Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Community Development Projects

Mark Ward

Question:

6. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands the number of organisations which applied for the community and voluntary stability fund; the number of applications granted; if the fund is still open for applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24195/20]

Covid-19 has impacted every organisation across the country, and none more so than those in the community and voluntary sector. These are vital for building resilience in our communities. How many organisations applied to the community and voluntary stability fund? How many applications were successful and what was the application process?

The community and voluntary sector Covid-19 stability fund provided up to €35 million from the Dormant Accounts Fund to organisations in the sector and social enterprises. The fund was intended to provide a targeted, once-off, cash injection for organisations and groups currently delivering critical front-line services to those most in need in our society and in danger of imminent closure due to lost fundraised or traded income as a direct result of restrictions. The criteria of the scheme stated that any grants awarded would be dependent on the need identified and organisations approved for funding were prioritised on that basis.

My Department received 1,060 applications during the application period. To date, three tranches of successful applications have been announced, allocating funding of over €25 million to 489 organisations. This funding is now supporting the delivery of many critical front-line services in every part of the country. A full list of successful applicants is now available on the website.

To give Deputies a taste of some projects they might be interested in, the Clondalkin Blue Skies Initiative received €105,000, the Lucan Disability Action Group received €75,000, Inner City Helping Homeless received €98,000, while in other areas of the country, Recovery Haven Kerry received €50,000 and Longford Women's Link received €104,000. Though the fund is closed to new applications at the moment, additional checks are continuing on a number of applications and a further announcement in respect of successful applicants will be made shortly.

At the moment, there are no plans for a second round of the stability scheme. The scheme is administered by Pobal on behalf of my Department and is innovative in its cross-departmental nature, as it is a collaboration with the new Department of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration and the Department of Health, with input from other relevant Departments.

All funding is welcome and it is good to see a few organisations in my own area that were beneficiaries of the fund. Talking to people in the Lucan and Clondalkin area who applied, it was my understanding that a limited timeframe was set for the first tranche that was rolled out in June. The application process was difficult and cumbersome. Community organisations could not access the relevant details that they were required to submit because they could not access the community buildings because of the restrictions introduced in June. Community organisations went to great lengths during the pandemic to make their buildings as safe as possible by providing screens, PPE, hand sanitiser and anything that was required. This comes at great expense and it is not sustainable. I know the Minister of State mentioned that there are no plans for another round of this scheme. In the absence of more plans, does the Government have plans to roll out a more applicant-friendly continuous structured fund for our community organisations?

To clarify, there was an appeal process as well, which considered real barriers where people simply could not access the information. Some people were not around and available to make the applications. To clarify some of the details, grant levels ranging from €200,000 were approved. They were based on a variety of factors, including the level of loss experienced by the organisation, the level of non-pay costs and the level of public funding received in 2019. Funding can be used to defray non-pay costs such as rent, rates, insurance, etc. Pay-related costs or capital expenditure are not eligible under the fund as many charities in particular were able to avail of the Government's wage subsidy scheme and other funding supports. The fund came under the dormant accounts scheme, which limited its remit to some extent. I can talk more about those limitations if the Deputy likes. Not every organisation was eligible. They should have been informed and would have had an opportunity to appeal.

I have met community organisations across the Clondalkin and Lucan areas. They are crying out for financial support that is continuous, structured and applicant-friendly. Community organisations are at the heart of our communities. They put the community in our communities. The reality is that many of our community organisations are historically self-sufficient. The traditional avenues of funding such as renting rooms, holding meetings or having cafés, as mentioned by my colleague, Teachta Paul Donnelly, have completely dried up because of Covid. This constant changing of restrictions does not allow them to plan for the future. We are constantly being told that we have to live with Covid but, at present, our community organisations are in danger of having the lifeblood choked out of them. What our community organisations need are financial supports that are constant, instant and easy to access for the foreseeable future, not this ad hoc, unplanned and piecemeal funding offered by the Government.

My colleagues have already stated the facts about the absolute necessity of this money from the point of view of maintaining vital community centres and community projects. I would like to talk about Muirhevna Mor Community Centre. The fact is that it would have failed the criteria. It is now appealing. It technically administers money for other services, so it would seem initially that it has failed the 80:20 rule, but it is obviously afraid that it will not get these moneys and if that is the case, it will face serious difficulties. The other one which I have been in correspondence with the Minister of State's office about is Dundalk Youth Centre. It has also appealed but the difficulty is that it would fail on the basis of having 80% State funding but it is a small organisation and, as it would say, it needs the extra 20% to keep the doors open, so I would like to consider a solution to that problem.

If those organisations want to contact the Department and my office, we can follow up. To clarify the criteria for eligibility, as the Deputy mentioned, organisations need to receive less than 80% State funding, as the Government had committed to maintaining existing contracts and grants throughout the crisis and offered other additional supports. Organisations had to project a reduction of 25% or more in their fundraising or traded income for 2020 compared with 2019 figures. Delivering certain eligible critical services to the most vulnerable in our communities was important too. In addition to those schemes, the Government's resilience and recovery plan from this week contains a number of important initiatives about promoting community well-being and resilience, and it stresses the importance of communities working together, planning with local authorities, and how local community development committees can and will provide a focal point for individual and community resilience, engaging the amenities, services and community supports available. We will be working more closely with community development committees to address some of the gaps the Deputies have raised.

LEADER Programmes

Joe Carey

Question:

7. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands her plans to increase the funding of the LEADER action group in County Clare to assist in the economic recovery of the county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24315/20]

I ask the Minister for her plans to increase the funding of the LEADER action group in County Clare to assist in the economic recovery of the county, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. LEADER is a multi-annual programme with a budget of €250 million over the period from 2014 to 2020. Some €225 million of this budget has been allocated to the local actions groups, LAGs, which deliver the programme at a local level. The balance of €25 million is provided for specific, thematic projects and is allocated at national level once projects have been approved by the LAG.

The total funding allocated to the local action group in County Clare is in excess of €8.9 million. This includes €6.6 million for core project activity and €2.3 million in funding for the LAG's administration costs and for animating projects in the county. To date, the Clare LAG has allocated over 80%, or €5.3 million, of its project budget to 190 applications. This leaves a balance of €1.3 million available for allocation before the end of 2020. No additional funding is available for reallocation to the LAGs for core project activity under the current LEADER programme. However, the national thematic LEADER food initiative may be an appropriate funding source for some of the applications being considered by the LAG. The food initiative supports the development of food and drink businesses throughout rural Ireland. It covers the renovation and extension of production facilities and the purchasing of processing equipment, as well as supporting participants in the artisan food and beverage sector in areas such as market development, competitiveness and innovation. Further details of the food initiative are included in the LEADER operating guidelines which are available to all LAGs.

Clare Local Development Company is an outstanding organisation. It has existed for 28 years and has managed LEADER funding in County Clare in an outstanding fashion. I pay tribute to the CEO, Doirin Graham, and her staff. As the Minister will be aware, last year, the then Minister, Deputy Ring, awarded the top ten performing local action groups an additional €5 million. Clare Local Development Company came 11th on that list. It lost out by 0.2%. We are living in a Covid world. There are many shovel-ready projects that could proceed if additional moneys were given to Clare Local Development Company. I am conscious that we are near the end of the programme but if we used common sense, we could allocate more money and get these projects going.

I know Deputy Carey is a passionate supporter of the work carried out by the local development company in County Clare. The Deputy raised the issue of additional funding with me on a number of occasions. Deputy Carey is right that the former Minister, Deputy Ring, allocated additional funding to the top ten performing LEADER companies countrywide. That additional money was a positive move to reward the LEADER companies that were delivering the projects most efficiently. Like everything else, unfortunately, there has to be a cut-off point. This means that number 11 on the list was Clare and it just missed out. I would love to be able to tell the Deputy today that we will have extra funding for Clare, but unfortunately I am not in a position to that. I will, however, keep the situation under review in the event additional funding becomes available. My advice to Clare is to keep up the good work, get its projects delivered and get its money spent, that is, for those companies doing that.

I welcomed the initiative in July when the Minister enabled Clare local development companies and other companies to move funding, where there was a surplus of money in one stream, to other streams. That approach has allowed the Ennis scout hall to be developed, a project that was in jeopardy. The Minister's decision enabled Clare local development companies and others to do that and enabled that project to move ahead. We will have a 21st century building in the heart of Ennis to serve young people from the age of six up to 18. I thank the Minister for that. I ask the Minister to use her initiative again. There is a fund of €25 million in the food initiative. Is this going to be spent by the end of the year? I very much doubt it. The local development companies in Clare and throughout the State could avail of that, especially for shovel-ready projects.

That funding is available and I believe it is in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I will certainly check that out. If any of the projects are involved with food or food processing through the LEADER companies, they should apply for that specific food initiative. There is money available there for those types of projects. If other groups in County Clare want to look at other funding sources, there is the town and village scheme, the rural regeneration development fund and a number of possible other funding avenues they may decide to use to support good projects.

I compliment the LEADER companies across the country because they have done a really good job in helping communities to develop projects and in helping businesses to set up. When one looks at the list, it is well-spent money.

Harbours and Piers

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

8. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands the stage of progress regarding her plans to develop the pier on Inis Oírr. [24347/20]

Mairéad Farrell

Question:

15. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands if the €500,000 for preparatory works for the upgrade of Inis Oírr pier and breakwater has been officially confirmed by her Department; the items the funding will be spent on; and if it will be used to put the upgrade and breakwater for the pier out to tender in view of the fact the pier development was promised in 2015. [24441/20]

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus táim ag iarraidh ceist chéibh Inis Oírr a ardú léi. Is iomaí duine a bhíonn i dteagmháil liom ó Inis Oírr maidir leis an ngeall a rinne an Rialtas chun athfhorbairt a dhéanamh ar an gcéibh seo agus tá sé ardaithe agam arís agus arís.

I want to raise with the Minister the issue of Inis Oírr pier. This was promised in 2015 and yet no works have been done. Will the Minster detail her plans to develop Inis Oírr pier?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 15 together.

It is a strategic objective of my Department to develop and implement various initiatives and measures to support the social, cultural and economic development of the inhabited offshore islands to ensure they survive as viable communities. The provision of safe and regular access by sea is crucial for the maintenance of those island communities. The development of the pier on Inis Oírr, which includes the provision of a breakwater, is listed among the strategic objectives set out in Project Ireland 2040. Additionally, a special allocation of €0.5 million was allocated under the Government's July stimulus package to upgrade harbour facilities at Inis Oírr. This additional funding will be reflected in my Department's Vote for 2020. Initial expenditure items will include engineering and surveying works on the development of a design and build tender. Department officials have been working closely with Galway County Council to advance the project and are in the process of agreeing the business case for the project as required under the public spending code. Once this has been completed and the necessary approvals are received at departmental level and from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and subject to the financial resources being available through the annual Estimates process, the project will then proceed to tender stage.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. We all know that the pier at Inis Oírr is just not fit for purpose. It is a danger and a hazard. It is a critical piece of infrastructure for Inis Oírr and is essential for public safety as well as being fundamental to the survival and sustainability of the island's economy. Muintir Inis Oírr cannot afford any further delays nor do I want to be raising this issue in the time ahead. I welcome that €0.5 million has been set aside to begin the development of Inis Oírr pier. Will the Minister clarify in even greater detail exactly how this money will be spent. Islanders have told me preparatory works have been ongoing for more than 15 years. What is different this time?

I know the pier project at Inis Oírr is long awaited. Deputy Ó Cuív raised this matter on many occasions, he has worked hard on it and is very familiar with it, as are other Deputies. We are making progress. As I said, €0.5 million in funding was secured for upgrade works to the harbour facilities as part of the July stimulus. My officials are working very closely with Galway County Council to advance the project. I assure Deputy Farrell that I will make the case to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for funding to deliver this project. In fairness, the Minister, Deputy McGrath, has a very difficult job and there are many competing priorities across Government. I will do everything I can. I look forward to the support of the Deputies in this Chamber in supporting my efforts to do that. As I said, it has been awaited for a long time.

I understand there will be competing priorities but capital investment projects will be extremely important in the period ahead. If there is a situation of competing priorities, I will detail exactly how important this piece of infrastructure is for the people of Inis Oírr and I will detail some of the issues that have arisen over the past months. The hazards relating to the pier are endless and include extremely damaged hand rails, uneven surfaces, broken lights, and trip hazards in the form of broken wires and pipes. During a recent bad storm and in the midst of our lockdown, a skip was blown over the pier. That details exactly how difficult it is. At the start of March there was an incident when the ferry came in and could not allow passengers to disembark at the pier due to the dangers of the sea coming over the wall and with no lights at the pier. I invite the Minister to come out to visit the pier so she can make up her mind as to whether she feels it is safe and if she would be happy to rely on it if she lived on Inis Oírr.

Planning permission for this pier is in place since 2008. In 2015 the then Minister for Finance provided €6 million for the construction of the pier. That money was later withdrawn because there was no way of spending it. This has been going on and on. I believe that the funding cannot be asked for until one has the price. I understood that the next step in the process was to get the business plan approved by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I will give warning here to the Minister, and I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will indulge me. I made the case about this pier many years ago and got the classic answer that there was a pier on Inis Mór. They are two different islands, so if they come back with that answer do not be fooled.

There is a great pier on Inis Mór but it is no good to anybody on Inis Oírr.

We need to know if that step has been taken because there is no point worrying about the money until the business plan has been approved. Has the Department submitted the business plan? I also support the call for the Minister to visit the island but she should not visit it on a calm day. She should go out there on a rough day when the sea is breaking over the back of the pier and then she will see that it is an absolute threat to life and limb. It is not a question of money; it simply has to be done.

I take on board what the Deputies have said but the day-to-day maintenance of piers, including the development and enforcement of by-laws, is primarily an issue for the relevant local authority which in this case is Galway County Council. I am aware that damage was done to the pier in the early part of the year and I understand the Deputies' concerns regarding the volume of passengers and what has happened to them. Departmental officials have been in contact with their colleagues in Galway County Council with a view to ensuring the pier is safe for users. I understand that a number of safety issues regarding the use of the pier have been resolved as a result of these contacts.

What about the business plan? Has that been submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform yet?

Costings have been done. There are estimates but I do not want to elaborate because if I give details publicly, the estimate will then become the floor price. I will not do that but we have fairly detailed estimates of what the cost will be.

Social Isolation

Martin Browne

Question:

9. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands her plans to address the increased isolation many persons in rural Ireland are facing as the country enters the first winter with Covid-19; her further plans to develop systems in isolated locations in order that the vulnerable can maintain contact with others; if she has plans to provide in-home supports for persons that will need company and other supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24434/20]

As the Minister of State, will be aware there have always been people, especially in rural Ireland, who have found themselves isolated for one reason or another. This has increased in recent times due to the pandemic and the need to fight the virus. What are the Department's plans to tackle this growing problem as we face into the first winter with Covid-19?

I thank the Deputy for his question. I assure him that I am from rural Ireland and I understand the situation. I am also familiar with the Deputy's constituency as I have some relatives living there. We are doing more than I can tell the Deputy about in the time available to me. Many of the Department's policies and funding programmes aim to address isolation in rural and urban communities and to deliver benefits to communities by responding to the challenges faced by vulnerable individuals, especially during Covid-19. Key interventions include funding for the senior alert scheme, which enables older people to live securely with peace of mind in their homes through the provision of personal monitored alarms maintaining contact, if required, with those who are vulnerable. As part of the Department's Covid-19 action plan, increased support was provided for older people through the Department's partnership with Alone for a crisis telephone support line and follow-on practical support for those who need it. The Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme, SICAP, is Ireland's primary social inclusion and funding intervention. It is delivered locally by local development companies to help those in the greatest need to access supports to enable participation in communities. I can elaborate further on what it is doing if I have time.

There are also infrastructural measures that will facilitate better contact with people. Broadband connection points in remote areas in particular will provide access to high-speed broadband for communities awaiting the roll-out of the national broadband plan. The 2020 town and village renewal scheme is tailored to include projects which adapt outdoor spaces for hosting social gatherings and events to support economic and social recovery in our rural towns and villages. The 2020 CLÁR programme funds school and community safety measures including the provision of safety-related improvements to the environs of schools and community spaces for Covid-19 and other reasons. This facilitates people in vulnerable positions who are going to school and bringing children to school. The Government will continue to monitor the adequacy of these supports to address isolation in the coming months. If I have time, I will elaborate on some other measures.

I appreciate what the Minister of State has said. The supports to which he has referred will help a little, but rural isolation has been a major problem for many years. There are so many problems in rural Ireland but I do not have time to list them all today. Poverty and lack of transport in rural areas and the reluctance of some people to cry out for help are serious issues, as is the closure of rural post offices. On the latter, plenty of excuses have been given but we all know that when people go missing this is noticed at the local post office and alarm bells ring straight away. In larger urban areas, Martin Browne could be missing for six months and nobody would even care. These are the types of issues that are worrying people in rural areas. They are being cut off from their own communities because of the post office closures. Mental health is going to be a massive issue after this crisis has passed. Money must be pumped in quickly for the measures to which the Minister of State has referred to address the issues we are raising here today.

I thank the Deputy and acknowledge everything he is saying. I wish to provide additional information on the senior alert scheme that could be useful. A new befriending phone call initiative will support participants in the senior alert scheme, which is operated in conjunction with Pobal and Alone. The Department has utilised the senior alert scheme, which provides monitored alarms for older people in their homes, to enable the roll-out of the befriending initiative, which requires users to test their alarms to ensure they are still active. Monitoring providers or local community groups operating the senior alert scheme service then contact the users. When users have tested their alarms, they will be called back and asked if they would like to avail of the befriending call service through Alone. The number for Alone is given to the participants or their consent is sought for Alone to be provided with their contact details to be included in the befriending service. The aim of this initiative is to provide peace of mind and local assistance to older people who use the scheme. I urge Deputies to pass on the information that the senior alert scheme has an additional function whereby people who use it can be contacted and put in touch with a service that can help them in a more elaborate way.

I appreciate the Minister of State's concern and hope that services are delivered for people going into what will be a tough and frightening winter for many of them. Another issue that arises in this regard is rural crime, particularly for people in more isolated areas. What will the Government do to help rural communities in that context, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána? I am also concerned about those caring for people in isolated rural areas. They will need additional support to look after people with special and complex needs. This caring work will be done when people are more confined than ever before. Is there any plan in place to tackle rural crime and to provide assistance to carers in isolated rural areas?

Rural crime is outside of my remit but in terms of helping people to feel connected and recognised, the Community Call initiative run by the Department is worth mentioning. This initiative sought to link local and national Government with the community and voluntary sectors. Its purpose was to co-ordinate community activity, direct community assistance and organise and deploy volunteers. It is hoped that people will not feel so alone as volunteers call to their homes more often because of the Community Call initiative. Each local authority set up a helpline and supporting database management system and created new Community Call forums, which co-ordinated the work of the local voluntary and community organisations delivering services to cocooners in particular. The immediate focus was on the elderly and most vulnerable, and on mobilising a rapid response in every county to make sure everyone was looked after. The focus then expanded to the well-being of our society and how communities could work together to help the country through the Covid-19 crisis. This will continue over the coming months. Since March, the 31 Community Call forums have answered approximately 54,000 calls, made approximately 21,000 follow-up calls to citizens and held over 460 meetings. Calls to dedicated helplines have related to the delivery of essential items, health services and social isolation.

Road Signage

Matt Shanahan

Question:

10. Deputy Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands if she will consider introducing a code of standardisation of road and pathway signage that must be used by community groups and local residents associations in view of the many different signs and sign designs across the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24438/20]

Before I start, I wish to thank the member of staff who chased me down the corridor this morning to return money that had fallen out of my pocket. I am sure they thought they could do with it far more than me but I would like to acknowledge their honesty and integrity.

Will the Minister of State consider introducing a code of standardisation of road and pathway signage to be used by community and resident groups in view of the many different signs that are appearing across our country?

It is somewhat out of my remit but I understand that groups, such as residents associations which wish to erect signage in their local areas, are generally referred to the roads section of their local authority, so the Deputy might get more joy out of them. That section will ensure such signage is in keeping with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport traffic signals manual. This manual provides details on the traffic signs which may be used on roads in Ireland, including their layout and symbols, the circumstances in which each sign may be used and the rules for positioning them. Responsibility for the manual rests within the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Separately, and this is closer to our Department, Sport Ireland has developed a criteria document for walking trails in Ireland which, among other things, gives guidance on the standard of waymarking signage along walking trails. My Department administers the walks scheme, which facilitates the development and maintenance of many of Ireland's key walking trails, by contracting landowners to undertake maintenance work on those trails in line with agreed work plans.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to expand the walks scheme to achieve a target of 80 trails, compared with 39 at the beginning of 2019. This is in recognition of the value of outdoor recreation amenities to support individual and community well-being. Amenities such as walking trails and other outdoor recreation infrastructure have seen a huge increase in usage during Covid-19 and are highly valued by communities in both rural and urban areas.

To go back to the nub of the question, it is ultimately a question for the local authority. In terms of the guidance they are being given and are provided with in regard to the issue raised, it is a matter for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. There is not a huge amount I can say on that. I have plenty of information here on the walks scheme, if the Deputy wants to hear more about that.

I thank the Minister of State. The tenor of the question was wider than that remit. What I was driving at was more about re-imagining rural Ireland and trying to look at more homogenous signage that would describe the character and the charm of our rural places. In terms of community development, particularly in terms of the town renewal schemes and so on, where the Department is giving out money, it would be great if the Department was advocating that more traditional signage would be used. We could drive through parts of England and parts of rural Ireland at the moment and we would not see much difference, which is a shame. We are losing part of our tourism charm and potential but I think we can arrest that with clever initiatives. That is really where I was going. I am thinking in terms of my own constituency, in particular areas such as the Blackwater Valley and the Waterford greenway, and we have a new Celtic corridor being imagined there. I would like to see the signage and waypoints standardised so that when people are in the area, they can see that as being reflective of the journey, the charm and the culture of where they are.

I take the Deputy’s point, which is a good one. I will pass this back to the other Department but only because that is where it is best put. There is a point to be made in regard to eyesores, over-signage, unnecessary signage and old signage that does not really tell us anything anymore. There is also the issue that if people are driving through rural Ireland, they will pass so many places that are of value and interest, and we just do not know it. I will contact my colleague who looks after the heritage side and I would encourage the Deputy to contact the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

If the Department were to look at specific funding initiatives that would emphasise the idea of using a more rural and more traditional type of signage to give character and to keep the little bit of character we have left in our rural areas, and to try and build on that, it would be a very good initiative.

I will pass that on to the other Department.

Air Services Provision

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

11. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands her plans to investigate the provision of air services to Inishbofin Island; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24201/20]

A high-quality airstrip was built at Cloon and Laghtanabba in Cleggan and another on Inishbofin. The idea was to provide an air service based at Na Minne in Indreabhán, from where the Aran Islands service already departs, to Cleggan and then on to Inishbofin. This was built in the noughties but was never opened or commissioned subsequently. Will the Minister examine the possibility of providing badly-needed air services to Inishbofin?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. In April 2017, a public consultation process was undertaken, seeking submissions from interested parties in regard to the future use of airstrips and surrounding sites in the ownership of the State on Inishbofin Island and at Cleggan in County Galway. The majority of the submissions received suggested that the sites should remain in State ownership. There are no plans to provide an air service to Inishbofin at this time.

With regard to the site at Cleggan, I understand discussions have been taking place with the Irish Coast Guard, with a view to utilising part of the site for the provision of a Coast Guard station. In the case of the sites on Inishbofin, officials have had discussions with the HSE, with a view to the use of part of the site to locate a healthcare centre for the island. This is a facility for which the island development company has been campaigning for some time. It is also important to point out that any development which might be undertaken at these sites will not prejudice the potential future use of the airstrips for the provision of air services to Inishbofin.

Inishbofin is 70 miles from Galway and to go to or from Galway on public transport takes 3.5 hours. If the air service was operating, a person could do it in approximately an hour, which is a saving of 2.5 hours each way. If a person tried to do it in a day, one way would take seven hours and the other two hours, which is a saving of five hours.

Everybody agrees that the services to the three Aran islands are lifeline services and are absolutely important. The State does not have public consultations about this; it decides that this is a lifeline service, like a bus service or a train service. However, uniquely in the case of Inishbofin, perhaps because it is a non-Gaeltacht island, although I do not know why, everybody thinks that for a few hundred thousand euro a year, it is not worth providing what would be an even more beneficial service to the people there because they are so far from Galway.

I have one question for the Minister. Will she come out to Inishbofin? I would be happy to go out with her. Will she note how long it takes her to get there? However, do not take the State car, just take the bus.

I want to tell the Deputy that I do not have a State car, I have my own car.

I have visited the islands. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding on Clare Island and I got an opportunity to see first-hand the difficulties people face. When I was on staycation in Donegal this year, I took the opportunity to go to Arranmore. I took a tour of the island and I saw first-hand the difficulties they face there. I have a certain understanding of what it is like to live in rural Ireland but to live on an island certainly presents many more challenges. I was chatting to the people on Arranmore and I thought that if I had a teenager who wanted to go to the cinema, they would have to get a boat and go to the mainland, and then drive over an hour to get to Letterkenny. The example the Deputy gives about Inishbofin is similar. I am obviously reading into this brief on the islands again.

The Minister should conclude.

Of course. I will finish my answer shortly.

There is only a little time left and I am trying to make sure everybody gets in.

The Minister has all the pieces of the jigsaw there. There are the two airstrips, which are the big cost. There are the aeroplanes based in Na Minne. They are already there and are not fully utilised, so it is a marginal cost to use the pilots and the planes, which are not flying all day because of the constraints on the Aran service, to provide a number of services to Inishbofin. There is no major cost to this. Nobody has costed it in recent times but I had it costed as Minister, and it would not be significant, because most of the overhead costs are already incurred, particularly the base.

The Minister should forget about the public consultation and the standard answer she has given me. Will she sit down and examine how much it would cost to put in this service, given the small residual capital cost of some buildings and fire engines, and then the cost of running it on an annual basis as a lifeline service to the people of Inishbofin?

I am happy to engage with the Deputy on this issue. At the first opportunity, I will go and visit the island.

I would be delighted to go and see first-hand again the issues presenting on those islands off the Galway coast. I have not been to any of them but I would be happy to go there and talk to the Deputy about this matter.

Adult Education Provision

Matt Shanahan

Question:

12. Deputy Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands if her Department has considered setting up rural information pods and lectures in the community to facilitate adult learning within the rural environment in relation to issues such as job seeking, heritage, the environment and sustainability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24439/20]

Will the Department consider setting up rural information pods and lectures in the community to facilitate adult learning within the rural environment on issues such as job seeking, heritage, the environment, sustainability and onward education?

To reiterate, my Department's mission is to promote rural and community development and support vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Ireland. We deliver this funding and supports to local communities and groups through implementing policies designed to enhance economic and social opportunities for individuals which improve the quality of life in all our communities.

Overall responsibility for adult education rests with my colleague, the Minister for further and higher education, research, innovation and science, and information on heritage matters may be best sought from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. However, my Department has been proactive in ensuring that individuals and community groups can access accessible information and advice on all supports available to them. In addition to the information and videos on supports which are currently available on gov.ie, in 2019, my Department hosted a series of nationwide events in rural locations to highlight to communities the opportunities available to them in terms of funding and supports from Government and State agencies. This was complemented by my Department's "Helping Hands" country-wide workshops for organisations and community groups which provided hands-on guidance on how to make and submit applications to access funding supports from my Department.

In the present Covid-19 environment, continuing to share information with communities on the supports available to assist them is more important than ever. In this regard, my Department will continue to host online engagements with stakeholders on the short-term and longer-term impacts of Covid-19 on rural areas and any consequential actions which need to be taken to assist the economic and social recovery of these areas. These engagements will input into the development of a new rural policy for Ireland for 2020-25, to be published shortly.

With respect to job seeking, training opportunities and facilitating adult learning, my Department also directly provides a range of supports. The social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, stands out as one of the key ones. Some 23,261 people completed a lifelong learning course under SICAP in the period 2018-19. My Department funds local development companies to work with disadvantaged individuals and groups through SICAP, offering a range of integrated supports.

In my constituency, the Dunhill Multi-Education Centre and Dunhill Community Alert invite people in to speak on issues. Recently, John Lonergan very kindly came and spoke about the issues of the Prison Service and so on. These people have to travel at their own expense. There is no funding. We are not looking for funding for that but realistically, I am talking about community centres being able to provide onward learning initiatives, particularly to the rural adult population who find it difficult to access services in the urban centres. They may not want to go on extensive courses but they need short-term opportunities wherever they might arise. Anything the Department can do to facilitate and promote that would be most welcome.

SICAP is very much in that space. It provides: lifelong learning and training; CV and interview preparation; personal development courses; self-employment training; business planning and budgeting supports; and helps people get onto a work placement programme such as community employment or the Tús programme. Public libraries are also under our remit. They provide access to extensive online services and have been hosting extensive online workshops and seminars which the public can view via their local library’s social media sites.

Men's sheds and women's sheds are key hubs in many communities that share information and experiences. My Department has supported these groups through various funding programmes.

My Department and the agencies under my remit have been proactive in communicating with stakeholders and community groups to provide information on the many programmes and supports being delivered, such as LEADER, for example. Its programmes include opportunities for sustainable development under its rural environment theme. Information on this and other programmes is available from the local action groups which deliver LEADER in the community.

I commend the men's sheds organisation, part of which was started in Waterford. A new men's shed is being started in Dunmore East for the winter. There is a particular problem down there as there have been many suicides over recent years. These are very notable community organisations and I would appreciate any help the Department can give them in the future. Perhaps I can liaise with the Minister about that at some point.

I would be happy to liaise with the Deputy on that issue. They are excellent projects which bring people out of their comfort zones who would never have thought of doing something in their communities. They are brilliant.

I will give a little more information on libraries because while they are used well, more people could use them. In response to the crisis, systems were put in place to allow people to join libraries online without having to physically visit one. This resulted in an upsurge in membership, with over 30,000 new members joining the library in March 2020, compared with 17,000 the year before. The Department subsequently provided €400,000 in funding to purchase an additional 10,000 ebooks and audio books to meet the rising demand for online services. Members now have access to an online catalogue containing 35,000 ebooks as well as a range of other resources. Libraries also moved other resources online, including book clubs and workshops for an array of areas including first aid, parenting, coding, and autism awareness. They also held story times via Facebook Live and Twitter and ran writing and drawing competitions. Libraries Ireland and various library authorities are using social media to encourage people to use the online services.

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

Joe Carey

Question:

13. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands the details of the grants awarded in County Clare under the Covid-19 town and village renewal scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24316/20]

What are the details of the grants awarded in County Clare under the Covid-19 town and village renewal scheme? I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

I thank Deputy Carey for raising this issue. This year's town and village renewal scheme has been tailored to assist our rural towns and villages to respond to the challenges presented by Covid-19. The scheme includes an accelerated measure which focuses on supporting initiatives that can immediately help towns and villages to adapt to social distancing requirements and provide safe environments for people to shop and socialise. With support from the Government's July stimulus package, funding of €10 million has been provided for this measure in 2020, which will be allocated under three funding rounds. I have already announced the successful projects under rounds 1 and 2 of the accelerated measure, with a total of €6.1 million being approved for 226 projects across the country. This includes funding of €227,163 for nine projects in County Clare. Funding applications under round 3 of the accelerated measure are currently being assessed by my officials and further funding announcements will be made when that process is complete. Details of all projects approved under rounds 1 and 2 can be found on my Department's pages on gov.ie.

I compliment the Minister on introducing this scheme and the way she has turned it around. Her Department has managed to deliver two rounds already and I look forward to the third one. The town and village renewal scheme is excellent. It is a ground-up approach. I work with community organisations throughout County Clare and this has given them a welcome lift in these times. God knows we need it. I compliment the Minister on that.

Does the Minister have plans beyond the next round to introduce a similar scheme for next year? What are her ideas on that? Has she looked for feedback from the local authorities? We have a very progressive local authority. There is a rural directorate in Clare County Council where Leonard Cleary is the director of services. The Minister should reach out to the local authorities throughout the country to get feedback from them with a view to developing a new scheme into the future.

The Deputy is right that the town and village renewal scheme has been very successful since it was launched in 2016. It has worked extremely well, due to its co-ordinated bottom-up approach whereby local people work with local authorities and different groups to identify the projects and put in applications to get funding to make them a reality. The Deputy was very supportive of this scheme when he was chairing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development. He is also a big advocate for remote working.

I was delighted that Cross in Clare got €40,000 to repurpose an old school to create a remote working hub and community social space. This is the kind of project that makes a difference.

Regarding the town and village renewal scheme, I will engage with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the budgetary ask but I assure the Deputy that it will remain a priority scheme for me and it will remain next year because it has proved to be very successful.

Cross on Loop Head is a great example of repurposing an old school as a remote working hub. It is fantastic. Ballynacally community development group has developed a community café and it got funding in the latest round to provide two self-catering cottages. Bunratty also received funding, as did Killadysart for the fit-out of a toilet and shower facility in the harbour. This is a wonderful initiative and I urge the Minister to continue that good work into the future.

I assure the Deputy I am engaging with the local authorities and will meet shortly with all the county and city managers. It is about working with local authorities and local communities in getting these projects developed and supporting them in doing that, which is what we want to do. People come up with ideas across the country and we want to help and support them. That is what the town and village renewal scheme and the rural regeneration development fund are all about.

I have two clocks contradicting each other so I will allow Deputy Mythen to raise his question and get a brief answer from the Minister. He has a minute and a half for the question and answer.

National Broadband Plan

Johnny Mythen

Question:

14. Deputy Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands her plans to increase digital infrastructure and connectivity in County Wexford in view of the increased number of persons working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. [24327/20]

There has been a dynamic shift in the way we use technology due to Covid-19. Recent research by Comreg found that 77% believe their home broadband is adequate to meet the needs of households. My experience on the ground with the number of people coming into my office each day suggests that in Wexford that percentage is not accurate. What will the Minister do about broadband in Wexford?

I thank the Deputy. The provision of telecommunications services is primarily a matter for commercial providers operating in a liberalised market. Nonetheless, under the national broadband plan, the Government will fund the provision of a high-speed broadband network in areas where it is not commercially viable for service providers to do so. The national broadband plan network, which in under the remit of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, will be rolled out to almost 540,000 premises across the country. In parallel, my Department has been working closely with local authorities to identify broadband connection points, BCPs, which will make free, on-site connectivity available to communities in remote areas, including in County Wexford. The BCPs will be situated in publicly accessible buildings such as sports clubs and community centres and will be amongst the first premises to be connected under the national broadband plan. Over the coming months, approximately 300 BCPs will be provided, with a high-speed connection. The locations of the BCPs are available on the website of National Broadband Ireland at www.nbi.ie. Many of the BCPs will facilitate remote working and I firmly believe that remote working and collective working have the potential to transform rural Ireland.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.