I thank Deputy Aylward for his question. The CSO recently published a statistical report, Measuring Distance to Everyday Services in Ireland 2019, which shows how close people live to everyday facilities such as schools, hospitals, fire stations and public transport stops.
The report shows that the average distance to most everyday services was at least three times longer for rural dwellings compared to urban dwellings. People in counties Galway, Donegal, Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon had higher average distances to most everyday services compared to other counties.
This is why we need policies to support rural areas. It is estimated that 50% of the population live in settlements of fewer than 10,000 people and that rural-based enterprises support hundreds of thousands of jobs and contribute significantly to our national economy. Rural communities are also important guardians of our heritage, culture and natural environment. It is important that we ensure that people living in rural areas have reasonable access to services if they are to continue to live and work in rural Ireland.
Since 2017, the Action Plan for Rural Development has been delivering a wide range of measures across Departments and agencies to support job creation, invest in town and village renewal and improve the delivery of services in rural areas, taking account of the ever-changing nature of our society.
My Department is currently developing the next phase of rural policy to succeed the Action Plan for Rural Development, which reaches the end of its life cycle this year. The new policy will reflect a whole-of-Government commitment to a range of matters impacting on rural Ireland.
My officials will reflect on the data in the recent CSO report in finalising that policy.
In the meantime, my Department will continue to support communities across Ireland through a range of activities and initiatives. The funding allocation for my Department has been increased from €291 million in 2019 to €308 million in 2020, reflecting my Department's ongoing commitment to supporting rural Ireland and communities more generally.