Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Dog Breeding Industry

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

5. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of dog breeding establishments by county; the number of inspections by county in 2016, 2017 and to date in 2018; the outcome in cases of breaches of the guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45949/18]

The Minister told us at the end of 2017 that there were almost 260 dog breeding establishments registered with various local authorities. Some 36 were registered in Limerick city and county, 35 in Cork and 28 in Wexford. The various numbers were supplied. Inspection fees amounted to €83,000. Between 2013 and 2017 four closure and 31 improvement notices were issued, but four improvement notices were appealed to the District Court. What were the numbers of inspections, by county, in 2016, 2017 and to date in 2018 and the outcomes in cases of breaches of the guidelines?

My Department has overall responsibility for the Dog Breeding Establishment Act 2010. Statistics for dog related activities undertaken by local authorities are published on the Department's website. They include information on dog breeding establishments which are defined in legislation as premises with "6 or more bitches, over 6 months old and capable of being used for breeding purposes".

The statistics show that the total number of dog breeding establishments registered for all counties was 248 in 2016 and 258 in 2017. The total number of inspections was 250 in 2016 and 275 in 2017. There were 79 commercial dog breeding establishments in 2016 and 74 in 2017. The remainder were hunt clubs, boarding kennels and animal welfare shelters. Details, by county, are available on my Department's website and will be provided for the Deputy separately. The 2018 statistics will be collated and published in early 2019.

Local authorities are responsible for operational activities, including enforcement. Where appropriate, they may issue improvement or closure notices, or work with the owners of premises to ensure compliance. In that context, they also work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as the enforcement of animal welfare standards for all animals, including dogs, is a matter for that Department.

What is unusual about this is that the responsibilities are divided among three Departments - the Departments of Rural and Community Development, Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Housing, Planning and Local Government - which is very unsatisfactory. It is similar to responsibility for traffic law being divided between the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

We still have a bad international reputation as the puppy farm capital of Europe. The UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, is planning to introduce legislation on puppy farms and puppy smuggling and the alleged illegal trade in this country has been highlighted as a major issue. In fact, the United Kingdom wants to inaugurate a regime that will outlaw third party sales and under which one will only be able to buy a puppy from a legitimate breeder. We still hear horror stories about illegal breeders being discovered with perhaps hundreds of dogs in very bad conditions. It is a major responsibility for the Department. My colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, raised this issue many times with the Minister of State's predecessor. I have been informed that she has been in contact with the Minister of State's office and that the previous Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, agreed to meet the voluntary groups and distinguished animal rights activists on animal rights, the inspection of dog breeding establishments and the new guidelines from January 2019. As I know that the Minister of State tries to reach out to people, will he guarantee that he will meet the activists as soon as possible?

Absolutely. If the commitment was made by the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, I will honour it. My officials will be in contact with the Deputy in that regard. He is correct that three Departments are involved in the overall control of dogs. My Department is involved in the policy area. The dog breeding establishment guidelines were published in July and will come into effect in January 2019. They have been well received by people involved in the dog breeding business. Of course, it might be said we should go further with certain aspects, but the guidelines need time to work. The local authorities are the enforcement agencies, while the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has overall responsibility for the welfare of animals, including dogs. From what I have seen, I can guarantee that the three Departments work very closely together to ensure there is a huge shift towards focusing on the welfare of dogs and puppies. That is what it is all about.

It certainly is. We love our dogs and want to ensure dog breeders breed and rear dogs in good conditions and treat them well. The key point the Minister of State made relates to local authorities. I have the new guidelines with me and they contain some good aspirations, but will the Minister of State be able to give the local authorities additional resources when they come into force? The number of inspections each year appears to be very low. Ultimately, it comes down to the number of inspections and enforcement. Breeders being able to go to the courts in that regard is significant. There was a huge response from the public to the dog breeding guidelines between December 2016 and February 2017, with well over 100 submissions received. However, the key point concerns enforcement. We still hear horror stories such as the one about the 86 dogs rescued from an illegal establishment in Roscommon. Dogs Trust and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, on behalf of the public, have to look after these animals which are often in very bad condition. The last time the 2010 Act was reviewed was by the former Minister, former Deputy Phil Hogan. The ratio of staff is still 1:25, rather than 1:10 one in breeding establishments, as advocated in the guidelines.

The funding for local authorities comes from the Local Government Fund, not my Department. However, I accept what the Deputy said and will convey it to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. The guidelines are the result of huge consultation with all stakeholders, which is important. They will help the local authorities and veterinarians and the established dog breeding establishments that are working properly to continue to do so. Of course, there are illegal activities, but the more we talk about and highlight them the better it will be for the welfare of animals. I come from a rural area and dogs are part of our lives. In the countryside every farm has a dog. As they are part of our families, we must ensure their welfare is protected.

I propose to return to Question No. 4. Deputy Mattie McGrath had other responsibilities and was late arriving in the House.

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Mattie McGrath

Question:

4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if the rural regeneration and development fund could be used for transport projects as the main difficulty in towns such as Tipperary is traffic flow and transport projects are deemed to be the most urgent need for the regeneration of the town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46357/18]

I was attending a meeting of the Business Committee.

I apologise for missing my slot and thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his co-operation. Can the rural regeneration and development fund be used for transport projects? I am talking specifically about the N24 which runs through Tipperary town. The town is dying, but traffic is the most significant problem. The Taoiseach recently announced that the fund would be €1 billion. Can some of that money be used to alleviate the chronic traffic problem in Tipperary to allow the town to grow?

The first call for applications for the rural regeneration and development fund closed at the end of September. A total of €1 billion has been committed to the fund over a ten-year period to support rural economic development and help to build strong communities. A total of €55 million has been allocated for the fund in budget 2019. The objective of the fund is to drive co-ordinated investment between Departments, agencies, local authorities and other public bodies working together with local communities and the private sector to transform rural towns and villages and surrounding areas. The fund is intended to support ambitious projects that can support rural regeneration and development and are outside the scope of existing schemes.

Key outcomes should be supporting community and economic development in rural Ireland. The types of activity that can be supported by the fund are varied and include addressing infrastructural deficits to support town centre housing or commercial development; infrastructure that improves accessibility, supporting walking, cycling and public transport links but also improvements to roads, bridges and car parking facilities that encourage footfall; the development of areas, sites and buildings for community facilities; public amenity facilities; and projects to support job creation. Full details on all types of activity that could potentially be supported by the fund are in the information booklet published on the Department's website - www.drcd.ie.

Information sessions were also hosted by my Department throughout the country for those interested in making applications. I am pleased to say there was a great response to the first call for proposals, with 290 applications received. Of these, 125 were for category 1 shovel ready projects, while the other 165 were for category 2 projects, those which need development funding to become potential category 1 applications in the future. I am informed by my officials that six applications for funding have been received from County Tipperary.

Assessment criteria are published and the applications are being assessed by a project advisory board. The board includes representatives from key Departments and external experts. By the end of this month, I expect to receive recommendations from the project advisory board for the first group of category 1 projects for funding. Further announcements on successful category 1 and category 2 projects will follow. I also expect to announce a further call for proposals in 2019.

That sounds great. I salute all of the applicants, community activists and groups that submitted applications, but I do not think the Minister answered my question, which was whether the money could be used to help Tipperary town, which is stagnant largely owing to traffic problems. The only project of any significance to Tipperary town is the N24, Pallasgreen to Cahir road, project. According to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the plan for the project is under development. The proposed scheme covers a section that is approximately 38 km long. Twenty years ago in Cashel we built a short bypass to the standard to which the N8 would be built and it alleviated the traffic problems in the town. Why can we not do something like it for Tipperary town? There are two options for the route. We could build it to the standard of the N24, Pallasgreen to Cahir road, a short bypass of the town which runs for between 8 km and 10 km, to allow it to breathe. No matter what projects on which we embark, hundreds of lorries pass through Tipperary town daily which leads to traffic congestion, which is the most significant problem. The people of county Tipperary are ready, willing and able to bring forward many projects, but we have to sort out the chronic traffic problems first. I have asked the Minister if the fund can be used in such cases. He spoke about applications. They are all smaller. We want to see a seismic shift.

As I said in my initial response, it would not be appropriate for me to single out any town, particularly when an application process is in place, with a committee to assess schemes. All I will say is there is €1 billion available for the fund which represents a substantial investment. There is a figure of €400,000 plus that can be invested in any particular project. There are six applications from County Tipperary which I have not seen. They will not be brought before me until the assessment group has assessed the ones it thinks are ready to proceed. The two schemes are shovel ready and we hope to announce them by the end of the month. They are the ones that are ready to go. The other category involves getting schemes ready for inclusion in phase one where seed funding is needed or where funding is needed to make an application. I cannot and will not talk about any specific project, particularly when there is an application process in place.

I never asked whether the Minister supported the applications that had been made. I am talking about a shift in emphasis. We recently received a very good report on the level of deprivation in south and west Tipperary in comparison with that in the north east inner city of Dublin that had been prepared by Lisa English from JOBS FOR TIPP. While the matter does not specifically come within the Minister's remit, it has been argued that there is an option under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to create redevelopment areas to help to develop housing in and attract small-scale job creation projects to towns such as Tipperary. The Act introduced strategic development zones, SDZs, that have been implemented very successfully in places such as Adamstown, Clonburris, Cherrywood and the docklands in Dublin. There is nothing in the Act that prevents SDZs from being established to tackle deprivation in Tipperary town. We could link it with Carrick-on-Suir, if necessary, but Tipperary town needs help. A total of 5,000 people came out onto the streets three weeks ago on a Saturday for a "Jobs for Tipp" march. It is intended to hold another march later in November because of the inaction of the county council and the Government. Will the Minister work with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in looking at establishing a SDZ in Tipperary town and Carrick-on-Suir to tackle deprivation? Will the Minister work with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Minister of State, Deputy English, in setting up a task force, in co-operation with Tipperary County Council, to develop a regeneration plan for south and west Tipperary, including Tipperary town?

It is my job, as Minister for Rural and Community Development, to try to promote development in every rural area. It is my job to support Tipperary town and every other town throughout the country and I am doing so with all of the schemes I have set up such as the town and village renewal scheme and the outdoor recreation scheme. I am also piloting a scheme whereby I have picked six towns that will give me ideas about what we can do that could be piloted in towns such as Tipperary in order that we can get people back living and working in towns and villages. I work with my colleagues in government. My job at Cabinet level involves making sure every item of legislation and every project is rural proofed. I understand towns such as Tipperary. There are many others that are going through difficult times. My job, as Minister, is to make sure we can spread development into the regions to towns such as Tipperary. That is why my Department allocated €6,382,000 for projects and schemes in County Tipperary to try to give rural towns a lift. They include the town and village renewal scheme, the outdoor recreation scheme and the CLÁR programme.

Community Development Initiatives

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

6. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the details of the RAPID or community enhancement programme he has put in place since becoming Minister; if he has reviewed the operation of the programme to ensure the target groups are benefiting from the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45957/18]

John Curran

Question:

8. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if, since the establishment of the community enhancement programme, there have been specific supports or programmes to provide targeted assistance for the 51 most disadvantaged areas formerly known as RAPID areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46001/18]

The Minister knows that I have been concerned about whether funding under the new community enhancement programme which has replaced the RAPID programme is really going to the most deprived areas or being spent willy-nilly. What analysis has he made to ensure the most deprived communities will actually have parity in accessing the money under the programme?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 8 together.

I launched the new community enhancement programme in May. The programme builds on and replaces the communities facilities scheme and the RAPID programme. Its development followed a review of the two schemes and consultation with the 33 local community development committees, LCDCs, across the country. Details of the review are available on my Department's website.

The programme provides capital grants for community groups. Funding is allocated to each local authority area, taking account of deprivation levels. It is not ringfenced by the Department for specific locations. Instead, the LCDC ensures funding is allocated to those groups and areas that need it most in order to address disadvantage.

I originally allocated €4.5 million for the programme in 2018. Based on the hugely positive feedback from communities througout the country, I have recently allocated an additional €8 million.

The programme only launched this year and therefore has not yet been formally reviewed. The LCDCs monitor the programme closely and use their local knowledge to ensure that funding is benefitting communities, urban and rural, in the fairest way possible. It is intended that the programme will be subject to audit by the Local Government Audit Service. I am delighted with the success of this programme and I can see the benefits it brings to communities.

The Minister knows exactly what I am afraid of. There will be one for everybody in the audience because the LCDCs are not made up of the people from the most deprived communities. What mechanism will force the LCDCs to make the money available to the most deprived communities? Previously, it was ring-fenced for them and the representatives of housing estates had to give their blessing to anything that was even adjacent to them. How will the Minister ensure this, rather than allowing money to be put into the areas that are not the hardest hit?

The Deputy has a point but this is the first year of the scheme and I have to give it an opportunity to work. Deputy Eugene Murphy is also in the House and we are all local Deputies. We are trying to bring power down to local level and to give local people the opportunity to make decisions. In the new community enhancement programme we have amalgamated the RAPID programme and communities facilities scheme so that decisions can be made at local level. In the LCDCs there are public elected representatives and members of different organisations and I hope they will identify the areas of most need. I appreciate what the Deputy is saying and I do not disagree with him. The public auditor will audit where the money goes and I want the money to go to the areas that need it most. I am giving it a chance but I will not be afraid to make a change.

When the value for money report on RAPID was done I was told I could not roll it out as it had been rolled out before. I tried this new scheme and I am giving it a chance but if I find the money is not targeted at where it should be targeted, I will have to look at it again.

I am stunned that the Minister says he could not, if he wanted to, roll out the RAPID scheme in the way it used to be done. The Government could certainly have made a decision to do that so it is an extraordinary statement.

I do not think a fly goes up a wall in Mayo without the Minister knowing about it. Can he tell me where the money was allocated under the RAPID or community enhancement scheme in Mayo?

The value for money report on the RAPID scheme is on the website if the Deputy wants to look at it. The report stated that if we were to run a new scheme it was not to be run in the same way. In my county, the funding last year went into areas that needed it-----

Can the Minister send me the details?

I will send the details to the Deputy. I will be able to send him the details relating to every county because I am asking the local authorities to send me a list of allocations. I will send these to every Deputy because, as was the case with the local improvement scheme, LIS, it represents a safety valve. The local authorities can announce funding but they have to send the details of all allocations to my Department. I will put the information on the website and I will send it to the Deputy and other Members. I believe this provides a safety valve for the scheme as all Deputies will know where the money is being spent. If they feel it is not going to where it should go, I will have to look at the scheme again and see what I can do to change it. It has only been in operation for one year so I need to give it some time but I am confident the LCDCs can deliver on it. I hope they will because it is important that the money goes to where it should go. I do not want there to be, as the Deputy said, one for everybody in the audience.

RAPID Programme

The next question is in the name of Deputy James Browne. Deputy Ó Cuív has permission to introduce it.

James Browne

Question:

7. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the areas of County Wexford that can apply for funding under the RAPID programme; the amount to be allocated in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46114/18]

We will not delay too long on this. The question relates to County Wexford and the areas that can apply for funding under the new community enhancement scheme. The Minister might give me the details of the amount allocated in 2019.

The new community enhancement programme which I launched earlier this year builds on and replaces the original RAPID programme and is different in a number of ways. The funding is allocated by my Department to each local authority area taking account of deprivation levels. Disadvantaged community groups in any location within Wexford, or any other area, can apply to their local community development committee, LCDC, for funding. The LCDC administers the scheme to ensure that funding is provided locally to the groups that need it most.

I originally allocated €4.5 million to the programme in 2018, and subsequently increased the funding, bringing the total amount to €12.5 million.  Of this, County Wexford received a total of €470,891. In addition I made €23,188 available to the 16 men's sheds in Wexford under the men’s shed fund, which is part of the community enhancement programme.

While the funding for 2019 is not yet confirmed, I expect the national allocation to be in the region of the €4.5 million that was initially provided in 2018.  County allocations will be determined in 2019.

Would the Minister agree that the most deprived communities in the country are all urban communities, and tend to be urban communities with a high percentage of social housing?

There are problems in both urban and rural communities. Under the SICAP programme, we put €1.7 million into Wexford and we put in €470,000 under the community enhancement programme. Poverty is both urban and rural and these schemes were set up to target areas of need. It is my job to treat urban and rural areas equally in this regard and ensure that the available funding is delivered to where it is needed. There is not an urban-rural divide in our approach and I have to deal with where the deprivation is.

Is the Minister saying the sociologists got it wrong when they did their detailed analysis of the census figures, which showed the most concentrated deprivation at community level was exclusively in urban communities? It reminds me of a visit I paid to Wexford town, where I said to the RAPID team there that I had never seen the level of disadvantage and deprivation in rural areas that I saw in towns. One lady put up her hand to say that she came from the Aran Islands but that I was dead right. Is the Minister denying the fact that the most concentrated areas of deprivation at community level are in urban areas?

I do not disagree with what the Deputy is saying but funding for the community enhancement programme is allocated to each local authority area according to deprivation and population.

That is why we recently announced funding for the inner city of Dublin. It has different problems from those we have in rural Ireland. I do not deny that there is very serious deprivation and serious problems in urban areas. My Department has the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, and has allocated funding to special projects in and around cities because they have very serious problems in respect of crime, drugs and other issues. That is why the Department must examine and monitor the position and ensure we give the funding that is necessary. To give the Deputy an example, his question related to County Wexford where €1.26 million has been provided under the community services programme, CSP. My Department also allocated €5.3 million to Wexford to deal with all the issues the Deputy has raised.

Question No. 8 taken with Question No. 6.

Leader Programmes Expenditure

Brendan Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the level of expenditure committed to date under the 2014 to 2020 LEADER programme for each individual programme; the drawdown of such grant aid to date by individual programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46123/18]

I represent two counties, Cavan and Monaghan, that have had the benefit of a LEADER programme since 1991. We were one of the pilot projects that were selected by the then Fianna Fáil Government following the introduction of the LEADER programme at European level by the former Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Ray MacSharry. I have seen the benefits of that investment during successive programmes.

I am concerned that the roll-out of funding under the current programme, which runs from 2014 to 2020, has been slow. I am very anxious for the maximum drawdown to occur and for the Government to be in a position to draw down the total funding allocated by the European Commission in respect of this very important programme, which is critical for rural communities. I ask the Minister to ensure there is impetus in the drawdown of funding and the approval of projects.

LEADER is a multi-annual programme which has a total budget of €250 million over the period to 2020.  Funding to cover the full period of the programme has been allocated to each of the individual local action groups, LAGs, which deliver LEADER. Total expenditure on the LEADER programme since it commenced, effectively in 2016, has amounted to approximately €31 million. This comprises: €1.5 million for costs incurred by the local action groups to develop local development strategies; €20.3 million for the administration costs of the LAGs and the cost of their engagement with communities to generate projects; and €9.3 million on project expenditure. 

The level of project activity under the LEADER programme has increased significantly this year. Some 1,450 projects have now been approved by the LAGs for funding of more than €46.3 million. The amount approved for projects in 2018, at €30 million, is nearly double the amount approved last year. A further 329 project applications, requesting an additional €22.1 million, are at various stages in the approvals process. Project payments have also increased significantly in recent months as approved works are completed and claims are submitted for payment. More than €8 million of project expenditure has been incurred in 2018, compared with just under €700,000 in 2017.

I am providing the Deputy with a breakdown of project approvals and project expenditure by each LAG area.

Additional information not provided on the floor of the House.

  Table 1: Total LEADER approvals and expenditure by LAG as of 4 November 2018

Local Action Group

No of Projects Approved

Value of Projects Approved

Total Project Payments

Carlow

20

€1,100,681

€544,756

Cavan

26

€1,519,327

€336,021

Clare

97

€1,939,103

€330,698

Cork North

34

€1,167,868

€233,923

Cork South

16

€470,302

€208,113

Cork West

23

€723,506

€20,933

Donegal

100

€3,923,726

€1,329,588

Dublin Rural

39

€1,325,525

€217,236

Galway East

28

€1,015,841

€0.00

Galway West

22

€381,245

€52,285

Kerry

160

€3,088,972

€611,676

Kildare

18

€650,426

€11,070

Kilkenny

54

€1,476,716

€404,577

Laois

41

€941,706

€306,112

Leitrim

45

€1,578,563

€153,913

Limerick

69

€2,931,331

€87,046

Longford

37

€837,200

€18,793

Louth

46

€807,538

€156,904

Mayo

86

€3,460,056

€430,103

Meath

19

€800,882

€34,199

Monaghan

32

€1,450,497

€241,671

Offaly

82

€1,769,452

€750,907

Roscommon

27

€1,410,667

€158,431

Sligo

66

€2,306,081

€532,205

Tipperary

92

€2,672,077

€395,406

Waterford

46

€3,059,264

€1,063,618

Westmeath

34

€512,511

€134,881

Wexford

63

€2,157,507

€435,756

Wicklow

28

€905,716

€71,792

Grand Total

1,450

€46,384,282

€9,272,617

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is most disappointing to learn that only €31 million out of €250 million has been drawn down. We are at the end of the fourth year of the 2014-20 programme, which I accept was late getting off the ground. I have another question in respect of how we deal with it. Speaking to groups on the ground and people who have been involved in LEADER programmes over the years, it seems there has been too much bureaucracy. I know there has been some streamlining of the applications and approvals processes but more is needed. At a time when rural communities need investment, the provision of additional services and assistance for groups, individuals and community organisations that are trying to create employment, we have to ensure that every single cent of that €250 million is drawn down in good time. As the Minister knows, Departments and agencies sometimes have unspent funding as the end of the financial year approaches, which causes a rush to spend some money. The delay in approving projects and bodies trying to ensure full drawdown at the end of the year do not always result in the best value for money. Can the Minister assure us that the full complement of €250 million will be drawn down before the end of the programme in 2020? Groups need this investment and all of us in this House want to see that funding put to the best possible use.

I thank the Deputy for the question. In respect of his own county of Cavan, €1,519,327 has been approved to date and payments of €336,021 have been made. The Deputy is correct with regard to bureaucracy. We made 32 changes to the LEADER programme to try to make it easier for people to make applications. Deputy Smith, as a long-standing Member of the House, will know from previous LEADER programmes that they take a while to ramp up. More and more approvals are coming in and approvals are being made. At the point, the work has to be done and the funding is then drawn down. I am confident the €250 million will be drawn down in the lifetime of the programme.

As the years move on, more funding will be necessary, more applications will be completed and more funding will be drawn down. I am happier now than I was because there has been a major increase in the number of approvals. There are now 1,450 projects approved under the LEADER programme to the value of €46.3 million. The programme is beginning to ramp up in every county. To be fair to the LEADER companies, in the early stages of a programme they have meet and talk to groups and individuals who are bringing projects forward. They have to work with them and explain what is happening. These groups and individuals then submit an application and once approval has been given, the drawdown occurs. That is why the process is slow at the moment, but I have no doubt the €250 million to which the Deputy referred will be spent.

I thank the Minister. Is he satisfied that funding in various parts of the country has been proportionate to activity levels to date? Does he envisage that there will have to be a reallocation of funding between the different companies as time goes on? I am very glad we have two good companies in my constituency actively promoting the LEADER programme. As the Minister is well aware, areas such as Cavan-Monaghan face particular difficulties because of Brexit. Communities in these areas are fearful of the adverse impacts of Brexit on business, commerce and enterprise. If funding is reallocated or additional funding becomes available in any circumstances, I ask that the Minister give particular consideration to the needs of Border communities because what helped local communities in the Border area in the worst of times was the enterprise of local communities which were trying to draw down funding from the International Fund for Ireland and through different INTERREG programmes. There is a good community infrastructure to put public funding to good use. If any additional funding becomes available, I make a special plea to the Minister to consider the needs of my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan because we are on the frontier of a different jurisdiction which will, in future, be in a different trade zone.

Some counties, including Cavan, Monaghan, Kerry and Donegal, are doing very well out of the LEADER programme, which is now making allocations. The Deputy asked me whether I would redistribute any of that money. I do not want to do that. Every county has received its allocation and I want this money to be spent in the respective counties. If at some stage I have to review the whole scheme, I will do that.

The Deputy asked a fair question about making it easier for people to make the applications. Substantial grant aid is available under different schemes and the LEADER programme is now competing with some of these programmes. I want every single cent of that €250 million spent and I will make the necessary changes to ensure that occurs. The programme is ramping up now and the LEADER companies are making allocations. It is important that the work is now done and the various groups draw down the funding. As the Deputy knows, I cannot give them funding until the scheme is complete. The initial cost will be the set-up cost. The LEADER companies have to talk to people who want funding for projects. It is important the money is spent. I will continue to monitor the position because it is a good programme and one that I want to continue.

We will move on to Question No. 12 because the next available Deputy is Deputy Brendan Smith.

Questions Nos. 10 and 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Leader Programmes Administration

Brendan Smith

Question:

12. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to streamline the administration of the LEADER programme nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46122/18]

We have been discussing the need to minimise bureaucracy. I understand that in the past, the relevant LEADER company and the Department were the only two agencies involved in the processing and approval of LEADER projects, whereas local action groups, local community development committees, Pobal and the Department are involved at the moment. Rather than involving more agencies, we should be trying to minimise the number of agencies involved in the administration, processing and approval of projects.

The LEADER programme is driven by a bottom-up approach. Decisions on projects are taken at a local level by local action groups which have been approved to administer the programme. The Department of Rural and Community Development engages with the local action groups on a regular basis with regard to every aspect of the programme. As part of this engagement, a LEADER forum was held with the local action groups in May 2017. As a consequence of this, I have introduced 31 actions over the last year or so to streamline the administration of the LEADER programme. These actions cover nearly every aspect of LEADER delivery. For example, there has been a 55% reduction in the level of paperwork to be submitted by local action groups as part of their monthly administration returns. This gives local action group staff more time to engage with potential applicants. A standardised application form has been introduced to assist in streamlining the process. Procurement arrangements have been revised and clarified. Contrary to recent misleading comments in the media, as a result of the 31 improvements which have been introduced, the local action groups are no longer required to provide a written record of having received a verbal quote for procuring items costing less than €100. The result of the 31 improvements is clear to see. The number of projects and the level of approved funding has increased dramatically this year. Some 1,450 projects have been approved for funding of €46 million. The level of funding approved to date this year is €30 million, which is almost twice the €16 million approved for projects in all of 2017. Notwithstanding the progress that has been made, I am always looking for new ways to improve the programme. I will continue to keep the programme under review in 2019.

I thank the Minister for his response. I remember listening to public commentary from some of the people involved in administering the programmes. They spoke about the lack of consistency nationally. There are variations in the administration of schemes throughout the country. I recently heard that Article 48 checks are being taken from Pobal and given to the local authorities. The details of this might not be in the Minister's brief. He can come back to me on this matter if necessary. I listened to people on a radio programme who are involved in the LEADER programme. They said that there is no need to move this responsibility from Pobal, which has the requisite expertise at this stage, to each local authority. I understand that the local authorities are not looking for this responsibility and do not desire to have it. I do not think they have the expertise that is needed at the moment. If the Minister's brief does not cover this aspect of the matter, which has been raised with me, he might revert to me on it.

I met representatives of LEADER companies recently. My officials meet them on a regular basis. We are prepared to iron out any difficulties they might have. I understand they are fairly satisfied with the procedures that are in place. They are fairly satisfied that the changes we have made have streamlined the LEADER programme. As a former Minister, Deputy Smith will be aware that checks are required when taxpayers' money is being spent. We are accountable to the taxpayers of this country and to European taxpayers. These schemes are subject to spot checks from Europe. The way the LEADER programme has started to expand since we made these changes, with more than 1,400 applications being approved, shows that we are getting the balance right. If these companies have any outstanding issues, they can raise them with me and my officials when we meet them on a regular basis. After we met them in May of last year, we made the changes they required. I am accountable to this House and to Europe in relation to taxpayers' money. I have to make sure there is a balance when applications are made. While there must not be too much bureaucracy, these schemes have to be run properly. If problems emerge on foot of a query or an audit from Europe, the taxpayers of this country will have to pick up the tab.

All of us share the Minister's view that public money has to be put to proper use to maximise the benefit for the people on behalf of whom we work. I know that some communities which were thinking of submitting applications under this programme, and had done some preparatory work to that end, were discouraged by the required level of what they regarded as bureaucracy. The Minister and the Department need to transmit the message that as a result of the streamlining of the requirements, the hurdles that have to be crossed are not as demanding as they were initially. We want to ensure good community groups are encouraged to apply. We want the money to be put to the best possible use. As I have said to the Minister, our rural communities have benefitted from the LEADER programme for decades now. My constituency was fortunate enough to have one of the first pilot projects in the country in 1991. We want to see engagement from as many community groups as possible. We want to ensure the maximum drawdown of funding. We need to send out a message that as a result of the streamlining I have mentioned, this programme is not as bureaucratic as it was in the past.

That is right.

I welcome the Minister's commitment that he is willing to introduce further improvements if they are necessary.

The Deputy and I want the money allocated by the Department to rural communities under the LEADER programme to be spent. It is in the interests of every Deputy in this House for these funds to be spent in rural areas. The Deputy is quite correct when he says that a balance is needed. Although the application process has been streamlined, there continues to be a need to ensure taxpayers' money is properly spent. The Deputy pointed to that need in his remarks. We are all accountable for ensuring money is spent where it should be spent. I am satisfied that the LEADER programme is beginning to work. I will ask my officials and the LEADER companies to get back in contact with groups with which they have previously been in consultation to ascertain whether they have found any difficulties with the application process. I want the programme to work. I want the money to be spent. I want the LEADER companies to do their jobs. I believe that is happening now. If there are any difficulties, I am prepared to look at them. I want the LEADER programme to be a success. I want to see funding. I want to see the projects up and running and completed.

We will move on to Question No. 20 because the next available Deputy is Deputy Ó Cuív.

Questions Nos. 13 to 19, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Leader Programmes Expenditure

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

20. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount spent to date under the present LEADER programme on projects; the amount spent to date in 2018 on projects by local action groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45956/18]

This question relates to the LEADER programme, which the Minister covered comprehensively in response to Question No. 12, in the name of my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith. How much money has been spent on LEADER projects so far in 2018?

I need to find the answer to this question.

The Minister should take his time.

I would rather not go through the same speech again.

The Minister can just give me the figures.

The amount of money spent under the LEADER programme so far in 2018 is €17.6 million.

My question sought the figure after administrative costs are excluded. How much has been spent on the projects?

We hope that the drawdown by the end of the year will be €26 million. The drawdown to date is €17.6 million.

How much has been spent on projects so far this year, when expenditure on administration is discounted?

I will read the reply that has been prepared by the Department. The level of project activity under the LEADER programme has ramped up significantly this year. Some 1,450 projects have been approved for funding of more than €46.3 million since the programme commenced. A further 329 project applications, requesting an additional €22.1 million, are at various stages in the approval process. Project payments have increased significantly in recent months as approved works are completed and project promoters submit claims for payment. Approximately €9.3 million in project expenditure has been incurred since the commencement of the programme. More than €8 million of this project expenditure has been incurred in 2018-----

That is the figure I wanted.

-----compared to just under €700,000 in 2017. I will provide the Deputy with a table with a breakdown of the project expenditure incurred in 2018 in each local action area. The progress being made by the local action groups will result in a continued increase in project approvals and payments under the programme for the rest of this year and beyond. This progress has been assisted by improvements made by the Department to the applications and approvals process in the past year. All these changes have been identified and delivered in consultation with the local action groups.

LEADER 2014-2020 Project Expenditure in 2018 as of 4 November 2018

Sub Regional Area (LAG)

Total Project Expenditure in 2018

Carlow

€494,755.59

Cavan

€336,020.92

Clare

€330,698.31

Cork north

€233,924.88

Cork south

€208,112.68

Cork west

€20,933.30

Donegal

€1,298,743.49

Dublin rural

€217,236.06

Galway east

€0

Galway west

€52,285.44

Kerry

€611,676.21

Kildare

€11,070

Kilkenny

€329,017.39

Laois

€293,862.36

Leitrim

€153,912.90

Limerick

€87,046.29

Longford

€18,793.52

Louth

€144,454.27

Mayo

€372,960.55

Meath

€23,429.18

Monaghan

€241,671.11

Offaly

€686,856.54

Roscommon

€158,430.94

Sligo

€294,497.34

Tipperary

€395,406.12

Waterford

€952,548.66

Westmeath

€134,880.91

Wexford

€435,755.59

Wicklow

€71,792.32

Total

€8,610,773.07

I thank the Minister. I do not wish to ask any supplementary questions.

Dormant Accounts Fund Management

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

21. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the net amount of funding that has come into the dormant account funds in 2018 after repayments to the banks of reclaimed funds; the amount it is proposed to spend on projects from the fund in 2018; the spend to date; the amount of uncommitted funds on hand, not including the statutory reserve; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45958/18]

Will the Minister of State tell the House how much money has gone into the dormant accounts fund in 2018, net of repayments made to people who have claimed back the money? Will he tell the House how much of the money the Department intends to spend this year? What is the total amount of uncommitted funds in the account?

With regard to transfers into and from the dormant accounts fund in 2018, the most recent information available to me from the NTMA covers the period to the end of October, at which point €66.98 million had been transferred into the fund from dormant accounts within relevant financial institutions.  A total of €17.65 million had been reclaimed from the fund. Therefore, the net value of transfers into the fund for 2018 to the end of October was €49.33 million. 

With regard to expenditure on measures approved in dormant accounts fund action plans, as the Deputy is aware, measures approved in action plans subsequently require voted Government expenditure to be made available. For 2018 the total voted expenditure dedicated to dormant accounts measures across relevant Departments was €30.19 million.  

Within my Department, the total voted allocation for dormant accounts measures in 2018 is €10.08 million. Expenditure of €4.1 million has been incurred to date. Further expenditure will be incurred before the end of the year.

Based on commitments made in dormant accounts action plans, the total liability under the fund stands at €82.37 million. This compares to a balance of €320.20 million in the fund at the end of October. The reserve fund stands at €87.60 million, while the amount of uncommitted funds stands at €150.23 million.

It seems that the inflows are very healthy. Every year there is an inflow. In the new year the outflows exceed the inflows. The dormant accounts fund has received €49 million, of which €30 million has been committed. Therefore, the value of uncommitted funds this year has increased by €19 million. Is that a fair summary? The money was intended to be spent on people with disabilities, communities suffering from social and economic deprivation and education, but they are not benefiting from the dormant accounts fund. It must be remembered that it arose from the famous inquiry into the deposit interest retention tax, DIRT. Will the Minister of State confirm that is the position?

Following the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the fund which were published in 2017, my Department published a review of the dormant accounts fund in July. It set out 15 recommendations surrounding the ongoing management and administration of the fund which were aimed at ensuring it was more actively managed into the future. The recommendations sought to improve information gathering, simplify the operation of the fund and ensure funding not used by Departments was decommitted back to the fund for use in other projects, something which has been a problem until now. I am focused on ensuring the recommendations will be implemented to make the best use of the funds available. An interdepartmental group has been established to ensure the recommendations will be implemented. It is worth noting that the allocations made within the action plans have increased significantly in recent years, from €26.3 million in 2014 to €28.5 million in 2016, €40.4 million in 2017 and €39.8 million in 2018. I am new to the Department, but I will be looking at the issue of the dormant accounts fund and how it can be dealt with in the future.

On arriving in the Department the Minister of State must have been puzzled to find that he had a fund of around €200 million of uncommitted funds. There is more money coming into the fund than going out and it is growing every year. The money was supposed to be used to tackle disadvantage and for people with a disability. All of the reports recommend caution and state we should not do certain things. Will the Minister of State throw caution to the wind and make the dormant accounts fund work for the good of the people it is supposed to help? Will he insist on the money being spent and not left to collect dust in his Department?

I will not be throwing caution to the wind. Such an approach was used too often in the past. We have to look at the available funds and I am committing to doing so. I am receiving information all the time in the Department and have been briefed regularly on different matters. We will receive a further briefing on the issue of the dormant accounts fund. We will then make decisions and see what we can do to maximise expenditure from the fund for the betterment of communities. I agree that if we have money available, we should use it, but it should be used prudently to ensure we will get a benefit from it. I will not be throwing caution to the wind, but I will work to try to get more money into circulation in communities.

There is a way of throwing caution to the wind without being irresponsible. The Minister of State knows that there is €200 million lying there, which is no good for anybody. It could be spent to undertake important work, if only the Minister of State would not allow himself to be ruled by an overcautious approach in the belief that doing nothing is safer than doing something. Is he willing to come before the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development to discuss the matter in detail and, in particular, explain to us how a reserve of €200 million in uncommitted funds has been allowed to collect, despite the massive problems the country faces? It would not be difficult to spend the money in a targeted, safe and good way. I mentioned throwing caution to the wind, but somebody was overcautious when he or she collected €200 million that was supposed to earmarked for the most disadvantaged in the State, including people with disabilities. However, it has been left to lie there, mouldering.

I would be delighted to attend the committee. I was a member of it for 18 months and would be delighted to go back to talk to its members. It is important that I do so and try to come up with solutions to issues. I look forward to doing so.

Question No. 22 replied to after Question No. 24.
Question No. 23 replied to with Written Answers.

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

24. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development when decisions will be made on applications made under the rural regeneration and development fund; the number of applications received to date; the funding approved in budget 2019 for the scheme in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45955/18]

As I outlined to the Deputy in an earlier reply, the first call for applications for the rural regeneration and development fund closed at the end of September, with 290 applications received. Of these, 125 were for category one shovel ready projects, while the other 165 were for category two projects, which need development funding to become potential category one applications in future calls for applications. Assessment criteria are published and the applications are now assessed by a project advisory board.  The board includes representatives from key Departments and external experts. By the end of this month I am expecting to receive recommendations from the board on the first group of category one projects for funding and I will announce the first tranche of successful category one projects. Further announcements on successful category one and category two projects will follow. Funding of €315 million has been allocated for the fund for the period 2019 to 2022, of which €55 million has been allocated in budget 2019.

Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely vital that approval be given in the near future? In most cases, it takes well over a year for projects to spend. Is the Minister concerned, given the slow rate of approval, that the €55 million will not be spent in 2019 and that there will be a replication of what has happened under the LEADER programme, with money being returned to the Exchequer?

The project advisory board is going through the applications. There are two categories. The Deputy is correct - one of them is projects which are shovel ready. I expect the board to come back with recommendations on projects that are shovel ready.

Under the scheme there are two categories of projects, one of which is shovel-ready projects. That means those concerned have their planning permissions in order, they have everything done and the projects are ready to go from the day they get funding approval. I hope the projects that are approved will be ready to go. There will be some draw down of funding for 2019. As I said in my reply, €55 million is allocated for next year in terms of draw down.
The second phase of the scheme relates to getting applications ready for the next round, which will open in March. It involves getting seed funding to help groups to get their applications together. The applications have to come through local authorities, State agencies, Údarás na Gaeltachta, the HSE, Fáilte Ireland or some other body along with the community groups. The question the Deputy asked is a fair one. Shovel-ready schemes are ones that will be approved and if they are said to be shovel-ready, I as Minister expect the evaluation team to examine the projects, that the ones that are said to be shovel-ready will be shovel-ready and that some of that funding will be drawn down next year.

I admire the Minister's hope. Does he recall when Deputy Howlin was Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform?

He put money aside for a shovel-ready project for a pier on Inis Óirr that had planning permission in 2016. It has not started and it is not likely to start, even next year. I will believe projects are shovel-ready when I see them. What is the Minister's definition of a shovel-ready project? My main doubt is that they are as shovel-ready as the words would seem to imply, that is, that a contractor could be put in tomorrow. The Minister might explain the definition of the projects that are ready to be approved rather than refer to the euphemism "shovel-ready" which has become meaningless.

My definition of "shovel-ready" is that when a project is ready the planning permissions would be in place. I would expect the application to be ready to go if funding is secured for it. That is what I determine to be a shovel-ready project. If those concerned get approval in November and can start drawing down that funding from the first day of January, I would expect them to start that project immediately. What frustrates me with the town and village renewal scheme, the outdoor recreation scheme and every other scheme in the Department is when that does not happen. Local authorities present projects that are ready to go and seek funding for them but 12 months later I may find they have not got planning permission for them, they were not ready to go and there were other projects on which work could have started. This scheme comes under the 2040 plan. It is important to get the money spent as quickly as possible. To answer the Deputy's question regarding a shovel-ready scheme, if a project is approved in November, people should be on site in December.

Is the Minister saying that the projects that will be approved will all have gone to tender and have contractors in place? From the time one advertises a tender, receives and assesses them, get in the necessary bonds, including insurance bonds, and all the other documentation that is required for such projects, one could be talking of a period of five or six months. Will the tenders be in for these projects or will they go for tender after approval?

I do not expect all projects will be ready in terms of having their quotations and tenders done but the scheme refers to shovel-ready projects. If a project is shovel-ready I would expect in a very short period that it would be ready to go. The evaluation team will examine these schemes. We have more projects and I referenced in my reply the number of applications that have been received. We will not have funding for all the schemes, so we will have to make decisions. The evaluation team will examine the schemes that are ready to go and I presume it will check that they have their quotations in, planning approval and that they are ready to go. My understanding of any shovel-ready scheme - I have heard that term used since I came into this House - is one that is ready to go. I hope these projects are ready to go. I do not want to see it happen, and I am sure neither would the Deputy, that allocations are made in November or December and then to hear next July or August that those concerned do not have their tender or planning approval. If that happens, somebody will have to answer to me. As far as I am concerned, there are two categories in this scheme, one is shovel-ready projects and the other is for the projects to be made shovel-ready for the schemes that will be re-announced in March. I cannot put it any fairer than that.

Get your shovel ready.

Don't forget your shovel.

CLÁR Programme

Niamh Smyth

Question:

22. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the locations he is expanding the CLÁR funding for 2019 by categories; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45962/18]

Does the Minister intend to expand the CLÁR funding for 2019 by categories and will he make a statement on that matter?

CLÁR was originally launched in October 2001 to provide for targeted investment in disadvantaged rural areas. The areas originally selected for inclusion in the programme were those which suffered the greatest population decline from 1926 to 1996. The Cooley Peninsula was also included on the basis of the serious difficulties caused in that area by foot and mouth disease. The average population loss in the original CLÁR regions over the period 1926 to 1996 was over 50%.

In 2006, an analysis of the 2002 census data was carried out by the NIRSA Institute at Maynooth University and the programme was extended to include areas with an average population loss of 35% between 1926 and 2002.

The CLÁR programme was closed for new applications in 2010. However, I relaunched the programme in the second half of 2016, using as a base-line the areas identified in the work carried out by NIRSA. Over 1,200 projects have been approved for funding of €25 million under CLÁR since I relaunched the programme in 2016.

I have indicated a review of the CLÁR programme which will examine CLÁR areas by reference to the 2016 Census of Population data. This review will also help to inform future CLÁR programmes in 2019 and beyond. Decisions regarding specific measures which might be supported under the CLÁR programme in 2019 will be made early next year.

I would be the first to say to the Minister that the CLÁR funding makes significant differences to communities across the country and obviously in Cavan-Monaghan. In any recategorising of the programme in terms of population that the Minister is considering, a positive bias should be shown to the Border counties, which are now facing Brexit. Many of our towns and villages are just beginning to experience a resurgence and revival from the times of the Troubles and we now face into what may be more dark and gloomy times. I ask the Minister to show a positive discrimination to those areas. CLÁR funding is invaluable to schools and community groups.

I thank the Deputy for the comments. She is correct in what she said about CLÁR funding. It is not always big money that creates an impression. It is often small money that makes a major difference to small communities. As I said in my reply, I am doing a review of the CLÁR programme and it is time there was a proper review of it. I will put that review out at the end of the year and I will get some professional people to examine it. I will talk to communities, groups and everybody concerned. In my region there are areas that do not come under CLÁR and other areas that do come under it. Some of those areas have moved on and the other areas need a lift. Therefore, I need to review the programme. It is a good one under which we can target areas. The Deputy is correct in what she said about the Border areas. They have problems that other areas do not have and other areas have problems that the Border areas do not have. The CLÁR programme is working well. I will try to get a review of it done as quickly as possible as I need to examine other areas in terms of the CLÁR programme where I can spend money and specify where I want it to be spent.

I would like to raise an issue concerning Killinkere national school. Road safety calming measures have been needed in that area for many years. Certain projects qualify for CLÁR funding and others do not. In the last round of funding playground projects may have qualified. I ask the Minister to be mindful of funding for schools such as Killinkere national school. They fall out of the net of many other schemes and funding opportunities. This is a rural school in a rural populated area but well in excess of 100 children attend it and it also has a significant number of staff. They constantly worry in terms of trying to secure traffic calming measures. There are very few opportunities for the school authorities to apply for any type of funding for such a measure.

That is one measure that could be useful to them and I appeal to the Minister to be mindful of that.

With the CLÁR programme one of the better schemes that I oversaw was the safety scheme for outside schools. It is an important scheme. We have supported many schools throughout the country. We have made schools safer with signage, access and car parking. If there is a specific case, Deputy Smyth may take it up with me.

I am satisfied with the CLÁR programme. At this stage, I need to look at more areas where I can identify a need to bring in schemes and then deal with that need. One example from this year relates to cancer services. It applies especially in rural areas where people have to go long distances to get to cancer services. I helped to support some transport providers to make it easier for cancer patients to get to and from hospitals.

That is why I identified the schools schemes that were in place previously. It is one of the better schemes and it works well. Safety outside schools is important. I will do a total review of the CLÁR programme. What I would like – this is more difficult - is to have more money for the CLÁR programme, but that is an issue I have to fight at Government level.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.