Department's Vote for local development and social inclusion measures was reduced from €47.6 million to €44.9 million, a decrease of 6%.
In regard to the amount of money spent by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in each of the RAPID areas since the inception of RAPID, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, informed me that his Department's contribution to the RAPID programme has been delivered mainly through the prioritisation of existing FÁS schemes. Support provided by FÁS has been through FÁS community services where the community employment scheme is the major element – where RAPID areas continue to be prioritised – FÁS employment services, the local employment services and FÁS training schemes.
The estimated value of FÁS community services activities associated with each relevant RAPID area which is funded from FÁS existing resources is as follows: Dublin, €13.8 million; Cork, €6.96 million; and Limerick, €2.65 million, giving a total of €23.41 million. The fact that no money has apparently been provided by FÁS in Waterford, Bray, Drogheda, Dundalk or any of the smaller or larger towns is further evidence of a lack of commitment to the RAPID programme.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has approved funding of €3.8 million for ten projects under the equal opportunities child care programme for child care proposals and a probation and welfare proposal to a total of €3.8 million. The Department of Health and Children does not have a figure for money spent in RAPID areas since the inception of the scheme but it is arranging to provide the figures to me from each of the health boards and health authority. It is extraordinary that the Department of Health and Children could not provide a figure.
Similarly, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources stated that it was not possible within the time available to provide a full breakdown of expenditure by his Department in RAPID areas since the inception of the programme, however he was arranging for the information to be forwarded to me as soon as possible. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, also stated that while to date no RAPID projects had been funded under programmes administered by his Department or his agencies, a significant amount of investment had taken place and-or is planned under such programmes in RAPID designated areas.
I was informed by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism that the proposals for the development of sports facilities contained in the RAPID area implementation plans were not submitted to his Department prior to the closing date for the 2002 sports capital programme.
Of projects listed in RAPID area implementation plans submitted subsequently for consideration, 40 would have been eligible for funding under the sports capital programme. Of these, 23 had not applied for funding under the programme and were advised to prepare applications for funding under the 2003 programme and 17 had actually applied independently to the programme of which 12 have been allocated funding totalling €4.2 million. It is extraordinary that in relation to projects listed in RAPID area implementation plans, their promoters were not advised of the closing date for the 2002 sports capital programme and advised to make sure to get their applications in before that closing date.
Under the local authorities swimming pool programme which is administered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism €6.6 million was provided to pools located in RAPID areas since the inception of the programme.
The Minister for Transport informed me that Bus Éireann introduced a new route in Cork city, southern orbital bus service, on a pilot basis. The Department has provided funding of €288,000 towards the project and is evaluating the project with a view to providing further funding in 2003.
The Department of the Environment and Local Government funded projects to the tune of €64.3 million, however there is a Dublin inner city project for which €123,000 million at 1999 prices is being provided over the period 1999 to 2003. The Department did not give a figure of what was being spent over the period of RAPID – obviously, this was not a project that evolved through the RAPID programme.
The Minister also states that his Department provides funding for local co-ordinators for each RAPID area, co-ordination of the programme across the Department of the Environment and Local Government and ongoing consultation with local authorities. However, no figure is put on this and some other services that local authorities provide.
The Department of Education and Science spent in excess of €1.9 million on proposals submitted under the RAPID programme. Some €800,000 has been allocated to community groups in RAPID areas. The Minister stated that people in RAPID areas would benefit from other initiatives from the Department.
The Department of Social and Family Affairs has had 18 requests from eleven RAPID areas. Payments totalling €205,406 have been either allocated or approved to support these initiatives. The Department has also funded and otherwise supported initiatives within RAPID areas which were not specifically included in RAPID plans. For instance, in 2002 €1.6 million was spent on family resource centres in RAPID areas and approximately 53 other initiatives.
It is now two years and three months since RAPID programme strand 1 was launched and it is one year and three months since RAPID programme strand 2 was launched. Someone recently described CLÁR to me as "money and no talk" and RAPID as "talk and no money". It should be noted that the funding for CLÁR was reduced in this year's Book of Estimates from €12.7 million to €9.5 million, a reduction of 25%.
In regard to RAPID, the question must now be asked, where is the front-loading and where is the €12.9 billion? The Government always knew that the RAPID programme would not yield the sort of money its dishonest predictions promised. Nonetheless, it is an important programme for those who missed out on the fruits of strong economic growth.
It is clear that large capital projects are being catered for and the level of service integration is poor under RAPID. It seems likely, as has been alleged in some quarters, that projects already under way in RAPID areas will now be re-labelled as RAPID projects. The Labour Party is calling on the Government to honour the commitment made to fast-track the promised funding over the RAPID programme. The only way to achieve this is to give the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the wherewithal to drive the programme. For this to succeed, the Department will need significant funding.
The cutbacks affecting the 38 area partnerships and community groups with projects funded by area partnerships have been devastating this year. The Department's Vote for local development and social inclusion measures was reduced from €47.6 million in 2002 to €44.6 million in 2003, representing a decrease of 6%. However, what was even more upsetting to the area partnership companies and the community groups was that carry-over commitments and unspent money from 2002 to 2003 was disallowed. The reason for this, advanced by the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, was that prior to 2002, under the previous national plan, this scheme was EU-funded on a multiannual funding basis. He further stated that as this scheme is now Exchequer-funded, the Department has to operate on an annual cash basis and not on an annual accruals basis, as was the case previously.
It has been reported that because of this new measure concerning the annual versus multiannual budgets, and the reduction in the Department's Vote, budget cuts of between 25% and 40% have affected some area partnerships.
An estimated €200 million is to become available from dormant bank accounts, to be used for social and community projects. The shortfall in regard to the CDPs can be made good from the dormant accounts fund. I strongly urge the Minister to do this. The Minister's Department could effectively kick-start and drive the programme by using this fund.
We are told that some people have yet to benefit significantly from improved living standards in the State in recent years. We were told that the national development plan had up to €15 billion earmarked for social inclusion measures, to be spent on development measures over the next five years, and that the RAPID programme would target the 25 most concentrated areas of disadvantage and front-load a significant share of this money to them over the next five years. A further 20 areas were added to this list later and it was promised that €1.9 billion would be fast-tracked to these areas.
During the general election campaign, Fianna Fáil Deputies in particular used the promise of the RAPID programme to hoover up votes in areas that were disadvantaged and desperate for a lift. Of all the broken promises, this must be the most cynical. Derisory amounts of money have been provided under the RAPID programme. There were great expectations and hopes but they have been dashed. Worse still, the cynicism of the Government has once again led to the profession of politics being treated with revulsion.
Nominally, the Minister is to co-ordinate the implementation of the programme. In fact, he can do little about it because Departments will do what they like and the money being sought has to come from their budgets. There is nobody in charge or nobody to say that one has to spend the money and that a project has to go ahead. This is no accident. Cleverly, the Government had this system in place before the last general election. There has been a cynical exercise of using people and raising expectations but, for all that, we are at the stage where this project has never been more important. The Minister needs to get it across to his colleagues, and the Taoiseach in particular, that this project must be treated seriously and got under way because the situation regarding social inclusion is getting worse.