Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Regional Development Funding

Dara Calleary

Question:

33. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the EU funding supports available for regional development. [22887/19]

Is there any chance of a few bob for a microphone because somebody's microphone must not be working in view of all this roaring? Here is a fact for the Minister; the EU has downgraded the Border, midland and western, BMW, region from developed to a region in transition after an independent analysis of the GDP figures for the period 2015 to 2017. This proves what we all know but we now need to act. Are opportunities available for that? The Minister cannot do this on his own. We need a whole-of-Cabinet approach to rebalancing regional growth in this country. Those figures show that it is not happening.

The development of Ireland's regions is a shared priority across Government and a core objective of Project Ireland 2040. The main EU funding streams for cohesion policy and regional development include: the European Regional Development Fund, which is managed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; the European Social Fund, which is overseen by the Department of Education and Skills; the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which is delivered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, which is also overseen by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

As far as my Department is concerned, EU funding to support regional development is provided through LEADER and the PEACE IV programmes. Some EU funding is also provided to my Department from the European Social Fund under the SICAP programme.

LEADER contributes significantly to the development of rural communities and businesses. Almost 2,000 projects with a value of €69 million have been approved under the current LEADER programme. LEADER is funded through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

PEACE IV is a cross-Border programme for the period 2014 to 2020 that supports peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border counties of the Republic of Ireland. Overall responsibility for the programme rests with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, my Department is accountable for three of the four measures under the programme. The total funding allocated to date under these measures is approximately €179 million.

Both LEADER and PEACE IV make a significant contribution to the development of the regions.

I would like more information on the EU's decision to downgrade the BMW region from developed to a region in transition. When was the Department informed of that decision and what will be the consequences of that decision? The Minister outlined the various funds to which the Department has access. There are proposals in the European Commission to reduce some of those funds. For example, cohesion funding could potentially be cut by 13%, while there is a €1 billion cut on the table for the CAP, which funds LEADER, particularly in the context of Brexit and the departure of the UK. What role is the Department playing to protect those funds and defend rural and urban communities from bearing the brunt of cuts to those funds? What role is the Government playing in the negotiations on the new multi-annual financial framework to ensure that communities, rural and urban, will not take the brunt of these cuts?

My role is very simple. When funding is coming from Europe and being allocated to each Department, my role as Minister for Rural and Community Development is to rural-proof the spending of same at Government level. It is my job to make sure that rural Ireland and, as Deputy Curran consistently argues, the community sector, are given due consideration. The community sector is very important, particularly in disadvantaged areas and I must make sure that the funding made available to every single Department is rural, urban and community proofed. I must make sure that we get the funding that we require and that every other Minister understands the issues on the ground. The Deputy is quite correct in saying that this is not just an issue for one Minister. I cannot be the only Minister dealing with the development of rural and urban communities. There must be a combined, across-Government approach. All Departments must support me and must ensure that a fair percentage of the funding available to them is invested in things like the SICAP, LEADER and other programmes that focus on disadvantaged communities, particularly in rural Ireland. We must ensure that we develop the regions.

I ask the Minister to address the issue of the downgrading of the BMW region. When was he informed of that and what consequences will it have? I agree with what the Minister just said but the fact remains that the funds to which he refers are under threat. Decisions on these funds will be made and the groundwork for the next EU budget will be done during the summer period. We need to know that the Minister will be involved in those decisions and negotiations and that the Taoiseach, in the context of the current negotiations on various jobs within the European Commission, is standing up for these funds because they are the only source of money for many rural and urban communities. We must be sure that someone stands up for these funds and that we are awake to the threat of losing them. I have no doubt that the Minister is awake to that threat but I seek assurances that there is a cross-Government approach to protecting these funds in the context of the EU budget negotiations.

That is why we provided funding for the Atlantic Economic Corridor, AEC, taskforce, which is advising the Government. The Deputy is correct in what he says but Commissioner Hogan understands the issues here. Indeed, at one time, he had responsibility for this Department and understands the difficulties and problems. He will be supporting us in every way he can. The Deputy is quite correct-----

Will the Government renominate him?

I do not have that power-----

Will the Minister write him a reference?

All I can say is that he has done an excellent job and I wish him well but the decision in that regard is above my pay scale. The Deputy is quite correct to point out that it is important that we continue to focus on the rural and community sectors. My Department must focus on accessing whatever funds are available at a European level. The current Commissioner has an understanding of what is involved here because at one point in time he had a similar job in another brief.

EU Programmes

John Curran

Question:

34. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the level of funding drawn down by his Department under the European Social Fund's Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning, PEIL, 2014 to 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22737/19]

Applicants for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan must be of good credit standing and have a satisfactory credit record. The Housing Agency provides a central credit assessment service to local authorities and credit checks are undertaken as part of the credit assessment process. The final decision on loan approval is a matter for the relevant local authority and its credit committee on a case-by-case basis. Decisions on all housing loan applications must be made in accordance with the statutory credit policy, that underpins the scheme, in order to ensure prudence and consistency in approaches in the best interests of both borrowers and the lending local authorities.

A person who has been discharged from bankruptcy and is eligible in all other respects, including being a first-time buyer, for a Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan may apply for a loan and will be subject to the same credit assessment process that applies to all applicants.

As with the previous local authority home loan offerings, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is available to first time buyers only. This is to ensure the effective targeting of limited resources, and I have no plans to amend this requirement.

The Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme, SICAP, 2018-2022 receives co-funding under the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning, PEIL. Funding of up to €60 million for the programme has been approved by the European Commission, with €30 million in ESF funding being matched by €30 million Exchequer co-funding.

A number of steps must be taken in order to claim ESF funding for the programme. In this regard, my Department is working closely with the Department of Education and Skills, the ESF managing authority in Ireland, which has submitted an application to the European Commission this month for approval of a repayment method so that the draw down process from the ESF can begin. The repayment method is due to be approved by a Commission delegated regulation in quarter four of 2019. No refund of expenditure is possible until this regulation is approved which means that, to date, there has been no draw down of funding from the ESF for SICAP. In the first quarter of 2020 a claim will be submitted to the European Commission for reimbursement of expenditure for 2018 and 2019, up to the approved budget of €20 million per year. This will be made up of €10 million in ESF financing and €10 million in national co-funding.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I asked this question because I have a particular interest in highly disadvantaged communities and youth employment in such communities is very relevant in the context of the aforementioned scheme which ran from 2014 and which will cease in 2020. Why is it that the Department is only submitting an application for funding at the end of the scheme period? Is this the maximum level of funding that was available? I ask the Minister to provide details on whether the funding was used for targeted programmes, particularly in the context of youth employment in our more disadvantaged communities. I understand that the reference year to qualify for funding was 2012, at which point youth unemployment had to be at least 25%. Certainly, in this country at that time, youth unemployment stood at more than 30%. Given that the programme timeframe was 2014 to 2020, why is the funding only being drawn down now? Is the funding being back paid for those earlier years?

It is very simple. The regulation has not been made by Europe but we expect it to be signed in the near future. When it is signed, we will make our claims. As I said previously, in 2020 we will be reimbursed for the money we have spent. This is not the fault of the Department or the Government. The regulation must be signed by the European Commission and I presume we will have to wait until the new Commission is in place. The minute the regulation is signed, we will be looking to get our money back.

Funding of €60 million is to be spent over three years, at €20 million per annum, in a co-funding arrangement between the EU and the national Government and that money will be spent. The money will be drawn down as soon as the regulation is signed. We cannot submit our funding application until the regulation is signed.

I thank the Minister for providing clarity on the issue. Obviously, the regulation has come very late in the process, given that the scheme timeframe is 2014 to 2020. In that context, were any programmes not availed of or were any opportunities missed because of the delay in introducing the regulation? Do the claims that are to be submitted cover expenditure that has already been incurred?

The Deputy knows that I will spend the money. We will draw down the money later but the money is being spent now, which is the most important element. It is vital that we spend the money. We are committed to schemes which are aimed at disadvantaged children, young people and their families, disadvantaged women, emerging needs groups and so on. The funding is being spent. We are spending the money now. The Department will be reimbursed by Europe when the regulation is signed.

I am anxious to know that nothing has been missed because of delays.

No, nothing has been missed.

LEADER Programmes Data

Dara Calleary

Question:

35. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount spent to date under the 2014-2020 LEADER programme by project and administration costs, respectively; the amount expended to date on project costs by each local action group, LAG; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22890/19]

Here we are again with my usual question on the LEADER programme. I know that the Minister is going to give me all sorts of figures, tell me that everything is hunky-dory and that he is spending money like it is going out of fashion this year. However, the reality is that we are still way behind in LEADER spending this year. Has there been any discussion between the Department of Rural and Community Development and the European Commission on the slow progress in spending this LEADER money?

LEADER is a multi-annual programme with a total budget of €250 million to be allocated over the period 2014-2020. While all funding must be committed by the end of 2020, payments can and will be made in subsequent years as projects are completed. This is no different from the situation which applied under the previous LEADER programme. To date, almost 2,000 LEADER projects have been approved for funding of €69 million by the local action groups, LAGs, which deliver the programme across the country. Another 373 projects with a value of €26 million are going through the approval process. Total expenditure to date by the LAGs on the LEADER programme is €50 million. Of this, just over €21 million has been paid out to more than 800 LEADER projects. Given the level of additional projects also approved for LEADER funding, it is clear that the level of project payments will rise significantly in the coming months as these projects are delivered.

A total of €27.2 million has been paid in respect of the administration costs of the LAGs, including their engagement with promoters to develop projects. LEADER administration costs are always higher in the earlier part of the programme as the LAGs work with businesses and communities to develop project proposals.

However, administration costs cannot exceed 25% of a LAG’s budget over the lifetime of the programme. Therefore, by the time the programme is concluded, there will be three times more expenditure on projects than on administration. This is similar to the situation with the previous LEADER programme. The table which accompanies this reply provides details of core project approvals and project expenditure in each LAG area to date. The figures do not include expenditure under thematic schemes such as the LEADER food initiative and co-operation projects. These are delivered centrally outside of the LAGs' existing budgets.

Table 1: Total LEADER Approvals and   Expenditure by LAG as of 26th May 2019

Local Action Group

No of Projects Approved

Value of Projects Approved

Total Project Payments

Carlow

32

€1,926,280

€1,047,831

Cavan

48

€2,937,974

€1,035,548

Clare

126

€2,437,046

€716,579

Cork North

52

€1,944,561

€559,971

Cork South

22

€873,004

€291,376

Cork West

27

€1,265,267

€203,364

Donegal

108

€4,805,920

€2,541,080

Dublin Rural

49

€1,433,976

€467,865

Galway East

47

€1,768,286

€53,019

Galway West

31

€685,654

€215,412

Kerry

222

€4,402,952

€1,632,026

Kildare

21

€912,242

€211,422

Kilkenny

61

€1,628,417

€686,708

Laois

61

€1,374,314

€741,053

Leitrim

54

€2,032,537

€453,919

Limerick

78

€4,294,519

€1,268,845

Longford

54

€1,351,669

€358,706

Louth

65

€1,740,610

€477,644

Mayo

121

€4,811,744

€788,010

Meath

50

€2,182,725

€223,235

Monaghan

41

€2,420,542

€690,942

Offaly

126

€2,995,345

€1,119,990

Roscommon

44

€2,484,487

€546,829

Sligo

84

€2,679,588

€884,398

Tipperary

118

€3,926,055

€932,154

Waterford

50

€3,393,484

€1,657,159

Westmeath

55

€1,339,403

€402,401

Wexford

95

€3,465,816

€860,356

Wicklow

49

€1,331,716

€229,727

Grand Total

1,991

€68,846,135

€21,297,571

Funding of €69 million is approved and €26 million is in the process, yet only €21 million has been paid out. What is the Minister's anticipated figure for the amount that will actually be paid out by the end of 2019? We had a discussion previously about inconsistencies among LAGs nationally in terms of spend and performance. Following that discussion, the Minister was to go away and kick some heads in. What has the result of his work been and has some sort of consistency of performance been established? Has the Minister looked specifically at those LAGs which are not delivering? Is there any LAG which is at risk of exceeding the 25% threshold in terms of administration versus overall budget? Is it the threshold for the overall national budget or does it apply within each company?

To answer the last question first, no LAG can go over 25%. It is 25% over the life of the programme and under no circumstances can it be exceeded. I will not give the Deputy all the same answers he has got before but I will say the following. He has asked a fair question and I will give him a fair answer. I refer to the new table that was distributed with the reply. Every time the Deputy and other colleagues ask this question, I return to my Department, bring in my officials and ask them what is going on. We have sent officials out to different LEADER companies nationally. To be fair, some of them are performing very well and some are not performing at all. I need to look at this and I will do so. The Deputy asked what we are going to do with the companies that are not performing. I will soon be in a position to make decisions on budgets and I will reward those LEADER companies that are doing well. The ones that are not doing well will not be rewarded. I am looking at the LEADER companies that are not performing and I will have to deal with that. I am not going to leave it too long either.

The Minister will receive support from the House to get those companies that are not performing up to speed. I ask him again for the likely expenditure figure in money paid out by the end of 2019. Have there been any discussions between the Department and the European Commission on the slow expenditure profile? How does our expenditure profile compare with the expenditure profiles of other countries with LEADER programmes?

My understanding is that our profile is the same as those of most member states. Our profile is well up in the first five months of 2019 on the same period last year. I have no doubt that by the end of the year, we will see a major improvement on spend. I have to be fair regarding the companies that are allocating the funds. We have to wait for the schemes to be built and for the work to be done before the money can be drawn down. That is not what I am worried about. Where the allocations have at least been made and the projects are going ahead, I can put up with that. The problem is where no allocation has been made and there is no spend. I do not want to name names but some are as low as 1% of allocations. This cannot and will not go on. I have to do something about it. I am sick and tired of talking to my officials and telling LEADER companies about it. People out there tell me they need money to spend on projects they want to complete. The money is there. It is European and Irish Government money and I want it spent on projects that provide value for money, create jobs and enhance communities. I do not want it lying in LEADER companies not being spent.

Climate Change Policy

Willie Penrose

Question:

36. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the role of his Department in tackling climate change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22798/19]

Obviously, I anticipated the results of the recent election when I tabled this question last week to ask the Minister of State to outline the role of the Department in tackling climate change. We saw the green wave in the local elections, which was partly due to the Government's failure to address the issue of climate change, an extremely important matter on which there must be a renewed focus and a proper strategy to implement. What role does the Department have or is envisaged for it to ensure the targets outlined in the cross-party recommendations of the recent report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action are implemented?

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, is responsible for the overall Government plan for climate change action.  All Departments will have a role to play in supporting the plan, initiatives and targets set out by the Minister in this regard. Acting on climate change now is a Government priority and important for the future of all our communities. My Department is actively participating in relevant cross-Government discussions and plans and will contribute to the overall national effort on climate action through its work with communities, including communities in rural Ireland. Supporting the development of resilient and sustainable communities is at the heart of my Department's mission. I will work with colleagues across Government to deliver a fair transition to a low carbon economy. To ensure buy-in to the changes in behaviour required, it will be important to support communities, particularly those in rural areas, during the transition.  Engagement with communities will be key to the delivery of climate change targets and my Department will work to make this happen within existing community structures such as local community development committees, or LCDCs.

The Department will continue to support and fund community initiatives to help Ireland's transition to a low carbon society through the wide range of programmes we deliver. These include the LEADER programme's rural environment theme, which will see almost €24 million invested in projects up to 2020, funding from the rural fund, the social inclusion and community activation programme, and the town and village renewal scheme. Climate change can present opportunities for rural communities. As such, I have also allocated LEADER funding to those exploring the potential of renewable energy locally. Social enterprises can also make an important contribution to Ireland's social and economic progress, including the delivery of environmental and climate action related services. A draft national social enterprise policy published in April for public consultation closed on 14 May 2019. The views expressed during the consultation will now be considered by our line Minister, Deputy Michael Ring, in advance of finalising the policy. Our Department will continue to keep under review its policies as they apply to communities and rural Ireland and each of the funding schemes and programmes to ensure they complement the overall Government objectives of climate change mitigation.

The climate change performance index, or CCPI, for 2019 ranked Ireland as the worst performing member state of the EU and among the worst performing countries in the world in tackling climate change. We have received a warning and we must now get off our behinds. That we need to change is well known across all sectors and communities, both rural and urban. In rural areas, the big question is how to protect farmers and workers during this change. In other words, managed change is required. Bord na Móna has been a very important strategic employer across the midlands for 60 years or more. Various communities and families grew up in and around Bord na Móna's plants and operations, including at Derrygreenagh and Rochfortbridge in County Westmeath, Derryadd and Lanesborough in County Longford and Boora in County Offaly. Great families were sustained by the work of Bord na Móna which will now be lost. The company is to close 17 of its 62 active bogs immediately and is due to end peat harvesting in 45 more within seven years. Up to 500 jobs will no longer be available. What plans does the Department have for peat workers, people working in peat factories, harvesters and those in the surrounding communities? Alternatives must be put in place to secure the future of these families and the workers in those plants.

The all-of-Government action plan on climate change will be published in the very short term. The Deputy referred to the transition for farmers, which is very important. I am sure he will agree that it is also important to state that farming rates at a high level in our carbon emissions only because we are not a very industrialised nation.

Farming rises in the pecking order as a result. The Deputy is correct that we must provide supports to ensure that the changes we have to make to farming are transitional.

With regard to Bord na Móna, I am working closely with it in my capacity as Minister of State in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I understand what the Deputy said, but Bord na Móna can be the model by which all companies in this country go from brown to green. There are many exciting projects and opportunities in Bord na Móna. I visited its site at Mount Lucas and have had a number of meetings with the company about projects that are in development stage, such as fish farming and wind farming. It has 80,000 ha of land so there is real potential for development and creating jobs in the communities the Deputy mentioned. I am confident that with Bord na Móna we will show how to model a brown company to a green company and create additional jobs.

A just transition policy will have to be implemented over a period for these sectors to achieve the decarbonisation, reduction in fossil fuels and so forth that the climate change objectives require. One of the recommendations in the recent report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, which I strongly support, called for "Developing local economic diversification plans that support decent work and provide community stability in the transition." If there is a fall off a cliff, it will be a disaster for many areas. It is important that the Minister of State has development plans and perhaps he is in a position to outline them. I urge the Department to start those development plans because the Department of Rural and Community Development will be important in responding to that specific recommendation. That is critical. We all have a role to play. Some changes that are perceived as unpalatable will be required, but they are for the betterment of the long-term future of the country. We have to tackle it but it must be in a planned and phased way with proper transition periods and set objectives which will ensure that people can still earn a living in their rural communities.

I agree with the committee's findings. It is important to speak about the just transition. People are beating a drum for making changes quickly now, but that will be more harmful to our country and people, especially to rural Ireland. We must plan for the future and ensure that we bring everybody along with us. There is a great responsibility on all of us. It starts with the Government and the action plan. With regard to rural areas, we cannot simply use a big mallet to crack a nut, destroy much of rural Ireland and create something we would not like. We must create the sustainable jobs, provide rural transport and public transport and ensure that when people are told that fossil fuels must no longer be used there are alternatives in place for them.

Men's Sheds

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

37. Deputy Tony McLoughlin 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. [22729/19]

This question is about the Minister's plans to allocate funding this year to the Irish Men's Sheds Association. We see the amount of work being done in men's sheds throughout the country and the number of people who are actively involved in them. I see it in my constituency and I am sure other Members of the Oireachtas see it in their constituencies. I hope the Minister has some good news for me.

The emergence of men's sheds in recent years has been fantastic for communities across Ireland.  In towns, villages and cities which I visit as Minister, I am always amazed by the great work that local men's sheds do.  They provide a safe and comfortable environment where men of all ages can share skills, work on meaningful projects and connect with their communities.

The Government is committed to supporting these groups.  In 2018, a range of supports were available for men's sheds, many of which 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 to men's sheds groups in 2018.  This support will continue to be available throughout the current SICAP, which runs until 2022.

Additionally, in 2018, under the LEADER 2014-20 programme, ten projects which are for use by groups, including men's sheds, were approved funding to the value of €670,685.  This funding stream will continue in 2019.

I thank the Minister for that information. Men's sheds are beneficial for the people who operate in them. The people who run them in my constituency tell me they have benefitted from them both mentally and physically. The funding is certainly needed. The Minister referred to equipment. It is important for these outlets to provide equipment for these gentlemen to operate. The Minister spoke about €4.5 million for the community enhancement programme. Is that for the current year or is it over the 2018 to 2020 period? It is vital that we encourage men's sheds. We have seen the number of them in certain areas and the enthusiasm of those who gather in them. They work not only for themselves in the men's sheds but also for their communities. Will the Minister clarify the funding for the current year?

The Irish Men's Sheds Association is a fantastic organisation and I compliment Deputy McLoughlin on putting this question. This has been one of the great success stories in Ireland, and not only in Ireland. The men's sheds movement is being brought across Europe to show what it can do. I see Deputy Connolly is present and I hope she will not now ask me about the women's sheds. If they want to join the national organisation, I will consider them for funding as well.

Answer the question.

There is a woman in charge of the men's shed in Galway.

The Minister should deal with Deputy McLoughlin's question.

My apologies, I will. Deputy McLoughlin is correct that extra funding was made available last year. With regard to additional funding this year, it is something I will consider later in the year when I see how my expenditure is going. I fully support the men's sheds. The organisation does a tremendous job for the Tidy Towns competition, communities and sporting organisations. Primarily, however, it gives men an outlet and an opportunity to meet and talk to each other. That is good for their well-being. I am delighted with the great success of this scheme.

I agree with the Minister on what it has done for so many people. In talking about men's sheds, we could incorporate females into the sheds as well.

I know many people who retired some years ago who are now involved with men's sheds. They are giving back to the community in terms of the expertise they have. They are also training other men in the men's sheds, which is important. The Minister is quite right. It is vital that funding can be made available for the men's sheds in the future. It is money well spent, whether it comes through the LEADER programme, the community enhancement programme or otherwise. Equipment and materials are costly and it is important that we ensure the funding is made available for these people to continue the wonderful work they are doing.

I endorse everything that has been said. During the election campaign, the Minister and I were in Kiltimagh and Ballina with men's sheds. The local sheds are doing phenomenal work but the national organisation is struggling with success.

The national organisation is an incredibly hard working team which is trying to co-ordinate all this activity. Some time ago, when Deputy Ó Cuív was Minister, there was a programme to support national organisations growing at the rate at which the men's sheds is growing. There are huge local supports for sheds but without national co-ordination, they will certainly not grow and any plans to move them around the world will not proceed either. I ask the Minister to engage with the national organisation to see if a funding stream could be found to support development workers and give them some back-up that would support the work that is being done on the ground.

There are 400 men's sheds around the country and the Deputy is correct to say that it has been a fabulous organisation, which has taken off and is working. Instead of dying away after starting off, it has got stronger and stronger. I have had a number of meetings with men's sheds and my Department is looking at the applications from the national organisation. Many applications have been received and I did not realise there were so many organisations. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and I are going through them at the moment but it will not be possible to accommodate everybody with the amount of money we have. Nevertheless, we will make decisions on the applications in the next few weeks.

Local and Community Development Programme

Catherine Connolly

Question:

38. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development further to Parliamentary Question No. 10 of 8 November 2018, when the review of local community development committees due in quarter 2 of 2018 will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22877/19]

Tá ceist dhíreach simplí agam agus bheinn buíoch as freagra díreach gonta. When will the review of local community development committees, LCDCs, which was due in early 2019, be published? Has it been completed?

After the last questions relating to social enterprise, I sent a copy to the Deputy.

Táim buíoch don Aire as sin.

With reference to the Deputy's previous parliamentary question of 8 November 2018, a report on the LCDC review is being drafted by my Department with guidance and input from the LCDC review steering group and it is at an advanced stage.  The aim of the report is to provide a set of practical recommendations that address the challenges identified in the consultation and strengthen the operation of the LCDCs going forward.

The Local Government Reform Act 2014 significantly increased the community function in local authorities providing for the establishment of LCDCs and Our Public Service 2020 recognises the LCDCs as the primary vehicle for collaboration at a local level. In this context, my Department is currently involved in comprehensive consultation with the City and County Management Association and other stakeholders to ensure that the LCDC review is as robust as possible.  While this engagement has been very worthwhile, it has taken longer than anticipated.  I expect to have a draft for my consideration very shortly and would hope to publish the final report in July 2019.

I have been given a date of July this year and I thank the Minister for that. However, it is very disappointing that it has taken this long. The review was set up way back in 2017, when the LCDCs had been in operation for three years. Various replies, from before the current Minister's time, told us it would be 2018 and early 2019 but now it is to be July 2019. Is the Minister certain it will be published in July? This document is vital because we have to look at whether the LCDCs are operating properly in terms of governance. We also have to look at them in the context of sustainable development goals and climate change, which have taken on a new urgency.

My officials and I are having robust negotiations with local authorities, which will deliver the scheme. I want to get it right and, as with the social report we did recently, I want to ensure we learn from the past number of years. I am very confident that I will get the report but I do not want to talk about what will be in it or out of it. I want it to be robust and I want everybody to have an opportunity to express their views. I hope we come back with a very strong report.

The LCDCs are working very well around the country but we need to look at them and see if changes are needed to strengthen them.

It is a bit surreal for the Minister to talk about a robust report. The review was to see if the LCDCs were robust in how they operate on the ground but we are now looking at the review to see if it is robust, almost two years after it was due to report. The Minister will see why I am sceptical about this matter. We all feel that the LCDCs are doing very good work but the review was to see how effective they were and if they were able to change with the changing circumstances, in particular in the areas of climate change and the sustainable development goals. It is very disappointing that it will take until July. Can the Minister assure me that it will be published in July? Who is actually sitting on it? How many representatives of the community are involved? I worked in LCDCs for 17 years and I have a certain scepticism about management pushing things. The work I have seen on the ground came from the community and that was the best work I have ever seen.

A steering group in my Department is dealing with this. I guarantee that, when I go back today, I will ensure this group gets the report to me immediately. As soon as I get the report, I want to publish it. I guarantee that it will be published. The Deputy is right that this has gone on too long so I will start to put the pressure on now to make sure it is published. I want to make sure the steering group gets it right. This is a new Department. We have done a lot of reviews of schemes in the past 18 months and that all takes time. The Department is working very hard and I compliment my officials. The steering group is independent of me but I want it to produce a robust report. I give the Deputy a guarantee that I will have it ready for July.

Rural Development Policy

Peter Burke

Question:

39. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the feedback he received from stakeholders during his recent roadshow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22727/19]

Permission has been given for Deputy McLoughlin to take Question No. 39.

I am taking this question on behalf of Deputy Peter Burke. It asks the Minister for an update of the feedback he has received from stakeholders during the roadshow.

The feedback I received at each of these events was overwhelmingly positive. The rural opportunity roadshow and campaign was a cross-Government initiative led by my Department. It was designed to highlight the opportunities available for rural communities to access funding for projects in their areas through the range of programmes provided across Government. The events took place at rural venues in Thomastown, County Kilkenny; Granard, County Longford; Corofin, County Clare; Drimarone, County Donegal; and Castletownroche, County Cork. Representatives from community groups and stakeholders in rural areas were invited to the events and we had an excellent response, with over 120 attendees at each event.

At the events I shared the stage with representatives from communities and business in rural Ireland who successfully availed of Government supports for projects in their area. These case studies showed how the supports available have made a positive impact in rural Ireland in terms of community development, job creation and tourism and cultural development.  More important, they communicated to those in attendance how such supports could be secured and they hopefully inspired other communities and individuals to develop their own community, tourism or business projects.  In order to spread this message as widely as possible, my Department also created a video which showcased other successful projects funded by Government already delivering in rural Ireland.  This video has been pushed out on social media and has already been viewed over 630,000 times on Twitter.

After each event, officials from my Department, along with other Departments and State agencies, met with attendees.  They provided guidance and advice to those seeking information on the range of rural supports available. In that regard, the rural opportunity campaign complemented the helping hands workshops being rolled out by my Department and Pobal, with the help of local authorities and local development companies.  These workshops set out to assist less experienced community groups and organisations in accessing funding schemes and programmes.  The rural opportunity campaign, combined with the assistance provided by the helping hands workshops, will inspire and assist communities all across rural Ireland. With the aid of the supports available across Government, these communities can make their vision and ambition a reality.

I thank the Minister, on my behalf and that of my colleague. The money being spent in communities by the Department, and as a result of the Minister's intervention via Pobal and other organisations, is very welcome.

Many communities and businesses wish to improve their lot. The way to do this is through funding, which is something the Minister can provide. Hopefully, such funding will be available. Will the Minister indicate the amount of funding that will be available in coming years? People in rural areas speak of the Minister, his Department and the money that is being spent. All communities are benefiting as a result of the intervention of the Minister and his Department. I can see - and I am sure other Deputies must see - the money that is being spent in constituencies. Perhaps more funding needs to be made available but I welcome what the Minister said and I ask that he continue what he started.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this issue. The rural roadshows were undoubtedly a great success. They brought together people who drew down funding from LEADER and various Government schemes. Community activists attended and explained how the schemes worked. We also sent the Helping Hands roadshow around the country. I think Deputy Calleary was at the event in Ballina that was attended by a couple of hundred people. I am trying, particularly with Helping Hands, to do something to which Deputy McLoughlin referred, namely, ensure that groups which do not receive funding get an opportunity to make applications for funding. I set up Helping Hands and got my officials out to assist communities in order to ensure that they are able to make applications. Sometimes professional groups or professionals within organisations are able to put applications together. Sometimes the groups I really want to receive funding are unable to draw it down. That is why we are out there giving them the help and support to do it. It is important that every corner of rural Ireland gets the opportunity to be able to make applications and draw down the funding.

I call Deputy Carey. He should ask a short supplementary question.

I congratulate the Minister on the initiative he has taken. It is also important that he listens to the feedback from the roadshow. It was very clear that the town and village centres need investment. I compliment the Minister on taking that feedback on board. The new rural regeneration and development fund applications will be successful, I am told, if there is an emphasis on village and town renewal projects, making them better places in which to live and work. Will the Minister comment on this?

We did take feedback. Sometimes when one listens to national media, one hears about what is going on in rural Ireland. It is a pity that some of the media did not come out to see what is actually happening on the ground. I visited the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's county, Donegal. The enthusiasm that was there and the number of people who turned up was remarkable. I visited Deputy Carey's county, Clare. One can see what is being done in rural Ireland by community groups. I will just say that I would love for RTÉ to go out and cover a small bit of positivity and see what is actually happening on the ground. I would tell Deputy Danny Healy-Rae that is not all bad. There is a lot of very good stuff happening in counties Kerry, Cork, Donegal and Mayo. RTÉ does not see the good stuff that is happening and I invite its people down so that I can show them.

What about west Cork?

(Interruptions).

Reference was made there to more money. We could not give Deputy Danny Healy-Rae any more money. His machines are going 24 hours a day, they are not able to go any more than that.

I ask the Minister not to burst the sound system, please. I call Deputy Calleary.

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Dara Calleary

Question:

40. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of applications made under the rural regeneration and development fund to date per category; the number of applications granted funding per category; the funding approved for the scheme in 2019; the number and value of payments made to date for approved projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22891/19]

Joe Carey

Question:

46. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the rural regeneration development fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22725/19]

I will not burst the Minister's bubble but I refer to the rural regeneration and development fund. The Minister and Deputy Michael Collins had an interaction, rather than a discussion, on this earlier. The reality is that only 38 of 280 applications were deemed successful for project funding. The Minister has a concept of a project being shovel ready, and I welcome that, but is the Department's understanding of shovel ready different from that of local authorities? There is some sort of difficulty in the application process. The number of projects that are unsuccessful is incredibly high.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 46 together. The rural regeneration and development fund seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects which have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over ten years to the fund and €315 million is allocated to the fund for the period 2019-2022.

The first call for applications for the fund closed at the end of September. There were 280 applications submitted to the first call. Some 126 applications related to category 1, shovel ready projects and 154 related to category 2 projects, those which needed development funding to become potential category 1 applications in future calls for applications.

In November 2018, I announced the first set of 18 successful category 1 projects. These 18 projects received €24.4 million in funding and have an overall value of €34.6 million. In February, I announced another 20 successful category 1 projects and 46 category 2 projects. These 66 projects will received €62 million in funding and have a total project value of €83 million. Overall, the first call from the rural regeneration and development fund will provide €86 million in support for projects worth €117 million.

In order to ensure the prompt delivery of these important large scale projects, my Department has drawn up contractual obligations for successful applicants with funding based on the achievement of key milestones in the projects. In that regard, while there has been no drawdown from the fund to date as expected I am pleased that a number of the projects are approaching the completion of their first key milestone.

I launched the second call for applications to the fund in April 2019. This current call is open to category 1, shovel ready applications only and the closing date is 12 noon on Tuesday, 6 August. A further call for category 2 applications will follow in October. Information on requirements of the second call are on the gov.ie website and information sessions to assist potential applicants will be held by my Department.

The Minister indicated that €24.4 million in expenditure was approved but when does he expect this to be drawn down? What is the timeline in the Department for that money to be drawn down? Like many funds in his Department, there are many announcements but they are not matched by the drawdown and the expenditure does not seem to match the hype. Is the Minister monitoring the scheme for potential blockages? I do not want this scheme end up like LEADER whereby there is inconsistency in areas throughout the country and a huge amount of money is left unspent as the programme comes to an end. This scheme has the potential to be very successful.

Is there a difficulty with local authorities providing matching funding? Are local authorities shovel ready in terms of the money they have to put into this scheme?

I call Deputy Carey on the same matter.

The fund has been a great success in County Clare. We benefited from €7.5 million in the previous round. For example, great work is being done in Lahinch in advance of the Irish Open. Money from this fund is being used to upgrade the public realm and make it more attractive. Lahinch Seaworld is also receiving a massive injection of funds.

It is important to outline the changes that will be made in the next round. It will limit the number of applications that can be made to three per local authority or development group. There should also be an emphasis on upgrading town and village centres. They are dying and they need investment. An emphasis needs to be place on them in order to make them more attractive.

I thank the Deputies. In response to Deputy Calleary, contractual agreements are entered into in respect of these schemes and timeframes are set out. The latter include milestones for when funding can be drawn down in the major schemes. I hope that no local authority made an application without having matching funding ready. Under the contracts, the work must be done. These are contractual deals so local authorities must honour what they are doing. Deputy Calleary asked what is meant by shovel ready. Shovel ready is when it is ready to proceed.

Ready to turn the sod.

I have dealt with some local authorities which had led council members to believe that projects were shovel ready when they were not. Anything that was shovel ready was considered.

Deputy Carey is quite correct that this is a great scheme. The funding is €1 billion over ten years and €315 million between 2019 and 2022. This scheme is going to work. These are major projects and schemes. I travel all over the country and I see the enthusiasm of people who are developing these fantastic schemes, including food and digital hubs. There will be lots of jobs and employment. Members can go to Athenry and Cork. There are fantastic schemes everywhere.

We were told again it would not happen and there would be no funding. The funding is there and it is happening.