Vote 42 - Rural and Community Development (Further Revised)

The Dáil referred the Revised Estimate to the select committee on 28 February. The purpose of the meeting is to consider the Further Revised Estimates for 2019 for the Department of Rural and Community Development which amounts to €260,282,000. It is an opportunity for the committee to make the process more transparent and engage in a meaningful way on relevant performance issues. The programme-based structure of the Estimate is intended to assist the committee in focusing on what the Department has committed to achieving in actual outputs and outcomes, considering whether the performance targets included in the Estimate are sufficiently descriptive of the services provided by the Department and whether they strike the right balance in meeting the needs of society, and considering if the information provided by the Department makes clear how the moneys available are allocated between services and whether the allocations are the most appropriate in the circumstances. I propose to proceed programme by programme and subhead by subhead. At the outset of our consideration of each programme I will ask the Minister or the Minister of State to give a high-level overview of it, including the pressures likely to impact on the Department's performance and related expenditure in 2019. Having discussed the main subheads within a programme, members may wish to raise issues related to other subheads within the programme before moving on to the next one. This approach will assist them in their consideration of the Estimate. Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is proposed to publish on the committee's website the opening statements and briefing documents supplied by the Department. This will be an invaluable aid for citizens in monitoring the Department's performance. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, and the Minister of State at the Departments of Rural and Community Development and Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Canney. I also extend a warm welcome to the officials accompanying them. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.

I thank the select committee for its invitation to attend the discussion on the Further Revised Estimate for my Department for 2019. A short briefing note has been circulated to members. It provides a summary of the programme areas in the Department and sets out the planned expenditure in 2019 across the programme areas.

Before highlighting some of the details of expenditure in 2019, I will mention briefly the performance of the Department in 2018. Last year was its first full year of operation. While there were many challenges in establishing it, the allocation provided for me in 2018 was almost fully utilised. In total, €236.8 million was spent of an allocation of €238.5 million. As such, 99.3% of our allocation was spent, with the unspent money related mainly to savings on salary and administration costs. In real terms, this means that we have delivered for communities and rural areas through a wide range of programmes and projects. I am determined that we will continue this progress in 2019 and that the budget allocation provided for the Department will be put to best use to continue to support communities across the country.

I will mention briefly the importance of my Department's mission for the Government and citizens. Rural Ireland plays a vital role in the economic and social fabric of the country. Our sense of community across Ireland is what makes the country what it is. The establishment of my Department was an important step in strengthening Government support for this area. Project Ireland 2040 has built further on that support. It recognises the economic and social importance of rural Ireland and the critical role of communities in ensuring a good quality of life for all. Strengthening rural economies and communities is one of the core objectives of Project Ireland 2040 and the provision of €1 billion through the rural regeneration and development fund ensures that funding will be available to deliver on that objective in the coming years.

On the allocations to the Department, gross expenditure of €291 million is budgeted for in 2019. This represents an increase of €60 million, or 26%, on the 2018 provision. The €291 million budget consists of €153 million in current expenditure and €138 million in capital expenditure. In terms of the split across programmes, €138 million has been allocated for expenditure on rural development programmes, €148 million has been allocated for expenditure on community development programmes, while €4.6 million has been provided for the Charities Regulator.

The €138 million allocation for rural development programmes consists of €123 million in capital expenditure and €15 million in current expenditure. I have allocated €52 million for the rural regeneration and development fund this year. The aim of the fund is to support ambitious projects that can drive the economic and social development of rural towns, villages and their surrounding areas. The first call for applications took place in July 2018 and 280 applications were received. Following the assessment process, 84 successful projects have been allocated €86 million in funding. It will be leveraged with a further €31 million in matching funding, representing a total of €117 million in capital investment across rural Ireland.

It is vital that we continue to build resilience in rural communities and make towns and villages vibrant places for families to live. It is also particularly appropriate, with Brexit approaching, that we continue to strengthen the rural economy and support sustainable development. The projects being funded are targeted at sectors in which they can have the greatest economic and social impact. For example, €13.6 million will be invested in the national mountain biking project which will develop recreational facilities in four locations across seven counties. In addition, €5.5 million will be invested in Athenry to assist in developing the town into a major food and tourism centre. Investments such as these will transform many rural towns, villages and outlying areas by delivering projects in sectors such as tourism, agrifood and recreation. I expect a second call for applications under the rural regeneration and development fund to be launched later this year. While the fund is important for the future development of rural Ireland, I also remain focused on ensuring the continued success of existing rural schemes and programmes. It is important that the funding schemes and programmes provide for a coherent approach to supporting rural Ireland and communities. As well as focusing on large-scale projects through the fund, we will continue to support smaller projects and groups throughout Ireland. Such projects can have a major impact for local areas and communities.

For 2019, I have allocated €30 million in capital funding for the LEADER programme. As I have noted for the committee previously, the LEADER programme is demand-led, with the level of funding required dependent on the number of projects that have moved through the approval process. The allocation provided in 2019 is based on the level of activity in 2018, which was lower than originally planned. However, there has recently been an increase in activity. There are now 1,800 projects approved for funding by local action groups, LAGS, to a value of more than €62 million. There are another 377 projects going through the approval process, with a value of €23.4 million. This progress is to be welcomed and demonstrates that the changes I have made to the scheme are working. The programme is now delivering for rural communities and I will be closely monitoring developments in the coming months to ensure this progress is maintained.

The other key rural development allocations in 2019 are €20.3 million for national rural development schemes, €15 million for the town and village renewal scheme and €10 million for the local improvement scheme, LIS. The allocation for national rural development schemes comprises €5.3 million in current funding and €15 million in capital funding. The capital allocation will ensure continued investment in the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and CLÁR. I expect approximately 180 new outdoor recreation projects to be funded in 2019. The current allocation for national rural development schemes has increased by €2 million. The additional funding will be used to double the funding for the walks scheme. This is welcome and recognises the contribution landowners make to local tourism by facilitating safe access to well maintained walking trails on their lands.

The town and village renewal scheme is an important part of the Government's work to rejuvenate rural Ireland. It is having a significant impact on towns and villages across the country. The benefits of previous funding under the scheme are being felt nationwide. Since it was introduced in the second half of 2016, almost €53 million has been approved for more than 670 projects across the country. I expect the 2019 allocation of €15 million to support over 200 new town and village renewal projects.

As Deputies will be aware, the local improvement scheme supports investment in non-public rural roads to enable people to access their homes and farms. The 2019 allocation of €10 million will bring to over €47 million the amount invested in this programme area since I reintroduced the scheme in September 2017.

The allocation of €148 million for community development programmes comprises €133 million in current expenditure and €15 million in capital expenditure. As the committee is aware, the Department administers a range of programmes which support individuals and the community and voluntary sector as a whole. The two most significant community development programmes in terms of expenditure are the community services programme, CSP, and the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP.

The CSP provides financial support for community organisations to deliver local services through a social enterprise model. The funding supports the cost of employing a manager or a specific number of full-time equivalents. The Futher Revised Estimate contains a provision of €46 million for the CSP. This will ensure it will continue to benefit over 400 organisations nationwide. Over 1,900 people are supported by the programme. A few weeks ago I announced an independent review of the CSP which seeks to ensure the programme will continue to provide the best possible support for individuals, communities and organisations across the country.

SICAP provides funding to help individuals and communities in society that are experiencing disadvantage, including disadvantaged women, disadvantaged children and families, lone parents, people with disabilities, people who have difficulties in finding employment, members of the Roma community and Travellers. This is the second year of the new SICAP which places a greater focus on more intensive individual support and emphasises flexibility to respond to the needs of target groups at local level. The 2019 proposed allocation of €43 million will ensure SICAP can continue to support over 2,200 organisations and 27,000 individuals.

The 2019 Further Revised Estimate provides €12.6 million in supports for the community and voluntary sector. This maintains the 2018 funding level. Funding will continue to be provided for national organisations in the community and voluntary sector, the senior alert scheme and supports for volunteering. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, will provide further detail in his opening statement.

The Further Revised Estimate includes an allocation of €7.2 million for the development of libraries, up from €3.9 million in 2018. The increase reflects the importance of libraries in communities and their increased role as civic spaces and places where everyone can access technology.

The 2019 allocation for the community enhancement programme is €4 million. This will allow for additional investment to enhance community facilities in disadvantaged areas where small-scale investment can make a significant difference to communities and community groups. The cross-Border PEACE programme has had its allocation increased from €3.7 million in 2018 to €5 million in 2019. It is important that we continue to support this programme, particularly in the context of Brexit.

I have kept my remarks brief to allow a full discussion on the programmes and funding of the Department of Rural and Community Development this year. I emphasise the good progress made by the Department in 2018 across the rural and community development areas. The increased allocation in 2019 presents a major opportunity to support rural Ireland and communities across the country. I am determined to keep up the momentum, to ensure we will get the most out of the allocation provided and to deliver benefits for all communities. I will be happy to answer questions. Before I do so, I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to speak briefly about the areas within his remit.

I am pleased to join the committee in considering the 2019 Further Revised Estimate for the Department of Rural and Community Development. My responsibilities include oversight of the work of the Western Development Commission, functions related to the Department's input in regional development and rural broadband provision, oversight of a number of the funding schemes under the community programme, functions related to the Dormant Accounts Fund and oversight of the Charities Regulator. As the Minister, Deputy Ring, mentioned, Project Ireland 2040 places strong emphasis on balanced regional development which is essential if the country is to grow in a more sustainable way. I believe the Department has a strong role to play in ensuring these objectives are achieved.

The Western Development Commission has an important role in supporting development in the western region. It actively and successfully promotes the region as a great place in which to live, work and run a business. It manages the €32 million western investment fund which provides loan capital for small and medium-sized enterprises in the region. The Further Revised Estimate for 2019 will see the commission's funding increase from €1.5 million to €2 million. This will allow it to increase the impact of the western investment fund and enhance its contribution to the work of developing the Atlantic economic corridor, AEC. The AEC initiative aims to build an offering of scale along the west coast to drive economic development along the entire area. It is about getting all regions, local authority areas and communities along the western seaboard to work together to build on the region's strengths and attract investment to it as a whole.

In addition to the increased funding for the Western Development Commission, funding of €30,000 is being made available in 2019 to each of the ten local authorities along the AEC to co-fund an AEC officer in each local authority.

What is the AEC?

The Atlantic economic corridor. The collaborative work of the Department, the Western Development Commission and the local authorities will ensure there is a much enhanced resource working on the AEC project and that there is a co-ordinated approach to its development.

With regard to rural broadband provision and mobile phone coverage, the role of the Department is to support the local authorities in preparing for the roll-out of the national broadband plan. This involves officials working closely with the local authorities to identify and mitigate barriers that may delay roll-out. In 2019 the Department will provide €42,000 for each local authority to support a broadband officer whose role will be to facilitate the roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure. This essential role has been recognised by industry sources as having a transformative impact on their relationships with the local authorities and central government.

The Department has lead responsibility for developing the relationship between the State and the community and voluntary sector and setting the policy framework in this area. Some €12.6 million is budgeted for in 2019 to provide supports for the community and voluntary sector, including approximately €6.5 million for the scheme to support national organisations, €2.3 million for the senior alerts scheme and €3.2 million to support volunteering and a network of 21 volunteer centres throughout the country. This funding will have a positive impact across the country. It will support organisations and people who make an enormous contribution to furthering social and community development throughout the country.

The ongoing development of public participation networks, PPNs, is continuing. The allocation for this area has been increased from €1.55 million last year to €1.75 million this year. It will allow the Department to make an increased allocation available to each PPN, with matching funding of at least €30,000 from the relevant local authority. The Department has continued to provide practical support to underpin the PPNs, including the publication of a PPN user guide to support all PPN stakeholders - member organisations, secretariats, resource workers and local authorities - in making progress with a nationally consistent framework for PPNs.

The 2019 allocation for the Dormant Accounts Fund is €12.57 million, which represents an increase of €2 million on the 2018 allocation. In line with the Dormant Accounts Acts, this funding must be used to address social, economic or educational disadvantage or support people with a disability. In 2019 funding is earmarked for a number of projects which will address disadvantage across the country. Social Innovation Fund Ireland is being allocated up to €5 million to continue its excellent work. The senior alerts scheme is being allocated up to €2 million to supplement its funding and meet the level of demand for the scheme. Up to €2 million is being provided for capital supports for social enterprise. Up to €1.2 million is being provided to establish permanent volunteer centres in areas which do not have them. Up to €1 million is being used to support employment along the Atlantic economic corridor.

The Further Revised Estimate provides €4.6 million in funding for the Charities Regulatory Authority in 2019.

The Charities Regulator is Ireland's national statutory regulator for charitable organisations. The general function of the regulator is to regulate charitable organisations operating in Ireland, in order to increase public trust and confidence in their management and administration. By the end of 2018, there were 9,799 charities registered with the Charities Regulatory Authority. During 2019, the Charities Regulatory Authority will publish its second strategy statement and, in particular, develop and publish guidance to assist charities in implementing the charities code of governance.

I am delighted to be working with the Minister, Deputy Ring, in progressing our remit of supporting rural and community development, contributing to the economic and social development of rural Ireland and supporting the well-being of our communities. I am committed to ensuring that the funding being provided to the Department supports these goals and delivers for people and communities throughout the country. I am happy to answer any questions that committee members might have.

I thank the Minister of State. We will begin by discussing subhead A4, national rural development schemes, including the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and the CLÁR walk schemes. I call Deputy Michael Collins.

I take it we will discuss the community involvement scheme, the LEADER programme and the rural regeneration scheme later.

Those fall under subhead A5, which we can discuss together with subhead A4 if the Deputy wishes. I suggest we discuss subheads A4, A5 and A10 together, which covers the rural regeneration programme.

Are we discussing the subheads under programme A together?

Subhead A1 is administration, subhead A2 is administration non-pay, subhead A3 is the western development commission, subhead A4 is the national rural development schemes, subhead A5 is the LEADER programme and subhead A6 is tidy towns and town and village regeneration. We will discuss them all together.

I welcome the Minister and Minister of State. In most cases, their budget has been very well spent and helps in rural Ireland. I will give some feedback. I do not want to seem in any way negative as there are a great deal of positive aspects to this, which we should acknowledge. However, there are some areas of concern that I would like the Minister to consider.

Some €2 million in funding was provided for walkways last year and it is hoped to provide €4 million this year. I come from a very picturesque area in west Cork which was probably the first to start walkways when James O'Mahony and his team did some incredible work on the Sheep's Head Way. I imagine when they spoke to the farmers about walkways at the time, they were looked at as if they had two heads. However, walkways have grown and developed and we now have the Beara Way and many other successes throughout the country. There is a considerable amount of funding available for gates, stiles and steps but the impression I get is that there is no funding extended to farmers. There is great potential for a Mizen way and many farmers have voluntarily given access to their lands. They receive initial funds for stiles, probably from the €2 million provided, there is no long-term funding to make payments to farmers for allowing people to go through their lands. Such payments could be used to maintain the land. It is important that this be addressed for the sake of tourism and generating a small bit of an income because many smaller farmers are struggling. I would appreciate if, for 2019, the Minister would look into compensating farmers all year around. This would not require a large amount of money but it is necessary to the farmers, some of whom are giving access to their lands free of charge, having been given an initial grant. They should be rewarded, which would encourage others to come on board and be positive for tourism in these communities in the long term.

The Minister brought community involvement scheme back from nowhere. No matter how much money he has, it is never enough. I expect Cork County Council has an endless list of people looking for schemes. The funding for the community involvement scheme should be increased because it is greatly appreciated in rural communities. Some council areas might have funding for only one or two schemes when they may have a list of 50 schemes. Money cannot be got for everything but it is great that the scheme has started again.

I was a fierce advocate of the previous LEADER scheme. I always took the view that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but somebody tried to fix it and it still broke. That is the impression that I have received from communities. Many people are finding the application process very difficult. I was involved in community groups over the years and went through the previous application process. There would have been somebody there at the other end of the phone, at least, but that system has gone. I was told by someone who secured funding recently that they would never submit an application to LEADER. It is bad when one hears community people saying that. In another case, an application was returned requesting further information. I do not know how many pages had to be filled in with further information. It is an exhaustive process which is difficult for people who are giving of their time freely. I know that everything has to be checked out to ensure it is 100% correct but more administrative staff are needed to help people. Since the LEADER company closed in west Cork, there is nobody available to help. The sense I get is that the funding has come back but accessing it is not as easy as it used to be. I ask the Minister to examine this because it is very serious. In the past, when I mentioned funding to people in west Cork, the LEADER programme was the first thing that came to mind but it is not the last. No one discusses LEADER any longer whereas it used to be a hot topic. The funding provided is not as good as it used to be. The programme helped get many farm and tourism businesses up and running but that seems to be gone by the wayside. This area requires a strong focus.

I do not want to hog the time but if we cover everything together, we can get through this much quicker. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, spoke about funding for broadband and mobile phone coverage but it is not going anywhere. It is difficult to see where it will go. I hope an announcement on rural broadband is imminent but mobile phone coverage has not been touched on. We hit the doorsteps canvassing in elections and now that I am out now canvassing for my brother, Councillor Danny Collins, people are asking me the same question they asked during the general election campaign. They say there is no broadband and no mobile phone coverage and ask me what I have done about it. I have no answer for them and it is three years on from the general election. This is a serious issue and the mobile phone companies need to be brought to the table or perhaps brought before the committee to discuss why they cannot tackle the issue. They are running around after 5G now but, good God, some people cannot even get one bar of coverage. This must be pulled back. There must be some regulation to say to these companies that they can forget about their 5G and that they should go away and deliver a couple of bars of mobile phone coverage for people in their houses or communities. That would be a great start and we could worry about 4G, 5G or 6G after that. There is not much point in bringing up broadband now.

I have been involved in a community alert group in west Cork for the past 26 or 27 years. There is funding available for aid calls but little funding for the groups. We did a church collection in Schull and Lowertown last week and we raised €450.

We have to pay for the insurance and the affiliation of Muintir na Tíre. There needs to be something more. While some of it is covered now with grant aid in fairness, there needs to be more concentration on funding going forward because groups are begging on the doorstep. If one is involved in a school board, one is out trying to do cake sales, if one is involved in a community alert group or a community council, one must beg from the public all the time. Community alert groups should be concentrating on attendance at their meetings, trying to deliver for people, meeting elderly people and getting the aid calls out there. The focus should not be on worrying if they can pay the small bills that come in and that need to be paid. There needs to be a better concentration on funds if at all possible.

We met the Charities Regulator in Leinster House some time ago in the audiovisual room. I presume the funding that is being referred to and that can be spent might arise where elderly members of community groups have passed away, the funding is lying there and such groups may have given it back. My argument with the regulator was that if, for instance, there was a group in County Mayo where the members have grown elderly and are unable to continue and where €10,000 was left in the account, that will go back to the Charities Regulator if that community group will be inactive in the future. That money should go back into Mayo. Money came out of a council in west Cork and while that money went anywhere and everywhere, it has not come back to west Cork. If this is the money the Minister is able to spend in this regard, that needs to be looked into. If a community has had to hand back €4,000 or €8,000, that money should have gone back into that community, because that is where that money came from in the first place. It should not be distributed to the Charities Regulator and perhaps spread around Dublin or wherever.

The community services programme, CSP, is a great programme and I am involved in a group that has a number of workers through the CSP. The issue is that the material grant was taken from it a number of years ago. Ultimately, regardless of whether a worker is with a rural social scheme or a community employment, CE, scheme, he or she will need a strimmer and will need material and it is not available. We need concentrate more on CSP workers. They are landed on the community group, which must then go back to the church gate collection again to buy the strimmers or pay for the fuel to strim the graveyard or whatever the workers are doing. They might be working in the social centre and in our case, we have a halls programme. This funding is for whatever they need to purchase. The CSP programme is providing the wage as such but the material grants were taken from a lot of the groups, mainly the rural groups, and they are the ones finding it the hardest to survive and to keep the doors open. I would appreciate it if the Government would go back and look at that.

The Tidy Towns groups take a great amount of pressure off local authorities, they do a lot of fabulous work and any funds they get are greatly appreciated. Any such groups I know very much appreciate that.

I will only talk about one more matter because I do not want to be going on all night and that is the rural regeneration fund. A large amount of money is to be given out to community voluntary groups because that is what the Taoiseach said at the launch of this programme. I have nothing against companies like Coillte and Teagasc but I get worried when I see such companies or a number of LEADER companies applying for funding. The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has its own budget of approximately €360 million and these companies are getting top-ups from the rural regeneration programme. Then I look at community voluntary groups getting zero, so there is something wrong.

There is one project I raised in the Dáil in the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, where a community voluntary group in Schull spent €50,000 of its own money to try to get this project to the point of being what they were told would be shovel-ready. They are being told it is shovel-ready and then are being told it is not. It is dribbling back and forth like a game of tennis. They do not know whether it is shovel-ready or not. The Minister should remember one thing. If the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has a budget of approximately €360 million, these groups have no budget like that. They could never dream about such a budget but they can guarantee jobs in a town. Every assistance should be given to them to make sure that if they have an issue, it can be resolved within a week or two of the first announcement that they did not get funding but that is not happening. They have never been told what the problem is, unless they have been told today, and they are begging and pleading. This project alone would have created numerous jobs in a community that is absolutely starved because rural peninsulas are starved of employment and there is no point in denying it.

The cities are doing well and a lot of people are going from the rural communities to the cities. I am trying to say that a body such as the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has a budget of approximately €360 million and Coillte has a budget. Such bodies all have their own massive budgets. The Minister will counter that point by telling me that they are putting forward great projects but these other community voluntary groups are failing to tick the boxes and are failing to get the funding for some reason they do not know about. They are spending their own €50,000 in their own town. There is something wrong somewhere and I would appreciate the Government trying to put it right.

The Deputy did very well. He mostly touched on programme A in terms of the walks programme, the LEADER programme, broadband and mobile phone coverage. He touched on the issue of text alerts. That is a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality but the committee received representations on that issue in Dunhill, County Waterford last week and it is an issue we hope to follow up on with the community alert groups. The Charities Regulator is under programme C. The CSP programme is under programme B and the rural regeneration programme is under programme A. Schull is an area of which I am very fond and the Deputy makes a good point about the rural peninsulas and the need to invest there. I call on the Minister, Deputy Ring and the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to address the various issues that have been raised in respect of programme A.

I thank Deputy Michael Collins. To be fair, he started off very positively and I could not fault anything that he said. He has raised some of the issues that are being raised with me every single day. He started his contribution by talking in particular about the walks scheme and he is quite correct. I take this opportunity again and every opportunity I get to thank farmers for their co-operation around this country. To be fair to them, we have a great community spirit in rural Ireland. People come from all over the world and come from cities to walk the walkways around this country. One would not walk into somebody's garden in Dublin and expect to be able to go through it and that is why the walks scheme was set up. I have to say that farmers have been very generous and I thank them for their co-operation.

In the walks scheme, we have 39 trails with payments. We have approximately 1,900 people who are getting payment from the Department. We have spent €2 million per year on it and there has been no increase or no new call in recent years. I am glad to say to the committee that we have an extra €2 million in funding this year. It has been doubled and I have invited expressions of interest from trail committees, community groups and other similar bodies that are entitled to apply for the scheme in 2019. I am pleased that I am opening the scheme but I also note that I will not be able to facilitate every group and every scheme. There will be rules and regulations but at least we have doubled the fund this year and that is something with which we should be pleased.

The Deputy then raised the LEADER programme and again he talked about the difficulty people have in drawing down funding from it. There are a number of reasons why that is happening. This morning, Deputy Ó Cuív and other Deputies raised questions to me in the Dáil Chamber on the LEADER programme. As a Minister, I have made 31 changes to that scheme. I have made it easier for people to make applications, I have made it easier for the groups themselves to get the paperwork back to the Department and I have made the necessary changes to the LEADER project. To give an update on the LEADER programme, we have approximately 1,800 projects approved to the value of €62.25 million. We are already seeing a demand for the first quarter of this year. In the first quarter of this year, we saw an increase in the approvals and the funding that has been drawn down and I have to say that at last, the LEADER programme is beginning to happen.

We all knew that it always takes a while for the LEADER programme to ramp up. It is no different from all the other programmes. When profiled for the first three months of this year, we see an increase in LEADER funding, which is important. Last year, I put €35 million into the programme and that is down to €30 million this year. If we need further funding, I will certainly accommodate that. I hope we do because if so, it means that the programme is being ramped up. I am pleased with how it is being ramped up. The Deputy talked about the local development company providing assistance. With regard to the rural regeneration scheme, we told groups what has happened with their application. I put this on the record of the Dáil this morning and there is no harm to doing so again. Most projects that were shovel-ready were approved. Many local authorities and groups made applications that made out that they were shovel-ready. The question of rural regeneration schemes was raised with me before we even put out applications. I have had local authorities telling Members that they were going to Part 8 and had other works to do or did not have planning permission for some projects, and yet stated that they would be ready when they were not.

The Department is holding workshops around the country to assist the community groups that the Deputy talks about. One difficulty is what we call the helping hands event. I find in many schemes that I administer that many groups have professional people to make the applications for them. They have the funding to do that. There are other groups that I need to target and support that are not getting the funding that they should be getting, simply because they do not have the means to make the applications. That is why my Department is going out with Pobal to talk to and support groups, and to help them to make applications to schemes.

The Deputy talked about the local improvement scheme, LIS. I opened that scheme and it is working well. I wish I had more funding for it. Deputy Ó Cuív said something that I did not agree with, but I do now, and have the media on my back when I do it. I try to rationalise and give every county a certain percentage of the money. There are counties with a greater need for local improvement schemes than other counties. I need to start looking at that pro rata and giving it to counties with a bigger demand that are actually using it when they get it. That is in places like west Cork, Mayo, Galway and Leitrim. Leitrim is a small county which has more local improvement schemes than any other county in the country. I need to start to look at ways and means to give it to Leitrim and counties that have more of a need for LIS. If I have further funding between now and the end of the year, I will do that and will not listen to media asking what we are giving to each county.

We support the community services programme, CSP. Some 20 new organisations entered into that programme last year. We were supporting more than 400 community organisations. More than 1,900 posts have been provided for that scheme but the Department is not the employer. It is our job to support them and to give them the necessary grant aid. Earlier this year, I found a bit of extra funding and distributed that to groups. I let Pobal do that. It did not even have to make an application. It assessed the organisations that were most in need and that funding was distributed to them.

The rural regeneration scheme will be very good, especially for major projects in rural areas. It will take time. Phase 2 of that scheme is to provide funding to get projects ready. The local authorities have complained to me for years that they make applications and do not have the funding to put much work and resources into them. They find that they could put money into applications and then find that there is no funding for them. In the rural regeneration scheme, we gave funding to get projects ready for application for the scheme. That has worked well.

I think I have covered all the issues. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to respond about broadband.

To clarify demarcation lines on what the Department does about broadband and mobile phones, a task force called the mobile phone and broadband task force has been set up and I chair it. The Deputy mentioned getting everybody into the room but everybody is in the room for that task force. There are local authorities, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Office of Public Works, the ESB, telecoms industries, officials from the Department of Rural and Community Development and officials from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

We have a broadband officer appointed in every local authority. To give an example of work carried out, the motorway from Tuam to Limerick has spare infrastructure underground, including ducts and pipes, to take whatever will come in future, such as cables. TII has retrofitted other motorways that do not have it so that it is in place. It has spent a few million euro of its own money to do that so that is ready and all operations can use the same duct. They will not all look for their own space. We have the same type of infrastructure in place from Kilcock to Galway. These are practical examples. When a local authority talks about upgrading the sewerage in a town, such as in Galway city, we make sure through this task force that when the work is being done, spare services in the ground will be facilitated in order that they can be used in future rather than having to dig it up. Those are the kinds of practical things that we are doing.

Heretofore, the operation of road opening licences has been different in every local authority. The charges have been different and the forms have been different. We have standardised all of that so it is the same charge and the same form, and is done on a system that can be accessed by any telecoms industry. It simplifies it and makes it more efficient, so that it is cheaper to install this infrastructure in future. We are also looking at having neutral hosts for this infrastructure so that it is not owned by specific telecoms companies that will not let other telecoms companies look at it. We brought in the Office of Public Works because it has State assets and we may be able to use some State assets to install infrastructure such as masts that may be required on land that it owns. It has maps of and knows what assets it has in the country. We can see if there is a black spot and whether there is a State asset that we can use to get it done fairly quickly.

In the Minister, Deputy Ring's native county of Mayo, for example, the broadband officer has created a digitised map application so that every piece of spare ductwork in the ground in every town in County Mayo is mapped and can be seen by the telecoms industry. That application will be given to every other broadband officer to do the same in every county so that we do not have fellows digging up streets to find out if something is there or not. It will take time but it is common sense to make sure that we do not dig up streets for the sake of it.

The Deputy mentioned black spots and I agree that there are black spots. ComReg has published an up-to-date map of where the good spots are and what providers are there so that if one is buying a phone, one can look at the map first to see whether a phone will work in that area. That was published only three or four weeks ago. It is the most up-to-date map that we have, and it is a true map because it is done by ComReg.

People ask what we are doing about broadband and mobile phones in our Department. We are really talking about this kind of work. We are trying to bring about some common sense across the Departments in the context of what we are doing to create the infrastructure in order that we will not be not digging and re-digging or putting up additional poles when there are already poles in place.

Reference was made to 5G. There is a company called Valeo in Tuam. It invested €44 million last June with the aim of becoming a global centre for the development of appliances for the autonomous car. That is the reality in Tuam and 5G will be needed for it. All of the infrastructure we are discussing will be required in order to enable that. People state that nothing is happening. To an extent, I agree. I do not have broadband in my house. Hopefully, when it is rolled out, it will be done in a very positive way. The broadband officers have identified 300 locations that will be able to accommodate broadband from day one once a decision has been made on the roll-out. It will be delivered into the communities very quickly, if not to every house, at the start of the period of delivery.

Perhaps the Minister might answer on a question-by-question basis rather than answering all the questions together. I congratulate him on spending all the money he had. He spent some of it by way of forward payment for work not yet done. For example, under LIS, some €10 million was given to the local authorities but the work was not done by 31 December 2018. Can the Minister indicate how much money had been allocated at the end of the year to local authorities or other bodies for work that was not done and vouched for?

I do not have that figure here. We gave the local authorities an upfront payment for LIS of €5 million. Does the Deputy object to that?

I would much prefer it if the work was done before it was paid for.

Does the Deputy doubt the local authorities?

Does the Deputy have a basis for that?

Yes, I have a basis for that. I keep asking the Minister about money he provided in 2016 because it has not all been spent.

I listened to the Deputy and others last year when they said that I would not spend the money allocated to my Department. I compliment the Department in that regard. Some 99.3% of that money has been spent, despite the fact that the Deputy and others spent the year sending out statements saying that I would not spend that money. I provided some funding to LIS because I wanted to get road works done under the scheme.

The Minister wanted to spend the money. I agree with him on that.

We have individuals who inspect these roads. I have sent those inspectors out to many of the local authorities to carry out checks. They make inspections on a regular basis and ensure that the money is being spent. I did something the Deputy did not do when he was Minister and made the local authorities provide a list. I put that list on the website and give it to my colleagues. There are two checks carried out - one by my Department and my inspectors and another by the general public. If a member of the public sees that money has been allocated in respect of his or her road but has not been spent, he or she quickly makes contact with the Department, Deputies and Ministers and everyone else.

I used to publish a detailed, per-county list as well.

No, the Deputy used to publish a list of the money allocated to the county.

I published a list of the roads as well.

I have not seen such a list in my time.

I have not seen the Minister's list either; I got it from the county council.

It is on our website. We hide nothing.

That information was always available. The Minister should not make false allegations. In the context of the rural regeneration fund, every application has to have some State agency attached to it. Is that correct?

That is correct.

That effectively puts the agency in the driver's seat when it comes to choosing projects to progress.

That is not the case. State agencies have to be funded by the State, as the Deputy knows. Communities work with the likes of the county councils, the western development commission and Údaras na Gaeltachta. Groups are coming to me who have been in contact with the LEADER groups, Údaras na Gaeltachta and the local authorities. These agencies went out and spoke to community groups. How does the Deputy think applications are made? A number of applications came in via the LEADER programme because the LCDCs were out meeting with and talking to various groups, and then groups made their applications.

Three members of this committee were present at a meeting with Galway County Council the other day. We were informed that it was focusing on certain big towns in the county. It is interesting that it picked Athenry. The latter is a fine town; it is actually the location that has been designated to ease growth in the city. It is not a very rural town. It received €5.5 million, mainly through the urban fund. It is the new centre for IDA Ireland in east Galway as opposed to being an area for rural development. I have a concern with the way this is constructed. It might not have been the Minister's intention, but I am concerned that this will be driven in this way. The excuse that will be given will be the national spatial strategy which is totally focused on towns and growing urban agglomerations. I listened to Waterford County Council when the committee went there last week, and all the county and city manager could talk about was big urban development. He did not mention rural development even though he was addressing members of this committee. The county manager in Galway stated on Monday that the message from the Government seems to be to focus on the bigger places. Such an approach will not help the smaller locations.

I will provide figures on the rural regeneration and development fund. Some 53 schemes were instigated by local authorities, 13 by departmental agencies, nine by the local development group and LEADER, eight by commercial semi-State companies and one by a third-level institution. The fund was open to the latter and to local development groups, agencies such as Údarás na Gaeltachta and local authorities. We held workshops and went out to the regions. We received very positive feedback from the communities. I am participating in the rural roadshows and listening to people on the ground.

The Deputy mentioned Athenry. That will be a tremendous development for the region.

I absolutely agree.

It will be a food hub and it will give a lift to everything around it. Fáilte Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service are developing ideas in the six national parks in County Mayo. It is good to have communities, State agencies and local authorities involved. There are problems in all local authorities with pet projects. I cannot do anything about that. They make the applications and we adjudicate on them. Sometimes we find that the scheme applied for does not comply with the wishes of the elected representative. However, he or she has an input into it. The ideas are brought before the local authorities and the elected representatives, who then have an opportunity to support or refuse to support particular projects.

The Minister is an elected representative. He will remember his time on the local council. I admire the fact that he fought to retain the dual mandate. He knows the trick that is played. By the time a scheme is brought to a representative, one cannot go against it because it would be like hitting someone. The people behind the scheme do not come to the elected representative before the list is drawn up. It is the same when a list of roads to be fixed is created.

As public representatives we know about this structural problem. Let us suppose someone comes in with a list of six or seven projects. It is too late to start changing them, so what do we do? We endorse them.

I am pleased the Minister has admitted that there is a danger here. I am reassured as long as he is aware of the danger of pet projects. My fear is that the pet projects will be in the stronger or growing places and not the weaker ones. I am articulating a genuine concern. I have been listening during the past week or two and people are using Project Ireland 2040 as an excuse. That is a problem.

The Minister stated that a LEADER company can become the promoter of a project. Is that correct?

LEADER companies or local development groups have nine projects.

Are LEADER companies involved?

The local development group is led by a LEADER company.

I am referring to what we would have known as a LEADER company before the local community development committees came along. Do these companies have to put their money in?

Yes, there has to be matching funding for all projects.

Do the projects have to be LEADER eligible?

This operates under the WDC. There has to be some matching funding.

Can the WDC put in projects?

The commission has done so.

That is good. How much does the Minister have for CLÁR this year?

I have €5 million for CLÁR this year.

That figure has more or less stayed the same.

Yes, but in each year since that scheme was introduced, I have allocated extra funding.

Is the CLÁR money still spent in CLÁR areas?

Is that exclusively the case?

The criteria are clear. It must be spent in CLÁR areas.

It must be in the mapped CLÁR areas. Is that correct?

Some problems arise with the local authorities. When community groups come to the local authorities they may find they are not actually in a CLÁR area. In any event, the funding must be used exclusively in a CLÁR area. It is illegal if a group spends that money elsewhere. The programme is quite specific and the maps and criteria are set down. I am having the CLÁR programme and the areas reviewed this year.

It has to be done. The scheme has been in place for a long time.

It is well time for it.

I need to do that.

We got a request from the broadcasting unit to check mobile telephones because there is interference.

Mine is switched off.

There is interference coming across the system. Will members check their mobile telephones please?

There is one technicality. One part of the CLÁR scheme relates to health and cancer care services. These include the mobile bus, cancer care transport and sensory gardens. I am allowing some leniency there. They must specifically operate in a CLÁR area but they can make the application from outside a CLÁR area. We are bringing the cancer care service bus to Galway. I do not imagine Deputy Ó Cuív or anyone else could object to that. That is one of the best schemes I introduced. It does not specifically have to be from a CLÁR area. It can be from outside, but some of the use must be in a CLÁR area.

It may be more appropriate in another scheme but I hear what the Minister is saying.

Under the scheme we provided some funding for buses and ambulances to transport cancer patients in and out of hospital.

A particular argument was made when I set up CLÁR initially. The thinking was that we would get Beaumont Hospital looking for money on the basis that the hospital treats people from CLÁR areas. The Minister is familiar with the syndrome. We need to be careful. I am not making a case about what the Minister has done in that particular case. I would have preferred if it had been under a different heading from the point of view of money because for me CLÁR is CLÁR. However, I am a little disappointed given all the extra money coming into the Department but yet no more money is being ring-fenced for CLÁR areas. For example, would the Minister consider ring-fencing some of the rural regeneration fund for CLÁR areas in order to ensure help for areas suffering most from rural decline? The maps show vast areas of the country. The geographers can tell us about the rapid growth in the areas under the influence of the cities. Then we go over a cliff and there are areas in decline. The Minister's county is a particular example. It would suit to focus on the areas of decline because, unfortunately, much of County Mayo does not fall within the sphere of a major city. The idea behind the criteria relating to CLÁR was that since these areas, continuously and over a long period, failed to get investment they had declining populations. However, the latter was the case because they had failed to attract investment and so on. The idea was to redress that. Will the Minister consider reallocation? I am not suggesting he can do it this year but perhaps he could do it next year. Would he consider directing that a certain amount of the €52 million be spent on projects put forward by the various agencies in CLÁR areas in order to ensure that there is not an inexorable pull toward the centre with the authorities that will be promoting the projects?

The rural regeneration scheme is new. I have been reviewing it as recently as this week. On the previous occasion, we left the scheme rather open. We are looking to clarify some of the rules and regulations relating to it. The idea is not to make it more difficult to make applications. From his time in the Department, Deputy Ó Cuív will be aware of the difficulty involved. I do not want my rural regeneration scheme to be used by the various other Departments to deal with their problems. I must ensure that it is used specifically for what it should be used for, namely, rural regeneration to revitalise rural Ireland.

Deputy Ó Cuív mentioned CLÁR. As he is aware, we have only €5 million in the programme, which we reintroduced in 2016. We have spent €27 million on the programme. If we average the figures for 2016, 2017 and 2018, it comes to €9 million per year. I have a little flexibility with any savings. I look at three or four schemes from which there may be savings. These include, CLÁR, LIS and the Tidy Towns initiative. All these funding projects are worthy of support. A total of 1,270 projects have been supported by the CLÁR programme. I am pleased with the CLÁR programme. I am not going to start tampering with the rural regeneration scheme. I want to get it opened as quickly as possible. As I said, seed funding was put into the local authorities. Some communities and groups made applications to get projects ready. I expect we will have better projects. It will take some time. It is like every scheme that we ever introduced. It takes a little time for organisations, whether they are state agencies or councils, to get up-and-running and to get good projects. Deputy Ó Cuív referred to the Athenry scheme and there are schemes with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Fáilte Ireland and the LEADER companies. These are all good schemes. They will learn how to develop and get better in future.

As Deputy Ó Cuív stated, I am keen for the programme to target areas in need. The CLÁR programme has worked well. The rural regeneration scheme will be a good scheme.

The Deputy knows about some of the schemes we had in the past under LEADER, town and village funding and other bits and pieces of funding. If a project comes to the rural regeneration scheme, it is guaranteed to get substantial funding in order to enable completion. However, there is one thing I will not allow. I am making this clear to the Deputy, other members and the officials in the Department. The projects get one shot; those involved are not coming back to finish a project for which they have received funding. If a group made an application this year but finds that it needs more money next year, it will not get it. Such a project can stall where it is. If it is shovel-ready or ready to go and if we are informed that the latter is the case and that part of the funding already allocated relates to it, then it gets the remainder from the Department.

Members will know of the pilot scheme we operated with six towns. We have given €100,000 to each of the local authorities involved to enable them to sit down with communities, the local chamber of commerce, if there is one in the town, and whatever community groups are in place. We hope they will come back with ideas to help us to regenerate towns and villages. The six towns might come back with different ideas or with a common denominator of one or two schemes they would like to see put in place. I have discussed the matter with the Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach and the Government. We want to see what the towns throw up or what proposals they might bring to Government. Another Department had a scheme involving grant aid to refurbish old houses but it simply did not work. Why was that the case? The scheme was not right in the first instance. We have to operate certain schemes. Deputy Ó Cuív referred to the CLÁR programme, the town and village renewal scheme and the outdoor recreation scheme. We know why the LEADER programme did not work. We tied it up in knots with rules and regulations. I have freed up the programme by making 32 changes. We know what to do if we do not want something to work.

Deputy Ó Cuív knows from his time here that we cannot make rules and regulations so difficult that applicants are unable to draw down funding. Six towns have been selected, namely, Boyle, Callan, Ballinrobe, Banagher, Castleblayney and Cappoquin. That is a representative group nationally, although I could have included another 20 towns. We are hoping they will use the funding we have given them to employ people with some good ideas. Private sector concerns have contacted me to make proposals for the scheme. I did not entertain the proposals and insisted they speak to the groups directly and to the local authorities. That is not my game. My game is to provide the funding and I want the groups to come back with proposals. It will then be my job to go back to the Government and see what I can do to revitalise towns and villages around the country. What is needed? Perhaps simple things can help, for example, making compulsory purchase orders which councils need to use more.

Ballinrobe is in Deputy Ó Cuív's area but it is a town I have a great love for.

It is in the Minister's area now.

Part of it is but the other part is in Deputy Ó Cuív's constituency. I wish I had got the right part of it back. Ballinrobe is a fine town, which I am glad to get back to my constituency, but south Mayo, which was assigned to Deputy Ó Cuív's constituency, is good country and I always did well in it. It has gone through a very difficult time but it has a great community group, which has done great work, on which I compliment it. The town is fighting back and making a revival and is getting funding from my Department and other Departments. As the Deputy knows, the State broadcaster visited Ballinrobe on many occasions and always highlighted the negativity, but there is a great deal of positivity in the town. It has wonderful facilities. I want to see this happening in other towns.

Can I ask two final questions?

The Deputy must be brief.

I have not taken long with my questions.

The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, wants to speak, so we should conclude on programme A. We have to hear from Deputy Fitzmaurice as well.

I kept my questions fairly short but the Minister is giving me very comprehensive answers.

Yes, and it is a good engagement. To be fair to everyone, I will allow the Deputy to make two brief points and the Minister to make two brief replies, before we move to the next programme. I want to bring in the Minister of State.

The Minister mentioned Ballinrobe which, as he and I both know, reflects a typical conundrum. The population of the town has increased significantly, with housing estates all over the edge of the town. There is more employment in the area than there ever was, thank God, thanks to McHale, ECC Timber Products and other companies. While the main street is maith go leor, the street leading off it has always been derelict and needs major refurbishment. The centre of the town is not as vibrant as it was. This shows that the solution is not simple. Most people believe that town decline is caused by population loss and so on. In the case of Ballinrobe, the population has exploded and there is a very good employment situation, yet the heart of the town is still not what it was. I have thought for some time that it would be good to map what was in the town in its heyday in the 1970s. What businesses were in the premises on the main street and why are they no longer there? I would expect to find that there were lots of grocery shops, hardware shops and pubs and that these have been replaced by major supermarkets at the edge of town and convenience stores in petrol station forecourts. These are not bad things because if the major multinational companies did not locate at the edge of the town, people would go to Castlebar or Claremorris to shop. Nobody can tell me people do not do go to those types of shops.

Such a mapping exercise would highlight the real problem. The way the town was used has become redundant and we need to create new uses for it. Shopping habits have changed and nothing will bring back the old shopping habits. Why would it when online shopping is available? The town centre should be used more for recreational shopping as I describe it, in other words, going out for a meal. Somebody said to me recently that in the old days people ate at home and went out to drink, whereas now they drink at home and go out to eat. All these changes must be examined. If we are serious about addressing this problem, we must acknowledge that the issue is not just the area's population or employment conditions. It is connected to the old function of the town. Obviously, there is no longer a video shop and there are not half as many pubs as there used to be. Does the Minister understand what I am saying? It would be ideal to map what was in Ballinrobe and similar towns in their perceived heyday 30 years ago, find out why those businesses no longer exist and suggest what could replace them. The problem is more complicated that we sometimes believe.

My second point concerns future efforts, rather than this year's Estimate. One thing that has always puzzled me slightly - it was a given before my tenure and during the Minister's tenure but it is worthy of examination - is that administrative costs account for 20% of the LEADER budget. Most Departments directly providing grants manage to achieve a figure of 5% for administration costs. Should we examine the processes in place in LEADER to find out why it is such an expensive project to administer? If we reduced administration costs to 10% of €20 million, there would be another €200,000 to spend on the ground. The amount spent on the administration of a programme for allocating grants is very high. We can dress it up any way we like, with animation and all sorts of fancy European terms, but essentially LEADER is just a grant-giving programme. Groups make an application, secure a grant and spend it.

I am glad to hear the Deputy being honest. He is right that more people are living and working in rural Ireland than ever before. He is also right about towns and villages. The shops that were there in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s are gone. They were challenged by multinational companies such as Dunnes Stores and Tesco and those that are left are being challenged by online retail, which is causing a difficulty. The pilot scheme for Ballinrobe was intended as an example of what could be done to regenerate a town. We provided €1,100,000 in the recent rural regeneration and development fund project to be used exactly as the Deputy described. We are trying to regenerate the town centre and the market houses. We provided funding as part of the town and village renewal scheme and the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme.

The Deputy knows that Ballinrobe is a fantastic town with a fantastic racecourse and golf club. The one thing that is missing is a hotel. As the Deputy knows, there were three applications but none ever came to fruition. That is a pity because we could have done with a hotel in the town. I remember holding clinics in Belmullet, a town the Deputy knows well, in my early days in politics when one would hardly find somewhere to get a cup of tea. Now there are two hotels that are doing fantastically well. They provide a great service for weddings, funerals and so on and have given the town a great lift. Ballinrobe has been chosen as a pilot for the rural regeneration and development fund to show how a town can be regenerated. There is a great future for the town with its community group and young people.

The Deputy made a very interesting point when he spoke of mapping what was in Ballinrobe in earlier times. When I think about my home town of Westport, families in the town have carried on. Sons, daughters and in-laws have modernised family businesses and some have moved to different businesses. The Hughes family established one of the most successful companies in the world, let alone Ireland. The company operates out of Westport and trades all over the world as a multinational company. The Kavanagh Group, which is based in the town, runs a hotel business and is involved in the tourism sector and supermarket business. It modernises every year and keeps ahead of the posse. I am working on Ballinrobe and hope we can give the town the support and back-up it needs.

The local area groups, LAGs, get 25% of the LEADER funding to meet administrative costs. Deputy Ó Cuív knows what happens with administrative costs.

I know the administrative costs for last year and this year. They might be a bit more than the actual project.

From A to Z in the programme works out, on average, at about 20%.

The LEADER companies are working extensively with communities trying to get them to bring in projects. With regard to the 25%, that is what has been provided. I would be happy to review this for the next programme. Of the 25% cost of the overall programme, a fair percentage is for administration costs. I would prefer to see more funding for projects but that is my personal view.

That would also be my preference and I would back the Minister in that regard.

Regarding Deputy Ó Cuív's point about the meeting with Galway County Council, one tranche of the money from the previous round of the rural regeneration and development fund went to Dunmore. Deputy Fitzmaurice did a great deal of work on getting this project to the stage where we could get funding for it. That is in a small town and it be a real game changer. Without this fund, the town would never have got out of the mess it was in. Kinvara, which is another small town, will get a boardwalk that will bring people from the castle to the town. There will also be a walkway and cycleway all the way from Ballinderreen to Kinvara.

That is what I am talking about. I do not think the Minister of State was in the room at the time. The point was made-----

Could the Deputy let me finish? What I was about to say is that it involved Clonbur, which is another small town. Not all the money went to Athenry. It was provided right across the county and that will continue. Tuam and Ballinasloe could apply for the urban funding if they have projects that are large enough.

Projects came in and got scattered but the clear focus of the management the other day was very much on the large towns. I listened carefully and they spoke about two places in Connemara - An Cheathrú Rua and An Clochán - and that was it. It was argued that we could not spread the jam too thin. That worries me because that is a very common syndrome. Even when I look at the stuff that is written here, I can see this hierarchy of cities, towns, villages and surrounding areas. Most people - 1 million people, including me - live in surrounding areas. They are not in a place and are treated as appendages to somewhere else. That is very dangerous when we are talking about rural regeneration as we understand the term "rural" in Ireland. I made the point the other day that with their vision of it, St. Thomas' GAA club might as well pack up its hurley sticks and so might Ballyhale Shamrocks GAA because they will not be there for the next generation to play hurling. These places no longer count even though they are highly successful communities. They are not in the areas where the authorities want to see growth.

I congratulate St. Thomas's GAA club and Ballyhale Shamrocks GAA club. The ultimate winner was Ballyhale. They are very small communities.

They demonstrated how a small community can fight back, end up in Croke Park and slug it out in an all-Ireland final. They are supported by schemes put in place by the Minister. We are benefiting from the money that is now available and the State is investing. I call on Deputy Fitzmaurice.

I just want to be clear. I was not faulting the Minister. I was saying that from what I am hearing from the local authorities, and the Chairman knows I was concerned the other day when we were in Waterford, I fear they are reading the Government plan as being an agglomeration plan into the biggest places with a hierarchy starting off with Dublin, Galway and Limerick and then working out to the other big towns, with the rest being also-rans. Fair play to St. Thomas's GAA club for beating the odds but I not sure it will be so easy to beat them in the next generation.

That is the Deputy's view.

We are not criticising the Department in any way. What Deputy Ó Cuív was probably trying to say is that we are just flagging it to the Department that some county managers may have a vision that may not be compatible with what we, as elected representatives, or the Department may want to do and that it might be worth keeping an eye on it.

I compliment the Minister on the local improvement schemes. He spoke about some counties having large numbers of by-roads and back roads. In my opinion, the west has more of them than anywhere else in the country. We welcome the funding that comes when it comes. Sometimes the roads programme could be run from May to September. If funding is provided, could the local authorities be given a bit more space? I do not mind if they get the money up-front as long as they get it and the roads are done. Could they get an extra month or two to ensure they have time to get enough of the programme done? I have seen where the Department has gone out and checked whether work was done properly. In fairness, good work is being done.

I spoke to Deputy Ó Cuív about the next issue I wish to raise. In fairness, the Minister of State came to a meeting about it one evening. There is an undercurrent at the moment for which the Department is not responsible. Many voluntary groups around the country are being told that they need this or that form of insurance for Tidy Towns. Villages are all trying to get funding from the €6.2 million and €13 million available for small areas. A list is coming out showing what can be done with or without construction. Somebody building a wall in a town obviously needs to produce a methods statement. The Minister knows the towns in the west better than anyone. Someone might be cutting grass at the edge of the road but there might not be a kerb. We are approaching a stage where there is talk of three-day or one-day courses being required. We must bear in mind that we will be on our knees if we lose these voluntary groups. Other organisations are basically saying they cannot send their people out if the local community does not sign off on this, that or the other. We must remember that these are volunteers filling out a form and signing their names as part of a community group to make their towns better. In fairness, with the funding the Government has given over the past number of years, most of our small towns are looking much better. There is a query at the moment. In fairness to the Chairman and the staff here, they are trying to get the different bodies together. A town with more than 1,000 cars travelling through it is in a different category when it comes to this insurance. I am talking about towns like Milltown. There is a fair bit of fear among voluntary bodies that do not know where they stand at the moment and I am concerned that this fear is spreading. We had a private meeting about it. I do not want to say too much about this. We are talking about bringing people in here to try to nail the issue down. What are the Minister's views on it?

In fairness to the Minister, he is very good at spending money. Is there any hope that responsibility for the likes of the CCTV set-up could be transferred to him? Regarding the walks and the different funds, could community groups get a calendar regarding when CLÁR and all various other schemes are coming? With the new drink driving laws, we all get it in the ear about the pubs. If we are bringing out new schemes, such as those relating to rural transport, buses or something to solve the problem for communities, would the Department be prepared to take them over?

This year there is a worrying development under the heading of community sewerage schemes, with which the Minister will be familiar from his own area. The new set-up is such that funding can be obtained only if one taps into the Irish Water network. Will the Minister's Department work with the Department responsible for the environment? The latter has stated to us, probably to fob us off, that the Department of Rural and Community Development will be launching a new scheme.

On hillwalkers, a couple of months ago the Minister spoke about legislation to indemnify farmers. How is it progressing?

Reference has been made to towns of various sizes. All towns - big, medium and small - need a little money. There is no point in saying they do not. Could funding be ring-fenced for towns with fewer than 500 people, which we call small villages, to bring them up a little? Such towns, by comparison with bigger ones, feel like the child who never grew when applying for funding. They feel it is harder to obtain funding when in with the big boys.

When will the CLÁR programme review be carried out? There are areas that are under pressure and the circumstances of which have changed that probably now qualify under the programme but are not included.

Will there be a focus on areas included in the REDZ scheme? As Deputy Ó Cuív said, it has been proved that CLÁR programme areas are struggling a little. Could they be helped a little more?

On county managers and their projects, I told them that they would have to raise the issue of projects at council meetings to ensure the members were happy with the applications made.

Deputies Fitzmaurice and Ó Cuív spoke about the dual mandate. Removing it was the biggest mistake ever made. The Deputies know my views on the issue. Taking Deputies out of county councils was the biggest mistake ever made because at least they know what legislation is passing through the Dáil. When the dual mandate was removed, the happiest people were the county managers in every corner of the country. I did my best to oppose it and there were those who supported me in that regard. The abolition should never have happened. Under the old Western Health Board, there was accountability. When there was a county and a regional structure in place, there was accountability. Now we have the HSE and other such bodies. The media believed the best thing one could ever do was to keep elected public representatives away from everything. We are elected; we are the ones who put our names on the ballot paper and we are the representatives of the people.

The local improvement scheme was mentioned. It is a good scheme and working well, but I need to obtain additional funding for it. I need to consider the areas that are in more need than the ones benefiting from the allocation. This year I capped the allocation for householders at €1,200. Although it went unnoticed, it will result in a fairer system. Members know that people who are paying their local property tax and, in some cases, water charges because they are included in group schemes are paying. Allocations of €1,500, €2,000, €3,000 or €4,000 were expected in such cases, but I have capped the sum at €1,200, which will help the bigger schemes. It is only fair.

Deputy Fitzmaurice referred to voluntary groups. We have great voluntary groups in this country and among the greatest are the Tidy Towns committees. I was the first Minister to give a separate allocation to every Tidy Towns group throughout the country and I did so for two reasons. First, the Government appreciates the work the Tidy Towns committees are doing. Second, we are thanking the volunteers for the work they do. Most importantly, the volunteers are doing work the local authorities are not doing and that the State should be doing. But for the voluntary sector, this would be a poorer country. The local authorities should stop hindering, in any way, community and voluntary groups. Pencil pushers in the local authorities should not be trying to affect the good work being done by Tidy Towns groups or any other voluntary group. The local authorities and any other body funded by the State should be working for and supporting volunteers, not putting obstacles in their way. No group should have to be brought before a committee. We should be thanking, encouraging and helping them, not putting obstacles in their way. I do not want some individual who has nothing else to be doing to be considering ways by which progress could be held back.

On CCTV systems, we were trying to get the scheme into the Department, but we encountered some difficulties with data protection. The scheme is now in place. Monitoring CCTV systems seems to be the difficulty. It is a question of who is monitoring. We will have to wait and see what happens in that regard.

Deputy Fitzmaurice talked about smaller towns and villages. This year I sent two instructions in that regard. When I recently met the county managers or chief executives of all of the local authorities, I gave them a calendar of programmes for which I will be allocating funding this year. They now know the position on all programmes.

Could politicians be given a copy?

Of course. There is no difficulty in that regard. I asked my officials to send it to all members of the committee and anyone who wanted it. I wrote to the CEOs outlining my Department's programmes and when I was opening them. They now know that there is scheme continuity. This is the third year. My Department has been in place for almost two years. Before that, in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs we started to open up some of the schemes again. As I said, the local authorities now know that there is programme continuity. They also know that they may not have had the capacity in the past but that they will now need to have it. Many local authorities, including mine and that of Deputy Carey, have a director of services dedicated to dealing with rural issues and rural schemes. All local authorities will need to do this.

The REDZ scheme was included in the town and village category. An instruction I gave the local authorities this year in respect of towns and villages was related to the exact point raised by the Deputy. I want towns and villages that have not received funding before to be included this time. I do not want the same towns and villages to receive all of the funding again. I want to see new villages and towns included. The title of the scheme refers to towns and villages. The village is as important as the town. The county councils have received that instruction from me this year.

Deputy Fitzmaurice asked about the CLÁR programme review. I hope to have it towards the end of the year. Even in my region there are areas that are included in the programme but which have moved on and there are areas that are not included in it that should be. We need to carry out the review.

Does it require the making of submissions?

Anybody who wants to make a submission to the Department may do so. The programme is due for review and we will be getting somebody to carry it out for us. The same process will be used for the review as was used for the previous one. It involves the college in Maynooth, although the same people will not be used. We need to carry out the review and include some new areas.

I think I have covered all of the issues the Deputy raised, except the most important one, namely, the indemnity scheme. I will be very careful in what I say about that scheme. We have been working to develop a national indemnity scheme and it is a very complex matter. My Department has been advised that a scheme like the one envisaged will require legislation to be implemented. We will have to use two existing Acts, the Occupiers' Liability Act and the National Treasury Management Agency Act, which are under the control of other Ministers. Therefore, I will have to discuss the matter with the relevant Ministers. Officials from my Department are also having meetings with the Attorney General. We are making progress, but it is a complex matter, one that will require more than a simple legislative initiative. If I bring it forward, I want it to be right. I have given an undertaking that we will try to bring forward legislation. The reason we are not further on with it is that Brexit has been the priority in recent weeks. All other legislation has been put on hold. Brexit was the subject of the most important legislation we had to deal with. The Office of the Attorney General is heavily engaged with my office on this issue. I am also dependent on two other Ministers in the case of the Acts mentioned, but we are making progress. We need to do something about the issue because, as I have said previously, I cannot have a situation where there are claims against the family of landowners, their home and land. We need to deal with the issue and want to do so as quickly as possible as we have talked about it for a long time. We are now trying to implement legislation.

There is one thing the Minister may have overlooked. To solve the pub question and resolve the issue of transport in rural parts of Ireland, one idea I came up with was having minibuses under the auspices of development groups which exist in every town. Would the Minister be in favour of such a scheme and would his Department be prepared to work on it? The other matter was sewerage schemes.

The transport scheme was one I tried to get into my Department. I think there is approximately €16 million available for RuralLink between the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. My Department would be the ideal fit for it. I am sure it can be negotiated at a later date. This is a new Department and we need to look at anything that would assist rural Ireland, including the rural social scheme. There is a debate on it taking place between my Department and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. My Department would be the ideal fit for the rural social scheme and other social schemes. Deputy Ó Cuív was a member of the Government that established the scheme. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection covers activation programmes. It only wants to get people back to work. It is about the live register. The rural social scheme and others are community schemes that work very well and we would be in a great deal of difficulty if we did not have them as they do a great deal of fine work. I have always been a strong supporter of the rural social scheme and want to keep such schemes going.

The issue of water and sewerage schemes has been raised by many Deputies. I am getting my officials to talk to officials in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government about them. I do not have a problem with trying to find funding to support group water and sewerage schemes, but it is not my job to provide the bulk of the money. We should support the scheme within the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. That is why we are talking to officials of that Department and I am talking to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I have discussed with him the fact that something must be done about small sewerage schemes. I see no difficulty with my Department having a scheme to top up small water and sewerage schemes, but it will not be the lead Department.

We are coming to the end of the discussion on programme A and I have a few comments to make. I welcome the Minister's highlighting Tidy Towns groups which are among our greatest groups. The Minister's expression of thanks to them as a community initiative is most welcome, as is the financial support he has provided which is well received in communities. In County Clare, particularly Ennis, we have enjoyed huge success in the Tidy Towns competition and long may it continue. It is welcome that the Minister has published a schedule of schemes and communicated it to the CEOs of the various local authorities. I ask him to circulate it to the committee in order that we will know when the rolling schemes will open. It is a very welcome development that the Minister has reopened the rural development scheme. I note that we have received two tranches a year for the last couple of years. It is very welcome to receive this money, but one tranche provided earlier in the year might be better. Let the local authorities plan on that basis. The second tranche is received at the end of the year and while it is welcome, it puts pressure on the local authorities to have works done at what may not be the best time of year, namely, during the winter months. I propose that the Minister consider allocating one tranche and providing it earlier in the year.

I agree with Deputy Fitzmaurice on sewerage schemes. The Minister will be well aware of the representations I have made in that regard. In County Clare there were two applications made under sewerage scheme heading of the rural regeneration and development fund for schemes in Broadford and Cooraclare. Unfortunately, the schemes did not come through. There is a genuine need to put in place a proper programme to allow communities to realise their potential. A sewerage scheme in a small rural community is a basic service, but they cannot have it if the necessary funding or programme is not in place. I welcome the Minister's comments. Communities such those in Broadford, Carrigaholt, Cooraclare and Doolin in a thriving tourist area in north Clare do not have proper sewerage facilities and the prospects of having them without a programme are slim. I recognise the Minister's commitment and the interest he has expressed in working with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in that regard. The director of services for County Clare met officials of that Department and I had hoped some progress would be made as a result. I recognise the Minister's commitment to put together a scheme in conjunction with Irish Water, the local authorities and the communities that will work for them.

I compliment the Minister on his involvement in putting together a rural regeneration and development fund. It is a groundbreaking initiative which will unlock the potential of communities across the country. County Clare benefited immensely in the last round of funding in which it received €7.5 million. Deputies Ó Cuív and Fitzmaurice said the money is not getting into rural areas, but I can say it is. The locations around Lough Derg, Mountshannon and Holy Island in County Clare are to benefit from an injection of nearly €1 million. The plan is to establish east Clare as a tourism area, which is very welcome. It comes in conjunction with the €500,000 given to further develop the blueway along Lough Derg. In this instance we see an example of how one scheme can complement another, which is very welcome.

We have seen an injection of money into Loop Head in west Clare. Lahinch Seaworld has received €2.7 million. The Irish Open golf tournament is happening in Lahinch this year, and I would welcome everyone down to County Clare to see what a spectacle they are going to put on. That is very welcome news. The Vandeleur walled garden is another initiative in west Clare. Last year, Ennistymon got an allocation of €1 million for the development of a digital hub. We are doing very well in Clare in terms of the rural regeneration programme. I encourage the Minister to continue that work and that allocation. He might come back to me on a few of the points I have raised.

I cannot agree more about the Tidy Towns. We are so lucky to have it. I just have to keep putting it on the record. All the Deputies have praised the movement this evening. Ireland is a better place and our towns, villages and cities are better places because of the Tidy Towns committees. I know it is probably not politically correct but I want to take this opportunity to thank SuperValu for its sponsorship over the years. It has been a great community supporter. I am grateful to Martin Kelleher, the managing director of SuperValu, for that support. I am also grateful to all the other sponsors who have been very supportive of the Tidy Towns initiative.

I have no problem sending a copy of that letter to the committee. It is just a very simple letter outlining the proposals for the year ahead and giving the local authorities a direction on the way we are going, what schemes are coming up and when, to give them an opportunity to prepare and plan for them.

On the local infrastructure scheme, LIS, I know what the Deputy is saying. I had meant to respond to Deputy Fitzmaurice. Even when I have given the early funding in February, sometimes by September they did not have it spent. I know they want to do other roads first. I was a member of a local authority. The local authorities have always been telling me that they like to get the LIS money at the end of the year because it keeps their staff and workers employed. Particularly for the second tranche of money, one of the conditions is that they have the capacity to complete the work. They all tell us they have the capacity but the minute they get the money, they have no capacity. It is very hard for me to operate with them but I do my best. I provide the funding as best I can.

On sewerage and water schemes, to be fair to the Deputy, he pushed that County Clare one very hard. What we do not want, especially with the rural regeneration scheme, is to be a substitute for the schemes of any other Department. We want to provide new schemes that complement existing funding from other Departments and we have no problem with that. I will look at the water and sewerage issue but the lead agency will have to be the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It will have to come up with a small scheme. The economy has gone through a difficult time and a lot of local areas are developing again. A lot of areas need group water schemes and, particularly, sewerage schemes. To be fair to the communities, they are prepared to put their hands in their pockets and set up the schemes. What we need to do is give them some support.

The Chairman has made many representations for the rural regeneration scheme in his county, including Kilrush, Loop Head, Lahinch, Ennistymon and the walled gardens. When I was Minister of State with responsibility for tourism, I planted a tree there and I would say that tree is well up now, as it were. These are all fine projects. These issues link in with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, especially in respect of the national parks, for which County Clare will be getting some funding as it has one of the finest national parks in the country. We only have six national parks and sometimes people do not realise the asset they have. In Canada, America and other parts of the world, when they have a national park, they think they have the greatest tourism attraction. We have six of them, one as good as the other. They are tremendous assets that are not being used. I have to say to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that, to be fair, the National Parks and Wildlife Service did not get a lot of funding in recent years. When I went into the old Department, I dealt with the staffing problems it had. We set out a programme for it and got it extra funding. The national parks are a great asset and we should be making more of them. Fáilte Ireland has bought into the concept now and realises they are a tourist attraction and a tourism asset. I hope I have covered all the issues raised.

I thank the Minister. We will conclude now on programme A. We are two hours and five minutes into our meeting. We could suspend for a few minutes or we could proceed. I suggest we suspend for five minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 9.06 p.m. and resumed at 9.18 p.m.

Is programme A agreed to? Agreed. We move to programme B. Are there any questions on programme B?

On dormant accounts, how much of the money is going to State agencies and so on to spend and how much is going to community groups? The funding was intended originally to go to community groups in the main. I refer to the community services programme. I understand each company must now top up the wage by €2,000. Up to 2012, there was a euro-for-euro refund of all wage costs, including the PRSI. Has the requirement to come up with the income to pay that part of the wage put pressure on the more vulnerable groups? The Minister said he would like to get the rural social scheme back in his Department. I might give him a bit of a thought process on that. He is probably finding it difficult to get an increase in the money for the community services project.

It has not increased this year. In fact, it has been squeezed in recent years. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform looks on that as 100% spending. If the Minister got a further €5 million, the Department would not give him credit for taking people off the dole. The project was put under the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection because, if that Department's Minister was of a mind, she could prove within her budget that taking someone off of farm assist and putting him or her on the RSI had a minimal net cost. On the other hand, if the Minister before us had the RSI without the farm assist, he would have to look for the full money, and he knows how willing and welcome the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection would be to hand over that. If the Minister is trying for the RSI, I suggest that he take the farm assist scheme with it at a minimum. As he created jobs through the RSI, he could prove that he was making a saving. All he would need to show would be the difference between someone being on the RSI compared with farm assist. I can see the argument from two points of view, but it is complex.

I am worried, as I can see from this document that this year's budget for the community services programme, CSP, is the same as last year. I am not saying it would be easy, but the Minister is not managing to leverage extra money out of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Many fantastic community facilities have been built over the years. Community groups are building new heritage facilities and so on around the country through the rural development fund. The Minister will need many more community services to run these places, which are semi-viable. The Crossroads community centre in Cong was in my constituency and is now in the Minister's constituency. If that was run under the CSP, one could not keep the doors open. That is true of all of these large centres. Why would we not keep them open from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.? Some staff resources would be needed.

I have a couple of questions. The CSP is a good initiative. I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív on the minimum wage and the shortfall that groups must meet. It is putting pressure on them. I am aware of Obair in Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare. It is a large community services project. When the committee was in Dunhill last week, we met a group that complained to us about this issue. It must come up with €20,000 per year. That is a massive burden for a community group to carry.

Regarding taking on other schemes, the Minister mentioned that Local Link would sit better within his Department. I would agree. In recent days, an issue has arisen in County Clare with its Local Link service, which is known as Clare Bus. It has lost the tender to provide the dispatch centre in Feakle, which is a rural community. Six jobs are provided through delivering that service, which is tailor made for the community and has worked well over many years. The provider knows its customers and is in tune with them. For example, if it gets a phone call an hour before a bus departs, it can change the route and pick up people at their homes. It is disturbing that the community is not in a position to retain that service. I will raise this question with the National Transport Authority, NTA, but the programme would be better understood were it within the Minister's Department. I encourage him to do what he can to take it under his umbrella.

I shall let the Minister of State comment on the Dormant Accounts Fund in a few minutes. I wish to make it clear that we will not take the RSI unless the funding comes with it.

I know, but the challenge in these schemes is to get an increase in funding so that the numbers can increase. When the Minister speaks to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, he can argue that, if he increased the number by 1,000, all he would need would be to show the net saving on the farm assist scheme versus the RSI. That would be a problem if the programmes were in two different Departments.

I understand. There needs to be the same criteria for both. We will put a watch on that, as we do not want to be tied into a situation where we do not have the funding or where we get into difficulties because we are implementing the scheme but the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is making the ground rules.

Regarding the CSP, we gave an additional €1 million to the most financially vulnerable organisations to assist them in meeting the minimum wage condition. We did that through Pobal. We did not ask groups to make applications. Instead, Pobal had their information, sat down with them and did the job for me. To be fair, there is also a review of the CSP under way. Deputies will give out about all of the reviews that are happening, but I want this one to be completed by mid-September. I need to find out what are the difficulties. The minimum wage issue is turning out to be a significant one. Were I to fund that condition now, it would cost me €4 million more. If we are to do anything on this matter next year, I will have to do so with the Minister for Finance when budget time comes. As Deputy Ó Cuív knows, the CSP is meant to be only a contribution. We are not the employer. These services do a good job. I must be careful. We give €32,000 for the manager and €19,033 for an individual worker. My Department provides a substantial amount of money. I will have to negotiate with the Department of Finance regarding the minimum wage.

The Chairman discussed another scheme we needed to take on. Like the RSI, rural transport would be a better fit in my Department. A few other schemes would fit into my Department nicely. This is something the Government needs to review now that the Department is up and running. The Department is working well. I compliment the staff on the tremendous work, effort and commitment they have put into it. It has been difficult. Mine is the first new Department in a while. When the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was formulated, at least there was Deputy Ó Cuív's old Department from which to start. Mine was established from the bottom up. My officials worked under difficult circumstances. From top to bottom, we have a tremendous team. With the Secretary General, assistant secretaries and other staff, we have a committed workforce in Ballina and Dublin. It has been difficult, as there have been many moves, but whoever inherits it will get a good Department.

I believe I addressed the six Clare Bus jobs.

The CSP is a great programme that provides services where county councils, the HSE and other parts of the State will not. However, I must be careful that a project under it does not displace any existing business. I regularly get complaints about us funding groups that compete against businesses that are employing people and paying their taxes and rates. It is a great scheme, though, and is working well. I would like further funding for it. Some community service projects are finding it difficult to replace retirees. Now that unemployment has decreased from 15.5% to almost 5%, it is creating a problem.

I will make two or three comments before answering the question on the Dormant Accounts Fund. The Dormant Accounts Acts provide the framework for the administration of unclaimed accounts.

The main purpose of the legislation is to reunite account holders or policyholders with their funds but, in order to utilise the unused funds, the legislation also introduces a scheme for their disbursement. This money is added to the Government debt. The moneys are voted upon in government. The Department is responsible for the management of the overall fund and the delivery of some of the measures within the action plans.

For this year, 2019, our Department will have €12 million. The key measures that will be supported through that will be the social inclusion fund and the senior alert scheme. The funding for the social inclusion fund is €5 million and the funding for the senior alert scheme is €2 million. The funding for social enterprise is €2 million. The money will first be allocated for either the social inclusion scheme or Pobal and then it will be given to the community groups. All the projects funded are published on the website.

We are also allocating money, €1.2 million, for the capital fund for the development of the volunteer centres. Up to €1 million has been allocated for employment along the Atlantic economic corridor. All the groups that get the money are on the website so there is transparency.

Is programme group B agreed to? Agreed.

Are there any questions on programme group C?

It seems there is a lack of proportionality in the way the Charities Regulator deals with big groups and small groups. It was necessary to introduce regulation but I always had reservations in that community trust is fundamental in so many small local charities around the country. I refer to where the community knows the individuals concerned. Applying the same criteria to small local charities as to big international charities, whose staff knock on doors in urban areas and are not known to anybody, is wrong. We must ensure proportionality in the application of the rules by the Charities Regulator. Corporate governance is important but it cannot become so great that it sucks considerable sums of money from the funds of very small groups through auditing fees and fees for experts required to fill out forms and so on. Where this happens, the little group that handles a few thousand euro cannot do so anymore. I ask the Minister of State to consider this issue because it is serious. We were worried about it from the very beginning of this road. At every level of bureaucracy, there is such a cautious approach taken that there is no proportionality left.

I take the Deputy's points. In November of last year, we launched the charities governance code. It consists of six principles of governance: advancing charitable purpose; behaving with integrity; leading people; exercising control; working effectively; and being accountable and transparent. One of the main points the code has recognised is diversity in the sector. It aims to be proportionate and it has been written with volunteer-only charities and charities with small numbers of staff in mind. It sets out 32 core standards that all charities should meet but also contains 17 additional standards that reflect best practice for the larger ones. Proportionality has been recognised in the code, as desired by the Deputy.

The Charities Regulator will provide guidance so charities and trustees meet all the core standards. This year will be one of learning and preparation for the charities but they will be expected to comply with the code in 2020. From 2021, charities will be expected to report on their compliance with it. At the heart of the code is proportionality. The difference between the large charities and the small ones is accounted for. The code has a simple step-by-step guide for the smaller charities and the bigger ones have a lot more work to do to satisfy the criteria. That has been recognised.

There are small charities in various areas, including mine, that are providing services for the elderly. Everybody knows the people in question and there is no question of having to identify them. They might need a small grant from the HSE, for example, and they are asked for a charity number. Then they are told to form a company and then they have accounts audited. The charity might be dealing with only €30,000 or €40,000 per year. The chance of a large sum of money going missing in that set of circumstances is nil because there is not a large sum. The chance of a small sum going missing is very small but it does not seem to be the case that there is proper proportionality. I do not know whether the Minister of State is receiving complaints about this. Proper proportionality would involve the taking into account of compliance costs. In some cases, because of the insistence on having to obtain a charity number, it is not worthwhile applying for small grants.

In taking on board what the Deputy is saying, one must ask why there is governance at all. If one notes what happened with some charities, one realises there ought to be governance and transparency. The money is coming from the public purse to help the charities. I understand what the Deputy is saying about the smaller organisations but we have to protect the public and have governance. The code was produced following consultation with the sector. All welcome it. It is a new code and it is being worked on so that, by next year, the charities will be using it fully. They will be getting advice and help on its introduction to ensure they are meeting the proper governance standards. If one were to exempt some groups on the grounds that the individuals concerned are known-----

I am not saying that. I am talking about size.

Exempting smaller ones because we know what they are doing and on the grounds that the money will probably not go astray is not really the way we should be dealing with public money. We need to assist the charities in respect of the code and ensure the documents with which they have to work are written in plain English to ensure compliance. We give them the backup to make sure this happens.

I do not want to hold up the meeting. What I see happening here is akin to what happened in the banking sector. The big banks lost a few hundred billion euro and we then introduced a whole lot of regulations for credit unions that removed their community element. We are trying to turn them into mini banks even though they did not lose any of the money about which we are talking. What went astray in credit unions was minuscule, yet we are getting rid of the community element. We are killing volunteerism and making it such a nightmare for people to operate that much of the money the Minister of State is saying we are preventing from going to waste is just going towards audit fees and so on. Therefore, I am not sure many communities would agree with the Minister of State that the measures are protecting them from whatever he is trying to protect them from.

The code in place has been developed in consultation-----

We are told all the time there is consultation with the sector.

That reminds me of an answer I got yesterday or today from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government on the Flemish decree. I asked whether there would be public consultation on the new rural planning arrangements. He said there would not.

He told me the Department had already consulted the local authorities but what he meant was that it had consulted senior planners in the local authorities, not members of the public or politicians. Normally, when a sector is consulted, the strongest part of the organised sector is consulted, rather than the small, disorganised part which does not have representative bodies and cannot be consulted easily.

In terms of the other developments aimed at alleviating the problem, work is being done on what we call a charity passport. This will mean that once the governance has been done correctly for one organisation, this work will not have to be done again. If an organisation is applying for funding, it can use the same document to apply for funding from other organisations. There is a conflict between non-compliance and compliance. We must have compliance and transparency when we are giving out public money. I am aware that difficulties arise in that regard but coaching and help is available. The regulator is meeting the charity groups to help them in that regard. A series of meetings is being held nationwide to help people complete these forms as required and advise them on the best way forward. That is the approach that is needed, rather than saying we will not allow them do this or that because that creates an environment which could be risky in the long term.

I will make a final point. I contacted the regulator on behalf of a community group. Unfortunately, I do not have the reply with me but basically I was told it could not talk to me. The community group in question was aware that I have experience in administration and it asked me to call the regulator to find out exactly what it needed. It is time that State agencies did what all Departments do, namely, recognise that under the law, it is a presumption that a public representative approaching an agency or Department has the permission of the person on whose behalf he or she is making the approach. Otherwise, public representatives will not be able to do our business representing our people and resolving these kinds of problems for the weakest in society or those who are the least organised but might be doing the best work.

The regulator is independent in its functions and we, as public representatives, cannot discuss its decisions. The issue of data protection also arises, which means the person who has an issue is the only person who can discuss it. I have come across this issue. Data protection may be the reason for the answer the Deputy received.

When a Deputy tables a parliamentary question about an individual to the Department of Employment and Social Protection, the Department replies because there is a presumption in law that, provided the Deputy has evidence to show he or she is acting on behalf of the individual in question, we can, under data protection, be given an answer because we are elected public representatives. The regulator is not independent of Oireachtas Éireann in complying with the law laid down by us and it should be reminded of that.

The Charities Regulator is answerable to this committee. We could invite the interim chief executive officer, Helen Martin, and the chairperson, Patrick Hopkins, to appear before the committee for a session on the operations of the regulator and its interaction with public representatives, as outlined by Deputy Ó Cuív. Would the Deputy agree to that proposal?

I definitely would.

Is programme C agreed? Agreed. Do members have any questions on programme D?

I have one question. I see €50.177 million in the further Revised Estimate for the western investment fund, WIF, and the WIF revolving fund. Is it expected that €50 million will be invested by the WIF this year? Is that the target? I will be delighted if that is the case.

Is that question directed to the Minister or Minister of State?

It is directed to whomever deals with the Western Development Commission, WDC, which I understand is the Minister of State.

Will the Deputy repeat the question?

There is €50.177 million in the capital Estimate for-----

Is it €15 million?

It is €50.177 million.

To be fair to the Minister of State, I will ask my officials to respond to the Deputy.

What I would like to find out is the expected investment by the WIF this year.

What the Deputy is looking at is the figure for the western investment fund.

That amount has been allocated for investment. Whether all of it will be invested depends on the projects it supports. That is the amount in the fund on the capital side.

I will rephrase the question. How much did the western investment fund invest last year?

The strategy will be issued. At the start of 2018, the Western Development Commission had an investment fund of €21.4 million available for reinvestment in small and medium businesses. We can get the-----

What I would like to find out is-----

The Deputy wants to know how much of that was invested in 2018.

According to this, the WIF has a pot of some €50 million. There must be projects everywhere looking for money and I want to know how soon that money will be spent and reinvested and how much was invested last year.

That money is for reinvestment but we will find out for the Deputy the amount invested last year.

Will the Minister of State find out also in what projects it will invest this year because it will know-----

I ask that we invite representatives of the Western Development Commission to come in so that we can ask them what they intend to do with the money?

That is a good proposal.

That will solve the problem as they will answer our questions.

I agree with that. A Clare man has been appointed as the CEO and I have no doubt he will answer Deputy Ó Cuív's questions.

On the Western Development Commission, one of the problems is that we have to see what it is doing with the money. It has a new chief executive, Tomás Ó Síocháin, who I am sure will be glad to come in and answer to the committee. We have given the commission more money for staffing to ensure it is able to invest. It could be that €3 million of a revolving fund was spent in 2018 and more money is available for investment but the commission does not have the resources to use the fund.

For the benefit of members, the committee needs to understand the Western Development Commission better, find out what funding it has and how we can lift that funding. The best thing we can do is invite it to appear before us. There is no point in asking the Minister of State what it is doing with the funding.

We will agree to that. I have met Tomás Ó Síocháin informally and he is very enthusiastic about appearing before the committee.


We wanted to invite someone else to appear.

The Charities Regulator.

Is programme D agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and their officials for the assistance provided to the committee. The joint committee will invite the Ministers to a meeting in September for a mid-year review of expenditure and this will include performance budgeting. I thank the witnesses for their attendance.