Rural and Community Development: Statements (Resumed)

I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on this important matter this evening. There has been much talk about rural Ireland since I was first elected. At the same time, with my hand on my heart, matters are not improving for rural Ireland. In fact, it is worse they are getting. The most effective way to help rural Ireland is jobs. Sadly, very few jobs are being directed to Kerry through Enterprise Ireland or IDA Ireland. If established industries like Liebherr Cranes, Munster Joinery, Michael Cronin’s Readymix and Fexco in Killorglin were taken out of the heart of Kerry, one could put up a gate at the county bounds with a “Closed” sign on it.

There is tourism in Kerry but that has been hurt badly by the Government with the increase of the VAT rate by 4.5% in one foul twist. Kerry has a Minister of State but this is what he allowed to happen. There are jobs coming into Dublin city, day in and day out. Only the other day, 660 jobs were announced for Dublin. However, the Government is not able to house them or police them. They are killing each other in ones, twos and threes in the city. There is no attempt to direct some of these jobs to Kerry or the west. There are places being starved and deprived of jobs.

On top of that, the Government, along with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, were bound to the drink-driving laws of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. The social fabric of rural Ireland has been blown to smithereens. People are isolated in their homes now because they are not allowed to have a pint or two going home from work. They can hardly come out the following morning to go to mass. I have said here before that the Government has the churches closed, along with the Garda stations and many of the schools.

Many people ask me why the Government fired my good friend and neighbour, Pat Spillane. He was doing great work on behalf of rural communities. The Government got rid of him because he was telling it what it did not want to hear. He did much good work but he is now left behind.

Young people are disappearing from of south Kerry at an alarming rate.

To take last year, one national school in Iveragh enrolled only two children. That is a fact. At an IFA meeting in Sneem three or four weeks ago, eight people were in attendance and all of them were septuagenarians aged over 73 years. That is what is happening.

I highlighted the issue of home help yesterday and between interruptions and one thing and another, I do not know if I was heard properly. I will give the Minister of State an example of two elderly ladies who are trying to stay in their homes as long as possible. The home help of one of the elderly women has been cut to 20 minutes in the evening. When the home help arrives, the lady asks her if she could make a dinner for her but the home help tells her she cannot do that in 20 minutes but will make her a sandwich and shower her. The lady told me she is sick to the teeth of showers and she is hungry. She told me she asked the home help if her husband would live on sandwiches when he comes home from work every evening and if he would be happy if she told him she would give him a sandwich instead of dinner. That elderly lady is trying to stay living in a rural place. She cannot get the meals on wheels service because she lives too far from Killarney. She is not being provided for, which is a sad reflection of what is happening in rural Ireland.

The other lady is well into her 80s but she is in good shape. Sadly, her family believe she would be better off in a home but she does not want to go into a home. Between paying for private home help and what she is getting from the HSE, she is left with only €57 a week on which to live. That is what the Minister of State and his Government is presiding over. I could take the Minister of State down to those two houses in Kerry to see what is happening. It is a shame and a disgrace that this is happening in Kerry. I am sad that I have to highlight an issue as personal as this one but what I have said is the God's gospel truth in terms of what is happening in Kerry at the present time.

There is much talk about schemes for towns and villages. I admire the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring. He is a good man but he goes on a bit. Some of the things he should be providing for are not being provided. He gave us funding for the local improvement schemes but I remind the Minister of State that we have 800 applications on hand. At the rate we are going, it will be 20 years before the last of those applications is seen to if more funding is not provided.

Houses in towns and villages are falling down because many people have abandoned houses. Rathmore on the N72 is the first town one comes to on the road into Kerry. I am amazed at the number of unoccupied buildings in the town, many of which are not fit to live in. It would be helpful to have a scheme to help address the state of such buildings in towns like Cahirciveen or even Kilgarvan. There are many empty houses in Kilgarvan and it appears there is no future for them. In a very short space of time, the roofs of these houses will fall in. Caherciveen is a very a popular tourist spot on the Ring of Kerry but if something is not done sooner rather later to address the state of some of the buildings in the town, many of the roofs will collapse and the town will look terrible. In spite of the great work done all over the county by Tidy Towns committees, which I praise on high for the great work they do, they will not be able to camouflage the damage that will be done to villages and towns in the next seven to ten years. The roofs of most of those unoccupied buildings will collapse if a scheme is not initiated to address them. The Minister of State is a member of the Government that is delegated with the power to address these matters.

Many villages are practically closing down. In Lauragh, the post office and shop have closed, in Currow, the pub and shop have closed and in Gneevgullia, the shop and post office have closed. Scartaglin has been waiting for the past 30 to 40 years for a treatment plant. Castleisland has been waiting for a sewerage extension scheme since 1986. Rathmore and Kilgarvan post offices have closed. I could go on and on.

Another serious issue that I raised in recent days concerns people who wish to build their own homes. They will pay for that to be done and they apply for planning permission to Kerry County Council. However, we have one serial objector who appeals to An Bord Pleanála when Kerry County Council decides to grant planning permission. An Bord Pleanála then refuses planning and overrules decisions even when an inspector has called to the site and said the application should be granted. We do not know what is going on but this would not happen in any other country. These people would not get away with that in any other country and I am asking the Minister of State not to let them get away with it in this country or in County Kerry.

Other factors are preventing locals from getting planning permission. The Taoiseach, when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, issued a direction to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in 2012 not to allow people to open an entrance to a new dwelling on a national secondary road or have access to a new dwelling from existing entrances. This rule applies on a road that is miles long and where it would safe to have such access. Kerry County Council granted planning but this rule that was signed into law by the then Minister deprived five families from getting planning permission. That is what is happening in rural Ireland. I could go on. The Government needs to wake up. There are things that can and should be done. I advise the Minister of State that the Government is letting the people down and that is the Gospel truth.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the important issues of rural and community development. It is not an exaggeration to say that rural communities are struggling with stripped down services, bank, post office and Garda station closures and the ever present threat of rural crime. Many of our rural villages and communities are being decimated as a result of people being unable to get planning permission for a home close to where their parents live. Having different generations of families living close to one another is an important way to provide supports. Grandparents can help with their grandchildren and, as grandparents get older, they have an opportunity to get the support they need from their families. Some of our smaller schools are losing out in terms of enrolment numbers as a result.

Fine Gael’s eight-year record has been one of stripping away rural Ireland’s existence, leaving massive deficits in service provision, substandard infrastructure and supports. Meanwhile, farm incomes have been hit by severe price volatility across all sectors. This is jeopardising the family farm sector, which is the very basis of Irish agriculture, while Brexit also presents an existential threat to the sector.

There is no doubt that a two-tier recovery has been allowed to fester and growth has been concentrated on certain areas. Government decisions are damaging the attraction of living and working in rural areas. The European Commission has confirmed that regional imbalances across the country remain in investment, economic growth, competitiveness and innovation. More than 40% of Irish GDP is concentrated in Dublin, while the greater Dublin area accounted for more than 70% of total employment gains nationally in the course of 2018. The recovery is centralised. The Minister for Rural and Community Development has described Ireland as "imbalanced”, which is a de facto acknowledgment that the Government is failing rural Ireland. More than 50% of IDA Ireland site visits are still in the greater Dublin area. Family, friends and constituents living in rural Kildare and other rural areas have an aversion to the talk of a national recovery as this Government has stripped away their services and supports.

Growth and recovery have not occurred in places like Athy, Monasterevin, Carbury, Rathangan and Portarlington. The regional imbalances that exist have become more pronounced over the past eight years.

While we as a party support the national broadband plan, at the same time we are not happy with the Fine Gael-led Government now promising to deliver the plan to a third fewer homes, to take three times as long to do it, and for six times the original price. Of course, on top of that, the State will not own the network that will be built and paid for by the taxpayer. No doubt the ballooning cost will impact on the national development plan and projects earmarked, including new bypasses and the construction of primary schools, primary care centres and social homes, as well as flood relief in rural areas. The lack of high-speed broadband in parts of south Kildare has been hampering the development of many SMEs. It is a problem in homes where students are unable to access the Internet for study and research. The updated map has added 537,587 premises to the State intervention area and 13,415 of these are located in Kildare.

The LEADER rural enterprise fund had its budget cut by 40%, or €150 million, under the 2014-2020 RDP, and has been a bureaucratic mess. There has been a significant underspend in the LEADER rural enterprise funding stream, with the alarming statistic that 80% of the total 2014-2020 funding remains unspent. Kildare was allocated over €5 million in LEADER funding but a mere 10% was spent by the end of 2018. In Laois, which was allocated over €7 million, only 14% of that was spent by the end of 2018. The Minister, Deputy Ring, commented in the summer of 2018 that he would undertake a review of the programme and his Department has acknowledged significant underspending in the programme due to the length of time it is taking for projects to be signed off. From direct experience, it is a bureaucratic nightmare with the Department and the local development organisations disagreeing on criteria and criteria being changed during the time that projects are in place to get funding. Something radically needs to be done about it.

In terms of Garda numbers, the decision of the Fine Gael-led Government to close 139 rural stations has had an adverse impact on crime rates in these communities and it is important that we have some reopened. The Government has consistently denied that we have a problem with rural crime but this is certainly not the experience of my constituents living in rural areas. I have been calling for an increase in the Garda force in my constituency for years and although we have seen some increases, the level is still well below the national average. In 2018, we had 382 gardaí, but that has been reduced to 371 in 2019. In Kildare, we have two stations that remain closed with no sign of them reopening in the near future. Both the Ballitore and Ballymore Eustace communities need their Garda stations open and gardaí patrolling these areas to deter crime. The Government must commit more gardaí to Kildare and commit to ensuring safety in our towns and villages. Anti-social behaviour and crime are on the rise and Garda numbers are decreasing at the same time.

Our post office network must be valued for the role it plays in Irish life and the essential service it provides. Large-scale post office closures have dealt another cruel blow to rural life in Ireland. Everything must be done to prevent the loss of post office services in the 159 communities where postmasters or mistresses are retiring by advertising a new contract appropriate to the local area and taking into consideration the potential for co-location to continue the provision of post office services. Fianna Fáil is calling on the Government to initiate a public service obligation payment to at-risk post offices to keep them viable.

Post offices are more than just a place to buy stamps. They play a major part in life, particularly in rural areas, and perform social as well as practical functions. I send a special shout out to Fogarty's in Ballymore Eustace. Seán Fogarty, the postmaster there, has done incredible work in attracting new and different services in eGovernment, such as VideoDoc, which greatly enhances the service that can be provided. The closure of Valentine's in Two Mile House and the closure of the Moone and Ballybrittas post offices have created a void in those communities. I pay tribute to the community of Moone which has turned the former local post office into a coffee shop. It is only open at certain times during the week because it is run by volunteers, but they have really risen to the challenge. In practice, many small towns and villages across Ireland have lost both their post office and bank branches in the past few years. In Kilcullen, there is still a branch but for any cash services, people need to go to the town of Newbridge or Athy. Many do not have access to cars and public transport is limited, and it is a problem. These closures, combined with reductions in local bus services, contribute to the fragmentation of a rural community.

Talking about rural crime - I have mentioned the Garda stations that have been closed - a large proportion of crime is being carried out by those on bail for other offences or by people with previous convictions for similar serious offences. In 2017, 12% of all crimes were committed by persons out on bail for another offence. We need to look at tougher bail laws and legislation is needed to provide real deterrents against reoffending.

I thank the Deputy.

I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, will take what we say to heart. I hope he will bring this up at Cabinet level. It is crucial to the lives of those living in rural areas.

I am afraid the list before me is in a state of flux. Deputy Michael Collins is next, followed by Deputies Cowen, Ó Cuív, Pringle and Maureen O'Sullivan. That is what is in front of me.

I will let Deputies Pringle and Maureen O'Sullivan go ahead of me.

At the start of this month, the Minister was rolling out "The Big Hello" campaign, urging people to reach out to their neighbours as part the first national community weekend, which took place at the May bank holiday weekend. While this is a lovely initiative, I am thinking of the reality. In my own constituency of Cork South-West which is decreasing in population size, there are no young people joining voluntary groups. GAA clubs are either disbanding or merging in rural areas because there are no young people there anymore.

Unfortunately, there is an increase in rural isolation in areas such as west Cork. Many people living in rural Ireland are isolated and their next-door neighbour could be miles away. I worry deeply for elderly people living in rural Ireland and the social isolation they face every day. Many people like to live independently for as long as possible in their own homes and they need to be supported to do that. Supports, such as the home help system, are vitally important to many people. Unfortunately, many recipients are getting inadequate hours and this needs to be urgently addressed. Many elderly people would not survive in their own homes were it not for the help that they get from their neighbours and their community.

Volunteerism is keeping rural Ireland alive and many people give hours of help and support to their neighbours and their community. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul published a report, entitled "Older People - Experiences and Issues", where it explored the challenges of older people living in Ireland. The report highlighted that the increased loneliness and isolation that elderly people were experiencing was also attributed to recent social and economic changes, such as the closure of local post offices. This was described by many as "a significant loss in terms of a central place where older people could congregate for a chat".

As people get older or suffer from ill-health, they may find it difficult to drive and living in a rural community can be a big problem.

I welcomed the announcement earlier this year that Local Link would be providing a service connecting Glengarriff with Kenmare and Killarney. This is a fantastic service that operates 52 weeks a year. It gets people out of their homes and helps tackle rural isolation. The problem in rural areas relates to the types of services that are needed, especially for the elderly people who cannot drive for one reason or another.

When I was out canvassing, I discovered that people's greatest frustration was with the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2018, which the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, guided through the Dáil. That legislation has absolutely wrecked rural Ireland. All Deputies supported that legislation, bar a few of us over here and we were treated as if we were lepers for opposing it. The fact is that it has had the exact effect on rural Ireland that we predicted.

On the other side of the coin, many people in rural areas have to use their cars to commute to work. Transport Infrastructure Ireland has found that 70% of people use their cars to travel to work, 60% as drivers and 10% as passengers. Traffic gridlock is very common, particularly at peak times. I have called for a park-and-ride type service from west Cork to the city to be rolled out as pilot project. This service should specifically run from Clonakilty to Cork, with some buses serving the airport and the railway station. Each extra bus, which would accommodate 40 passengers, would have the potential to replace approximately 30 cars on the roads.

School transport in rural areas is a major issue. Specific buses have transported children to school for decades. Some smaller schools have been closed and the children now attend larger, central schools. Parishes and communities were guaranteed school bus services in the catchment areas of schools that were closed in order that children might be transported to central schools. This is known as the closed-central school rule. This rule was discontinued by the previous Government as one of a series of cuts relating to rural Ireland. Its discontinuation caused great problems for many parents. During the negotiations to form a Government, rural Deputies raised this and other issues relating to rural areas. At the time, those who eventually formed the Government gave a commitment to restore the central-closed school rule. This needs to be fully delivered, particularly in light of the hardship that is being visited upon families.

Rural Ireland is deteriorating in front of our eyes. We need investment in order that rural Ireland might be restored to its former glory. In order to achieve this goal, we need proper infrastructure. In the context of the Cork County development plan, Ballinspittle, an area in west Cork, was zoned as an area in which 100 additional houses might be provided. Those houses which are needed in Ballinspittle but as a result of the failure to expand a local treatment plant, they will not be built. We are going nowhere in a hurry. There is no point in putting fancy words into a development plan and not delivering what is promised in reality. As a result of that to which I refer, the development in Ballinspittle cannot be delivered and this will affect many people who want to build or buy new houses there.

In other areas in west Cork, waste treatment plants - I know this is not relevant to the Department of Rural and Community Development but it is a rural issue - are either inadequate or totally absent. In some coastal villages, including Goleen and Ballydehob, the waste treatment plants are poor and untreated sewage is being discharged into the sea as a result. According to Irish Water, Castletownbere and Castletownshend are among five towns and villages in County Cork where there are substandard treatment plants and where untreated sewage is being discharged into the water. I have been informed in writing by Irish Water that it will be some years before wastewater treatment plants will be installed.

The Department of Rural and Community Development has responsibility for promoting and facilitating long-term economic and social progress in rural areas. The Department is responsible for co-ordinating the Action Plan for Rural Development, including the implementation of the LEADER elements of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. There is no point in discussing LEADER. The Government has made a hames of LEADER in terms of the way it is foot-printed and implemented all over rural Ireland. It is only a cod. It covers parks and benches, knives and forks and funding for simple things rather than getting down to what it was previously good for and capable of delivering. LEADER did deliver for rural communities in the past because it operated from the ground up. All that is gone. Forget about it because people in west Cork do not even consider it any more, which is sad.

Schemes catered for under the programme include the rural recreation scheme, the rural walks scheme, the town and village enhancement scheme and CLÁR. The oversight of preparations for the timely roll-out of broadband is also covered. In the context broadband, we all have issues regarding massive amount of money being talked about in recent months. I will not go into that. However, someone must talk to the private operators that are rolling out broadband over hills and dales, particularly in the context of the cost of the national broadband plan. If these providers pull the plug, there will be people who will be without broadband for two or three years before the plan is delivered, that is, if it is ever delivered. My advice to the Minister is to talk to the private operators and ensure that there is some comfort zone for them going forward. They are ready to pull the plug and if they do so, there will be serious consequences for people in rural areas. What is happening with Eir and others is that there are rich pickings for them at present but they are ready to pull the plug. If they do pull the plug, the boys who live on up on the hills will have no broadband. The Government will have to talk at that point and it will really know what a problem is.

In 2018, just over €21 million in funding was allocated under the town and village renewal scheme. In my constituency, only Bantry and Dunmanway received funding. They got €189,000 in total, which represents only 0.8% of the overall amount available. Does the Government understand what I am saying? West Cork has been totally forgotten. It is scandalous that an area of that size is only getting crumbs when it comes to funding under that scheme.

We need to see development in rural Ireland on many fronts. We have to come up with ideas to preserve rural areas not only for the people and businesses who live and operate there but also for the tourism sector. I am blue in the face from asking this Government to deliver on the promises during the negotiations to form an Administration in 2016. The rural resettlement scheme has been spoken about because the housing crisis is only getting worse. There was never a better time to actively promote the concept of rural resettlement. This scheme has been rolled out in County Clare. Will the Minister indicate if it can be extended to west Cork?

The bottom line is that we need investment in rural Ireland. Such investment is not being made. Young people are looking for planning permission to build houses and they are being rejected left, right and centre. Those seeking planning permission for massive developments have no problem at all in obtaining it. A young person is being told that he or she has no connection to an area despite the fact that he or she lives only four miles away. He or she will be informed that where he or she currently lives has no connection at all to the townland to which the application relates. It is a farce.

As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae indicated, what the Government did in the context of Pat Spillane was take a real, honest-to-God voice out of rural Ireland. This was not to save a pittance, rather it was to shut down the voice of the ordinary people. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Ring, should be here to respond rather than the Minister of State, Deputy English. The way the Government treated Pat Spillane was outrageous and scandalous beyond belief. Mr. Spillane was a great ambassador for the people. He was fair to the Government and to the ordinary people out there who are struggling. He was a voice but that voice had to be and shut down. If people listened to the Minister earlier, they would be aware that he wants to shut me down. He will fail in that and he will fail to shut Pat Spillane down. However, if he is allowed to continue what he is doing, he will succeed in shutting rural Ireland down.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this matter, which, particularly in light of the recent local elections and the conversation and consultations we have all had with the electorate, is timely. Voters aired their opinions, aspirations and concerns on the assumption that we would assess and take stock of them on returning to the forums to which we were elected, be it local authorities or Dáil Éireann. We will seek to influence policy in order to deliver to those who have made representations to us.

The Minister of State referred to being anxious to hear the views and observations of his colleagues. I hope and expect that he will take seriously some of what has been stated here and that he will act upon it rather than mouthing the type of platitudes I have heard in recent times. This is a relatively new Department. We were promised that it would assist in rural-proofing other Departments in order to ensure that rural Ireland would be at the centre when it comes to the delivery of policies and initiatives by Government. I am not sure that this is evident when I look at policy implementation in the various Departments. I have picked a few to speak about and elaborate upon in the hope that the Government might see sense and address some of the deficiencies that are plainly obvious to many of us.

The Minister of State also referred to the sense of community that exists and that we have inherited. We hope that sense of community will continue to obtain. It is undoubtedly challenged in today's environment as transport links and access to our cities improve and many of the major employers see fit to locate their operations in those cities.

The first matter up which I wish to touch is primary level education. Primary schools are central to many local communities. There are many small two, three or four-teacher schools in rural areas which are under immense pressure. There are policies within the Department and from Government which refer to aspiring to adhere to the teacher-pupil ratio. That is not evident in many rural schools. As a result of the failure in this regard, many schools are challenged and under pressure.

The focus is always on the larger towns and urban centres where one sees a greater allegiance to that commitment. I met it in Clonmacnoise during the course of my canvass trail in recent weeks. I have been in touch with the Department about it but it is a broader issue that needs to be addressed. There needs to be a commitment and policy needs to be adhered to and implemented, not merely referred to.

The other issue is health. Statements are being taken later on primary care. Our elderly have to be the focus of our efforts to ensure that they can remain their communities and homes as long as is possible. The home help packages and hours are not sufficient. We have been hearing about the GP contract in recent weeks and were told it had been lauded by members of the Government. What is the situation in respect of the rural allowance? Is it sufficient to ensure that out of hours services are provided by clusters of doctors together with the HSE? I am conscious of one service in Birr that was closed down. We were told that it was because the GP contract did not have adequate provisions within the rural allowance to ensure it could provide the service. The bigger picture is that many doctors are not seeking employment in these towns. We were told this GP contract was the answer but I have not seen any evidence from GPs or their communities to assure me that we will see the reinstatement of those services. That is a failure on the part of the Department to ensure that policies and contracts are rural-proofed to address the deficiencies that exist. I heard many Deputies talking about the disabled persons grant and housing adaptation grants to assist those who wish to remain in their homes but do not have the resources to do so because of physical disability or age deficiency. The cost associated with subventing care in nursing homes is far greater than would be the case if there was a concerted effort to provide the sort of funding that would meet the demands that exist. There was no concerted effort, despite the fact that a Department of Rural and Community Development is in place and we were assured it would rural-proof all these issues. I do not see that and it is not evident.

On housing, rural towns and villages of course are under immense pressure. I hate talking them down but it is quite obvious to us all that the centres of these towns and villages are dilapidated and not populated and have lost retail trade. What has this Government done to help? There are town enhancement schemes and public realm improvements, which are welcome, but they are only part of the solution. Welcome as they are, they are very protracted and slow to deliver, with elongated public consultation processes. In this week in which the local elections have finished, I ask the Government to trust its councillors, give them their head and allow them to select these projects themselves. They are at the coalface of their communities and want to improve their communities. They should be allowed to proceed. The process is not rural-proofed by the Department if it is allowed to take far too long. It is all about the announcement, being shovel-ready and having the high-vis jacket. It is never about the implementation. That is the problem.

Other initiatives to assist in the renovation and regeneration of town centre living have failed, as the Minister of State knows. The schemes put in place have not been at all adequate. That must be addressed. We must allow property owners the opportunity to take advantage of such initiatives in order to encourage people back into towns. On local authority housing delivery, a total of eight houses in eight years in my own county speaks for itself. There is no rural-proofing of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, obviously. I have long said that much of the expertise, commitment and professionalism that we have seen previously in local authorities is, unfortunately, not there any more. There is a role for the likes of NAMA in taking on board State lands, employing builders, paying healthy profits, putting the houses in place and leasing them to local authorities for 100 years. It can be done and should be done. It is outside the box thinking, trying to regenerate activities that used to take place within local authorities where much expertise has now been lost. Commitments on affordable housing were given by Government Deputies on foot of last year's budget but were not delivered. Commitments were given on the quadrupling from €2 million to €8 million of local authorities' discretion to provide housing. Again, there has been no progress on this issue. We are expected to take this continuously. We seek improvements and are told they are coming but do not get them. The people cannot stand for that and we cannot stand for it. These measures have to be brought forward a lot quicker.

On infrastructure, roads and broadband are the issues that have to be addressed. We have had good progress on the national primary networks in the last years, with projects delivered on budget and on time. There now needs to be the same focus and attention on the delivery of regional, local and county roads. The Government has to consider the issues pertaining to different regions. In my constituency, 40% of the roads are built on peat foundation yet there is no further discretion for us in respect of maintenance of those roads. We are starting behind the curve all the time. There is no rural-proofing by the Minister of State's Department of the way in which those funds are delivered.

We have spoken about broadband on numerous occasions in the last weeks. It appears that there was an effort by the Government to rush this process in order to provide something for the local elections. It has backfired. I was speaking to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform yesterday, who assured me he will have a contract, notwithstanding many of the issues pertaining to the procurement process and the excessive cost. He says there will be safety valves and triple-lock systems in the contract to ensure that if National Broadband Ireland goes bust, the backers will still be liable and will step in if it goes belly-up. I am not sure that is the case. He said he would insist it be the case. However, if he cannot insist and cannot provide a contract that does that, he will not tell us. Preferred bidder status has been given now and that has a cost associated with it. It is time the Government came clean with that. It is something we need to know. Great cost is associated with all this and with the national development plan, yet there is no commitment from the Government to tell us where the €400 million is being taken from for the overrun in respect of the children's hospital, or where the €400 million overrun in respect of broadband up to 2021 or the €1.5 billion overrun between 2021 and 2027 are coming from. We are told the money will come from future revenues. That is fairy stuff. It either comes from raising taxes, borrowing or current expenditure. The Government should not treat the people like fools. It got its answer last week and will get it again if it continues to do that. It is not a Freddie Mercury job here. It is not a kind of magic. The Government has to come clean and lay it out on the table and on this floor. Then we can get behind it and see if it can work.

I am sharing time with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. We will take five minutes each. The list of stuff I could talk about in respect of rural Ireland is probably endless. In the limited time I have, I am going to focus on the rural towns and villages. From my point of view, they are key to making sure that rural life can be maintained. I also want to mention the offshore islands, which are vitally important. I refer particularly to Donegal, Arranmore Island and Tory Island. This is about maintaining the life of rural Ireland. We have to make it possible for people to live and make a living on our offshore islands. That is the only way we can keep them populated. Donegal County Council tried in the 1970s to depopulate Tory Island and we saw where that got them. It is the wrong way to go. We should be making sure people can live and work on the islands and raise their families on them. We have seen on Twitter that the community on Arranmore Island has secured funding from Eir for broadband on the island. In a way, it is sad.

It was necessary to win a competition being run by a private company to secure broadband and then be part of the advertising used by that company. That is what was necessary to secure a service that people in rural Ireland should have as of right. It is a sad reflection on the Dáil and the Government that this is the best hope people have of getting services.

Towns and villages in County Donegal and across the country are vital. The Government should be examining ways to open up these towns and villages. The reason people seek planning permission to build on lands outside towns and villages is that they own the site and developing it can reduce the costs incurred. If reasonable options were available, I believe people would avail of them rather than developing and building in the countryside. There is a simple way to do that. Dunkineely is a small village outside Killybegs where the post office recently closed. Many people live in the countryside around that village but very few live in the heart of it. The Government should address that issue but it will not do so because property and property rights are king. The State, through compulsory purchase orders or some other method, should take ownership of the sites, houses and land in the heart of these villages and make them available to people from the community. Such a policy would mean that people from parishes around Dunkineely could live in the village. This would revitalise the shops and pubs, keep the post office open and allow people to live in their own community. That approach would benefit every village in Donegal.

Fewer than 20 people live on the main street of my home town of Killybegs. The people who own properties in the centre of the town cannot avail of tax benefits. The State, however, could step in, make these properties liveable and get people back living in the hearts of towns and villages. While the population of Killybegs has declined in the past 20 years, the population of the surrounding hinterland has rocketed in the same period. People cannot get sites or land in the towns and villages where they are from, which means they have to build outside the towns and villages if they want to live close to the communities in which they grew up and of which they want to be a part.

The State does not do this because of the crazy notion that property is everything and must be protected at all costs. The Government must do more to protect people and the countryside to ensure we have vibrant, living communities. I have outlined the way to do that and protect the entire countryside. Every Member who contributed named different towns suffering the same experience. People are unable to derive any benefit from the Government's emphasis on the private sector and tax breaks. The State should get involved by opening up these towns and villages and then we will see people returning to live in them.

I represent Dublin Central but I want to make a contribution on rural Ireland and the islands in particular. I am fortunate to have visited and stayed on almost all of the islands, from Rathlin Island off the coast of Antrim to the islands off Donegal and along the coast of counties Mayo and Galway down to Cork. I will base my contribution on Oileán Chléire in County Cork which is the island I know best. I have been staying there for many years. There is a danger that we can romanticise life on the islands and only see it on the sunny day. There is no doubt about the physical beauty and special atmosphere of the islands. The reality, however, is that life on the islands can be difficult. I also have no doubt about the sense of community I have seen on Oileán Chléire over the years and the way islanders support each other and come together as communities in times when things go wrong and in times of stress and distress.

Life on the islands is dependent on the weather, which makes it crucial that those who live on them keep together. We see the principle of meitheal in action on the islands. Oileán Chléire has probably had more visits from Presidents than Ministers with responsibility for the islands. I am exaggerating slightly but the islands rarely get a long visit. I do not call coming in on the ferry at 2 p.m. and leaving again on the ferry at 6 p.m., or possibly having a special ferry to get the Minister out on time, getting a sense of the islands. Reports are all very well but nothing beats an extensive visit to an island, staying there and getting the lived experience of the community.

The islands have to be treated differently when policies and plans are being drawn up for rural island. That is because they are different, principally for reasons of access. All of us can make a decision to travel at a moment's notice. That is not possible on an island where it is necessary to work around ferry times. It can also be difficult to plan ahead because the weather might again intervene. Islands are much more susceptible to changes in the weather than we are on the mainland. Gale force winds, storms and rain will not prevent me going from A to B but it can affect islanders. It can also be problematic to get services to the islands. Policies and plans for rural Ireland, therefore, need a separate module on islands because of those differences.

I found it ironic when the Wild Atlantic Way was being introduced that there was no mention of the islands. It is an excellent and brilliant initiative. I know it was linking roads but there was no mention of the islands at that stage and these islands are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. That issue was eventually addressed.

Are we really serious about the development and viability of the islands? We know what happened to the Blasket Islands and what could have happened to Tory Island. Unless we are serious about doing something, the same thing will happen with the other islands. That would be a shame because of their uniqueness. They need people to be viable. They need to keep the people they have and attract new people, especially families. We know about the decline in population in rural Ireland but it is particularly affecting the islands.

Turning to employment, this is where supports are needed for island initiatives. I will give an example. There was an application from Cumann Iascairí Chléire for an aquaculture licence and foreshore licence. It was accompanied by an extensive environmental impact survey, EIS, document. It was sent to the Department last February and there has not yet even been an acknowledgement that the application has been received. The development of jobs and businesses is severely restricted on the islands. The information technology industry could be the saving grace for island communities to support sustainability and viability. Approximately 5% of the population of Oileán Chléire earn a living from online businesses, including translation, web design and language courses. There is huge potential to expand with reliable high-speed broadband. People could then live and work on the islands. Rural broadband is not just needed for people who have second homes or a holiday home in rural Ireland. If we can provide broadband to the islands, we can save a way of life and keep people living there. It would also be possible to have access to online courses and health and medical care online.

Moving to the arts, one initiative on Cape Clear involved storytelling. A storytelling festival started by a couple on the island 30 years ago and held in the first week in September is now an international storytelling festival. I ask that when the Arts Council is developing its plans and policies that it look at the islands in a different way. There is also a great deal of potential for tourism because of the uniqueness of the islands and the totally different experience of life that it is possible. The latest campaigns from Fáilte Ireland are The Ancient East and Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. Why can there not be a similar campaign for the islands? I see that the Minister announced an allocation of €150 million to Fáilte Ireland for visitor attractions. Do the islands feature in some part of that strategy?

Regarding Gaeltacht courses, the rules for mainland houses are one thing. Reducing the numbers who can stay in houses on the islands is having a crippling effect. No new houses are entering the scheme because the regulations mean it is not financially viable to do so. This is another area where there is a need for flexibility for the islands. The red tape involved is inhibiting.

I will highlight one issue. Planning permission will not be given to build a house on Cape Clear unless it is to be a permanent residence. That is fine but there is nothing stopping an individual, as is happening, from buying two or three houses as an investment with no notion of living in them. They are being left empty because this is a way to invest money. This indicates that the right to private property has gone absolutely mad. Why did the local authority not buy those houses and give them to people on the housing list? If it is a Gaeltacht island, Irish speaking families should be given priority.

During the appalling weather some months ago, the roads on Cape Clear were in an atrocious condition. I never saw such potholes before. The county council finally came to repair the roads two weeks ago. It is better late than never but that is a situation that would not be acceptable on the mainland.

I will conclude with some words from an islander. She stated that it might not be the easiest place to live but she could not imagine any place better. She continued by stating that the people who lived on the island did not believe that they were disadvantaged but they did recognise that they faced challenges unknown to those living on the mainland. That is why I am requesting that when a development plan is being drawn up for rural Ireland a special module be included on islands because the islands are different.

Cuireann sé áthas orm deis a bheith agam cúpla focal a rá i dtaobh forbairt na tuaithe.

In the last eight years, despite the rural regeneration fund and the establishment of the Department of Rural and Community Development, the whole mechanism of permanent Government has had a death wish for real rural Ireland. One need only look at the spatial plan, getting rid of a word here and there that was put in to soften its message. Fundamentally, that message is that successful cities are the future and rural development is given token consideration down the list because it was known that there would be an outcry in rural Ireland. The whole lexicon of the current discussion refers to towns and villages as if the 1.5 million people who live in the countryside do not exist. We are following a geography based on the lecture room not the reality of rural Ireland. I am glad to see the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, here today. Even if the Corofin football team in his constituency could depend for players on town of Corofin in Galway, it would still not win the junior B league.

One never knows.

What makes the team great all-Ireland champions is that the vast majority of the people see their loyalty as being to the geographic area of the parish. It has nothing to do with religion and is defined in a territorial sense far beyond the little village of Corofin in Clare, which is extraordinarily small. We must recognise therefore what rural Ireland is and that should be reflected in our planning policies.

I hear complaints perennially about ribbon development. If one reads The Irish Times and so on, one sees that. Most ribbon development, funnily enough, is caused by the huge expansion of the cities which people are forced to live in or near. They do not want to live physically within the city and build endless houses in the adjacent countryside. In other words, it is an urban generated problem, not a rural one. If we move away from the areas influenced by the cities, the countryside could accommodate in visual terms, if we adopted our planning policies, the rural need for permanent housing. Our planning system is flawed in particular in relation to one-off houses because as far back as the 1990s, there was an obsession with road frontage and linearity. Thankfully, in some places people have managed to build in the folds of the hills and along the contours of the land in an unobtrusive way. It is a way that is in keeping with the natural pattern in the countryside previously and that can sustain the population without destroying the countryside visually. I am not in favour of the status quo in planning and of ribbon development. I am not in favour of the pull to the centre which means there is overcrowding of houses within a ten-mile radius of every city just as the cities themselves are a total housing nightmare. These are not rural problems, however. They are generated by urban areas.

I believe in rural Ireland. It is relatively easy to create jobs there. I have some experience of doing so. I live in a rural community that is in fact quite healthy in population and structural terms. I have believed since the first day I got involved in development work as a co-operative manager in 1974 that the most important thing for rural development was basic infrastructure. It is not a matter of a grant here or there. It is amazing to think that in 1974 we were trying to get a copper telephone line. What we urgently need for the 500,000 houses that do not have it now is fibre broadband. I have made my views on this absolutely clear at the committee. There is nothing in any known technology or that is likely to be there in the short to medium term to match fibre. There is no contention and much greater security. Listening to people talking about this, they do not seem to realise that Eir has already brought fibre to virtually every village in Ireland and a mile out the road in every direction. To start back at base again to try to construct a parallel system would be ridiculous. This is not rocket science. It is very simple. As the Minister of State knows, but what is important to record, is that Eir comes along and finds poles already in place because at one time 95% of houses had a landline phone. All the poles are there outside all the houses. Eir checks the poles to see if they are still up to standard and it replaces them if they are not. If it did not do it now, it would have to do it at some point in future. In fact, it is quite a good thing that this audit of all poles nationally is taking place. It will mean storm damage will be greatly mitigated. As the Minister of State knows, Eir hangs on the tops of these poles, alongside the copper, a little bit of fibre that is the weight of a feather. If the line was ducted, they duct it as well. It is as simple as that. There is no need for new ducting and it is 100% on the existing system. We need broadband and we need it now. There must be no more shillyshallying.

We need decent roads built to a pre-determined standard of surface, camber, curvature and width. Any upgrading of roads should be to these standards and the standards should vary according to whether it is a primary, national secondary or regional route or a tertiary road. We must have a proper long-term roads programme. We need water in every house. If those basics are provided, the economy will grow. We always talk about the IDA when we talk about jobs. Let us park it for a minute and look at the quick wins. The first win is decentralisation which is totally within our own control. The second win is localisation of services and the jobs that go with them instead of constantly drawing all services, including health services, into the centre, which is very unfair to the people who need them. I hope to speak more about primary care later tonight.

There are many things to talk about so I will move quickly to public transport. On buses alone, never mind trains, expenditure per capita in rural Ireland is less than one third of that in urban Ireland. That needs to be levelled. We need frequent services along the main routes to our towns and cities where the employment is. We must end the discrimination in fares. We have a ridiculous situation whereby if one gets the train to Sallins the fare is half of the fare to get to the next station in Newbridge. That situation is replicated nationally. This is simply because one is considered an urban fare while the other is considered to be a rural fare. We need equality of treatment in rural Ireland and cannot accept less. It blows my mind that we have not provided frequent rapid rail services on the existing railway lines, open and closed, into the major cities of Waterford, Limerick and Galway. I know the Minister of State is with me on that. I acknowledge that a plan has been developed and published for Cork. People wonder why no one takes the train from Nenagh to Limerick or from Clonmel to Waterford to get to work in the morning. I ask those who live in Dublin how many of their neighbours would take the DART if the first services to Connolly, Pearse and Grand Canal stations arrived at 10 a.m. and there was only one train in the evening which meant that, if one missed it to go for a pint with friends, one would have to walk home.

We have created a situation that we then use as an excuse for not providing a service because we say it has no patronage.

On jobs, I also wish to say we have huge natural resources, we have tourism and we have home working, which will become one of the boom industries where many people will work where they choose and choose where they go to live.

With the indulgence of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle who might give me another 35 seconds, can I say that climate change is normally cited as a reason for not allowing people to settle in rural Ireland. If that was followed to an extreme we would close down our international tourism industry because people would have to get either a boat or a train and we encourage people to go to the most far parts of our country. However, the reality is that with the electrification of vehicles, because rural people can generate much more electricity in their homes through solar or wind power, they could become much more carbon neutral and even become carbon contributors in the future, which is not something most urban people will ever be able to say.

I thank all of the Deputies who have spoken with such passion in the earlier part of the debate and here again this evening. There might be some differences of opinions expressed from the various sides of the Chamber but it is clear we all agree that we want the best for rural Ireland and for our local communities. Along with the Minister, Deputy Ring, I have had the opportunity to witness first hand the vision, commitment and energy which is present in communities across the country, whether they are rural or urban areas. These communities can do great things when they are given the right opportunities and that is why our Department is trying, through our many programmes, to provide maximum opportunity to communities to deliver their ideas and to realise the potential of their local areas.

Even since we had the first part of this debate on 10 April, there have been significant developments on issues which were raised by Deputies in the House. On 7 May, the Government announced its intention to award the contract to a preferred bidder for the roll-out of high speed broadband in areas not covered on a commercial basis. This project will have a transformative effect on rural Ireland and will facilitate a structural shift in how people live and work in rural areas. Improved broadband connectivity will help to support job creation and will help to revitalise and re-establish rural Ireland as an attractive place in which to live and work.

We have also had an announcement of €50 million for a beef support scheme from Europe, which is to be matched by €50 million from Ireland. This is something else that was discussed and this is important to rural Ireland. Some Deputies spoke about how the process of applying for schemes can be often daunting for volunteers and small community organisations, and I agree with that. To help less experienced groups, the Department has been running a series of events around the country called 'helping hands' to make groups more aware of our programmes and to provide guidance on how to make applications. There are numerous groups and community organisations which are out there but that may not have considered seeking funding and may not have the resources or experience to submit applications. I hope our initiative will see any barriers that may exist being reduced and ensure that all eligible groups have the opportunity to access available supports.

The action plan for rural development runs until the end of 2019 and the Department has already begun consultation on a successor to the plan from 2020 onwards. A series of stakeholder workshops has been taking place around the country in recent weeks. These workshops included an event day on Inishmore on the Aran Islands. I know the importance of considering the islands was raised by Deputies Connolly and Maureen O'Sullivan in the course of the debate. The next phase of rural policy needs to be forward thinking and needs to build resilience in rural communities and rural economies to deal with issues such as Brexit and the adoption of climate change measures. The policy should also enable communities to grasp the huge potential that exists in rural Ireland, about which many Deputies have spoken. The contributions which have been made in this House have been noted by my officials and will be considered in the development of this policy.

On other priorities for the Department for the rest of this year, an implementation plan for the framework policy for local and community development is at an advanced stage of development. In addition, the Minister, Deputy Ring, recently announced an independent review of the community services programme. This review will seek to ensure the programme continues to provide the best possible support for individuals, communities and organisations across the country. Following a public call for inputs in December 2018, my Department is working on the national volunteer strategy. Just today, I have chaired the first meeting of the new national advisory group on volunteering, which will assist in developing the volunteer strategy. Our Department is also finalising Ireland's first national, social enterprise policy, following a public consultation process which closed recently.

The debate on rural and community development has been useful and I wish to thank the Members for their contributions. I, a rural Deputy, along with the Minister, Deputy Ring, will reflect on the many views which have been shared during this debate. I am proud to be involved in such an important Department. In the short period since its establishment, the funding supports and programmes delivered have helped communities to become better places in which to live and work. I am confident our plans and programmes will continue to support rural and economic development and the local and community development sectors and that they will provide valuable services and supports to both urban and rural communities.