The Taoiseach last week told rural dwellers and various campaigners to stop talking down rural Ireland. I put it to him that campaigning for and articulating the need for basic services such as housing, health and broadband connectivity or questioning the lack of spending on important projects in rural Ireland is entirely legitimate, as is calling to account the Government for its lack of delivery on promises made by it to rural Ireland many years ago. We need a reality check in terms of delivery on promises made to rural Ireland.
The previous Fine Gael-led Government undermined and arguably destroyed a very good model for rural development in the form of the then Leader programme, which was lauded by the European Union as an example of good governance and developmental community-led approach and was designed to revitalise rural areas, create jobs and so on.
From 2007 to 2013 the previous programme allocated some €400 million. The Fine Gael-led Government came in and reduced that allocation to €250 million and destroyed it by undermining the governance structure with huge bureaucracy. There were also major delays in getting the programme off the ground. As of this month, only €13 million out of the 2014-20 programme allocation of €250 million has been spent. Forget all the rhetoric. This programme is there on the ground, waiting to be delivered, but it is not delivered in accordance with the promises made.
On broadband connectivity, back in 2011 Fine Gael said that it would connect 90% of homes by 2015. That was the promise then, and we had lots of promises in 2012, 2013 and 2014, such as Alex White's national draft strategy on broadband, and commitments such as the tendering process for the roll-out of broadband that commenced in 2013. SIRO pulled out and Eir has pulled out. Two years ago, the programme for Government promised that the contract would be awarded by 2017. If there was one project that would really enable rural Ireland and the regions to develop economically, it is the availability of high speed broadband. Everything else pales into insignificance with that vital piece of infrastructure.
Despite all the promises, the existing businesses are under huge pressure because of the lack of broadband speed, household quality is reduced and the potential of new micro enterprises is stymied because of the lack of broadband connection. Today, we learned that while there is no delivery on broadband, €466 million is also needed for the railways just to maintain them and ensure we can hold on to the existing network to connect to Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Kerry, Waterford and Wexford, not to mention the towns of Athlone, Longford, Roscommon and Carlow. All of those areas could now be affected. Is that €466 million in the existing estimates?
Rural crime is a real issue also, but I will deal with that later. My main point is that in a week when all sorts of promises are being made about billions of euro and we are going to do the roll-out in five years' time----