I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am very pleased to introduce to the House the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2017, which will establish the new Department of Rural and Community Development. This Bill has just one purpose, to establish the new Department, confer a name upon the Department and to provide for a Minister who will be in charge of the Department. It is important to note that the Bill does not confer any functions on the Department. The new Department's functions are still being finalised and these will be transferred at the earliest opportunity following the enactment of the Bill.
The establishment of the new Department underscores the Government's commitment to rural and community development. It reflects the priority the Government places on both and, importantly, ensures that efforts across all elements of the Government to support rural Ireland and to develop vibrant rural and urban communities will achieve the maximum impact. This will be a key focus for me as Minister for Rural and Community Development. To this end, the Department of Rural and Community Development will deliver on the Government's commitment to bring greater co-ordination to all the work of the Government that affects rural areas and the development of vibrant sustainable communities, both rural and urban. It will guarantee a priority focus on rural and community matters, ensuring that tailored policy approaches are developed that will have a real and lasting impact for rural and urban communities alike.
The new Department will work closely with other Departments that have a role in supporting the twin objectives of rural and community development, be it the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which reaches into rural areas through its many policies and programmes that support farming and fishing communities, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which is key to facilitating job creation in the regions through its support for enterprises, from start-ups to multinational companies, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and others which work closely with disadvantaged communities to improve their social inclusion, education and job prospects.
The action plan for rural development provides a whole-of-Government framework to support rural development through practical actions, with clear timeframes, for delivery by named Departments and agencies. The action plan will form the basis of the work of the rural development division of the new Department. As the Minister for Rural and Community Development, I will continue to work tirelessly with other Departments, public bodies and stakeholders to deliver on the actions in the plan.
We have had many debates over the past 12 months in this House and Oireachtas committees about rural areas. While we may have had differing views from time to time on matters of detail in these debates, no Deputy or Senator believes that supporting rural areas is a bad thing.
I see the talent and potential of rural Ireland every day. I see how the people of rural Ireland have adapted and changed with the times. Rural Ireland in the 21st century is modern, dynamic and creative, and is an important part of our identity and our economy. It is my job to help realise that potential. As Minister for Rural and Community Development, I will work with my ministerial colleagues to bring more job opportunities and better services to the people of rural Ireland.
Rural Ireland is a diverse and varied place. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting rural Ireland. That said, there are many examples of very successful approaches that can be captured and copied throughout the country. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo is a fine example of this and has led to huge interest in other greenway projects around the country, while the emergence of new enterprise clusters in areas such as agri-tech in the west also point the way forward for creating high-value-added jobs. I want to change the narrative around rural Ireland. I want to build on the positives. I see and meet many exceptional business people and many exceptional rural communities. The establishment of the new Department of Rural and Community Development provides an unprecedented opportunity to build on the work the Government commenced last year, to work in partnership with business leaders and communities and to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of the people who live and work in rural Ireland.
All this, of course, will be complemented by the work of the community development division in the new Department. To move forward and grow as a country, we need strong and vibrant communities. Strong communities are the glue that hold our society together and enrich our lives. The framework policy for local and community development in Ireland is a critical piece of work in this regard. It sets out national priorities and a framework for a cross-Government approach to improving engagement between national and local government and local communities in the planning, delivery and evaluation of policies and interventions that affect them. It focuses on tackling poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion. It seeks to provide better ways of working with communities to identify local priorities and develop local solutions to address these, with the aim of securing positive impacts on jobs, gender equality, poverty, rural communities and people with disabilities.
Delivering on the commitments in the policy will be a key priority of mine and the new Department, working in partnership with other Departments, State agencies and a range of key community development, local development and community and voluntary sector stakeholders. Developing a strong relationship with local government will also be critical given the significant role local authorities and the newly established local community development committees, LCDCs, will have in translating the policy into local actions and approaches. By working together locally and nationally, we can identify better ways to provide more effective services for those who need them most. We can plan in a way that involves communities in identifying their own needs and priorities, that co-ordinates what we do and, most importantly, that delivers real outcomes for all involved.
A strong relationship with local government and the new local governance structures will also be important in terms of programme delivery. LCDCs have a role in the new Department’s Leader programme in many rural areas as well as responsibility for delivering the Department’s social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, at local level. SICAP is the country’s primary social inclusion intervention and, as such, I am keen to support its ongoing development, to work closely with those managing its delivery and to ensure it continues to support those who need it most. The new SICAP, which will be rolled out in 2018, will also be complemented by the new communities facilities scheme and the new RAPID programme, which will provide capital funding for projects that seek to enhance communities, address disadvantage and improve social cohesion at a local level.
The contribution of the community and voluntary sector to the well-being of our nation should never be taken for granted. If there is anything all public representatives have in common, it is their awareness and direct experience of the vital impact voluntary work has at community level. A key focus of the new Department, therefore, will be to raise awareness of the contribution the community and voluntary sector gives nationally, while developing and strengthening policy approaches and existing supports that will grow the sector in years to come.
The establishment of the new Department of Rural and Community Development will strengthen delivery of the Government’s commitments to rural Ireland and its communities. The primary function of the Department will be to support local communities and to ensure rural areas, market towns and villages can develop and thrive. The Department’s role in leading the action plan for rural development and the framework policy for local and community development in Ireland will bring an added impetus to the local and economic development of rural Ireland and will improve the lives of those living in disadvantaged communities nationwide. I am enthused by the potential for the Department to achieve real progress for rural Ireland and our communities. I look forward to finalising as soon as possible the transfer of functions order which will set out in further detail the role of the Department. I commend the Bill to the House.