Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 59 replied to with Written Answers.

Action Plan for Rural Development

Dara Calleary

Question:

60. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the progress to date in the Action Plan for Rural Development on the pilot scheme to encourage residential occupancy in rural towns and villages as committed to under the plan. [15474/19]

In January 2017, the pilot scheme for residential occupancy in rural towns and villages was announced. In October 2018, the Minister announced the six towns in the pilot scheme. Can the Minister provide the House with an update on the progress of the pilot scheme? Will it be completed by the end of 2019? In the context of homelessness figures rising above 10,000 last week, including over 3,000 children, what interaction is the Minister's Department having with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government around the scheme?

Question No. 90 in my name is worded almost exactly the same as Question No. 60. Can the Acting Chairman clarify whether I can come in on that?

The selection of questions is solely a matter for the Minister. If we have a little time, I will allow the Deputy to come in.

It is the exact same question.

It is not the Chair's prerogative.

I ask the Minister to look at the question, which is exactly the same.

We will be more than willing to give the Deputy a few seconds to come in.

I launched the pilot town living scheme last October to encourage increased residential occupancy at the heart of our rural towns and villages. The six towns included in the pilot scheme are Boyle, County Roscommon; Callan, County Kilkenny; Ballinrobe, County Mayo; Banagher, County Offaly; Castleblayney, County Monaghan; and Cappoquin, County Waterford. The scheme is being led by the relevant local authorities which are acting in close collaboration with all relevant stakeholders. Funding of up to €100,000 is being made available to each local authority to progress the pilot scheme. The funding will be used by local authorities to engage with communities and local businesses to identify practical solutions to increase the number of people living in rural towns. I expect to receive a report from each of the local authorities in the first half of the year on the progress they have made. The six pilot towns identified for the pilot represent a range of towns of different sizes in different locations, each of which has its own strengths and challenges. Given the mix of towns involved, they may each come up with different solutions to meet the needs of their areas. However, the learnings from these pilots may also provide an indication as to what might work well for similar types of town on a wider scale. It is envisaged that the solutions identified through this pilot could lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the rural regeneration and development fund in due course.

Is the pilot scheme on schedule? When will we be in a position to learn the lessons of the pilot scheme, given that the commitment to run it was made in January 2017? It was due to be completed by quarter 3 of 2017 but it took a long time to commence and the towns were only announced in quarter 3 of 2018. When will we have the lessons? I am aware that some projects have been announced in Ballinrobe, but is there a focus on residential property and is the Minister liaising with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to co-ordinate an approach? To quote the Minister, Deputy Ring, himself, Ireland is unbalanced. While there is a shortage of housing in our key population centres, many of our rural towns are experiencing a shortage of services which are declining due to a lack of people. Surely the Minister and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, should liaise on this project and work on a combined approach to using the scheme as part of the response to our housing crises.

I will use my discretion to let Deputy Connolly in for 30 seconds.

My question is exactly the same, so I am not sure what mistake was made. I know it was not the Acting Chairman's mistake, but 30 seconds is difficult. I could not disagree with the Minister's comments when he launched the scheme. Our towns and villages are at the heart of our rural communities and should be places in which people can live and raise their families in a high-quality environment. While it is a wonderful scheme, the problem has been its roll-out, which has been delayed. I have no problems with the choice of the six towns, but it is important to know what criteria were used to pick them and what criteria will be used to choose the next towns. I think of Galway. We all think of our own cities and counties, but I want to think nationally also. As such, when I look at Galway, I see that no town in the county was picked notwithstanding that we have the largest Gaeltacht nationally. I have just come back from Ballyferriter which I visited with the Irish committee and I have seen how common themes have emerged in rural areas. There is a dearth of places to live, in particular houses, and there is an absence of employment. These issues are tied together.

I note to Deputy Calleary that some people, albeit not him, misunderstand that the €100,000 funding is provided, not to carry out repairs and so on, but rather to allow local authorities to work with communities, chambers of commerce and community groups. I am asking them to look at how we can get people back living in towns and villages. Deputy Calleary noted the level of vacant property around the place and that is exactly what I am trying to target. We have never had as many people living and working in rural Ireland. However, we have a different rural Ireland now. I have made the point before that we had shops on streets in towns in every corner of the country from the 1940s right up to the 1980s. That changed with multinational stores coming in. Those stores are being challenged in turn by online shopping. We hope the six towns we have selected will come back. Some might come back with similar ideas and proposals the Government may need to implement to target people to live in towns. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government had a scheme that did not work which means it was not the right scheme.

If we are going to introduce schemes, we have to make sure that they are working. Deputy Connolly talked about the criteria. I could have picked any number of towns around the country. I left it up to the officials. We tried to vary the size and locations. I looked at Galway to see if I could get a Gaeltacht town that might fit into this scheme. That does not mean, when this pilot scheme is done, that I will not pick another 12 towns. I will try to pick 12 different counties to see what we can do. I hope that this scheme will come back with good ideas and good suggestions. I hope that Government will follow up with Deputy Calleary too.

I know the Minister is sending money to local authorities for plans. There are many plans and not much action, which I know frustrates the Minister. We have all these empty spaces, even in towns and cities that are relatively healthy. As Deputy Connolly spoke, I thought of Galway. There is a lot of space above retail units that previously contained homes. With a little thinking outside the box, they could be homes again, especially considering the pressure that local authorities are under, and offered as options to older people to live in towns and closer to services. Fewer plans and more action might be the best outcome here.

This is a wonderful scheme. The problem is that we do not know what criteria were used or how they were used. That is okay because it is a pilot project, but we need the result of the pilot project back on time because there has been a delay to the date in the roll-out. We need to learn from the pilot project and to look at it nationally to see which areas would benefit the most. We will clearly all pick our own areas. I am not asking the Minister to do that. In Galway and south Mayo, which is in the Galway West constituency, I think of Kilmaine, Shrule, Carraroe, Carna and of the Gaeltacht, the population of which has dropped. There is a serious crisis with the language. Surely there should be Gaeltacht areas as an essential criterion here. It is important that we publish the details of the project, learn from it and have openness and accountability about the criteria. This involves a substantial amount of money.

With regard to the selection process, we could have picked any number of places around the country. We tried to get the right spread and size. In response to Deputy Calleary, the local authorities are the organisations that move the funding through but we expect that the communities will lead to get results. We give them funding and they can employ experts. A number of people have come to my Department but I do not want to get into that, because it is not for me to select who will do the work that needs to be done for these towns. I hope that they will come back. This is the first time that it is not the Government telling communities what to do. We are telling the communities to tell us what they need. The six towns that come back might have the same ideas. There is an issue relating to dereliction of property and we may need to do more for the compulsory purchase of these properties. Maybe we need to give local authorities more power to be able to take over some of these properties. There is a demand for housing for people across the country, including in rural Ireland. I would like to see some good ideas from this. With the rural regeneration scheme, we want to target areas that need investment. That is why, this week, I set out with my officials to explain to local authorities, even though they were blaming me, that they were not shovel-ready when they submitted applications. It is like the Christy Moore song with the line "Don't forget your shovel if you want to go to work." Many of these did not have the shovel but pretended to.

Seniors Alert Scheme

Martin Heydon

Question:

61. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the options available to those seeking a personal monitored alarm through the seniors alert scheme that do not have access to a landline at their home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15467/19]

Pat Deering

Question:

63. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans for the spending of the 2019 budget under the seniors alert scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15232/19]

As the Minister knows, the senior alert scheme is very popular. We see increasing demand from individuals signing up for this when they reach the age of 65 or older. I increasingly come across cases in south Kildare where people are looking to join who do not have an existing landline. They seek a landline from Eir to link into this. We need to futureproof this. There seems to be a delay in Eir connecting these houses and I do not know if it is always financially viable for it to do so.

I remind the Deputy that it is 30 seconds for a question, not a speech.

Is the technology improving such that these schemes will operate without a landline in future?

It is 30 seconds to ask a question, not make a speech, because other people will lose out.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 63 together. My Department is responsible for the seniors alert scheme which encourages community support for vulnerable older people in our communities through the provision of personal monitored alarms to enable them to live securely in their homes with confidence, independence and peace of mind. Funding is available under the scheme for the purchase by a registered community-based organisation of a personal alarm or pendant. Since I launched the new scheme in November 2017, demand has been very good. During 2018, over 19,200 applications were approved, with total expenditure of almost €7 million. The scheme’s allocation for 2019 is €2.3 million. As this is a demand-led scheme, it will be kept under constant review by my Department to ensure that adequate funding can be made available to meet the requirements of all qualifying applicants. There is provision under the Dormant Accounts Action Plan 2018, which also covers 2019, for funding to meet any additional demands on the scheme this year. Under the seniors alert scheme, applicants receive a free personal alarm, worn as a pendant or around the wrist. When pressed, it connects wirelessly to a base unit which is usually connected to a landline. If the applicant does not have a landline, the monitoring company can supply a SIM card for use in the base unit. There is a charge for this, usually about €5 per month. This equates to the telephone line rental that a user of the service with a landline would have to pay.

I thank the Minister for his response. I agree that the seniors alert scheme is a very important support for vulnerable older people to continue to live with independence and confidence in our rural communities. That is important because we all hope to live for longer and in better health. Being secure in our homes is key to that and this personal monitored alarm is a fantastic scheme. That SIM card is very important because I have come across cases where people were waiting for a landline option and there was a delay in it coming. I will look out for that option and check if it is a possibility for my constituents. The scheme itself is in high demand and that is only increasing. I think we will come across more houses in future that will join this scheme and will not necessarily have landlines, because there is less demand for landlines now than there was previously.

Like Deputy Heydon, I think this is a very good scheme for both rural and urban Ireland. People are living for longer and they want to stay at home. The only way that they can stay at home is if they know that they will be secure and safe in their home. There is not enough promotion of these brilliant schemes. The Minister has done a good job of announcing the financing in the last couple of years. There needs to be more promotion in this area. I might have heard the Minister wrongly with regard to the figures that he mentioned. Was there €7 million last year and €2 million already this year? He might clarify those figures for me. It would be a big difference if that was the case. We need to see more of these schemes around the country. In my part of the world, Muintir na Tíre and community alerts do a lot of work in that regard. They need to be sure that they will have funding to make sure that when they go to the community, people will be able to have one of these units to ensure that they are safe in the future.

This scheme has worked very well. The Deputies are correct that there was an underspend on the scheme for many years. In 2011, €2.46 million was allocated and 7,910 people applied for and were granted assistance under the scheme. In 2012, €2.52 million was allocated and 9,142 applied. In 2013, 10,597 people were assisted under the scheme. In 2014, there were 7,120. The money reduced in each year because there was no take-up but in 2016 and 2017, we had many difficulties around the country. I took this scheme on myself, brought in the Department officials, and got Pobal to run a campaign in local radio and local papers.

They administer the scheme on my behalf. The number rose from 7,301 in 2016 to 12,609 in 2017. In 2018, 19,228 people were connected to that scheme. The Deputy is correct. We engaged with the media. We simplified the scheme and explained how it works to people. Part of the problem in this country is that we make schemes too difficult. I met representatives from Pobal. I have done my best to make it easy to apply for all the schemes I have introduced. If we want people to be involved in schemes, we have to make it easier for them to apply. That is particularly the case with elderly people. I must compliment those who are running the scheme, especially Pobal. They are doing a superb job and it has worked very well.

Question No. 62 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 63 replied to with Question No. 61.

Social Enterprise Sector

Catherine Connolly

Question:

64. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development when the national policy on social enterprise will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15358/19]

Colm Brophy

Question:

84. Deputy Colm Brophy asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of his plans in respect of the drawing up of a national social enterprise policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15439/19]

Ba mhaith liom ceist dhíreach shimplí a chur. When will the national policy on social enterprise be published? Cén uair a fhoilseofar an polasaí sin? Táimid ag fanacht air le fada anois.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 64 and 84 together.

Social enterprises make an important contribution to Ireland's social and economic progress.  They deliver a range of services to support communities and disadvantaged individuals and use innovative and creative approaches to address social, economic and environmental challenges.

As the Deputies may be aware, there have been calls for a national policy to support social enterprise for many years.  I am pleased to say that my Department is now at an advanced stage in developing Ireland’s first national policy on social enterprise.

The policy is underpinned by a research and consultation exercise which was conducted by my Department in partnership with the Social Finance Foundation.  The research project was overseen by a steering group which included practitioners from social enterprises and key Departments.

As part of the research project, three consultation workshops were held in Dublin, Cork and Athlone at the end of 2017 in order to obtain the views of stakeholders. In addition, an online survey was carried out which was open to all interested parties. A series of meetings was also held with relevant Departments and other stakeholders on specific issues and my officials have visited and met many individual social enterprises and social entrepreneurs.

In recent weeks' my Department has engaged in intensive and detailed discussions with a broad range of social enterprise stakeholders and with the wider community and voluntary sector.

I now anticipate that a draft of the social enterprise policy will be published for public consultation in the coming weeks, with a view to publication of the final policy document in the middle of the year.

The policy will be complemented by the implementation plan for the framework policy for local and community development and the new national volunteering strategy, both of which are also being developed by my Department.

Taken together, this suite of initiatives will support the full range of organisations providing services to communities or tackling social issues, whether through a social enterprise model or through more traditional community services delivery.

Níl aon rud nua sa mhéid atá ráite ag an Aire. Tá sé léite agam cheana. Tá an t-eolas sin uilig agam. Baineann an cheist atá curtha agam leis an dáta. Unfortunately, there is nothing new in what the Minister stated. I have all those answers. I have looked back and done my research. On of the aims behind the Action Plan for Rural Development was to develop and publish the national policy on social enterprise by the third quarter of 2017. Beart 99 - action No. 99 - a bhí i gceist. That was changed and it was then to be published in the first quarter of this year. The first quarter has now passed. The Minister anticipates it in the future and states that it is at an advanced stage. Is the draft report available for viewing anywhere or is it still not for public eyes? Can the Minister give me a date? It is a very good scheme. I am delighted with social enterprise. I want to see a coherent strategy. It is the right policy for the Government to pursue, but it is extremely frustrating to listen to talk of yet more consultation. This has been going on for years. I ask the Minister to please give me a date.

I thank the Deputy. I can see that she is frustrated but I want to be honest. I have pushed this policy but I must be careful. As a representative of a rural constituency, Deputy Connolly must understand this - social enterprise is brilliant. It creates employment and any profits are put back into the businesses involved. However, I must be careful not to upset the community sector. I have to be fair to my Department and my officials. We have put a lot of work into this in the last several months. We have had a lot of consultations with the community sector, the social enterprise sector and the voluntary sector because I want to get it right. I do not want the community sector to be affected in any way. Deputy Connolly can understand that. Social enterprise is very good because it creates employment in sectors and areas where the private sector will not. I am a believer in social enterprise, but I must put on the record that I support the community sector. There are many areas in this country, such as west Galway, south Galway, west Mayo and south Mayo, where in the absence of the voluntary sector the services it provides would not be provided by the councils, the State, the HSE or anybody else. That is why I have to be careful to get this right, and I intend to do so. We are nearly there. This will be published very shortly.

Níl aon fhadhb agam aontú leis an Aire go bhfuil obair na gcapall á dhéanamh ag muintir na tíre ar an talamh. Gan an obair dheonach atá á dhéanamh ag daoine, ní bheadh aon rud againn.

I totally agree with the Minister that without community work, we would lose out. Volunteers are doing work that the Government and local authorities should be doing. I have absolutely no problem with that. However, the question is very specific. The Minister has had plenty of time. I welcome the news that it will be published soon. I would like to hear a date. We do not need the Minister to repeat how valuable social enterprise or community work is. This country would be much poorer, in every sense of the word, without either sector. We know that. I represent a community that extends from the Aran Islands to Kilmaine and Shrule. There is huge variation in that community. I am fully aware of what is happening on the ground, but without a coherent national policy we are going nowhere and dealing with it in bits and pieces. There has been ample time between 2017 and 2019. I appreciate that a steering group was set up and that consultation took place in the towns to which the Minister referred, including Athlone. However, it is time to publish the document. Any document can be reviewed. It can be rolled out for a year or two. It can be reviewed and appropriate changes can be made. I ask the Minister to let us have the policy.

As already stated, we have made a lot of progress. I am very confident that we will publish this very shortly. In the context of the issues the Deputy has raised, I have to make sure that I get this right. We must remember that mine is a relatively new Department that has been in place for just 18 months. We have had a great achievement. Many have spoken about getting a social enterprise policy in place for the last 20 years. I guarantee this will be published shortly and people will be able to have an input. It will be the first time that we have had a social enterprise policy in this country and that is to be welcomed. I reiterate that I have to be careful not to interfere with the community sector in any way. That is the policy that I will implement.

We now go to the sunny south-east with Deputy James Browne.

Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme Funding

James Browne

Question:

65. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to provide additional funding under the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, the LEADER programme and other social inclusion funding programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15207/19]

I wish to ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development to outline his plans to provide additional funding under SICAP, LEADER and other social inclusion funding programmes and I ask him to make a statement on the matter.

My Department is committed to reviewing all of its schemes on an ongoing basis to ensure the benefits are maximised for local communities.

In 2018, I launched the new five-year SICAP to cover the period from 2018 to 2022. I provided €38 million to the local development companies that implement SICAP in each of the years from 2018 and 2019. Over the full five years I plan to provide €190 million, but this is obviously subject to the budgetary process each year. SICAP funding supports communities to address social inclusion and equality issues and supports disadvantaged individuals in accessing the labour market and learning supports.

This year, my Department is also providing €6.5 million towards the regeneration of Dublin's north-east inner city.

The community enhancement programme, launched in 2018 to address disadvantage through grants for local projects, was allocated €4.5 million in 2019.

Under this programme, €500,000 was ring-fenced in 2018 for provision to the Men’s Sheds Association to purchase equipment or carry out minor capital works. I will consider in due course whether or not funding can be ring-fenced again in 2019.

SICAP is extremely important to tackle poverty and exclusion. In my county of Wexford, 27 areas are designated as very disadvantaged, in which a total of 6,500 people live, while another 30,000 live in disadvantaged areas. County Wexford has considerable potential, due to its geographical location and Rosslare Europort, and it will, I hope, see the development of the university of the south east, with a strong section of the university located in County Wexford. The areas of disadvantage, however, are under severe pressure, and while Brian Keogh, the CEO of Wexford Local Development, is doing phenomenal work, there is an element of trying to feed 5,000 with a few loaves and fish. Tom Enright, CEO of Wexford County Council, is also doing his best for the county. Some €1.7 million has thus far been provided under the current programme, which is approximately half of what a similar programme provided ten years ago. The very disadvantaged areas in County Wexford need additional funding. I return to one of my bugbears, the CLÁR programme, which has not been adjusted since the census of 2002. Some areas in County Wexford have been depopulated in that time and they are losing out on CLÁR programme funding. They are not included in the CLÁR programme because it has not been updated. Only two counties, Kildare and Wexford, outside of Dublin are not on the CLÁR programme, but Wexford very much needs to be included.

The original SICAP, which ran from 2015 to 2017, came to an end on 31 December, having helped more than 110,000 individuals and assisted more than 5,000 local community groups. In 2018, SICAP exceeded its target and assisted 2,558 community groups and 1,967 individuals, under goals 1 and 2, respectively, while the targets for 2019 are 2,273 community groups and 27,313 individuals, under goals 1 and 2, respectively. As the Deputy will be aware, I am very pleased with SICAP and would like there to be more funding for it because it targets disadvantaged children, families and young people between the age of 15 and 24, disadvantaged women and Roma groups, and emerging groups with needs such as Travellers, lone parents and low-income workers, and it is important that these people are given the opportunity. Many of them have been given the opportunity and on a one-to-one basis, many of them have been assisted by SICAP. Some of them have entered the marketplace, some have employed others, some have found jobs, while others have learned to read and write. We have given them an opportunity and I welcome every opportunity we give to people in disadvantaged areas. I am pleased with SICAP. Substantial funding has been provided and the programme is working well.

I agree that SICAP is working well in respect of the ideas behind it. It is a good idea and I compliment it in that regard, but my point was that there is not enough funding to enable it to do what it very much can do. If the 27 very disadvantaged areas are divided by €1.7 million, there is approximately €60,000 per area per annum, but when one thinks of the number of people in each of those areas, it is not a lot of funding to help them. As I pointed out, it equates to approximately half of the similar funding that was provided ten years ago under a similar programme. It is a good programme that has been well thought out and I commend the Minister in that regard. Nevertheless, we need more funding to enable the programme to do what it can for disadvantaged and very disadvantaged areas.

I agree with the Deputy and he is quite correct. We will begin budgetary negotiations again soon and I will fight for funding for SICAP, the community enhancement programme and the regeneration of north-east inner city Dublin, which Deputy Curran raised earlier. Many communities throughout the country need funding and I will make no apology in that regard. At budgetary level, I will fight to try to secure as much money as possible for SICAP, the community enhancement programme and all the programmes that assist disadvantaged people. If we cannot support and help people in disadvantaged areas, what can we do? With support from my Department, I will work hard to secure funding for the schemes.

Local Improvement Scheme

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

66. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the 2019 local improvement scheme, LIS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15234/19]

Niamh Smyth

Question:

102. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the LIS to local authorities nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15422/19]

I call Deputy McLoughlin. Back to the west.

Back to Yeats country. My question relates to the status of the 2019 LIS. Will the Minister of State make a statement on the matter?

I will take this question to allow the Minister time to draw breath.

You are keeping it in the west.

Yes, exactly. I propose to take Questions Nos. 66 and 102 together.

The LIS is the programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas. It is funded by the Minister's Department and is administered through the local authorities. As the Deputy may be aware, there was no dedicated funding for the scheme due to the constraints on public expenditure, but the Minister was conscious of the underlying demand for the scheme in rural areas throughout the country.

The Minister introduced the LIS scheme in December 2017, allocating €17.5 million to local authorities for LIS roads in 2017, while in 2018, he allocated more than €20.8 million for LIS roads in two phases. On 7 February 2019, he announced the sum of €10 million for LIS 2019. Indicative allocations on a county-by-county basis can be found on the Department's website. It is a matter for the relevant local authority to determine which roads it wishes to prioritise from the allocated funding and to ensure that all roads meet the scheme criteria. Local authorities were asked to submit to the Department the final list of roads they intend to complete under the 2019 scheme on or before 1 April, and the Minister's officials are examining these submissions to ensure that they meet the scheme criteria. The LIS has been a great success since the Minister introduced it in 2017. It has supported improvement works on more than 1,200 roads in 18 months.

I congratulate and thank the Minister and Minister of State. Like other Deputies, I lobbied the Minister for the reintroduction of the LIS, which has benefited many families, communities and local authorities throughout the country. We saw the reintroduction of the scheme in 2017, with an allocation of approximately €17.5 million, while in 2018, there was €20.8 million. In a cost-benefit analysis, the value of the scheme outweighs the work that is being done. People have benefited from the LIS in every area of the country.

There could never be enough money for the LIS. Having attended meetings and spoken with local councillors and communities, however, I know there is a need for more money. Is funding available in any other Department that may be surplus to requirement? The Government might consider allocating additional funding to the LIS because there is great value for the money that is spent, as I am sure the Acting Chairman will have seen in his constituency in County Roscommon. People have benefited enormously as a result of the scheme and I ask the Minister of State to comment in that regard.

I concur with all the Deputy's points, as I am sure all the Deputies present also will. The LIS is an effective way of providing infrastructure in the most rural areas in order that we can travel safely in our cars and walk, given that some of the roads can also function as walking amenities. The Minister allowed the local authorities to claim up to 10% of the net cost of projects selected for administration, which was a reduction of 5%. The sum that local authorities can invest per individual household is capped at €1,200, which means that in case there is a large amount to be paid but there are few people, it is capped at €1,200, which is important.

The Deputy asked about the future. Having had discussions with the Minister, I know that he will consider all the budgets and review them later in the year. If there is any surplus money, the LIS is an ideal place for the money to be spent quickly. The Deputy asked about other Departments but perhaps other Departments could choose to come on board. If the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has a few pounds to spare, it could invest it in the LIS because it would greatly enhance the scheme.

I thank the Minister of State for his encouragement to local authorities and every one of us as Oireachtas Members. We see the benefits of the scheme in each of our rural constituencies.

Perhaps the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Ring, will see that any money spent on local improvement schemes is very worthwhile. I hope there will be additional funding and that other funding can be made available through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, in consultation with the Department for Rural and Community Development, to enhance all local authorities by improving roads in their areas.

I was in the local authority in Galway and when this scheme ceased back in 2008 or 2009, we had been getting an allocation of almost €1.5 million, while last year we got an allocation of €1.9 million. We are back up there now but there are a lot of roads in the queue to be done. Local authorities are tackling them with vigour and, over the next number of years, I hope we will see roads taken out of the queue so that we can do them on demand. When an authority puts in an application it may have to wait for the next year's allocation. The scheme was great when it was first brought in and it is back in again now. We need to support it, protect it and enhance it with more money from other Departments.

Deputy Niamh Smyth sends her apologies. Her question was included in the group but she was not available.

Question No. 67 replied to with Written Answers.

Dog Breeding Industry

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

68. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of dog breeding establishments registered; the number inspected in 2018 and to date in 2019; the number that required follow-up inspections; the number of fixed payment notices or improvement notices served by type; the number of closure notices served during that time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15204/19]

The last time I asked a question on the inspection of dog breeding establishments and the welfare of dogs, the Minister said the guidelines were being published last year, following a long consultation, and that they would come into effect in January 2019. He said there were 248 registered breeding establishments in 2016 and 258 in 2017. What is the up-to-date position on the guidelines and the number of establishments now?

Each year my Department publishes statistics covering a range of the dog control responsibilities of local authorities. These include statistics in respect of their work on dog breeding establishments. Local authorities are responsible for registrations, inspections and issuing fixed payment notices or improvement notices in relation to these establishments.

Statistics for 2018 are currently being collected from each of the local authorities and, when checked and verified, they will be published on my Department's website. I plan to publish the 2018 statistics by the end of June of this year. Similarly, statistics for 2019 will be published when available in 2020. The statistics for 2017 and earlier years are available on my Department’s website.

At the end of 2017 there were 258 dog breeding establishments registered. Approximately one third of these were commercial establishments, with the remainder including boarding kennels, animal welfare shelters and hunt clubs. A total of 275 inspections were carried out in total in 2017, with four improvement notices and two fixed payment notices issued. Further information is also available on the Department's website.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is publishing the 2018 statistics in June. How many people have been prosecuted and convicted for breaches of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 to date? The 2017 figures showed there were 2,176 on-the-spot fines issued under the Control of Dogs Act and 766 were paid, with 191 prosecutions and 99 convictions. What happened to the remainder of those fines?

We still hear incredible horror stories, a number of which come before the courts. There was an incident in Roscommon a few years ago and a few months ago, at a registered establishment, somebody was prosecuted and committed to prison for a number of years for gross cruelty, as well as being banned for life from having dogs and horses.

Do we not need a more vigorous regime? I asked the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Ring, about this on a previous occasion. It is very unusual to have three Government Departments regulating it, in the shape of the Department of Rural and Community Development under the 2010 Act, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Is there some area in which we could move forward and have better invigilation of these establishments?

The Deputy is right. Last Monday week I visited an animal shelter in Tipperary on my way back from a meeting of the Atlantic Economic Corridor, AEC, task force in Tralee. When one meets people who care for animals one realises what is happening. It was a first-time experience for me, even though I am from rural Ireland where we love our dogs and our pets in general. The legislation is being reviewed and the guidelines came in on 1 January.

Many comments were received by the Department during the consultation process but could not be addressed within the guidelines. The comments necessitate that my Department look at the legislation and that is what we are doing at the moment. The Department will consider the submissions as it looks at the legislation. Many respondents suggested changing the definition of a dog breeding establishment to refer to three, rather than six, breeding bitches while others said the current definition covered hunt clubs and other things, which may not be appropriate, and non-compliance was mentioned by others. There has been a plethora of submissions, which are very good and very important and which we would not have been able to cover in the guidelines. We hope the legislation process will be ready to be brought to the Chamber before the end of 2019.

I thank the Minister for his thoughtful reply. When the Minister returned to Government he made a commitment to meet animal rights advocates and representative advocacy groups. Has he already met that commitment or does he still intend to do so? I am aware that he has been listening to submissions. Section 9 of the 2010 Act provides for the registration of the establishments of breeders and the Minister made an interesting point about the number of breeding dogs that should be registered. What about those who are operating under the radar? I have a rural background so I totally understand the concerns people have about all farm and companion animals. There is a provision for unannounced inspections but, given the cases that have come before the courts, there is still grave concern. We export many dogs to the UK and I do not know whether the Minister has had any liaison with the UK Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Michael Gove. He said he was going to introduce new legislation on this.

Dogs Trust Ireland, a distinguished advocacy group, stated in February that it had received requests from nearly 400 people to surrender their dogs after Christmas. Are there any measures the Minister can take to deal with people buying dogs for children and surrendering them within a week or two?

Absolutely. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan brought in a number of people here who are involved in this area. I met with them and it was one of the more positive meetings I have had in a long time. They had fundamental issues which they wanted to see addressed and they came to help to do that. I gave them a commitment and I visited Tipperary after that meeting. It is a problem and a lot of things are not right, including the sale of pups online. We have to look at all of this in the context of legislation and we are working on that at the moment.

Deputy Broughan referred to the surrendering of dogs in January, February and March and I urge anybody who considers buying a dog for Christmas or a birthday to ensure there is a place for the dog and that all the necessary socialisation is provided for, meaning he or she is not locked up all day because that is cruelty in its own way. We have a lot of dogs and their licensing and chipping is a huge area at which we are looking in the legislation.

With the co-operation of Members, I am going to try to get the next two questions before 12 noon.

LEADER Programmes

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

69. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the steps he plans to take to speed up the roll out of the LEADER programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15416/19]

We are still at a snail's pace with the LEADER programme.

The Minister kindly provided figures last night in respect of the total number of projects approved and the value of the spend. Officially, all projects have to be approved by the end of 2020 because that is when the programme comes to an end. Projects then have two further years in which to spend the money. What is going to be done to simplify it, to speed up the approval of the projects and streamline the process?

The current LEADER programme effectively became operational in the second half of 2016, following the signing of funding agreements with most of the local action groups who deliver the programme.

As the Deputy is aware, LEADER is a multi-annual programme and expenditure typically ramps up over the course of the programming period.

While concerns were initially raised regarding the procedures applying to this LEADER programme, I introduced 31 specific improvements to tackle all aspects of the programme’s administration.

The pace of project approvals has increased substantially as a result of these improvements.  In total, 1,800 projects have now been approved for funding of over €62.2 million under LEADER.  This represents a threefold increase in project approvals since December 2017.

A further 377 projects with a value of over €23.4 million are at earlier stages of the approvals process and I expect to see the approvals figures rise substantially more by the end of this year.

Project expenditure will increase as approved works are completed and claims are submitted to my Department for payment. The level of project payments for the first quarter of 2019 was €3.8 million - double the amount for the first quarter of 2018.

Overall, programme expenditure to the end of March was in excess of €44 million.

We are now making good progress in the delivery of the LEADER programme.  The pace of delivery is ultimately determined at local level by the local action groups. However, I will continue to closely monitor project approvals and expenditure to ensure that the programme budget is fully utilised.

With only 21 months until the expiry of the programme, the approvals in place amount to €62 million out of a total budget of approximately €160 million. We are not even halfway there in terms of approvals. Even if €160 million of approvals for projects was granted it would be impossible to achieve that level of spend, meaning that approvals should be in the region of €170 million. Would the Minister consider going to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and asking it to raise the thresholds for e-tenders in order that smaller projects could go a three-estimate basis, as was the case in the past? This is one of the main reasons community groups are reluctant to come forward with smaller projects. Would the Minister consider taking such action?

The Deputy knows that I have made every effort to try to improve the LEADER programme. I include in that a 55% reduction in the amount of paperwork required from the local action groups, standardised applications for those groups to assist in streamlining the process, revised and clarified procedure and new procurement arrangements for projects. I have made 31 improvements and a number of other changes as well. Projects do not have to go to Pobal by the end of the year in order to obtain approval for funding.

The Deputy asked a question, but I would ask him why some LEADER companies are able to have projects approved while others are not? I have some figures here which show that there are approvals in Carlow worth €4.797 million, including some 27 projects to the value of €1.721 million. In east Galway, there are 41 projects but only €38,000 has been spent. In west Galway, an amount of €143,000 has been spent. I have to question why some LEADER companies can do it and others cannot.

The Minister has asked a fair question. One of the explanations is that, for reasons of which he is well aware, east and west Galway got going much later than the rest of the country. We should park that issue.

I asked a very simple question, namely, whether the Minister will go to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ask that the threshold for the requirement for e-tenders be raised. This can be done under EU law. It would save a great deal of the money that is currently being spent on consultants preparing e-tenders instead of on the programme. One of the biggest problems at the moment is that much of the money being provided is going to consultants rather than communities groups. It is not being spent on bricks and mortar or on getting the job done. The Minister knows that as well as I do. I am putting a practical proposal to him. He should go to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and get the threshold for the requirement for e-tenders increased and the level of bureaucracy reduced. I asked a simple question and he might provide a simple answer to it.

The procurement process is being reviewed. I do not have any difficulty going to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I am happy to try anything that will make the LEADER programme work better. As Minister, I have made more than 31 changes to the programme and it is beginning to work. If there is anything else I can do to simplify it, I will do so. I will speak to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about what can be done about the smaller projects. We have to be careful, however. I am accountable to the Dáil and I am spending taxpayers' money. We have had difficulties with LEADER programmes in the past. We are also accountable to Europe, as the Deputy knows. If there are any problems with the LEADER programme we have to pay money back to Europe. We provide a certain amount of funding for it, as does the European Union.

The Deputy asked a question about a particular matter. It is something at which I will look. We have made a lot of changes already. I will also ask my officials to look at some of the LEADER companies. I know that the Deputy and everyone else will have problems when I take money from Galway and other places that are not using it. However, I do so because the available money will be spent. The Deputy mentioned 2020. It is true that the programme will finish then, but projects will have three years to reach completion after that.

Community Development Initiatives

Tom Neville

Question:

70. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to allocate funding in 2019 to an organisation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15229/19]

My question concerns whether funding will be allocated to Men's Sheds in 2019.

The emergence of Men’s Sheds in recent years has been a very positive development for communities across Ireland. In towns, villages and cities which I have visited in my capacity as Minister, I am continually struck by the great work that Men’s Sheds do by offering a safe, comfortable and inclusive environment where men of all ages can share skills, work on meaningful projects and connect with their communities.

The Government is very committed to supporting these groups. In 2018 a range of supports were available for Men’s Sheds and many of these will be available again in 2019.

Last year I provided a special Men's Shed fund under the community enhancement programme.  This made €500,000 of ring-fenced funding available to Men’s Sheds groups to carry out minor capital works or to purchase equipment. Men's Sheds groups were also eligible to apply for funding under the main community enhancement programme, under which €12.5 million of funding was made available in 2018. This year, I have announced an initial allocation of €4.5 million for the community enhancement programme and the Men's Sheds continue to be eligible to apply for funding under this programme.

My Department also has responsibility for SICAP which provided 40 grants totalling €34,050 to Men's Sheds groups in 2018. This support will continue to be available throughout the current iteration of SICAP which runs until 2022.

In addition, under the LEADER programme for the period 2014-2020, funding to the value of €670,685 for ten projects that are for use by groups, including Men's Sheds, was approved in 2018.  This funding stream will continue past 2019.

I welcome the allocation of funding. Some 323 sheds across Limerick, particularly in places in my constituency such as Galbally, Glin, Doon, Killmallock and Newcastle West, have been allocated funding. I have met people from a number of Men's Sheds. I met members of the Glin Men's Shed at the horse fair a couple of months ago. One of issues I would ask the Minister to examine is that relating to capital costs versus operational costs. The sheds often have capital costs for the purposes of getting buildings up and running, for example buying tools and timber for the work the participants do. However, once the sheds are up and running, things such as tools do not represent recurring costs because they last for a number of years. Operational costs can cause difficulties, particularly in the context of, for example, insurance. This is the case throughout the country. I am aware that the cost of insurance working group is working on that issue. I am also aware that there has been a slight reduction in the cost of motor insurance, but this is having an impact on voluntary organisations. Perhaps the Department could examine the operational costs, or provide help to cover those costs. Men's Sheds may avail of the capital costs in one year and not require those funds the next year. That is not to say that they are not under pressure. I would appreciate it if the Minister could examine this matter.

I thank the Deputy very much. I know he tried very hard to get some funding ring-fenced for men's sheds. As I said, they are working very well around the country. Funding programmes are in place. I will look again at this area and if there are any savings in the Department, I will see what I can do in respect of capital works for men's sheds. The Irish Men's Sheds Association is a tremendous organisation, which has given people a new lease of life. It is only right that the Government give it support and funding through SICAP, the LEADER programme and my Department because it is an organisation that is working very well.