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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Vol. 968 No. 4

Other Questions

Tidy Towns Committees Funding

Joe Carey


20. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans in relation to the 60th anniversary of Tidy Towns; if there are special elements to 2018 competition in view of the anniversary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18924/18]

I wish to ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans for the 60th anniversary of Tidy Towns, if there are any special elements in the 2018 competition in view of the anniversary, and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The year 2018 is very special for the SuperValu Tidy Towns Competition as it marks the 60th anniversary of what has been a very successful Government initiative. The work done by the Tidy Towns committees down through the years has played an important part in the improvement of the appearance of villages, towns and cities around the country.

To assist committees to mark the 60th anniversary, I allocated funding of €1.4 million to Tidy Towns committees at the end of last year to help them prepare for the 2018 competition. I am delighted that more than 900 of the committees availed of the funding.

Officials in my Department also carried out a nationwide consultation process with Tidy Towns committees last year in order to revise and update the competition. As a result of this process, a number of changes were implemented to simplify the application process. Other changes aimed at improving the competition will follow in due course.

This year’s competition was launched on 28 March and includes a number of new special awards categories, including a schools award and an architectural award. A number of other initiatives to make this celebration year a memorable one for all the committees involved are being developed currently and details of these will be made available in due course.

I thank the Minister. Tidy Towns is a wonderful scheme. It has been in existence for 60 years and I want to compliment the Minister for the recognition that he gives to Tidy Towns organisations right across the State. I am a former treasurer of my local Tidy Towns committee in Clarecastle. The movement there has gone from strength to strength under the chairmanship of Mr. Christie Leyden and with the help of all the members. We have seen a transformation in our village. In last year's competition, Ennis was named as the tidiest large urban centre. That was wonderful as well. Ennis was joined by Kilrush, which was recognised as a gold medal winner in its category. I give the Minister credit for allocating €1.4 million to Tidy Towns last year. I also give him credit for bringing about some minor changes this year to bring schools on board and make architectural awards part of the scheme.

When does the Minister expect to make the new details known and launch the scheme formally?

I thank the Deputy for his comments. Tidy Towns is probably one of the best schemes in the country. I know the Acting Chairman's county has done well in Tidy Towns over the years. I was delighted to allocate the €1.4 million and I did this in recognition of the work that people do in a voluntary capacity.

To go back to the question I was asked, I call on all sporting organisations, businesses and communities to support for one year the Tidy Towns committees throughout the country. I am asking people to make a special effort on the 60th anniversary of the Tidy Towns committees. Perhaps a sporting organisation or a local factory could take a corner of a town or village and make an effort to improve it for one year. I call on all communities to give their support this year for the 60th anniversary. This was launched on 28 March and the closing date is 23 May. We will be writing to all Tidy Towns committees shortly to tell them of all the new schemes we are introducing and we have also had a consultation process with them.

This is a great scheme and we should give these people a bit of assistance this year. It is left to the few in every small village and town. Why can everybody not give a bit of help for one year, given it is the 60th anniversary? I make a plea to everybody to come out and support them, even Members of the Oireachtas, and to get involved for one year in their Tidy Towns committee to make it a special 60th year. It is good for towns and villages and good for the country.

I join the Minister's call to get sporting organisations and businesses to come on board to make a special effort in this 60th year. I also call on the Minister to provide additional funding as part of that recognition because it is a special year. While the Minister gave an allocation last year, we need to step up to the plate again and give due recognition to this wonderful organisation that works in a voluntary capacity in all our towns and villages throughout the State.

The Deputy has put it up to me. I responded last year because I have seen the work they do in every county, town and village. To me, it is not a grant or money for them. It is an investment in the country, given what they do for the community and the country.

I had responsibility for the national parks at one time and I saw the dumping that is happening in towns and villages, particularly in rural areas. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I allocated funding recently in regard to sophisticated measures to try to catch people who are dumping. Why should some people be cleaning up after others? We want to see more prosecutions and we want to support those who keep our communities, towns and villages clean and tidy. They deserve to be supported. On behalf of the Government and the Oireachtas, and on my own behalf, I thank all those involved in the Tidy Towns committees throughout the country. Sometimes we see them criticised, whether on Facebook or elsewhere, but I thank them for the work they do.

Deputy Carey did not get the money yet.

Community Services Programme

Éamon Ó Cuív


21. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to expand the community services programme over the coming years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19101/18]

John Curran


22. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to open the community services programme to additional new entrants in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19011/18]

I am delighted that the Minister has got the community services programme back, although I am very disappointed to hear he did not get the staff. It often seems that Departments run their operations as if they were independent empires rather than part of a collective Government, although that is not the Minister's fault. My question concerns the plans to expand this scheme. There are many community facilities that are not used to their potential and many tourist facilities in community hands that could be drawing many more people into communities who would then stay there, shop there, eat meals there and so on. What plans has the Minister to expand this and has he got the backing of the Department and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for those plans?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21 and 22 together.

The community services programme, or CSP, was transferred to my Department on 1 January 2018. The programme supports 400 community organisations to provide local services through a social enterprise model, with funding provided as a contribution to the cost of a manager and an agreed number of full-time equivalent positions. Some €46 million will be provided under the programme in 2018.

My current priority is to maintain the level of service for the organisations funded under the programme and to monitor its progress over the coming months. Thereafter, the Department will undertake a thorough review, commencing in early autumn 2018. The review will consider, among other things, how the programme fits with overall Government priorities, as well as my Department’s other community programmes and its policy objectives. It will also consider potential crossover with my Department’s forthcoming national policy on social enterprise.

I recently approved €815,000 for 12 social enterprises following a call for applications issued in 2017 under strand 3 of the programme. Additional calls for proposals will be considered upon completion of the review and in light of available funding. That said, my Department will continue to accept expressions of interest under the CSP in 2018 and I expect to approve funding for additional social enterprises during the year as funding becomes available as part of the ongoing management of the programme.

From his reply, it would appear that what the Minister is doing is recycling the money. Some schemes get a reduced number of full-time equivalents and he is transferring them. One thing that all of us puzzle about, and we have often talked about it among ourselves, is the fact there are still a large number of people drawing jobseeker's allowance long-term who will never get commercial jobs. Let us be honest about it. They could provide fantastic services in the community through this scheme if there were to be a transfer to the Minister's Department of some of the welfare that is going with these people and if he were given the top-up by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Are there negotiations under way to ensure that kind of lateral thinking in government rather than the silo effect that goes on all the time and which we are all, as politicians, subject to at times?

While I welcome the fact the scheme has been transferred to the Department, I was slightly disappointed with the Minister's response where he said a review of the scheme would take place later in the year. I would have thought that review should be under way as we speak and I am not sure why there would be a delay in that taking place. I acknowledge there were expressions of interest last year and that the Minister has recently announced a dozen new projects. These were restricted to strand 3 specifically, however, and I understand projects that did not meet strand 3 criteria were declined funding, although they may be assessed in the future. Nonetheless, the demand is real and it is there today, both from individuals, as outlined by Deputy Ó Cuív, and from communities. In regard to strand 1, there are many community facilities that could avail of this programme, especially in areas of disadvantage. My concern is that it is like a drip feed. The scheme is turned on and off and there is no continuity in terms of access to the programme. While I know this is budget related and budget specific, I would like to see a more transparent and consistent scheme being designed.

With regard to the review, we only got this programme at the end of last year and we took it over from 1 January. My first priority was to make sure that the programme continued. As the Deputies said, this is a very important programme and I did not want any delay in regard to it continuing and the programme being put in place, so that was my priority. We need a review of the scheme, and I want to respond to the points made by the two Deputies, many of which I agree with. The scheme supports more than 2,000 jobs. There are 1,600 people employed and 306 managers, and I have provided €815,000 for 12 new social enterprises. I like this scheme. Deputy Ó Cuív referred to the people who are on the scheme.

It is important that we give them an opportunity to be in the workplace and give back to society.

Work is being done in terms of social protection and discussions on these schemes are constantly being held. However, I must be careful in that some of them are social enterprises and meet social needs. I do not want to affect schemes that are performing a good for society that no Department, local authority or agency is addressing. Without such schemes, communities would not have access to certain services. My first priority is to protect them and their funding and prevent something from being introduced that would affect them negatively in any way. I will want the Deputies' support in that regard, as these important schemes are working.

I am sorry, but the Minister will have a final minute in which to reply.

That is fine. I thank the Acting Chairman.

I do not like interrupting, but I am trying to keep to the time limits.

I understand Pobal administers a large part of the programme. Is the Minister personally consulted before any scheme is reduced or closed? Pobal has previously made bad recommendations regarding the kinds of service in question. Will the Minister reassure me that no scheme will be reduced or closed without his personal say so?

As part of the review, will the Minister consider costing a doubling of the scheme's size? More than 2,000 full-time equivalents would be needed to provide all of the community services, some of which have a semi-economic basis, while others are of significant social importance, for example, community halls, while also generating some income. The Minister's costing could take into account the savings that would be made in the social welfare budget. It is all taxpayers' money. If the State saves with one hand and spends with the other, the taxpayer only has to worry about the net cost.

I welcome the Minister's statement that he will pay close attention to ensuring none of the existing schemes will be adversely affected by the review. One of the advantages of having the programme in the then Department of Social Protection was that, if savings were made on jobseekers' payments, there could be a supplementary budget and transferring funding internally was easier.

However, that should not be a blockage in expanding the scheme which offers real and tangible work for people who are otherwise finding it difficult to work and provides projects for communities. Regardless of whether they are projects with tourism features like the ones Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív indicated or community facilities, they play a vital role.

I urge the Minister to accelerate the review. Our frustration is that emerging communities are shut out from the programme. That is the problem. If people move from the live register onto this programme, there is an additional cost to the Minister's Department, but there is a saving elsewhere. Joined-up Government thinking is needed in order that these funds can flow from one Department to the other.

The Minister should try to keep his answer as tight as possible.

I inherited a budget of €45 million for this year, although it was subsequently increased to €46 million. I will negotiate with the rest of the Government for further funding for next year. We must remember that the programme has only been running since 1 January. I would like to see further funding for it, but the problem lies with the existing budget. For new schemes to come on line, others must be dropped. That is the problem.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked about Pobal, which administers the programme's schemes, and I will give him an honest answer. It notifies me of schemes that will be dropped. I have ministerial authority to reject that decision, but the Deputy knows that the minute I do so, I will face more allegations like those made in the Chamber this morning about interfering in the process.

The Minister has to be brave.

I have already seen it happen. I asked Pobal to review a number of its decisions with which I was not happy. It is reviewing them. It receives a great deal of criticism, but it has a professional team and makes good decisions 99.9% of the time. I support it in that regard.

I need to examine the appeals mechanism and will do so. I have spoken to Pobal about this matter and, to be fair, it has accepted the need to do so.

I thank the Minister for his co-operation.

RAPID Programme

John Curran


23. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of his Department's review of the RAPID programme; the improvements that have been made as a result of this review in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19012/18]

The Minister made funding available under the RAPID programme for 2017 and 2018. Will he explain the Department's review of the programme and when will it be complete? Will he assure the House that the funding provided under the programme will remain targeted at the areas of greatest disadvantage?

Officials in my Department are carrying out a review of the RAPID programme, with a view to developing an expanded and enhanced programme to support disadvantaged communities. The overall aim is to ensure communities get the most benefit from any available funding and that funding is delivered to those who need it most in as efficient a manner as possible. Matters being considered include whether the programme should be amalgamated with the communities facilities scheme, an examination of the method of allocating funding under the programme and other more administrative issues. The funding will continue to be channelled through the local community development committee, LCDC, structure because such committees are best placed to identify the most suitable projects locally.

The review process included an invitation for feedback from the LCDCs. The review is almost complete and I hope to make an announcement on a new programme in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister for his response. Since I submitted this question I have since received some information because of my concern that the funding made available for the programme in 2017 was not necessarily targeted at the areas of most disadvantage. The Minister allocated €64,500 to each local authority in 2017. My local authority covers more than one RAPID programme area. I have discovered that one project received €32,000, but it is the only RAPID programme area in my constituency - it is in north Clondalkin - and the project is a general one serving the entire constituency, not just the targeted area. I do not want to be critical of the project because it is a good one; rather, my point is that the RAPID programme area in north Clondalkin did not receive targeted funding. I have the specific details for the Minister. If we are to run a true RAPID programme, the areas of most disadvantage must be recognised and their communities' needs met but the latter did not happen in 2017. Instead, there was a general spend across a wider area.

I accept the Deputy's comments. That is why I am reviewing the scheme. As the Deputy has been fair, I will be fair in response. The scheme had not been open since 2008. When we set up the new Department last year, I was anxious to receive funding. A criticism made by local authorities and LCDCs was that I had allocated the funding too late. What I am hoping to do with the new scheme is to identify the areas of most need. Last year approximately €64,000 of the national total of €2 million was given to each local authority. Some €3.5 million has been ring-fenced for Dublin's inner city. The Deputy and I both know that other areas in Dublin also face problems. They need to be identified, targeted and supported. I hope to be able to do so and have the programme announced by the end of May. That is the reason for the review. I do not want to see funding going to areas that do not need it; it should be targeted. I happened to be in inner city Dublin recently and was pleased to see the way in which the funding was targeted, for example, playschools for mothers and toddlers, as well as other schemes. I was proud of how it was all working. We were targeting the areas that needed funding the most.

There is. The Minister is proud of the success of the scheme in the north-east inner city, but my concern is that, although he identified the amount of funding that had gone to that area, areas of significant disadvantage in other parts of Dublin are only receiving a sum of €32,000. That amount is not proportionate to the challenges facing them. It is welcome that the Minister has reopened the programme. He must ensure funding goes to those areas. In my constituency the RAPID programme area is north Clondalkin. There are other areas of disadvantage, but the area of greatest disadvantage has been identified. Funding should go to it.

The Minister will have to fight for the funding required. I acknowledge he can be dogged and determined, and we will support him in this. Funding of €2 million for a national programme is not significant enough, considering that the Minister is putting more into the inner city alone than the rest of the country. He is seeing the result of this, which testifies to the benefit of the programme. I want to see in every disadvantaged community investment at a scale that will bring meaningful results.

I cannot disagree with anything the Deputy says. I would love to have more funding. I will have to try to get more. This is a very important scheme. The day any Government or society forgets about the people in need, who need to be targeted, supported and helped, is a sad one. That is why the scheme is up and running now. I have had it reviewed and can now consider ways of targeting to ensure needs are met. Last year, there was a serious difficulty at Cherry Orchard. I allocated €100,000 at the end of the year to support that community in addressing its difficulties. Inner-city Dublin is affected but the Deputy is quite correct that this is not just a Dublin problem; there are problems all over the country. Local authority funding of €64,000 was made available. I would love to see a lot more funding than that. I must consider, however, all the other programmes, including the SICAP and the committees programme. There are many other programs to support and target. There is not just one programme; there are many others. I want to ensure we do not operate in a piecemeal way and that we consider all the programmes to ensure they are all targeting the right areas and that we are not trying to spread resources too much.

I accept the comments of the Deputy and I am reviewing the scheme. I am considering operating the communities programme along with it. These are two small programmes and it would be better to target the areas that need resources must.

If all Deputies, including Ministers, co-operate, we might just get six questions answered. We are two questions behind so I ask everybody to obey the time constraints to be fair to those who are hoping their questions will be answered. I understand it is often necessary to take a few seconds more than allocated but the Members should try to adhere to the time allowed.

Banking Sector

Seán Sherlock


24. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the engagement his Department has had with credit union representative bodies (details supplied) regarding the future of the rural post office network and the public banking investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18903/18]

Alan Kelly


31. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the engagement his Department has had with an organisation (details supplied) in respect of the establishment of a network of regional public banks here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18905/18]

It has been agreed that Deputy Penrose will ask the questions on behalf of Deputy Sherlock. I am sure nobody has any difficulty with that.

As the Minister knows, I have been pursuing this vigorously. I am eager to ascertain the status of the public banking investigation carried out by the Government. The Minister's Department and the Department of Finance have recently completed a report examining whether a model of community or public banking could work here. The Minister said it will be published in the coming weeks and that he is engaged with Irish Rural Link and the Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation, which is the international development wing of the German Sparkassen public banks. I am eager to ascertain what progress has been made. I acknowledge the Minister is on top of it and is supportive but I do not trust the Department of Finance.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 31 together.

The programme for a partnership Government includes a commitment to investigate a new model of community banking for Ireland, including an investigation of the German Sparkassen model for the development of local public banks that operate within well-defined regions.

A project team comprising officials from my Department and the Department of Finance was established last year to make progress on this commitment. The project team carried out detailed research into the concept of a public banking model, with a particular focus on the Sparkassen model. In addition, a public consultation process seeking views on the concept of a community banking model ran for four weeks. A range of key stakeholders were invited to comment on the proposed new model of community banking, including the credit union representative bodies. Members of the Oireachtas were also advised of the consultation process.

Two credit union representative bodies submitted very comprehensive responses describing the extent of their work and the impact they have on rural communities throughout the country. Their responses have been assessed in detail and their views will be reflected in the forthcoming report on the public banking review. Additionally, there has been substantial engagement and a number of meetings held with the body referred to by Deputy Penrose, who has been raising this for many years. The departmental officials have finalised their report and have submitted their findings to the Minister for Finance and me. The report will be brought to Government for approval in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister but I am deeply concerned by the obstinate view of the Department of Finance. The German model of public banking falls between the private commercial banks that we are used to in Ireland and the credit union movement. These banks would offer the same kinds of loans as commercial banks currently offer but with more favourable terms. Clearly, the banks are not nationalised like AIB. The public banking model has existed in Germany for over 200 years. The banks are municipally owned and are not for profit. The clear objective is lending into the regional economy. Such banks would fill the void that has clearly been left behind by the pillar banks, which, as the Minister is aware and has heard in recent pronouncements, are rapidly disengaging from rural Ireland. All they are interested in is more technology and removing the human face from banking. The poor unfortunate bank workers, tellers and others who are left behind are absolutely overloaded. It is a disgrace. One has only to see what Ms McDonagh of Bank of Ireland and others in AIB have been doing in recent weeks to realise this. The general public remains sceptical about the mainstream banks. How could it be any other way when the sole focus is bringing back the discredited bonus system?

The Minister now has a chance to give the pillar banks a right booting because that is what they deserve. They are deserting the ordinary people of this country. This is a chance for us to fill the void.

I call the Minister. He should please keep to the time.

I thank Deputy Penrose. I want to be fair to him because he has been raising this for a long time. I really mean it when I say the report has been produced and will be before the Government in the next two weeks. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and I have read the report. We have to bring it before the Cabinet. We will publish it as quickly as possible after it considers it.

I agree with the Deputy on some of the comments he made. There is a problem and I am hearing every single day as a rural Deputy, not as a Minister, how banks are dealing with consumers. We do need a bit of competition in the market. Banks have certainly lost the sense of what they used to do and are certainly not there for the people anymore. They are there for themselves, not for the ordinary general public who need banking services. The banks no longer want to take cash and they do not want to give out loans. I do not know what they want to do any longer. There are many complaints. Small businesses are finding out daily that they cannot obtain the credit they need, nor can they get the supports.

The public banking model in Germany operates under municipal trusteeship. The salary ranges of Sparkassen staff are basically identical to the civil servant arrangements. Bonuses for staff are not common practice. Salary arrangements comprise a success story and there is customer satisfaction. The pillar banks here would not get a penny if it was based on customer satisfaction. They would not get a shilling. Some of the big managers would lose some of their wages. Bonuses for staff are not common practice in the German public banking model. Mr. Seamus Boland, CEO of Irish Rural Link, said this alternative system of banking would in many ways complement mainstream banking. It is important to relay to the bureaucrats in the Department of Finance, whom I know are the obstacle, that Mr. Boland states: "Failure to develop an alternative banking system on the lines proposed, will condemn our regions to being unable to develop in economic terms for the foreseeable future."

I know what the banks did during the hard times. They took away overdrafts of €5,000 and €6,000 from unfortunate small businesses and let them go to the wall. They looked after the big shots and the small people suffered. This is the void we are trying to fill. We want to take on the pillar banks through competition. Sparkassen, the credit union movement and the post offices are ready to do so. The Minister should complete the job.

All I can tell the Deputy is that we want to get this to the Cabinet. We want to get the report published. I would love to see more competition in the banking market. I will try to get my job done, get the report to the Cabinet as quickly as possible, have it published and then see where we are.

Question No. 25 replied to with Written Answers.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Brendan Smith


26. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the discussions his Department has with its counterpart in Northern Ireland on the development of cross-Border projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19074/18]

Brendan Smith


28. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the discussions he or his Department has with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the European Commission on the funding of cross-Border projects after 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19075/18]

Deputy Breathnach will put the question. I am sure that is agreed by the House.

I apologise on behalf of Deputy Brendan Smith. Deputy John Curran said the Minister is dogged but I would say he is a Rottweiler this morning. I thank him for the funding that comes from his Department.

The two questions concern the discussions the Minister has had with his Northern counterparts and other officials in respect of the funding of fundamental cross-Border projects and the dealings he has had with the European Commission, particularly on PEACE programmes and their continuation in the vacuums that exist, whether they arise from Brexit or the lack of devolved government in the North.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 26 and 28 together.

PEACE IV supports peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border counties of Ireland, promoting social and economic stability, particularly through actions which promote cohesion between communities.  It is co-funded by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund. 

My Department is accountable and provides funding under three themes - shared spaces and services, building positive relations, and children and young people. My Department's primary role in developing projects is as an adviser on the PEACE IV steering committee, together with other relevant Departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  The steering committee which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body as part of its overall management of PEACE IV considers and approves all funding applications.  Discussions between my Department and counterpart Departments in Northern Ireland take place primarily within the steering committee process, engaging directly on specific projects from time to time, when necessary.

The Government is committed to securing agreement on successor programmes post-2020 and continuing the deep cross-Border co-operation that is the hallmark of the current cross-Border programmes.  In that regard, I am pleased that both the European Union and the United Kingdom have committed to examining favourably support for the programmes post-2020.

My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, has overall responsibility for the PEACE programme and engaging with the European Commission, including programme funding post-2020. However, I expect my Department to contribute strongly to the shape of any new programme as discussions progress.

I understand the use of the words "favourably considering". We all respect the fact that a commitment is in place until 2020 from the British Government and the European Union to fund the programme to which the Minister of State referred. Where there is a vacuum is in the planning processes of organisations such as the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN, the east Border region and the local authorities. Looking into the future at fundamental projects that need to be supported on a North-South basis, we can see that we have a problem. The programmes are essential in achieving progress both in rural and urban places along the Border which have suffered for many years. The European Union recognises other countries that are not in the Union and there are many programmes outside an EU structure. It is important to explore that option and bed it down in advance of a possible Brexit to help to continue to support the peace process.

I absolutely agree with the Deputy. The value of the current PEACE programme is circa €270 million, including the Irish and UK matching funding, with €229 million from the European Union and €40.5 million from the Irish and UK Governments. The latter figure is composed of €8.75 million from the Irish Government and €31.7 million from the UK Government. Some 85% is funded from the European Regional Development Fund. The funding is expected to be fully committed before the end of 2018. Obviously the long-term objective is to secure a successor programme beyond 2020.

In terms of engaging, agreement has been reached between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland on a safeguard clause for funding agreements with programme beneficiaries in the light of Brexit. It will Brexit-proof letters of offer to the greatest extent possible and give programme beneficiaries assurances as to the legal and financial commitments into which they are entering, thus allowing them to plan for the future with confidence. Work is being undertaken by officials in my Department with officials from Northern Ireland to ensure there will be certainty as we move towards Brexit.

I recognise the funding to which the Minister of State has referred. However, the overall figure that has been contributed to the Border counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo means that it would be a catastrophe if the funding was to slow down. Any Deputy from these Border counties could be asking questions about this matter. It is imperative that we redouble our efforts to ensure both communities, the local authorities, businesses and the progress achieved during the peace process will never be forgotten. There are many communities along the Border and further north and south which have been impacted on by the Troubles. It is essential that we continue these programmes and enhance them. They have become essential to the Border region in how local authorities operate and communities benefit. I welcome the Minister of State's answer and want to assure him and the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, that I came into the Dáil Chamber in the first instance to co-operate with others in enhancing communities.

I concur with the Deputy. Obviously he is from the Border region; therefore, he has much more first-hand experience of what happened in the past. We are fully committed to ensuring there will be a successor programme. My Department will provide €6 million for projects over the lifetime of the programme, with a matching contribution of €33 million to be provided by the European Union. The remaining Exchequer contribution of €3 million is to be provided by the Department of Education and Skills under the programmes I listed, including a number of projects that relate to children and young people, the local authority children and young people's programme, the shared spaces and services capital development projects, local authority shared spaces projects, shared spaces for victims and survivors and building positive relations on local authority action plans and regional level projects. There are a range of funding streams, with funding from my Department and the European Union. It is important that we ensure this funding stream continue into the future.

Local Improvement Scheme Funding

Tony McLoughlin


27. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the allocation, both nationally and to counties Sligo and Leitrim, under the local improvement scheme since its reintroduction in 2017; and if there will be a second round of the scheme in 2018. [18945/18]

I want to ask the Minister about the allocations, both nationally and in the constituency of Sligo-Leitrim and south Donegal, under the local improvement scheme since its reintroduction in 2017. Will there be another allocation this year? I congratulate the Minister because for roughly ten years no money was spent on local improvement schemes-----

The Deputy has introduced his question. I am sorry to interject, but I want to allow time for two further questions.

The local improvement scheme, LIS, is a programme for improvement works on small private and non-public roads. The scheme is funded by my Department and administered through the local authorities.

In September 2017, following a number of years when there was no dedicated funding for the scheme, I approved €10 million in funding for it. I allocated a further €7.4 million for the scheme from savings made elsewhere in my Department's Vote at the end of November 2017.  The total allocation of €17.4 million for the scheme in 2017 included allocations of €496,158 to Sligo County Council and €487,947 to Leitrim County Council.  Following on from the successful relaunch of the scheme in 2017, I announced details of the 2018 local improvement scheme on 27 February.  I have allocated an initial amount of €10.8 million to county councils across the country under the scheme this year. The funding includes allocations of €282,000 to Sligo County Council and €250,000 to Leitrim County Council. Detailed information on the roads selected by the Sligo and Leitrim County Councils for improvement works in 2018 can be found on my Department’s website.

As part of the 2018 local improvement scheme, I also requested each county council to compile a secondary list of suitable road projects which they would have the capacity to complete should additional funding become available through my Department later in the year.  I will be monitoring the position in the context of my Department's overall expenditure performance in the coming months.

I thank the Minister. I welcome the money the constituency has received since 2017. I am aware that offers have been made to a number of farmers and householders living along the routes of the local improvement schemes which have been approved by both Sligo County Council and Leitrim County Council. I believe the money that has been spent there and in every constituency in the country is to be welcomed. Every councillor in the country has been lobbying, with the aim of improving private roads for farming. In many cases, this means that the roads are brought up to a standard where they can be taken in charge by the local authorities in the various areas involved.

The Minister has allocated a sum of €10.8 million this year. I hope additional funding can be made available for local improvement schemes. It is money well spent spent and which has been taken up in every area, particularly in the areas I represent, in Sligo-Leitrim and south Donegal. It is vitally important that we receive additional funding in 2018, but I certainly welcome the €10.8 million allocated so far.

I have tabled a similar question that we probably will not reach. People are grateful to get this money. Last year there was €17 million, but this year it is down to €10 million. People are concerned that it has been clawed back by that much. Will the Minister assure us that new money or more money will be found for the rest of the year? Although the €17 million spent last year did a tremendous amount of work, there had been ten years of nothing. We ought to see an increase in the funding available from last year rather than a decrease. I hope the Minister will find the extra funds for this in the future.

I welcome the call. The Minister made money available last year and I hope that he can make more available this year. It makes a big difference to the quality of life of people in rural areas living on these roads.

I thank the three Deputies. The scheme has been very successful. This scheme had been closed for several years and has now reopened. Funding has been allocated to 1,100 roads until the end of the year.

This year's budget voted €10 million, which I have increased to €10.7 million. I will seek savings in my Department and if I have further funds available this year, I will look at the local improvement scheme, LIS, as an area in which I can spend this. I took €7.7 million in savings last year and put it into the LIS at the end of the year. That is why I have asked local authorities to give us the list, and to be fair, most local authorities have given me their priority lists. I have grant aided funding to them and asked them to come up with a second list. I will write to them again to prioritise that secondary list. If I have extra funds, that is where it will go. Deputy Scanlon is correct. This scheme has worked very well.

I want to clarify something for Deputy Calleary and others. I do not pick the schemes. The local authorities pick the schemes, and I want to put that on the record.

That is what the Minister is telling them.

The Deputies can look at the Ballina schemes and the number there. All I can tell them is that I did not pick them.

The Minister might write to them and tell them that.

I am delighted that my colleagues have come in to support this request. We have delivered the money over the past two years. For ten years we had no money whatever. From the Minister's track record, I hope that additional funding will be made available to the €10.7 million so far for 2018. The upgrading of roads in recent years has benefited communities, as was the case with previous local improvement schemes. I am sure the Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy, has seen the benefits in his own constituency of Roscommon, and will associate himself with those. I thank the Minister and hope that we will continue with this local improvement scheme. It is great for local authorities which have been starved of funding for many years. It provides additional work and is good for local councillors who have lobbied for it.

On a serious note, I reiterate that I do not pick the schemes. I will look at the local authorities, and Deputy Ó Cuív supports me on this. They look for the local contribution and charge an administrative fee for the scheme. I looked at one scheme recently which cost €21,000. The Department had allocated €26,000 and the council had taken €3,000 to €4,000 from this sum for administering the scheme. I gave it €865,000 and I expect that €865,000 to be spent on roads, not on administration.

That is something that needs to be looked at. An issue which Deputy Ó Cuív raised has raised before, which I have raised with officials, and Deputy McLoughlin also brought up is the charges per square metre for roads. I want the Department to do some work on this because I want to see the €10.7 million this year, or the €17.7 million last year, put into roads. The local authority staff would be there anyway. I should not have to pay an administration fee on top of the cost of the roads, not to mention the local authorities charging €20 per square metre. That does not make sense when the private sector can do it for around €13 to €15. The scheme is a good one which I want to continue. I know the Acting Chairman admires it because many roads were done in Roscommon and he knows more will be done this year.

That is the last comment on that matter. We will move on.

Question No. 28 answered with Question No. 26.

We are very tight for time. Will Deputy McLoughlin forgo his introduction and we will get the answer?

I will, if the Acting Chairman lets me in afterwards.

Seniors Alert Scheme

Tony McLoughlin


29. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of persons who signed up for the seniors alert scheme in counties Sligo and Leitrim in 2017; and his plans for the scheme in 2018. [18946/18]

The number of approved participants in the seniors alert scheme in 2017 in the areas in question were 276 in Sligo and 182 in Leitrim. Following the launch of a new scheme which took effect on 1 November 2017, my Department conducted a very successful nationwide public awareness campaign aimed at older people, their extended families and friends who may not have been aware of the scheme. The key features of the new scheme include a self-declaration of limited means for eligibility, a person no longer having to live alone to qualify, free monitoring of the alarm service for the first year, and an increase in administrative payments to community groups involved in rolling out the scheme.

I am pleased to say that since the launch of the new scheme, the demand has been unprecedented. Spend in 2017 amounted to almost €2.7 million, compared with €1.8 million spent in 2016. During 2017, in excess of 12,700 applications were approved and more than 10,000 installations were completed. In the first three months of 2018, in excess of 6,000 applications were approved. I encourage anyone who is interested in the seniors alert scheme to contact Pobal which operates the scheme on my Department’s behalf.

I thank the Minister for the reply. Awareness, through Pobal and other agencies involved in promoting the seniors alert scheme, is most important. I have seen it at first hand. Almost 500 people have participated in it in my constituency in Sligo and Leitrim in the past year, and I am sure many others would do so if people were aware that they do not need to live alone for this alert system to be put in place.

We see vandalism and robberies in the countryside and people suffer ill health. I have seen many people whose lives have been saved as a result of this system. It is vital that we encourage Pobal to advertise this service. Will the Minister say if there has been an advertising campaign to raise awareness? Many people are working in this area in their communities but there are many others who are not aware of it.

I took this scheme on board last year because, as the Deputy notes, we had many problems in the countryside, especially with criminal gangs who were targeting elderly people. People must be safe in their homes.

The initial take-up was not large. In 2015, 1,321 took up the scheme. In 2016, it was 7,301 and, because of the Department's campaign which targeted local radio and newspapers and informed every Deputy in the House, 12,609 people took up the scheme last year. As of the end of March, 6,109 people have signed up this year. The campaign worked very well. I want to see people being able to stay in their homes and live there without being frightened. This is a good scheme, and if anyone knows anybody who wants to take it up, they should contact Pobal or the community groups which are dealing with it. The scheme has worked well and I may have to find extra funding for it this year, which shows how well it worked.

There is no better man than the Minister to get additional money. It is crucial if there is extra demand for the scheme and I am sure that there will be. The Minister is correct. There are many agencies involved. An awareness campaign helps. I am sure every Deputy here will have seen how concerned people are in their homes in recent years, and how they are live prisoners in their homes. If they have this resource, they have contact with the outside world when they lock their doors at night.

The campaign the Minister has launched is very innovative. It is vitally important that we continue it this year and in years to come so that everybody can avail of this facility.

We made a number of changes to the scheme last year and we made it easier for people. They do not have to pay for the first year of monitoring because the Department pays for it. The scheme has been very successful and I am delighted that so many people have availed of it. I compliment all the community groups, particularly Pobal, on the public shows they held around the country which led to the massive take-up. The most important thing is that elderly people feel safe in their homes. It has worked so well that we are going to have to find further funding for it this year.