Other Questions.

Community Development.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

40 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his plans to re-open the CLÁR single to three-phase electricity conversion scheme; the outcome of the review of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8870/09]

As the Deputy will be aware, the CLÁR three-phase electricity conversion scheme has proven to be a popular and worthwhile measure. Since 2002, almost €5.42 million has been invested in 438 businesses, sports clubs and community centres to enhance electricity supply.

In a context where funding approved under CLÁR and the level of outstanding commitments increased significantly in 2008, a number of measures, including the three-phase electricity conversion measure, were closed and new applications are not currently being accepted. Against the background of the current economic climate, I am reviewing the CLÁR programme as a whole, having regard to demand, the funding available and the level of outstanding commitments. In this context, I will consider the reintroduction of a modified single to three-phase electricity measure when circumstances allow.

I am glad to learn that the Minister will reconsider the measure, which benefited community groups, businesses and sporting organisations. City people in particular do not understand rural Ireland's problems, the greatest of which is existent, but poor quality electricity supply. Businesses are trying to operate and create employment, but it costs them a fortune to install three-phase electricity.

Whatever review the Minister is undertaking in respect of the CLÁR programme, many causes are worthy of support while others are not so worthy. It is important for rural life and business to reintroduce this scheme. The Minister should try to find some funding, even if the scheme was to be confined to the business element for the present, to try to create employment. I ask the Minister to provide some funding in his budget for this year to try to maintain the three-phase electricity conversion scheme for the business element, in an effort to retain employment in rural and Gaeltacht areas.

I fully accept the Deputy's observations and this scheme is of particular importance. I have personal experience regarding the effective lack of three-phase electricity and of trying to operate machines off the backs of tractors in single phase and so on. This is a priority scheme and I will go further by referring to the three issues I have stated I wish to address, once the money to accept new applications becomes available. A major overhang of work that was sanctioned last year exists, particularly regarding water and sewerage schemes and so on, that must be paid for this year. However, the first of three priority areas I have identified is the three-phase electricity scheme. At its height it cost approximately €1.5 million per year and grew hugely when we expanded the CLÁR areas. The second priority is the group water scheme top-ups because it involves putting piped water into areas that were totally dependent on wells. No one knew the capacity of each well, many of which used to dry up in the summer and there were other problems. The third priority I wish to consider is the issue of sewerage schemes in very small villages. For example, in Deputy Ring's native County Mayo, villages such as Cross and The Neale made great use of the scheme to install treatment plants on a small network. Once one has done that much, one can add to the network again in the future, if the basic core has been put in place. This allows such small villages to grow. Once the existing applications and approvals have worked their way through the system and we can accept more applications, these will be the priorities I will consider in respect of the scheme.

It would be a retrograde step to do away with this scheme. Given the present economic downturn, the Minister still should find a way to provide the funding that would ensure the continuation of this programme. Not only should it be continued in the CLÁR areas but it should be extended to all districts because its benefits are enormous. As an electrician, I understand the workings of single phase and three-phase electricity. In respect of agritourism and everything associated with it in rural Ireland, this scheme would be received with open arms in every community nationwide. I press upon the Minister the importance of ensuring it is not lost in the cuts his Department will undertake. His promise in the House today that he will investigate its continuation in both the CLÁR areas and everywhere else certainly would be welcomed.

Deputy Wall undoubtedly lights up this Chamber when he speaks. I had not realised he was an electrician. While this lies partially outside the Minister's brief, the ESB recently announced that it intended to take on apprenticeships nationwide in a highly worthwhile initiative. Although the ESB will reduce its prices soon, as is appropriate, it has made a substantial profit in recent years because the regulator lacked the power to allow it to reduce prices heretofore. Consequently, the Minister or his officials should talk to the ESB to ascertain whether it now could do something for rural Ireland, where in some cases it failed to provide the requisite services. It should be asked to put together some kind of fund, in conjunction with the Department, to try to help to keep this scheme alive. As Deputy Wall noted, it is important for rural Ireland. People in the cities will not understand that one cannot operate unless one has a proper power supply. While the ESB has been given this job, in some cases it does not do it. The Minister might talk to its chief executive to ascertain whether it would provide some funding to the Department to try to introduce a scheme, which now is needed more than ever as jobs are needed in rural areas in particular.

That certainly is a good idea and I will consider it because I am willing to explore any possibility of getting funding into rural areas. As for Deputy Wall's remarks, there is another scheme that runs in parallel to this that my Department inherited from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I refer to the farm electrification grant scheme, or FEG scheme, as it is often known, which was dying slowly. Although there had been major interest in that scheme, when the waste management grants became available, many people then applied under the agricultural disadvantaged areas scheme for connections to sheds and to all the equipment they had for a slurry tanks and so on. The question of electricity supply for large commercial farming operations and for small businesses is vital. While we hear much about gaining access to broadband, in many parts of rural Ireland the ESB is the first requisite and broadband is the second and both are equal in the world in which we live. I am open to considering simple ideas to deal with the bread and butter issues. While one never will get on the front pages of the newspapers for such a debate, it changes people's lives and I thank Members for their support for this process and I certainly will keep their remarks in mind.

Tom Hayes

Question:

41 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the level of funding which has been provided from 2008 to date, on a county basis, towards community development programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8889/09]

The community development programme was established in 1990 in recognition of the role of community development in tackling the causes and effects of poverty and disadvantage. It aims to offer new opportunities to enable people to use and develop their skills, knowledge, experiences and common purpose to improve the quality of their own lives and the good of their community.

A total of 184 projects are currently funded under the programme. These are located in recognised disadvantaged areas nationwide, in both urban and rural areas. All projects are managed by local voluntary management committees. They operate as a resource for the communities in which they are located, with their main purpose being to work with the community in identifying and tackling those issues which have resulted in a lack of positive community development.

Details of funding allocated under the programme from 2008 to date, on a county basis, are listed in a table that will be included in the Official Report.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

County

Total funding allocated from 2008 to date

Carlow

157,142.84

Cavan

340,153.33

Clare

562,625.34

Cork

2,400,408.35

Donegal

1,460,804.18

Dublin

10,965,899.30

Galway

1,842,431.23

Kerry

740,758.50

Kildare

465,652.33

Kilkenny

203,566.67

Laois

157,699.50

Leitrim

292,873.33

Limerick

1,500,497.48

Longford

176,687.26

Louth

454,945.73

Mayo

1,557,358.87

Meath

391,461.33

Monaghan

462,225.82

Offaly

275,375.97

Roscommon

292,027.50

Sligo

336,213.33

Tipperary

847,385.37

Waterford

1,234,118.53

Westmeath

287,213.83

Wexford

1,089,042.09

Wicklow

927,995.48

Support and Associated costs

1,110,665.27

Total

30,533,228.76

Although I had not realised that yesterday's announcements in respect of the economy, the finances and everything else would be made, I tabled this question because I was concerned regarding cutbacks in respect of this budget. It already has been cut back by several million euro this year. Can the Minister of State guarantee Members and those who are involved in the aforementioned organisations that he can protect the funding that is available to them at present? Can he guarantee that this funding will not be cut further on foot of what is happening in the country? I am sure that each Department will be obliged to reconsider its running costs for the year. As such organisations and the people involved identify the problems that exist in both rural areas and cities, this funding is necessary. Can the Minister of State give a guarantee to the House today that he will protect the necessary funding in his Department to ensure there are no further cuts in the budget?

No, I cannot. It would not be possible for me to make such a promise in advance of whatever will happen later in the month. Neither my Department nor any other will be immune to what is happening in the economy. I am aware of the work undertaken by these community development groups and other groups that work in communities. I will endeavour to work with all groups to ensure the services they provide continue to be provided in the communities and areas of disadvantage. However, if the Deputy is asking whether I can guarantee the actual cash figure that has been allocated will continue, I cannot. Nevertheless, in respect of front line services that are being provided in areas of disadvantage and which are experiencing great difficulties at present, I will work to ensure that they will continue to be provided.

I accept the Minister of State has been honest. However, his reply worries me and I am concerned that these services are under threat at present, particularly those pertaining to the most vulnerable in society. Given the good work done over the years, it is highly important that the Minister of State and his senior colleague should fight to ensure that such funding is put in place. It is the most vulnerable who are affected and who are protected and identified in these schemes.

I was going to refer to the mini-budget but I mean the fifth budget in recent times. As I noted last night in the House, we used to have a budget once a year but last year we had two. We now are into the third month of the year and it looks as though we are going to have one each month. If this continues, we will have a budget every week. However the Minister of State should protect the most vulnerable in society in respect of this issue.

As I said, I will work to ensure these services are provided. We constantly evaluate and monitor what is going on. These organisations do not work in isolation to other community groups, partnerships and so on. It is important that we achieve the maximum value for money. In the current economic climate, in which we face the prospect of cutbacks in all Departments, I cannot say in advance that the budget for my Department or for a particular subhead will not be affected. It is not possible to provide a categoric assurance in this regard.

I fully support Deputy Ring on this issue. Likewise, the Minister has my party's full support in terms of any mechanisms he may employ to ensure funding is provided for the schemes to which he referred. I am familiar with these types of schemes in my own constituency. These facilities often open on a Sunday and are used by people at all times of the day and night. They are of benefit to the entire community.

I will do everything I can to assist the Minister in making a case for the retention of these schemes. Cutbacks should not impact on entire communities in this manner. We will only survive current difficulties if communities pull together. This funding must be retained. My colleagues and I will fully support the Minister in every step he takes to meet that objective.

I acknowledge the work that has been done under the community development programme. There are 184 of these projects throughout the State. I will work tirelessly to ensure the services, particularly front line services, they provide are maintained.

Funding is a separate matter. It is important to ensure that we constantly evaluate and monitor what these groups are doing rather than just viewing them in isolation. In any community, there may be multiple community development programme projects but they do not work in isolation from partnerships and other groups. In order to ensure that the needs of the community are being met, it is important we take a more holistic approach. We must strive to achieve efficiencies while also ensuring there are no gaps in services and that a comprehensive package is available in communities. We will work tirelessly to maintain front line services for communities. I acknowledge that the challenge is greater this year than in previous years. I appreciate Deputies' support on this matter. The budgetary issue is for another day but I assure Members that we will fight our corner.

Grant Payments.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

42 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the grants made to a group (details supplied) during 2008 and to date in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8974/09]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

52 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason payments to a group (details supplied) were increased by 62% in his Department’s Estimate for 2009 in view of the fact that virtually all other headings relating to the Gaeltacht and the Irish language were reduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8973/09]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 52 together.

The group referred to in the "details supplied" is a fund operated by my Department under which payments are made for specific purposes. As the questions have been put down on a "details supplied" basis, my understanding is that the rules of the House prevent me from being more specific in this regard. However, I have arranged that a list of the grants approved from the fund in 2008 and 2009 to date be supplied directly to the Deputies.

The reason the provisional 2009 allocation for the fund has shown an increase of 62% relates to a provision announced in the budget for a particular group. Again, I understand I am unable to provide a more specific reply in the context of a "details supplied" question. However, I can say that the provision in question related to both capital and current funding. It is envisaged that a significant portion of the amount in question — that relating to the capital funding — will transfer out of my Department's Vote in the context of the forthcoming Revised Estimates volume.

I am somewhat bewildered by the Minister's response. It is not the first time I have had such a reaction in my dealings with his Department. I am concerned that something of a shadow has been cast over the organisation in question, which performs an important function.

If the Deputy names the organisation to which he refers, I can give him the answer to his question.

The organisation to which I refer is Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

If the Deputy had included the organisation's name in his question, I could have responded more directly.

I am glad the Minister is so careful of all details. However, his response strikes me as fussy beyond what is reasonable. Nevertheless, we now have clarity as to the point raised in these questions.

Both Foinse and The Irish Times have reported that on the eve of the budget, an application was made by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann for funding of €50,000, but that it subsequently received an allocation of €3 million. This has been denied by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which claims it applied for €4 million and received €3 million. Will the Minister clarify this for the House? Other than transport to the islands and the 62% increase for Coiste na Gaeilge, funding under every other subhead relating to the Irish language and the Gaeltacht has been reduced. The Minister has made a public statement in which he said that the precise funding for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 2009, and the breakdown between current funding provided by his Department and capital funding provided by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, will be decided shortly when the Revised Estimate volume is completed.

References by Deputies to public statements by Ministers are not in order at Question Time.

I am seeking clarification on this issue. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for bearing with me. All I want is clarity.

I am pleased to be able to clarify this issue. I will provide the Deputy with a table which outlines the payments from my Department to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 2006, 2007 and 2008, as well as the approved allocation for 2009. Parallel to the current funding provided by my Department, capital funding has been provided in recent years through the Vote of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism for the development of regional centres for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

What happened was that, in order to complete the capital programme, money was provided and was included in my Department's Vote when it should have been included in the Vote of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. In order to convey the full picture, I will provide the Deputy with all the detail of current spending, as well as comparative figures, breakdowns and so on. After that, I suggest that he ask the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism how much it has given in capital funding in the relevant years. It will then be clear that there has been no large windfall increase in funding for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

The core funding for that organisation was €575,000 in 2006; €600,000 in 2007; €630,000 in 2008; and will be retained at €630,000 for 2009. However, an additional €30,000 will be added to that figure representing the €30,000 that was allocated in each of those years to the Coleman centre in Gurteen, which allocation is now being subsumed into the core funding. In addition, we have acceded to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann's application for €60,000 in respect of Brú Ború. Therefore, it is receiving an additional——

Does this sum correspond to the €50,000 to which reference was made in the media?

Yes, but according to my Department, the sum involved is €60,000. We will not argue over €10,000.

We may have to before the year is over.

I understand the sum in question is €60,000.

The allocation under the regional development programme was €865,000 in 2006; €950,000 in 2007; and €1.25 million in 2008. This year, at the completion of that programme, there will be a full-year cost of €1.46 million. The reason for the increase is that this was a rolling programme of regional centres being opened by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. If a person was employed in September last year, for example, full-year funding must be provided this year. Given that the programme was agreed four or five years ago, it did not appear in the freedom of information request regarding the funding sought by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann for 2009. This funding was requested and granted some years ago.

The total allocation, therefore, was €1.47 million in 2006; €1.58 million in 2007; €1.91 million in 2008; and €2.18 million for 2009. The 2009 figure includes the €60,000 for Brú Ború and the final instalment of increases under the regional development programme. The total increase is some €270,000 this year. I will send the tables to the Deputy but I am not sure what amount it received in capital spending. Some of the €3 million that was allocated to my Vote has been transferred in the Revised Estimates to the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism. I do not have figures available on whether this represents an increase or a decrease on last year's capital allocation. The Deputy will have to contact that Department.

The Minister's detailed reply casts some light on the situation for me. Coiste na Gaeilge is funded by the national lottery and part of the allocation from the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism for capital funding to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann ended up in the allocation to Coiste na Gaeilge.

Why did that happen? I thought that Ministers were very careful when planning their budgets and knew what happens in total detail. The Minister does not know why a sum of €3 million funded by the national lottery arrived under a head in his Vote. I find that incredible but I am sure there is an explanation.

There is a very simple explanation. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann has a rolling programme and it was divided between two Departments. Perhaps this is not the best arrangement but that is the way it has been done since the regional programme began. My Department catered for current spending and the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism catered for capital spending. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann applied for this programme to be completed and the money was allocated to my Vote. It is a simple matter of transferring it into the correct Vote. It is untidy but I assure the Deputy that I keep a careful eye on minor details of Votes and how money is spent. It came into my Vote in the short term and it will now be transferred out. It was one of those things that happens. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann raised a legitimate question that it was in the middle of a capital programme and one cannot drop building projects halfway through. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann asked that it be given one final allocation to build regional buildings and this was acceded to at the last minute. It went into the wrong Vote to put it simply. There is some extra current spending included but it only amounts to €200,000. This does away with many other arguments, such as that money was given to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann at the expense of Údarás na Gaeltachta. That was nonsense.

We spoke about this at the last Question Time. It is a national scandal and that is why we spoke about the one-stop shop at the last Question Time. As Deputy O'Shea says, we have too many agencies and too many organisations draw money from several agencies. That is why Deputy McHugh was frustrated. When one tables questions, the information is not with one Minister but it is with another Minister. This causes frustration. One wonders whether the Government has organised this in such a way that it will not answer the queries. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann is under this Department or the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism and no organisation should be able to draw down funds from two Departments if one Department has control of the organisation. Is everything received by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann audited and does the Department receive audited accounts every year?

There is a simple answer to the second question. We receive business plans and audited accounts. Members of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and its branches have access to the audited accounts. Under the new charities legislation, if the organisation has charitable status, it will have to publish audited accounts. No one would have any difficulty accessing the audited accounts of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

In principle I agree with the Deputy in respect of matters being simpler and why this is split between two Departments is a good question. With CLÁR funding, Deputies will agree with the idea of someone providing top-up funding to group water schemes. In an ideal world the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government would have given that funding years ago but it did not happen. In the real world, to make it happen, I provided it. Deputy Ring's suggestion is a question for debate. If we told partnerships that they could not participate in community employment schemes under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Ring would be very quick to table a question on this.

They are all State agencies but I referred to where they are not State agencies and are drawing down from various agencies without accountability. At least county councils, the Minister and other Departments——

Not to obfuscate, I provided a table on current spending and I have told the Deputy that if he received a similar table on capital spending from the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism he would have the other part of the equation. He would then have both the current and capital spending and could compare whether the money is increasing or decreasing and whether there was a windfall for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. I was trying to be upfront about the information.

I accept that the Minister is being upfront but Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann receives money from the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, the Arts Council, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs in respect of international travel. The organisation does the country proud when it travels. When money turns up in the Vote of the Department and the Minister is not quite sure why it is there, it raises the question to which Deputy Ring has referred. Should we not streamline the funding of an organisation so that it comes from one source? Money is wasted and resources are wasted if different Departments have to process various claims. Does the Minister agree with this approach or does he agree that the current system is appropriate and the most effective and efficient?

In principle I agree with the approach of Deputy O'Shea as long as it is not carried on to a ridiculous degree. When one makes a rule one finds that it applies to a situation to which one did not intend it to apply. I agree that there would be sense in all Departments funding this together. Such an approach created this problem because Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was receiving the money from two Departments and it sought funding from a Department that is over us all. It received additional current spending, €200,000, and capital spending together. Rather than dividing the sum it was allocated to one Vote because a unitary view was taken to the whole package. This is why it wound up in one Vote rather than two. It would have been better if a unitary view was taken as suggested by Deputy O'Shea before it was split into the appropriate Votes. Taking the unitary approach created this problem because capital and current allocations were put into the same Vote. It is a valid question.

Community Development.

Jack Wall

Question:

43 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his Department provides grants to community groups for the restoration and upgrading of buildings in their communities, which have fallen into disrepair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8948/09]

The programme of support for locally based community and voluntary organisations provides funding towards the costs of refurbishing and equipping community facilities. Given the volume of applications received to date, the level of commitments to projects approved for funding to the end of 2008 and the reduced level of funding available this year, I regret that I have had to suspend the programme since the end of February. It is unlikely that my Department will be in a position to open the programme again in the near future. My priority is to fund as many of the applications as possible that have already been received.

This is a vital ingredient in restoring community life. In many areas there are buildings of historical value as well as of community value. These need grant assistance to create community activities in the area. In my area we are trying to organise a number of artists to use an old school building as a studio. There is the Tanyard in Ballitore, for which we are seeking funding. How many applications were received in 2008 and what funding is being provided? Is there a waiting list and is there any instance in which the grant system can be restored for 2009?

The grant does a number of things. It helps the community and, more importantly as of now, creates employment in many cases because buildings must be restored. That has a spin-off with regard to the local hardware store and so on. It is very important that we look at this as there are too many factors that cut off the local builder. The same thing is happening with the grant system relating to senior citizens. We are acting right across the country to the detriment of employment; we are not providing funding, we are cutting back instead. This is another instance of it. Will we see any funding provided to allow the scheme to continue?

I will try to be as helpful as possible. The scheme fell into three sections, with refurbishment grants to upgrade premises used for community benefit in the ownership of the local community and voluntary organisations. That goes to 95%, up to a maximum of €60,000. There was also a maximum grant of €10,000 towards the cost of equipment for community facilities, with a third section being the training grant.

With specific reference to figures, we currently have 180 projects on hand. I decided to suspend it because it would be unfair to give groups and organisations an unrealistic hope of putting an application in where there may not be funding. The 180 have not been assessed but I anticipate that the current funding would be sufficient for these projects, if they are successful.

We have had to make some difficult decisions this year. Earlier, the Deputy spoke about trying to preserve funding for our community development projects. Deputy Byrne spoke about preserving funding for the task forces, and the likes of the task forces and competency development programmes will continue to provide front line services as they are being prioritised.

We could have looked at making alterations in other programmes I felt strongly about, including the scheme we run for elderly people with regard to monitored alarms. We have made an allocation for that programme and have not touched it. We have had to make difficult choices.

The Deputy asked if the scheme will be introduced again. It is suspended pending the take-up of the 180 projects. If there is funding left, the scheme will be introduced again. It would be unfair to communities to draw up proposals and apply for something when there may be no realistic prospect of receiving funding. It is regrettable that we are here but there must be priorities. My priority is to support the drugs task forces and community development projects that the Deputy has spoken about, as well as the monitored alarms for the elderly. That is why the scheme has been suspended.

We must obviously make choices but we must also look after communities. In dealing with drugs and everything else, we must create the image of communities working together. These are ideal opportunities in that respect. There should be a quick assessment of the 180 projects. Much lottery funding has not been drawn down and there is no lottery funding this year. Something should be done to ensure those which did not draw down funding get a positive or negative answer, otherwise we will be depriving another community. I would be happy if only ten communities get the grants but we should not allow just wait for somebody to make a decision. If this occurs, the momentum is lost. If those with the applications in do not carry out the work, the opportunity should be given to somebody else.

I agree with the Deputy and that is what we are trying to do. The maximum is €60,000 and it is not like a couple of hundred thousand euro is being spent on a sports facility. In some cases people in my Department work with people in the community to try to afford them the opportunity to complete the applications or get the additional information rather than telling them they are out because of a failure to supply information. There is a balance in supporting those communities in completing the process. There is also a policy of not allowing an overhang that will delay the system, meaning others who may benefit are being deprived.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.