Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Charitable and Voluntary Organisations

Paul Donnelly

Question:

1. Deputy Paul Donnelly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if a review has been conducted by her Department or the Charities Regulatory Authority on whether the work of the authority and its €4 million annual budget is delivering increased confidence in and within charities. [49932/21]

Has a review been conducted by the Department or the Charities Regulator on whether the work of the regulator and its €4 million annual budget is delivering increased confidence in and within charities?

I thank the Deputy for the question. The Charities Regulator, under the aegis of my Department, is the State organisation responsible for registering and regulating all of Ireland's charities. It is important to note that the regulator is fully independent in the performance of its statutory functions, including investigations into the activities and conduct of charities.

All registered charities in Ireland, and their trustees, are subject to the provisions of the Charities Act 2009. Concerns about charities may be raised with the regulator and I am assured by the regulator that all such concerns are addressed. The level of trust and confidence in the charity sector is an important indicator of the overall health of the sector. In April, the regulator published its Irish public survey into society's attitudes and engagement with registered charities in Ireland. Overall, the results were encouraging, with 91% of respondents expressing reasonable trust in the sector and 36% rating their level of trust highly.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to update legislative provisions to ensure the Charities Regulator has the necessary powers to increase trust and confidence in the management and administration of charities. This work is at an advanced stage and proposals will be brought to the Government in the near future. The Charities Regulator has a budget of €4.6 million in 2021. As part of its governance oversight of the Charities Regulator, and in line with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies, my Department will be commencing a periodic critical review of the regulator shortly.

I am raising this because I got several complaints from registered charities that are having huge problems with bogus charities using their names to collect clothes. Criminals who were doing this were traced to a yard in my area in Blanchardstown. A registered charity sent me the following:

Over the last two years we have been fighting to put a stop to bogus collections being done using our name and logo. We found the yard and clothes were being sold and stored and contacted the gardaí in Blanchardstown. Unfortunately there seems to be no law to put a stop to them.

The criminals had a waste collection permit and the charity could not find out why. Even though the criminals were using a bogus charity and its logo, it seems that neither the Charities Regulator nor the Garda could do anything. Some 466 complaints were made to the Charities Regulator and 177 of those were on the legitimacy of an organisation as a charity. Can we have a look at this issue? It is eroding confidence in charities in the community. When people are giving, they want to know that they are giving to the right people.

It is difficult for me to comment on individual cases, particularly because they are under the purview of the Charities Regulator, but I will try to provide some reassurance. With over 11,000 charities on the register, the work of the regulator is vitally important. All registered charities in Ireland and their trustees are subject to the provisions of the 2009 Act, which sets out comprehensive legal obligations surrounding the definition of charities, their operation and their reporting requirements. The regulator has made significant progress in recent years with developments that are helping to restore public confidence in the sector, enhance compliance measures and ensure proportionate regulation. These have included the increased capacity of the regulator to address public concerns, the consolidation of supports available for the implementation of the charities governance code and the publication of safeguarding guidance. In support of the statutory responsibilities of charitable organisations and their trustees, the Charities Regulator introduced the charities governance code in 2018. The regulator has also provided a number of online training sessions during 2020 which are available on its website.

The critical issue we are facing is that although the Minister of State says that 91% of people say they have reasonable trust in the Charities Regulator, including 36% who have strong confidence in it, that shows that the regulator still has a long way to go. For people who are working in the charity sector and for the community it is essential that we have a much higher level of trust in the regulator to do the job it is supposed to do. That job is to ensure we have confidence that when we are donating to a charity it is a legal charity. We must have laws in place to ensure that when people are using the name, logo and number of a charity there is some sort of action that can be taken by the regulator to call in the Garda. That is fraud and I cannot understand why the Garda or the regulator cannot act.

Again it is difficult for me to comment without knowing the details of the case but I fully back the Deputy's sentiments on the need for people to have trust in charities. The regulator was established in 2014 and it has been growing its capacity ever since. This will be the first year it will have a full staff complement so it is moving in the right direction. That said, we are proposing changes to the law that frames the regulator. The proposed Bill intends to provide clarity in a number of areas, including accounting, audit and reporting requirements; the responsibilities of trustees; the operation of the register of charities; and other provisions, including sharing of information, sanctions, trustee remuneration and disposal of assets. Registered charities which are also companies are not legally required to submit an annual statement of accounts to the regulator but we are putting forward amendments to rectify this situation. That will significantly improve the levels of transparency and trust in charities more broadly.

Rural Schemes

Seán Sherlock

Question:

2. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if her Department intends to facilitate a local improvement scheme in 2022; and if so, the criteria that will be applied to ensure an allocation of funds based on an equal and fair distribution across the country. [50256/21]

I wish to raise the local improvement scheme, LIS. It is a valuable scheme and one that has benefited many rural dwellers. Our perception is that a significant proportion of the 2021 allocation went to the Cavan and Monaghan region. Cork is the biggest county and the native county of the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, and it could argue by any objective analysis that it did not receive a proportionate and fair share of that allocation.

I will read this answer for the Deputy but his assumption is wrong. The LIS supports the improvement of rural roads and laneways that are not normally maintained by local authorities and represents a vital piece of infrastructure for rural communities. The funding can be a lifeline for such communities, directly improving access to family farms and supporting economic activity. Over €80 million has already been provided for works on roads since the scheme was relaunched in 2017. As part of Our Rural Future, the Government is committed to ensuring that the LIS is funded into the future. In that regard, I was pleased to announce an increased allocation for the scheme from €10.5 million to €11 million as part of budget 2022.

The amount of funding allocated to each local authority is typically determined by the physical area of each county, with minimum and maximum thresholds applied. However, the second tranche of €10.5 million that I announced for the LIS earlier this year was distributed based on the amount each local authority indicated it could deliver before the end of the year. This was to ensure that the funding would be fully delivered before the end of the year. In normal circumstances, and in the absence of reliable data on the number of roads eligible for the scheme in each county, I am satisfied that using the physical area of each county is a fair and transparent basis for allocating the funding. Having said that, the approach to allocating funding is considered each year in advance of launching the scheme.

I will keep the position under review in 2022.

To be clear, we told the local authorities to send us in a list of what they could do. If the local authorities were not able to send in lists, we decided that there was no point in them getting the money. The Deputy will have to revert to his local authority.

The metrics will clearly show that, in the second round, Cavan and Monaghan did extremely well. I take the point that the Minister is making in respect of the second tranche and the notification to individual local authorities, but I would argue that, by any reasonable analysis, the lead-in time in July and the deadline for receipt was very short. Cork, whether we like it or not, is the largest county with the most roads. The Minister of State sitting beside the Minister will attest to that fact.

Coming out of the second allocation, there was not a proportionate allocation across the board. Cork could tee up approximately €2 million in LIS projects, which would take a savage amount of an allocation out of the LIS. Cork, with the reasonable people that there are in the local authority, put in projects-----

Are you reasonable with your time as well?

-----for which there was a return for a minimal investment. All I am asking for in 2022 is equity across the board for every county.

The Deputy will have a chance to contribute again.

I will make this clear for the Deputy. The reason I was able to put extra money into the LIS was because savings had emerged during the year and local authorities had to spend the money before the end of the year. Each local authority was asked what it could deliver. It is not my problem if Cork cannot deliver, but Limerick is very good. It is just beside Cork and it got the largest allocation in the country. It got more than any other county or area. It got its act together, put its application in and got an allocation based on it stating that it could spend the money before the end of the year. Every county got 70% of what it asked for. If local authorities do not send in applications, I cannot give them money, particularly given that, due to how this scheme is designed, the money has to be spent before the end of the year. Actually, in the second round-----

The Minister will get a chance to contribute again.

We will have to carry this conversation on outside. All I am asking is that account be taken of the size of counties like Galway and Cork. They are big counties with a large number of roads, for which there is the potential to deliver more through the LIS. The whole nature of the LIS is to service roads that are unserviced by local authorities. We have a lot more of those in Cork than most other counties. I acknowledge what the Minister is saying in respect of Limerick and her own part of the world, but there needs to be a greater degree of flexibility or a longer lead-in time to allow local authorities to respond with projects. That is all I am asking for in 2022.

I understand that Cork is a large county and we want to see everything distributed fairly, which is what we are doing. With this fund, local authorities had to spend money by the end of the year. There was no point in my giving Cork twice what it asked for. Like everywhere else, it got 70% of what it asked for. Limerick got €1.1 million because it asked for a large allocation. It said it could get the roads done, so it got the money.

I moved more money into the LIS because I knew there were long lists across the country. The bigger picture is that the LIS was previously a Department of Transport scheme, and that Department has a substantially larger budget than mine. I have raised the issue of co-funding with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. In fairness, he has not ruled it out. He has to cut his cloth to his Department's measure, but we could get some matched funding from it, which would make a significant difference. I will continue to raise the matter with the Minister. Local authorities need to know that, if they get the money, they have to deliver.

National Development Plan

Claire Kerrane

Question:

3. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the impact the national development plan, NDP, will have on the spending by her Department; the provisions in the plan for rural and community development; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50326/21]

What impact will the NDP have on spending by the Minister's Department and what provisions are in the plan for her Department?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Deputy will be aware that, last week, the renewed National Development Plan 2021-2030 was launched. It is the largest NDP in the history of the State, amounting to €165 billion, with a focus on funding solutions to strengthen housing, climate ambitions, transport, healthcare, jobs growth in every region and economic renewal for the decade ahead.

While the plan is a whole-of-government approach, Chapter 8: Strengthened Rural Economies and Communities sets out details that will be delivered and administered by my Department. In March, I was delighted to launch Our Rural Future: Rural Development Policy 2021-2025. The NDP will support the achievement of the ambitious objectives set out in that policy.

The budget for my Department in 2021 is €351 million, a 50% increase in the gross budget since the first full year of the Department's life in 2018. Regarding capital funding, this budget includes €87 million for our rural regeneration and development programmes, €44 million for the LEADER programme and €16 million in other rural supports, all of which are vital to the economic and social well-being of rural Ireland.

Over the life of the NDP, my Department's capital allocation will grow from €169 million this year to €192 million next year, €196 million in 2023, €200 million in 2024 and €205 million in 2025, with subsequent years to be added on a rolling basis. While the exact allocations for programmes will be decided as part of the annual budgetary process, this level of funding will ensure increased investment levels for all of the Department's schemes, building on the strong success of these schemes in recent years.

The Minister is saying that the capital funding of €962 million that was announced in the NDP will be spread out over a five-year period, starting with €162 million for 2021. Is the 2021 figure new money, by which I mean will the Minister's Department be getting additional money for the rest of the year? Is the €962 million announced in the NDP new money?

The Minister mentioned the importance of ensuring that the regions got their fair share. I have raised this matter with the Minister a number of times. Was the west and north west region considered in the NDP in any specific light, given that it is no longer a developed region and is now a region in transition? It has regressed.

The NDP will see significant increases in our funding programmes over the coming years. Those allocations are for each year. It is new money every year; it is additional money. We want to spend it in 2021 and I want to try to get as much of it out as possible. That is why I am putting a great deal of pressure on local authorities and project promoters to get their projects delivered and the money spent. It will be difficult for me to make the case for more money next year if I do not spend what I have this year. That is one of the reasons I moved money into the LIS. I wanted to get the money spent and I knew that people wanted to get their roads repaired. The point of that move was to get the money spent early in the year and to deliver much-needed improvements to the lanes that got the investment.

Regarding the €162 million for 2021 of the €962 million announced under the NDP, if I have those figures right, does the Minister know how much remains to be allocated? We are towards the end of the year.

Will the Minister reply to my question on the west and north west region? Was any specific focus given to it? When we look at the projects outlined in the NDP, can we see positive discrimination? Was that considered for the west and north west region? That would be important.

The west and north west region is the only region that is no longer developed, as stated by the EU Commission. It is also at the bottom of the table when it comes to funding across the State, compared to the south and the east.

In regard to the €162 million funding, many of the bills will come in at the end of the year. That is usually the case. The pressure is on to get as much in as possible. The last thing I want to do is return money to the Exchequer. I want to see the funding being spent on the ground.

The Deputy mentioned the north west. Like the Deputy, I come from that region and I am very aware of the challenges it faces. We work closely with the Western Development Commission in rolling out broadband, co-working spaces and remote working spaces. I visited Stranorlar a few weeks ago. Fantastic work is being done there. I met people who are working for multinational companies and can do so from Stranorlar, having moved there from Dublin. All of this will help to revitalise the towns and villages in the north west. I am willing to work with anybody to improve the situation.

Domestic Violence

Paul Murphy

Question:

4. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if her Department has been involved in supporting efforts to establish a domestic violence refuge in County Carlow; and if her Department provides assistance to such rural-based community services. [50090/21]

Over the last two years we have seen a shadow pandemic of violence against women yet in many rural communities and counties such as Carlow there is no domestic violence refuge available. The Carlow Women's Refuge Campaign supported by Councillor Adrienne Wallace has long been pushing for this injustice to be corrected. Numerous reports and experts have recommended it. Two temporary emergency accommodation units have been provided but this is far from adequate. Will the Minister agree that Carlow needs a refuge?

I thank the Deputy for the question. I can confirm that the Department of Rural and Community Development has had no involvement in the establishment of a domestic violence refuge in Carlow. I understand that, in the main, domestic violence issues are a matter for the Minister for Justice and are legislated for in the Domestic Violence Act 2018. My Department's mission is to promote rural and community development and to support vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Ireland. A key objective of all of the Department's programmes is that they are targeted at those sectors, areas and individuals most in need and provide effective responses to ongoing and future economic and social challenges.

Of some relevance is the Department's community services programme, which supports community organisations to deliver local services and create employment opportunities for disadvantaged people through a social enterprise model. The programme provides a funding contribution to over 2,000 positions in over 400 community organisations throughout the country. The Department is providing SICAP funding in excess of the €220 million mentioned. This year, €39 million was allocated to the programme. I am delighted to say that an additional €4 million has been secured for SICAP in budget 2022. This represents a 10% budget increase for the programme, resulting in an additional 60 community workers nationwide.

I accept this matter is not the primary responsibility of the Minister of State, but a Department with responsibility for community and rural affairs should be supporting the fight for rural communities to get the services they need. I ask the Minister of State to add his name to the list of those calling for a women's refuge in Carlow, and in all those counties without one. I will set out a striking statistic. In the first nine months of this year, more than 500 incidents of domestic abuse were reported to the Garda in Carlow, but there is no local domestic violence refuge for those who need it. Instead, people are being sent to Kilkenny, Kildare and Dublin, causing unnecessary additional distress and uprooting their lives. The problem has been highlighted many times. Fr. Peter McVerry has described the absence of a refuge in Carlow as "scandalous".

I thank the Deputy. I acknowledge his point. Since 2018, some 1,138 individuals have been supported through SICAP in Carlow. The supports offered vary in accordance with the individual's circumstances. Examples of such supports are personal development, lifelong learning courses, health and well-being assistance and other labour market supports. In 2019, Carlow County Development Partnership carried out research on family homelessness which highlighted the plight of women affected by domestic violence and the need for a women's refuge in Carlow. It liaises with and refers women to the outreach worker from Amber Women's Refuge in Kilkenny and Carlow Women's Aid. Staff have supported women in crisis situations to access women's refuge services. Under its 2022 annual plan, Carlow County Development Partnership proposes to commission research into the ongoing need for a domestic violence refuge in Carlow, including what model would be most appropriate.

The absence of a refuge has been ongoing and highlighted for a number of years. In 2018, a report on homelessness in Carlow by Dr. Brendan O'Keeffe highlighted how women and children are often forced to stay in violent homes for the lack of a refuge. Tusla's 2019 needs analysis accepted that a refuge is "the most effective means for protecting women and children". The Carlow Women's Refuge Campaign was set up in 2018. An emergency motion was passed by Carlow County Council in 2019. All of the experts agree that a proper, full-time refuge that offers all of the safety requirements and supports, including childminding and counselling, is necessary in terms of safe accommodation for women and children.

I thank the Deputy. I refer to some useful points from the budget, particularly in regard to the Department of Justice. A funding package will be provided to extend legal aid for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Expenditure on victim supports for people who have suffered domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is also set to increase by €5 million, bringing total funding to €13 million, inclusive of €1 million to improve Garda divisional protective services units. These units are now operating in every Garda division to provide a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crime, child abuse and domestic abuse. Funding is provided for ongoing training for gardaí in priority areas such as combating domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. An additional €3.3 million is provided to support the work of the Legal Aid Board, including the provision of legal advice and legal aid services to victims of sexual offences.

I will make one other point that is of relevance in terms of rent supplement. A victim of domestic violence is eligible for rent supplement on referral by Tusla. Where an application is made, rent supplement will be provided for an initial three months and will not require a means test.

Departmental Funding

Seán Canney

Question:

5. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the measures she will put in place to increase funding already allocated under the rural regeneration and development fund to projects in which the costs have increased substantially due to the unprecedented rise in the cost of materials; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49400/21]

My question relates to the current problem in regard to costs for projects for which money has been already allocated. Costs are rising. Funding has been already been allocated. What measures are being put in place to top up the grants already provided to meet rising costs or is such a facility already in place?

I thank the Deputy for the question. The rural regeneration and development fund has to date approved funding of €252 million for 164 projects nationwide costing over €343 million. Projects initially approved for funding in principle progress through a comprehensive due diligence process before final confirmation of funding is provided by my Department. At each stage of this approval process, the project is reviewed by my Department to ensure it continues to meet its stated objectives, including financial sustainability. This review includes an assessment by an independent quantity surveyor to ensure all costs and contingencies have been included by the lead party.

However, any such case must be supported by a detailed justification from the lead party setting out the reasons for the increased cost, detailing exactly where the additional costs arose and outlining what was attributable to construction inflation. As the project would have been approved based upon the original budget, a full value for money review with an updated business plan must be provided by the lead party before any additional funding could be considered.

I thank the Minister for that very comprehensive reply. I am glad to see she is using the quantity surveying profession, of which I am member, to help her to keep the costs in check. I welcome her clarification that these costs are open for review because normally what happens on projects is when the application is made, applicants perhaps do not have the full design in place or the details done right, in the sense that they are not done fully. The contingency sum that would be built in would reflect that type of scenario. Given the unprecedented nature of the situation at the moment, there are unreal costs, especially for older buildings such as Loughrea Town Hall in my constituency. It will need a huge amount of insulation, and insulation costs are going through the roof. We also have other projects like that in the county where we find that costs have increased since the applications were first submitted and moneys granted two years ago. It is important we recognise that.

I have visited some of the really good projects in the Deputy's constituency, including the Athenry regeneration scheme and the Bia Innovator Project, which is an absolutely fantastic project that is going to make a huge difference. I was delighted it secured €3.5 million from the rural regeneration and redevelopment fund. There are a number of other projects, including Portumna Courthouse, which is another really good project. To be clear, we look at them on a case-by-case basis. If it is a matter of genuine construction inflation affecting costs, we can all understand that. However, I do not want requests coming in which expect us to cover costs raised by poor initial estimates - and that can happen - or by change in scope or a failure to factor in elements of the project identified as necessary later. I do not want half-baked stuff coming in and then applicants coming back looking for more money because it causes problems. I would rather see the money going to good projects that can be delivered. Sometimes if there is an overrun, there are delays and it holds the whole thing up.

Absolutely. I hope and trust the projects she mentioned in Athenry and Portumna, as well as those in Loughrea and Tuam, are not half-baked and the figures are correct, inasmuch as they could have been at the time. It is a picture of a cost at a particular time. I welcome the fact that it is being recognised by the Department that costs rise. I compliment its staff for all the work they have done right through Covid in working with the local authorities. I also compliment the Minister's predecessor, my great friend and colleague, Deputy Ring, who initiated a significant number of these schemes when he was in the Department. It is great to see that the Department is still thriving in what it is doing for rural Ireland. I congratulate the Minister for getting increased funding for towns and villages via LEADER in the budget. That is a lifeline for rural areas.

I thank the Deputy. I appreciate I am working from a very strong base. I inherited a great Department. Deputy Canney and Deputy Ring did a great deal of hard work and it is my honour to build on that work as I deliver more projects for rural Ireland.

To go back to Deputy Canney's original question, to date we have provided additional funding totalling €6.3 million for 20 projects, which are listed on the Department's website. When they find that projects are going to cost more than initially thought, applicants put in detailed submissions showing exactly why they need more money. I am happy to support that and my officials, in fairness to them, have worked extremely hard with a number of project promoters to try to ensure these projects are delivered if they need that bit of extra money. Deputies understand that this is taxpayers' money. We must ensure that it is spent properly and well and that there is good value for the taxpayer at the end of the day.

Departmental Schemes

Michael Ring

Question:

6. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if there is a specific scheme within her Department for the upgrading of playgrounds. [50030/21]

I thank Deputy Canney and the Minister for their kind words. I take this opportunity to compliment the Minister for the great job she is doing in not in one or two Ministries, but in three. She is almost a third of the Government. It is fantastic to see the job she has done in the three Ministries. I have a very simple question for her. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will understand it. Very simply, we have a number of playgrounds around the country that were a godsend to people, families and children when the pandemic was on. When they were able to go someplace, these were the places they went. Some of them need to be upgraded. I am asking the Minister to consider putting a specific scheme in place for playgrounds.

I thank the Deputy for his kind words. I genuinely mean it when I say there are some great schemes in this Department that he developed when he was there. It was a new Department he set up with Deputy Canney and people in rural Ireland are really starting to reap the benefits. He is right about the playgrounds. I am going to mention a few schemes but the Deputy is well familiar with them. Playgrounds, public green spaces and public parks are all key to community well-being and he is dead right that they were a godsend during Covid.

The community enhancement programme provides small capital grants to community groups to enhance facilities, including playgrounds, in disadvantaged areas. Funding is allocated by my Department to each local authority area. The local community development committee, with support from its local authority, administers the funding. For 2021, €4.5 million is available with €145,203 allocated to County Mayo. That funding is there to support the small playgrounds. Under measure 2 of CLÁR 2021, €2.3 million in funding was provided to support outdoor community recreation facilities, including playgrounds. Emerging from this call I recently announced funding for 20 playgrounds, including new playgrounds and upgrades to existing playgrounds. I expect to launch the next round of CLÁR funding early next year.

The LEADER programme is not a specific scheme for the upgrading of playgrounds. However, funding may be available subject to compliance with LEADER operating rules. In line with the Government's ambitious policy for rural Ireland, Our Rural Future, which was launched in March, I announced an increased allocation of €70 million for the transitional LEADER programme. This funding will support local-led projects, including by developing outdoor amenities in rural areas. This programme, covering 2021-22, came into effect in April for new project applications. It will be delivered through 28 local action groups, LAGs, around the country. The decision to approve a project, or otherwise, is a matter for the LAG administering funding in each LEADER area. Interested applicants should, in the first instance, contact the relevant LAG to discuss project eligibility and available funding. Details of LAGs, implementing partners and contact details are available on my Department's website at www.gov.ie/en/publication/c45498-local-actiongroups. There are supports available. I take the Deputy's point that some of these playgrounds need a bit of work done to them and it is certainly something I am happy to look at.

I thank the Minister for her reply. A number of playgrounds around the country have been damaged by people who have no respect for public property. The schemes that are there are great schemes. I am sure the Minister will look at having a specific scheme especially for upgrades and for putting security cameras into some of these playgrounds. Security cameras are vital now because, as I have said, there are people out there who just want to destroy public property. I do not know what is wrong with them. When the pandemic was on, these playgrounds really came into their own for children and their parents. I compliment the Minister, her Department officials and the county councils for the playgrounds that have been built around the country. They have been a major success and I hope this will continue and the Minister will have a look at a specific scheme.

I take the Deputy's point and I will see if there is anything we can do to provide funding to upgrade the playgrounds and carry out necessary repairs. It will not cost a fortune to do a bit of work on these playgrounds, which are essential.

The Deputy is also correct about security cameras. The Department of Justice is developing community partnerships, which involve gardaí, local authorities, local agencies and communities coming together and making suggestions for their local areas. Security cameras will be sought by many of these partnerships and work is ongoing in the Department on that. The Deputy understands well the benefits of security cameras, including making people feel safer.

I am glad that the Minister also has responsibility for the Department of Justice because the previous security camera scheme that was in place did not work. There was too much red tape involved and I am glad the scheme is being reviewed. It needs to be simplified because while funding was made available, it was not drawn down. In my experience, when funding is not drawn down it is because the scheme is too difficult. To be fair, most of those involved in community groups are volunteers and they do not have the expertise for complicated schemes. They are depending on us to make schemes very simple. I am delighted that Deputy Humphreys is in the Department of Justice and that the work that needed to be done is being done.

I welcome the Minister's comments. During the summer a group of volunteers, some of whom were from UCC, carried out an audit of all of the parks and playgrounds in Cork. They discovered that the north side of Cork city has fewer parks than the south side and that the north side parks are smaller, of lower quality and have fewer amenities. Great work is being done on the south side of the city and I compliment Cork City Council on the Marina Park, the Tramore Valley Park, Regional Park Ballincollig, Bishopstown Park and other parks in the area. However, on the north side of the city, including Cork North-Central, which I represent, there is no regional park. I ask the Minister to commit to supporting Cork City Council, both financially and with staff, to upgrade John O'Callaghan Park in Glanmire and Kilmore Park. There is a disparity between the north and south sides of Cork city and I ask the Minister to support the council with funding.

As Minister for Rural and Community Development, I can only assess applications that I receive. Cork City Council needs to examine the issue the Deputy raised. Perhaps the council has a plan for the area. The best thing to do would be to map out where the deficiencies lie. We have supported local authorities with funding to produce plans for rural areas, although the Deputy is talking about a city, which is somewhat different. We have helped many towns to bring their communities together to develop a plan for their area, decide what they want, get local buy-in and then submit an application for funding. The Deputy is talking about Cork city but my focus is on rural areas. If Cork County Council wants to submit an application for funding, it will be considered by my Department.

Community Development Projects

Seán Canney

Question:

7. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development her plans to support the development of women’s sheds in Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49403/21]

My question relates to women's sheds. I have been contacted by a group of women in Tuam who want to set up a women's shed. They want to know where to go to get State support. Men's sheds groups have been successful throughout the country and have been strongly supported by the Department. In that context, we should consider supporting women's sheds. I look forward to the Minister's response.

I thank the Deputy for his question. The emergence of the women's sheds groups in recent years has been a positive development for communities throughout the country. My Department supports sheds through many funding programmes that are open to a variety of groups and organisations. These include the community enhancement programme, CEP, the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, and the LEADER transitional programme. In 2019, my Department established a ring-fenced fund of €500,000 for men's and women's sheds under the CEP. While the ring-fenced fund is no longer in place all community groups, including women's sheds, can apply to the programme. The 2021 CEP allocated a total of €4.5 million to community groups and it is hoped to run the programme again in future.

My Department also funds local development companies under the SICAP so that they can support the most marginalised in society. This includes work with women and the groups that represent them. Funding for women's shed groups may also be available through the LEADER transitional programme, which will cover the period 2021 to 2022. This programme provides funding under a broad range of themes, including enterprise development and social inclusion. Interested applicants should contact the relevant local action group through its implementing partner to discuss the eligibility of the project.

In general, I would encourage women's sheds groups to engage with the local authority and the local development company in their area to ensure they are made aware of funding opportunities from my Department and across government and State agencies as they become available.

Initially when I was praising the Minister, I inadvertently left the Minister of State out of the equation. Every Department needs a good team and I am delighted that the Minister of State is doing a great job in the Department. I thank him for his reply. It is important to ensure that women's sheds get parity of esteem and the same quality of service as men's sheds. Women need to have places to meet, chat, do community work and become involved to give them a sense of belonging. I welcome the fact that funding is being made available through the CEP. The Minister of State said that he hopes the programme will be run again soon. Does he have any idea when it will reopen for applications?

In response to the previous question, I cannot give the Deputy an estimate on that. We run the programme every year, at the very least. I fully agree that women's sheds should have parity of esteem. I visited an excellent women's shed in Wexford recently. The sheds make a great contribution in giving people an opportunity to come together, which is particularly important in rural communities where such opportunities, especially during Covid, are limited. I fully agree with the Deputy's point on parity of esteem.

I urge him to make the group that contacted him aware that there is precedent in Galway for funding men's sheds. There are sheds in Loughrea, Headford, Moycullen and Cornamona. When the group approaches the local authority with regard to various funding streams, it would be wise to reference the fact that there is precedent there in terms of CEP funding for such projects.

I thank the Minister of State for that. When women's sheds are starting out, they do not know where to go for funding. The first port of call for information is the local authority. It would also be important to register with the Public Participation Networks, PPN. It is important to give groups as much information as possible. We will also look into the possibility of getting assistance from the rural development company. The message is clear that the Department supports women's sheds. I invite the Minister of State to come to Tuam to meet the women involved at some stage in the future.

I wish to take the opportunity to again ask the Minister and Minister of State to consider restoring the funding that was specifically for sheds, for both men and women, as part of the CEP. The last time I raised this matter, I had visited the men's shed in Ballaghaderreen. The issue is that sheds are applying under different funding streams here and there. They might get something but then again, they might get nothing. I would love to see a dedicated fund for men's and women's sheds given the important role they play, particularly in rural communities where there may be lots of people living alone with no family close by. The sheds help to tackle rural isolation for those living alone and they also play an important role in mental health. The Department should consider a co-funding arrangement with the Department of Health to guarantee funding for men's and women's sheds.

Otherwise, it makes it difficult to sustain them.

I support my colleagues on this issue and I will give a minor perspective on it. When these organisations are applying for funding, the funding coming in from local authorities is sometimes perceived to be ad hoc and may not be transformative in terms of what they want to do, even though they are looking for modest amounts. If there was a core funding line coming from the Department, I would certainly join with my colleagues in supporting it.

I thank Deputy Canney for the invitation and I take the other Deputies' points as well. We support the national men's sheds organisation through the scheme to support national organisations, SSNO, and applications for that will be opening either late this year or early next year. That is just a point of information that may be useful.

On the question of sustainability, and I recall Deputy Kerrane's previous contribution on this, having a number of funding opportunities that are locally based and connected to the local authority where the knowledge is better than what we have centrally is a good route in terms of sustainability as well. However, I take the point about predictability. Relatively small funds can get a lot of men's and women's sheds off the ground and there a number of funds, not just the ones I have mentioned such as the CEP, SICAP and LEADER. Other Departments deal with this as well particularly in the area of mental health, and I would suggest looking at the Healthy Ireland initiative. Multiple funding streams are healthy as regards sustainability into the future.

Common Agricultural Policy

Seán Sherlock

Question:

8. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the percentage of the European agricultural fund for rural development, EAFRD, that must be utilised for the purposes of LEADER; and the percentage she has sought for the programme for 2023 to 2027. [50094/21]

Seán Sherlock

Question:

11. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the maximum permissible Exchequer co-funding rate for the purposes of LEADER from 2023 to 2027. [50095/21]

In the round, I am trying to glean from the Minister a perspective on the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and how Pillar II falls in respect of LEADER funding and the co-funding. It would be useful to know what percentage is in the mind of the Minister for co-funding on Pillar II elements. We are hearing 80% or 90%. Perhaps the Minister could give us some view on that.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 11 together.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The LEADER programme is a key intervention implemented by my Department ,which will help to underpin the Government's rural development goals, as outlined in Our Rural Future. The programme is co-funded by the EU under Pillar Il of the Common Agricultural Policy. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is Ireland's managing authority for the CAP and thus has lead responsibility for negotiations of the new policy, which is to be introduced from 2023. My officials are engaging extensively with both the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the EU Commission on the design of a new LEADER programme to form part of the new CAP strategic plan. The EU regulations governing the new CAP state that at least 5.5% of the EU funding available for the CAP strategic plan shall be reserved for LEADER and that the maximum permissible Exchequer co-funding rate for the next LEADER programme will be 80%. On foot of the agreement of the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, with the EU, the total amount of EU funding available for Pillar Il payments across all schemes for the period 2023 to 2027 will be more than €1.5 billion. It is important to me to maintain a significant level of funding for the LEADER Programme, to ensure it can continue to deliver for rural Ireland. In this regard, I secured an additional €70 million in funding for a transitional LEADER programme, which will cover the period to the end of 2022 to ensure that there is no gap between the end of the current programme and start of the next one. The allocations of funding across all the new CAP schemes are currently being finalised, and my Department is in ongoing communication with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in relation to this process. It is expected that indicative scheme allocations, including for the next LEADER programme, will be announced shortly to form the basis for the next stage of stakeholder consultation.

I thank the Minister for her response. We acknowledge the additional €70 million that has been provided but we are starting from a pretty low base. The €200 million allocated for 2016 to 2020 is way down on the €400 million that had been allocated historically. We are hopeful that the Minister will be successful in clawing back that money and increasing the amount necessary to provide for Pillar II. Have there been bilateral engagements at between both Departments at ministerial level?

My second question is more of a point. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is saying that this is farmers' money. There are some of us who would argue that while it is farmers' money, it is also money that should go to rural Ireland and there needs to be a certain countering of that narrative. I would like to get the Minister's perspective on that as well.

I am very committed to ensuring that a sufficient budget is allocated to LEADER to allow it to continue to successfully deliver a range of locally-led projects across rural Ireland in the new CAP period of 2023 to 2027. This will entail both EU funding and a significant Exchequer contribution. It is expected that all scheme allocations for the range of schemes in the new CAP will be announced shortly and these will form the basis for further stakeholder consultation. My officials are engaging closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine but I have also spoken to the Minister and I know he has been out around the country doing consultations in many different areas and it is his plan to make an announcement shortly. We will have to wait until he does that but it is expected that the announcement will be soon. I know he is doing his best to deliver for Ireland on this CAP funding, which is important.

Community Development Projects

Neale Richmond

Question:

9. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the schemes that are available for local groups to avail of funding to establish community centres; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49453/21]

I ask the Minister of State to outline the schemes and funding that are available for community centres.

I thank the Deputy for the question. My Department has a number of schemes that local groups can avail of to support the establishment of community centres. Funding may be available through the LEADER transitional programme, which is delivered through local action groups, LAGs, in each of the 28 LEADER subregional areas around the country. Interested applicants should, in the first instance, contact the relevant LAG through its implementing partner to discuss the eligibility of the project and the funding that may be available. The Department also provides small grants relevant to community centres through the CEP. The 2021 programme was launched on 10 May with funding of €4.5 million. It is currently closed but will reopen in due course. In addition, the €49 million community services programme supports more than 420 community organisations, including community centres, to provide local social, economic and environmental services through a social enterprise model. Funding is provided as a contribution towards the cost of employing staff in these organisations. The 2021 town and village renewal scheme is also relevant to community centres, as it will support the repurposing of existing community buildings in town centres to facilitate remote working and other projects to bring vacant and derelict buildings back into use. Finally, a new capital fund for the upgrade of community centres was referenced recently in the NDP and funding has been secured for this under budget 2022. The details of this capital scheme are currently being developed within my Department. It will be launched in early 2022, with further details to be announced in due course.

I truly appreciate the Aire Stáit's response. It is quite appropriate because he and I represent constituencies that are not too dissimilar from each other, albeit at other ends of the capital. In a European context they are described as peri-urban, meaning they are largely suburban, with a bit of rural and a bit of urban. There are so many communities simply caught in the middle and many of the schemes he has laid out simply are not applicable to suburban towns like Ballinteer or my home town of Stepaside. Previously, under the LEADER programmes and others, great funding was provided for the more rural areas such as Glencullen and Kiltiernan under the former Minister, Deputy Ring. We are very grateful for that. No different to the Minister of State's constituency in Fingal, we are seeing significant levels of welcome residential development but that is no use unless it is accompanied by those community supports. Already in the constituency of Dublin Rathdown the community centres are simply full. There is nowhere for the active retirement groups or the smaller sports groups to go.

Will that be given consideration within the new capital plan?

I can certainly identify with the issues outlined by the Deputy. The CEP is probably one of the most relevant in terms of the need he outlined in terms of his constituency and recent grants provided.

Sandyford Community Centre recently was given a €4,500 grant for an energy efficiency upgrade. Kilcross Resource Centre received up to €5,000 for a replacement fire alarm system. Furry Hill Community Centre received €8,000 for the upgrade of building maintenance and repairs. Patrician Community Centre was allocated €10,000 for the installation of solar photovoltaics. I recognise the needs the Deputy has outlined, however. That is one of the reasons the new programme is in the NDP and why we secured a budget allocation for it.

I was glad the Minister of State referenced those four centres. I would describe them as one relatively large centre and three small centres. They are full. Sandyford Community Centre is directly across the road from the estate on which I live. Not only is it full for all the services provided but the services - the Montessori school, yoga class, active retirement group - are all full too. In fact, they have a massive waiting list. The biggest issue is that the car park is now full because it is between a national school and a number of shops.

The population of a constituency such as Dublin Rathdown, which is similar to the Minister of State's constituency, is going to explode, with approximately 5,000 homes being built over the next year or two. We are not talking about the distant future. We need to see large-scale investment. I appeal for foresight to consider not just at rural areas and towns and villages, but particularly suburban areas with massive housing states, which do not particularly have that central town identifier, and funding in that regard.

I commend the new fund the Minister of State talked about regarding community centres. This originated from my constituency in Hartstown and Huntstown, where there was a major concern about two community centres closing.

My concern, and I have not seen any of the detail, although the Government will publishing it soon, is with regard to whether this is for non-local authority owned community centres or if local authorities can use some of this funding for their own community centres. A significant concern for the likes of, say, Hartstown and Huntstown, which are not local authority-owned, is that some of that funding will be siphoned off into community centres that have substantial funding from their local authorities.

We do not have that detail yet but it will be forthcoming in due course. I acknowledge Deputy Richmond's points as well. I can certainly identify because we have the same issue in Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush and Lusk.

Regarding housing estates that are growing and coming on stream, there is a responsibility on local authorities in granting planning permissions to have community centres as part of a new development. That was not always done. It is improving in that regard but it is certainly a key responsibility in this area. It should not be down to us as a central Department to always fill the gaps left by planning permissions that were inadequate from day one. I certainly acknowledge the need that both Deputies have outlined, however.

Digital Hubs

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

10. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if additional funding will be provided for digital hubs particularly in north central areas of Cork city; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50120/21]

I wish to ask the Minister if additional funding will be provided for the digital hubs, particularly in my consistency of Cork North-Central.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. My Department currently operates a number of initiatives focused on supporting remote working, as outlined in Our Rural Future, the Government's rural redevelopment policy for the period from 2021 to 2025.

This summer, I awarded €8.8 million through the connected hubs funding stream for existing digital hubs and broadband connection points in every region. This investment will add capacity to remote working infrastructure with more than €3 million of the funding awarded to the southern region, including a number of successful projects in Cork.

In addition, the rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF, and the town and village renewal scheme both support the establishment of new digital hubs. Under this year's schemes, projects that bring vacant properties in town centres back into use as remote working hubs are eligible to apply for funding. Projects that repurpose existing community or publicly-owned buildings in town or village centres to facilitate remote working are also eligible.

Calls for applications for this year's funding streams are now closed and details of successful applications to date are available on my Department's website. Details of calls for applications to 2022 funding streams will be announced by my Department in due course. Applications to facilitate new digital hubs in the area to which the Deputy referred may also be eligible to apply under the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is responsible for administering that fund.

I am happy to confirm that I have secured additional funding in the budget to continue to provide support for the establishment and development of remote working hubs. I am committed to ensuring that remote working hubs continue to be available as viable options for remote workers across the country.

We all know the importance of a good quality high-speed broadband connection in modern times, particularly in remote rural areas. None of us here could do our jobs successfully without such a service and many businesses and jobs across the country depend on a stable, reliable Internet connection to ensure their competitiveness in a global market.

I welcomed initial funding for digital hubs across the country last year as I felt it would spread the benefits of the national broadband plan, NBP, and accelerate access to much sought-after broadband, particularly in areas where the broadband roll-out was a little slower. This morning, I was disappointed to hear that the plan is not likely to meet its targets for this year and Covid-19 is cited as the main reason for this delay. With that in mind, has the Minister any plans to increase the roll-out of digital hubs in our communities in addition to any of those initially planned?

The broadband connection points have proven to be successful. They are exactly for that purpose of allowing people who do not have high-speed broadband in their area to go to their local community hall or local centre. We have provided much support to the local authorities, which have identified where these broadband connection points need to go to get the high-speed broadband in place. We provided a great deal of money to help them kit out these halls and centres with furniture called "pods" in order that people can have a confidential space if they need to make a telephone call or whatever when they are working remotely.

I am a big believer in remote working spaces such as hubs and co-working spaces. I believe it is much healthier than working from home. I know some people like the blend between working from home and working in the office. The most important role we have is to continue to support the remote working hubs, however, because people are able to finish their day's work. It is hard to finish work when one is at home. It keeps going on and on and it sometimes has an impact on family life. At least when a person goes into a remote working space in his or her local area or town or village, he or she can stop working, go home and then start again the next day.

To follow on from that point, I believe it is going to be about blended working into the future. As somebody with three young kids, it is quite difficult to work at home at times. To get into one of these hubs could be quite beneficial for many people. I speak to constituents, particularly many of those working with multinational companies, who might not have to travel to the US or wherever they are going as often as they would if they had access to that high-speed broadband we are talking about.

I also welcome the connected hubs initiative and the additional funding for that, which will facilitate remote working not just for employees but it will also attract employers to areas they might not have previously considered locating. All this talk about broadband and hubs is contingent on getting broadband into these communities. Ahead of the full implementation of the NBP, which is now five years away, we need to endeavour to do all we can for these isolated communities.

Finally, we only have one such hub in my own constituency. People think of my constituency as predominantly urban but we also have many rural villages. It extends almost as far as Mallow and up to Deputy Sherlock's area. He can speak for areas such as Burnfort and Mourneabbey, which are rural as well. We need greater emphasis on those hubs in my area of Cork.

A number of hubs have been supported. I am delighted to support these remote working hubs across the country but in particular in Cork. Benchspace Cork and Republic of Work in Cork city received funding and there are a number of others. Of course, the greatest success of all is the Ludgate Hub.

That is an amazing centre, but we cannot all have a Ludgate Hub, but we can have small core working spaces we develop and work with. Our colleague, Deputy Michael Moynihan, is anxious about a project that has applied for funding to convert the old post office in Kiskeam into a remote working space. We want to support these initiatives, especially in the rural areas where there is not high-speed broadband, in order that people can call in and use the facilities. I want to hold onto the opportunities Covid has presented in remote working. I want to make sure that makes the difference in rural Ireland. It is important we all work to do so.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 8.
Questions Nos. 12 and 13 replied to with Written Answers.

Housing Schemes

Claire Kerrane

Question:

14. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the steps she has taken when it comes to incentivising persons to restore derelict properties in rural areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49837/21]

This is to ask the Minister what steps she has taken on incentivising people to restore derelict properties in rural areas and whether she has had any engagement with the Minister for Housing, Heritage and Local Government on this matter.

I presume a number of those existing schemes, including town and village renewal, cannot be accessed by individuals or families moving into a rural area. I have often come across, even in recent weeks, people moving into an area or returning to their home area who have a house that is derelict, vacant or in need of significant work and find they do not have an avenue. Perhaps there will be an option under some of the schemes coming on stream under Housing for All. The Minister also mentioned the town centre first approach, for which there was a pilot programme recently. What progress has been made on that? Will there be other pilots or what work has been done on with local authorities on the town centre first approach?

My officials are engaging with the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government on the town centre first initiative. That will be a good policy. My Department will provide funding for local authorities to appoint town centre first officers. That is important, because we need to get this joined-up thinking in the towns and we want them to be able to work with the businesses, local communities and landowners on how we can do more, in a planned way, in our town centres. Significant work is ongoing in this area and in the town centre first policy framework. It is nearly complete and will bring forward the actions to look at how communities and local authorities can be supported to develop and deliver on these tailored plans for their towns by addressing vacancy and town centre living.

I presume those actions will be published shortly. When does the Minister envisage the funding for the appointment of town centre first officers in local authorities will be made available? In many cases, such as in County Roscommon, one person will probably taken on.

In trying to get people to live in town centres, I would like the Minister to consider the issue of applications before a local authority for conversion of a premises in towns that are Edwardian or Georgian in their architectural character. Applicants find they meet massive impediments when dealing with the local authority planning department. I ask that some leeway be given to take into account the historical nature of those buildings. It is not always easy to apply a 21st century model of architecture to an 18th or 19th century building. I ask the Minister allows for some leeway or headroom to be given to the applicants such that they can make the conversions without it being overly onerous, while also meeting the fire safety and other standards one would expect for any application.

Like the Deputy, I believe we can respect the architectural heritage and importance of the building, while converting it for modern-day use. It is much better to have people in a town centre, living and breathing new life into it, than having derelict buildings. Sometimes it is about finding that balance, but there is no reason we cannot find it. It has been done in many towns and cities throughout Europe. We can do it here as well. The town centre first policy will consider these issues. They are being raised and they are being fed into that. I look forward its publication.

I am sorry, I mentioned town centre first officers; they will be called town regeneration officers. I have just received the allocations for budget 2022. The posts will be crucial in revitalising our towns and I just have to put the details on that. I will announce it, as soon as I can, across each area. I have to go into detail, which I do not have here.

Departmental Funding

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

15. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of funding awarded and applications under consideration in counties Louth and Meath in respect of support for walking infrastructure such as trails given the importance of such local amenities particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50156/21]

I ask the Minister the status of funding awarded and applications under consideration in counties Louth and Meath in respect of support for walking infrastructure such as greenways and trails. Many in County Louth have been successful.. I thank the Minister and we have to make sure the funding is spent. I will wait for her reply and debate further with her, especially about the Mell Greenway.

The outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme, ORIS, provides funding for the development and enhancement of outdoor recreational infrastructure such as trails, cycleways and blueways in rural areas. Since 2016, ORIS funding has been awarded for 17 projects in County Louth to the value of almost €900,000 and 30 projects in County Meath to the value of more than €2.6 million. To date, 31 of these projects have been completed and it is expected the remaining projects will be completed over the coming 12 to 18 months. The 2021 ORIS scheme was launched in April and more than 300 applications were received seeking funding of almost €25 million. Four applications were received for projects in County Louth and 11 for projects in County Meath. I expect to make an announcement about the successful projects under the scheme before the end of the year.

In addition, to ORIS by Department also delivers the walks scheme. The scheme contracts landowners to undertake maintenance work on the trails that traverse their land. In turn, they receive modest payments in line with agreed work plans. I recently announced approval in principle for the Slieve Foye loop in County Louth to join this walks scheme. I also announced, subject to the development of an acceptable business case, to fund a new rural recreation officer post in Louth to help supply the delivery of the walks scheme there and to contribute to the development of the outdoor recreation sector in Louth generally. I am committed to building on the potential of the outdoor recreation sector for rural communities. The Deputy knows first-hand the value of these outdoor recreation facilities and the rural walks.

I thank the Minister for her reply. She has a grasp of all the issues in her brief. I congratulate her on that. She put her finger on it when she referred to the actions of local authorities in making applications that her Department funds them, which I welcome, but it is not always the case that funding that is granted to local authorities is spent. Indeed, there was a case in Louth County Council last year with the Mell Greenway where the funding for it was not spent. I know the Minister is working with the council to make sure the funding is spent on the greenway or walking trail.

It is an issue generally that county councils, notwithstanding the funding they have been given nationally, particularly in relation to empty homes officers, have been reluctant to do the work. The vast majority of councils took the €50,000 and did not do the work. The Minister needs to hold their feet to the fire if they are not doing the work. I welcome her commitment and that she is providing the funding, but local authorities must do the work. If they put in requests for funding, they are obliged to follow it up. I am talking especially about the Mell Greenway. The Minister might not have the brief on it but perhaps she could respond later.

I will give the Deputy a short brief on the Mell Greenway. Louth County Council was approved for funding of €200,000 under the 2019 outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme for the development and the enhancement of the Boyne Greenway. This year, it requested permission to revise the scope of the reproved works. This amendment has been approved by my Department, subject to the submission of a project implementation plan. The Deputy knows how important that project is. We will certainly work with the local authority to do everything we can to help it progress the plan. We want to see it. We want to see boots on that greenway. That is what I want to see. I was down in Waterford, where I opened the St. Declan’s walkway. It is a fine place.

I thank the Minister for her time and for being on top of all the issues. I welcome her working with Louth County Council to ensure the funding that was allocated two years ago is now actually going to be spent. Substantial progress has been made in County Louth. If you go north, the Cooley walk in Omeath is fantastic, as is the greenway to Carlingford. We have a proposal of a greenway from Oldbridge to Navan. We also have the Mell Greenway, which are talking about. At the moment, there is a plan with An Bord Pleanála, which will bring walkers and cyclists right out along the coast out to Mornington and up to places further afield like Skerries. The Minister is transforming our rural landscape and she is meeting the requirements of the communities for greenways, trails, walkways and cycleways. We are transforming our recreational amenities. To the Minister I say "Well done", but I will keep pressing on the Mell Greenway. I thank her for all her help on that.

Maybe I am biased because I am from Monaghan, but there is nothing more beautiful than the Cooley Peninsula. Carlingford is an amazing part of the country. You can go on then through south Armagh and back, of course, to beautiful Monaghan.

We want to use those wonderful natural facilities we have and I want to see us investing in them. That is why it will be particularly important to have the rural recreation officers. They will be able to liaise with the landowners. We cannot do any of these walks without the agreement and support of the landowners. We want to make sure we can work with them. The rural recreation officers will be able to do that. They will be able to be the bridge and to iron out any problems when they arise. That is the most important thing. If there are issues, they should be dealt with quickly so they do not become big problems. The rural recreation officers we will be vital in that.

I also want to say that Comhairle na Tuaithe is doing great work. It is developing an outdoor strategy, and I thank it for the work it is doing.

Questions Nos. 16 and 17 replied to with Written Answers.

We are running out of time. There is time for just one more question. I call Deputy Sherlock, although he will not get the full time.

Rural Schemes

Seán Sherlock

Question:

18. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the input she has had in the development of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50093/21]

Seán Sherlock

Question:

73. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the formal personal engagement she has had with communities and LEADER providers on the rural development element of the CAP pertaining to her Department in view of the national CAP consultation undertaken by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. [50092/21]

I engaged with the Minister previously on CAP and its effects on LEADER funding. She acknowledged the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, is going around the country doing his roadshow at present. I wonder if the Minister is of a mind to do a similar type of roadshow. Certainly, we want to ensure that what will be secured inside the farm gate will be the best possible outcome for farmers, but also what will be secured outside the farm gate for rural dwellers and people living in rural Ireland is similarly important.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The LEADER programme, as the Deputy knows, will continue to be a key component of the new Common Agricultural Policy from 2023. I am committed to ensuring the programme continues to play a central role in delivering on the Government's vision for rural Ireland, as set out in Our Rural Future. Indeed, the extensive public consultation undertaken by my Department in the preparation of Our Rural Future clearly highlighted the vital role LEADER continues to play.

My Department continues to engage extensively with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as the managing authority for the new CAP, as well as with the EU Commission, on the development of the new CAP strategic plan. My officials have also engaged extensively with the Irish Local Development Network, ILDN, and other stakeholders, such as the Local Government Management Agency, in the design of the next LEADER programme. I have also agreed to having regular meetings with the ILDN on a range of issues. I will continue to keep that channel of communication open.

It is essential the new CAP and LEADER programme is firmly rooted in stakeholder consultation. To that end, I recently initiated an external review of the current LEADER programme, which has involved extensive engagement with stakeholders. The outcome of this review will help to inform the design of the new LEADER programme. I expect to receive a report in this regard in the coming weeks. The agreement of a new CAP strategic plan and a new LEADER programme from 2023 remains a key priority. Ongoing stakeholder consultation will remain central to this process.

I welcome the Minister’s response. I welcome her specific reference to the Irish Local Development Network. The ILDN has outlined, through its future LEADER working group, a document which, to my mind, represents a good direction of travel. If there were to be greater traction on that document in terms of what the ILDN can deliver for rural Ireland, that would be a good way forward.

I will continue to engage with the ILDN. It is always important that agencies that are delivering taxpayers’ money get an opportunity to raise their issues of concern with me directly. I do that, but my officials work with them closely. More than 4,700 projects to the total value of €198 million have been approved nationally by the local action groups since LEADER operations began in the mid-2016. Like the Deputy, I know the benefit of this funding on the ground, whether is to help businesses or communities. They give a wide range of funding and supports. We want that to continue in the new CAP programme.

The LEADER is a key plank in the delivery of Our Rural Future. The allocation of €70 million to the 2021-2022 transitional programme reflects this. Work on the design of the new LEADER programme from 2023 continues in conjunction with the stakeholders and the EU Commission. We obviously have to work within the parameters the EU lays down for this funding. I have met twice with the ILDN on a range of issues since my appointment. I will continue to keep this channel of communication open. The ILDN meets regularly with my officials.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.