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Select Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands debate -
Wednesday, 2 Feb 2022

Vote 42 - Rural and Community Development (Revised)

The item on the agenda today is the Revised Estimates for Public Services - Department of Rural and Community Development. The Dáil has ordered that the Revised Estimates for Public Services in respect of the following Vote be referred to this select committee for consideration - Vote 42 - Rural and Community Development.

On behalf of the select committee, I welcome the Minister for Social Protection, Rural and Community Development, Deputy Heather Humphreys, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, and their officials to the meeting. Members will have received the Estimates briefing document provided by the Department and the supplementary briefing from the secretariat that was circulated in advance of the meeting. The purpose of today's meeting is to consider the Revised Estimates, and the performance information regarding the output and input impacts of programme expenditure. The programme-based structure of the Estimates should allow the committee: to focus on what the Department has committed to achieving in terms of actual outputs and outcomes; to consider whether the performance targets included in the Estimates are a sufficiently complete description of the services provided by the Department, and whether those targets strike the right balance in respect of the needs of society; and to consider whether the information provided by the Department makes clear how the moneys available are allocated between services and whether these allocations are the most appropriate in the circumstances. I now invite the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to make her opening statement.

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the invitation to attend here today to discuss and seek approval for the Revised Estimates for 2022 for the Department of Rural and Community Development.

First, I wish to thank members for their pre-budget submission and for their continued interest in and support for the work of the Department. We have a huge amount in common in terms of priorities, and both the Our Rural Future policy and the five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland provide a clear sense of direction for the development of these areas.

When it comes to resources in general, and the budget in particular, there is always the challenge of prioritising within limited resources. I have given a lot of thought to this during the budget settlement to ensure that the resources provided to my Department are put to best use.

Members will be aware that the Department's functions are delivered across three programme areas, namely, rural development including the islands; community development; and charities regulation. Gross expenditure of €378.6 million is budgeted for 2022, which consists of €186.6 million in current expenditure and €192 million in capital expenditure. My Department also has a capital carry-over of €16.86 million from 2021 into 2022. As for the split across programme areas, €202.3 million is allocated for the rural development and the islands programme area, with €11.86 million of the capital carry-over also intended for use in this area; €171.7 million is allocated for the community development programme, with €5 million of the capital carry-over also intended for use in this area; and €4.6 million is allocated for the work of the Charities Regulatory Authority.

The €202.3 million provided for the rural development programme, including islands, is made up of €169.2 million in capital funding and €33 million in current funding. Capital funding is of particular importance for the rural development programme, and through the revised national development plan we have secured increased capital funding out to 2025. For the Department as a whole, capital funding is increasing from €169 million in 2021 to €192 million in 2022 and then to €205 million by 2025.

I believe that this positive outcome to the review of the national development plan reflects the impact this funding is having on the ground. Schemes such as LEADER, the rural regeneration and development fund, town and village renewal, outdoor recreation, CLÁR, and the local improvement schemes are playing a vital role in revitalising our rural areas and ensuring they remain attractive and vibrant places to live and work. These schemes are now embedded as vital supports for rural areas and our communities and the Revised Estimates will see funding for all of these schemes increased. For example, LEADER funding will increase from €44 million to €48 million; the town and village renewal scheme funding will increase from €20 million to €22 million; CLÁR funding will increase from €5.5 million to €7 million, and the outdoor recreation fund will increase from €12 million to €15 million.

The capital funding also provides us with the capacity to deliver the necessary investment for our islands over the coming years. Throughout the pandemic we have also shown how this Department can be proactive and dynamic with capital investment. By investing in connected hubs and streetscapes, we are helping rural Ireland to adapt to, and benefit from, the changes to how we work and live. These types of investment can also play a significant role in meeting climate action goals and improving quality of life, reducing commuting, helping people to work and shop locally and allowing people to spend more time with their families and communities.

The pandemic made us focus on these issues more than ever and I am pleased that the increased level of funding available for my Department in 2022 will help to support improved quality of life across rural Ireland. The Revised Estimates also provides enhanced current funding for the rural development programme, increasing from €26.7 million in 2021 to €33 million in 2022. This increased funding will support continued implementation of Our Rural Future, including, for example, an additional €2 million to support the walks schemes and rural recreation in general, and €2 million to support implementation of the town centre first initiative. Overall, this planned investment of over €200 million in the rural development programme will be vital in supporting the economic and social development of rural Ireland, and making rural Ireland an attractive place to live and work.

I will now turn to the community development programme area, and the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O’Brien, is here today with me to discuss this area. The Revised Estimates will see a funding allocation of €171.7 million for this area in 2022, which consists of €148.9 million in current funding and €22 million in capital funding.

This represents a core funding increase of €13 million compared to 2021. The community services programme, CSP, and the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, are the largest schemes within the area with combined funding of almost €100 million planned for 2022. Funding for the CSP is being maintained at €48.9 million for 2022 while funding for the subhead which includes the SICAP will increase from €45 million in 2021 to €51 million in 2022. This will allow a 10% increase in funding for the SICAP to approximately €44 million per annum. It will also provide new funding of €2 million for a new empowering communities programme which will implement a community development approach towards tackling extreme area-based disadvantage.

The Revised Estimate also provides additional funding of €800,000 for the scheme to support national organisations, SSNO, increasing that allocation up to €6.7 million for 2022.

An additional €5 million is being provided within the community enhancement programme area to facilitate the establishment of a grant scheme for community centre upgrades which is committed to in the programme for Government. I anticipate huge demand for that fund so I am discussing with my officials a plan to use some of our capital carry-forward in order that we can increase the funding available for community centres.

I have said before that this might be a small Department but that it is making a big impact. The increased funding for 2022 will help to ensure continued strong implementation of Our Rural Future to support communities right across the country and to make sure that we support a recovery that improves quality of life for people and communities. In allocating the resources provided to my Department I have targeted them where they can have the greatest impact. This aligns with many of the priorities identified by this committee, for example, strong funding for the LEADER programme, increased CLÁR funding, capital funding for important islands infrastructure, the establishment of a grant scheme for community centre upgrades and increased funding for the SSNO. Approval of this Estimate will ensure further strong progress in delivering on rural and community development in 2022.

I thank committee members for their time and along with my colleague, the Minister of State Deputy Joe O’Brien, I am happy to answer any questions they may have.

Thank you Minister. We will now go through the individual programmes and corresponding subheads for Vote 42 for 2022. The total Vote is €325.298 million which is a 6% increase on 2021. Programme A covers rural development, regional affairs and the islands. The budget here is €202.255 million, which is a 14% increase on 2021. Do members have any questions on programme A? There are no questions from members as yet but I have a question. The Department asked the ESRI to conduct a review of the evaluation of the rural and community development programme in terms of the targets that the Department set, including benchmarking those targets. The report by the ESRI is very positive about the overall high-level targets that the Department has set and is quite complimentary of the work being done by the Department. However, on the enterprise area it did point out that the evaluation, not just in this Department but across Government, is not as rigorous in terms of enterprise supports as it is in other areas. There are substantial enterprise supports within this particular Vote. The report goes on to say that measuring the impact of community and rural development programmes tends to be more complex and typically requires the use of mixed methods, which combine data analysis with qualitative approaches, to gain an understanding of the programme impacts which are often multidimensional and complex. I accept that it is not easy to have a simple measure on the enterprise aspects of this programme but based on the ESRI study, what alterations is the Department making to the evaluation of these particular programmes?

In fairness, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we can all see the huge difference that rural investment is making right across communities, towns and villages the length and breadth of the country. The regional enterprise development fund sits with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and we have a role in complementing that in terms of providing infrastructure. The committee will be very familiar with the remote working hubs and we have been making a lot of investment in town centres. In particular, there has been investment in a number of enterprise centres which are mainly community-owned or local authority-driven. We work closely with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to make sure there is no overlap and that we get the best value for money.

I have not actually seen the particular ESRI report to which the Chairman referred but we will continue to evaluate and make sure that we are getting a good bang for our buck, as they say, in terms of the investment we are making in rural Ireland.

In fairness, the Minister had a lot of irons in the fire over the past 12 months so I can fully understand why she has not had a chance to read that report. I ask her to direct her officials to revert to the committee on that question and to outline the specific measures that have been taken. Deputy Kerrane has a question on programme A.

I thank the Minister for her opening statement. I have a quick question on programme A which includes the LEADER programme. I know from my engagement with a number of LEADER companies that the funding they received for the transitional period, which was to cover 2021 and 2022, has run out and we are only at the start of 2022. Would the Minister consider engaging with the LEADER companies across the State to see where they are at with funding? There has been a huge emphasis on Our Rural Future in the context of funding for LEADER and the importance of it in all of our communities. Obviously the funding of €250 million is standstill funding but when we takes out the transitional period, we are looking at an amount of €180 million across five years which is a fairly long time. I urge the Minister to engage with her own local LEADER companies, although I am sure she probably does that anyway because there is an issue whereby LEADER companies literally have no funding left and we are only at the start of February. Will the Minister engage with her local LEADER company on that? I am concerned that we will have only €180 million to cover the five-year period from 2023 to 2027. In a lot of places, including Roscommon, LEADER is growing at a powerful rate and companies want to do more but they are being stymied because we are at a standstill in the context of funding. There will be problems this year in particular because the transitional funding has run out in a lot of cases.

All of us would know of LEADER companies that have already drawn down their full allocation but it is important that those proactive companies are supported.

I thank Deputy Kerrane for her question. First, I want to acknowledge the good work done by LEADER companies. The budget for 2014 to 2020 was €250 million and the budget for the next seven-year programme is the same, at €250 million.

We have matched a portion and come up with additional funding of €70 million. The LEADER companies specifically asked for that. They said that they did not want what happened in 2014 to happen in 2021, where the companies had to wind down their operation to some extent and they were concerned about their future. I told them that we wanted to support them and as this is part of the LEADER funding, we allocated the €70 million.

Much other funding is coming into rural Ireland. LEADER is not the only show in town. As the Deputy knows from this Vote, much money is going in through the town and village, rural regeneration and outdoor recreation schemes. There are many other funding sources. It is important that we all work together to make sure that we have the most impactful investment in our towns, villages and rural areas.

There was €65 million of total transitional money for the projects and administration, with extra funding to bring it to a total of €70 million altogether. Roscommon was allocated €2.6 million. The total value of projects approved as of 23 January 2021 was 44.1%. In fairness, it had nearly 50% of its money allocated, which one would expect, because it is a year into the transitional programme. We are confident that the transitional budget is sufficient. Some €65 million of the €70 million is available for projects and administration costs and to date, 35% has been assigned to approved projects. There is a big difference between areas. South Cork has allocated 70%, while Kilkenny has only allocated 3.4%. Roscommon is spot on, at 44%, or nearly at 50%. We have never been found wanting in supporting good projects. I commit to the Deputy that that will continue.

I am recalibrating my notes slightly to fit within this part of the Vote, programme A. If I stray outside of that, I will rely on the Chairman to bring me back into line.

It is nothing catastrophic.

As the Minister said in her opening statement, the Department is small, but it makes an outsized impact. The spending is really felt in communities. It delivers much public good. I acknowledge that we are bringing a degree of policy coherence. The Our Rural Future document and the town centre first policy that we expect to arrive shortly are bringing a level of policy coherence that draw together the different strands of what we need to support, particularly rural development and towns and villages.

One thing that jumped off the page was the big drop in spending on office premises. It ties into the idea of regional economic development. Are we investing enough in rural broadband and providing remote working hubs? This Department is uniquely well placed to engage in decentralised work. I know that the offices are not in the big smoke. I have a question about the town centre first funding. Some €2 million has been allocated. Portlaw in my constituency was earmarked for €100,000. That is labelled as capacity building. Can the Minister provide more detail as to what that means? While there is a thriving community in Portlaw that will be well able to take up the funding and run with it, are there more structured guidelines than that?

As for the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme, the Minister came to launch St. Declan's Way with us in Waterford. We brought the good weather with us that day. We were happy to see the Minister. It is outstanding tourism infrastructure. The Waterford greenway has proven the value of this type of tourism. It is sustainable. It is slow tourism that brings tourism spending outside of large urban centres. With the development of the walks scheme and the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme, is there any opportunity to overlap with the active travel output? St. Declan's Way, where it goes over the Comeragh Mountains, is not necessarily answering an active travel brief but some of that walk, between Cahir and Cashel, perhaps has an active travel pay-off. Is there an opportunity for synergy between the Minister's Department and that of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to develop that further and drive it on?

I thank the Deputy for those questions. I thank him for the lovely bread that I got in Waterford. It was very tasty.

They are blaas. We have to be specific. They are not bread rolls, but blaas. The Minister is on dangerous ground there.

Blaas. I will recommend that the bread be brought in for the committee members. It would help them for the day. It was very nice. I thank the Deputy.

Regarding our spending on office premises, our staff in the Department of Rural and Community Development have embraced remote working. Over 90% of staff are able to work remotely and worked effectively during the Covid pandemic. Half of our staff are in Ballina. We have managed to do that effectively and we will continue to promote that and to find the balance between remote working and working in hubs. I am a big supporter of remote working hubs. It gives the security of a workspace. People are able to go in and meet colleagues. They have a starting time and a finishing time. When people are sitting at the kitchen table, their work lives can easily blend and take away from their home lives. It is important that we have work-life balance.

Regarding broadband, we have been promoting the national hub network. We have developed a strategy and funded the Western Development Commission to roll out the connected hubs network. We are getting more and more remote working space and more employers and workers are coming on board with us. That is working well. As the Deputy knows, the Government is committed to the roll-out of the national broadband plan. It is essential. It allows us to change the way we live and work in rural Ireland. On top of that, we have the broadband connection points. We have invested right across the country in helping communities where there is a poor broadband connection. We have been able to get high-speed broadband into their community halls. We have given them funding to upgrade facilities to facilitate people to work from home. As we embrace this further, we will have e-health and e-learning. A bright future is ahead but we must have connectivity to enable us to be part of it.

Regarding the town centre first capacity building, we have allocated this €100,000 to these towns to help them to come together with a co-ordinated plan. We want to encourage people to come back and live in the town centre. People bring that vitality and energy back into our towns. It applies to cities as well, not just the towns. We saw during the lockdown that there were very few people around the centre of the city here in Dublin. We want to encourage people to come back in, so they can walk to school and to work. That is very much what we are about. We have to incentivise people to do that.

I work very closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke; the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien; and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. We were all working very closely together on the town centre approach. The €100,000 is to help these towns have a strategic plan. As the Deputy knows, in most towns there can be a number of different committees that all have different ideas and it is putting all of that energy together. That is what the €100,000 is for. This is only the first phase of it.

The way I see the outdoor recreation scheme is that in rural community development, we do the small schemes. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, does the big stuff in his Department. We complement each other well. We work very closely together and we all know there are synergies between us and between Fáilte Ireland, which helped to fund the outdoor recreation scheme as well. We have €4 million per annum and those discussions continue with Fáilte Ireland. Therefore, there is joined-up thinking in that regard.

We all know the wonderful amenities that we have. We have enhanced them considerably. During Covid, people were able to get out and about and there is a greater appreciation of what we have in this country. As the Deputy noted, I was down in Waterford, and St. Declan’s Way is an amazing facility to have. Indeed, I was in Tipperary on another day as well. They have fantastic walks along the river and they are connecting the towns. It is something that we can continue and we can continue to invest in. What we have at our own doorstep is amazing. We want to make sure that people are able to enjoy it to its maximum.

I believe I have covered all of the questions there.

My first question is on the rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF. There is an idea floating around that we need to do something very strategic with that money. It is quite a significant amount of money over a number of years. One of the ideas we are exploring is that an application would be sent in under the RRDF by Mayo and Galway county councils to part-fund the reopening of the western railway corridor. As RRDF funding already has been made available for a passing loop between Athenry and Galway, it seems railway lines are not out of the reckoning.

Further, I would be totally supportive of the Minister using this same process, not for railway lines in Monaghan, but the Ulster Canal. I do not know if she got any RRDF money for the Ulster Canal but it is the kind of strategic development we need in rural Ireland. If we are talking about rural development, this is it. This is it on a big scale. We can be doing town renewal and all the rest until the cows come home, but it will not have the impact of some of the bigger infrastructure projects such as the Ulster Canal, which the Minister knows I am a great supporter of, and the railway line connection that the Minister of Transport felt reluctant to let go of. What would the attitude of the Minister and her Department be if we could use some of our call here, as Galway and Mayo county councils make the pitch that this is what the priority of the people on the ground is?

The second question I wish to raise is CLÁR funding. The intent is to widen the number of programmes, because it is fairly constrained at the moment. In particular, and I have made this point to the Minister before, there was a group order top-up scheme. Basically, groups of houses that still are reliant on wells and so on could join up with public schemes. Sometimes, in the more remote areas there are five, ten or 15 houses that were never joined up to any scheme. There was a top-up scheme there previously. It was very effective in making these affordable and giving price certainty. Would the Minister look at reopening that?

My next question is on the local improvement scheme, LIS. Can the Minister let us know when the people will be told to get their applications in and when allocations will be made to the councils? I do not know why it does not happen in the back end of the year rather than the beginning of the year, once the Estimate and the budget are fixed. Even now, can the Minister tell us when people can apply to the councils? Second, this committee recommended last year that the farmer rule be abolished. The farmer rule for the LIS relates to an Ireland that no longer exists. Of the vast majority of people in rural Ireland - there an awful lot of people in rural Ireland - there are only 120,000 herd owners. Therefore, only about 10% of the people are farmers. Thankfully, we have diversified economies, and we have always had diversified economies. When one looks back in the 19th century, there was the gréasaí, the siúinéir, and all the different people with the different professions living out in the countryside. Will the Minister consider getting rid of that anachronistic rule on farmers being required for that scheme?

I have a number of questions on the islands. I note the capital money has gone up to €4.644 million, which one would welcome, but behind the figure, there is a story. I presume that was to commence the work on Inis Oirr Pier. However, what I am hearing now is that due to foreshore licences, that will not happen. What will the Minister do with that money to make sure it is spent on the islands? I am told that there is a new environmental process to go through. This is for a pier that got planning permission in 2008. It has my head done in. If is going ahead and the Minister cracked that nut, I applaud her. However, if it is not going ahead, can we spend the money on something else and carry it over at the end of the year and not give the money back? Similarly, there is a need an tine a chur faoi chosa na Roinne agus na comhairle contae. We need to put fire under, at every level, to make sure that these piers progress fast and that Inis Meáin, as well as that, progresses fairly fast.

My annual plea to the Minister is on the fine airstrips in Inishbofin and in Cleggan. The cost of providing the service from Na Mine to Cleggan and Inishbofin would be about, I am told, €600,000 per year which, in the greater scheme of what the Minister is spending on islands, is not an awful lot of money. Would the Minister consider providing that necessary link? As I have pointed out time and again, Inishbofin is much further from Galway and much further out than the Aran Islands. The Minister knows the advantage of the air service on the Aran Islands as she has availed of it and she knows how handy it is. Can the Minister imagine how it takes an hour and a half to two hours to drive to Cleggan, and then one has to get a 40-minute boat? From the island, the aeroplane could have her in Na Mine, where she got the aeroplane from, in about 20 to 30 minutes. It could be for a very modest fee because the aeroplanes, the servicing, the pilots and all the other things are there. The pilots are not busy all day. Would the Minister consider going ahead and making Inishbofin air service operable, based from Na Mine, in order that she is doing it on an additional cost basis?

On the Cleggan airstrip, I understand there is an application in with the Minister’s Department to come to some arrangement with her Department on using part of the site in Cleggan for a museum of transatlantic history. This relates to aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown. It will be a great attraction for Connemara and it would bring people into the Cleggan peninsula. Could the Minister arrange for her officials to meet the people who contacted the Department about that and see what the possibilities of progressing this are?

My final point is on the broadband hubs, which are fine. I hear what the Minister is saying about remote working. I agree with her that not everybody wants to work at home all of the time. Particularly, if one lives in a smaller house in an urban setting, that will become a very big issue. In rural areas at least, most people have half-acre sites, so they can find some corner to put in an office that is a little bit more remote than it would be in a standard three-bedroom urban dwelling. That said, they are important. Even though it is not directly under the Minister’s remit, we have to stress again, related to the temporary broadband hubs while we are waiting for the roll out of broadband, that what the people want in the first place is fibre in their houses.

I hope the Minister will take back to her Cabinet colleagues the message that it is sop in áit na scuaibe - a straw rather than a brush which, as the Minister will know, would not clean a floor too well - to be telling people that they already got their broadband hubs. They are not interested in that. They are interested in remote working. They are interested in using hubs on occasions, but the number one demand from adults, children and older people is fibre to the home. For the adults, this is for work and pleasure; for the young people it is for study and pleasure and for the older people it is for pleasure and, in many cases, because of the new technologies in terms of cameras and so on it enables families to monitor their elderly loved ones and to be aware of any falls etc., even when the latter are on the other side of the world. I am begging the Minister to do what she can to persuade her colleagues of the need to get this done faster than it is being done now.

I invite the Minister to respond the questions raised by Deputy Ó Cuív. I am sure he will come back to the Minister if any of them are not addressed.

I will try to cover them as best I can. On the rural regeneration and development fund, we have been funding many town centre projects, enterprise centres and the restoration of old buildings, including various items of infrastructure within towns around those projects. I take the Deputy's point about the western rail corridor. I am sure it would make a huge difference to Mayo and Galway. The issue is it would be a massive expenditure. If I allocated all of the Department of Rural and Community Development's funding to one major project, I would have very little left for anything else but we can work on it with other Departments.

The Deputy also mentioned the Ulster Canal. I was delighted that we were able to announce funding of €13 million for the Ulster Canal project, which was made up of funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development and money from the shared island fund. It is about working together, similar to the work being done around outdoor recreation and active travel. As the Deputy will appreciate, the Department of Rural and Community Development has big ambition but it does not have a massive budget. The Department of Transport has a significant budget. Only two weeks ago, it announced €280 million plus for active travel. That allocation is in excess of the Department of Rural and Community Development's capital budget. It is about how we move in that direction. Under the rural regeneration and development fund, there are category 2 projects, which is about providing the funding to put the plans together. It is about creating the big picture and putting in place the proposals which can then be brought to other Departments in the space of transport, which in respect of rail is the Department of Transport, to see if they could come up with funding for those projects. That may be an area where we could help. There is a joined-up approach.

On CLÁR funding, last year I extended the three categories to four categories. I am reviewing the fund with my officials to see if there are other areas that we can tap into. In regard to the water and sewerage, but particularly the water, Irish Water has responsibility in this area. I am familiar with the rural water schemes. I am one of those people who falls between two water schemes, one of which is a group water scheme and the other being a county council water scheme, which is now owned by Irish Water. I know well the issue the Deputy raises. Investment in water is within the space of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I will pushing that Department to look for those grants, in particular for the extension of the group water schemes in order that people can connect into them. Wells are fine when there is plenty of water. In the summer time, many of them have no water. I am very conscious of the issue the Deputy raises. I will see what I can do to give them a prod in the right direction.

On the local improvement scheme, the Deputy made the point that the farmer rule should be abolished. To be honest, if I could clear some of the list that we have across the country, I would certainly look at it. This is about roads. As the Deputy will be aware, I increased the allocation this year for the LIS by €11 million. Last year, I brought it up to €22 million, which I know was welcomed across the country. It helped to clear some of the backlog, but there is a serious backlog still. If we could break the back on that I would be happy to expanding the scheme further. If I expand it now, the result would be a very lengthy list.

On the islands, the Deputy mentioned Inis Oirr Pier. It is expected that work will commence in late 2022. The €2 million in additional capital funding has been allocated in this context for 2022. The application for a foreshore licence has been made as part of the preparatory work for the tendering stage. Galway County Council has informed the Department, following its meeting with officials in that unit, that updated surveys need to be carried out. Subject to the pre-construction issues being finalised, a preliminary timetable has been discussed by the development committee providing for a tendering process of approximately nine months, after which construction will advance in stages. The finalised plan is likely to take a number of years to complete, taking into account weather and sea conditions. The cost to date of the Inis Oirr Pier development since the commencement of the project in 2004 is €978,713. The estimated cost of the project, barring any unforeseen circumstances that may arise, is €20 million approximately. I am committed to the project. I visited the islands, which the Deputy will know because, I am delighted to say, he was able to accompany me. We are committed to moving the project on. At this point in time, the matter is with Galway County Council. We need to keep the pressure on and keep it moving.

On the pier at Inis Meáin, as the Deputy will know, as part of the preparatory works, the National Maritime College of Ireland was instructed by Galway County Council to develop a modelled simulation for the harbour. That will inform the business case options for the development. It is very difficult to get agreement on how this work should be done, but we are working with people in Cork to find the best way forward. A lot of money was spent on this in the past, but it did not work. We have to try to figure out what way it should be done. I met the Deputy during my visit to the island. The local people are not too sure what way the project should proceed. As I said, the experts should be able to give us a good idea as to what we need to do there.

The Deputy mentioned the Inishbofin air service. I will have to come back to him on that question. As far as I know, there are no plans for an air service from Inishbofin. The Department will keep in touch with the community with regard to transport services to ensure the islands have access. The Deputy mentioned a two and a half hour drive and that it could be shorter. I take on board his point. On the Cleggan airstrip, I have met the gentlemen concerned on a number of occasions. I met one of them as recently last week. We bumped into each other and during a chat he again set out the proposals. The Department officials also met recently with the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the Department of Transport to discuss plans for the coastguard station, which the Deputy mentioned. This matter requires full consideration before any further discussions on plans for the museum. We need to deal with the coastguard situation first. I am happy that officials will meet them again to get an update. I take on board the Deputy's point that it is a good idea to put this museum in place. The Deputy knows the history of the Cleggan airstrip a lot better than I do. We paid a fairly substantial amount when we bought it. If we were going to release part of that property we would have to bear in mind the taxpayers' investment in it.

There is some work to be done in that regard.

The Deputy is right about fibre in houses but we have the plan, the contract is signed and National Broadband Ireland is out there. Covid has had some impact, of course, but the Government is committed to rolling this out as quickly as we can. No matter how quickly we do it, it will still not be quick enough because everyone wants it now. That is why I pursued broadband connection points as an interim measure, in that they give something at least to those who do not have broadband or mobile phone coverage. As the Deputy knows, we have reconstituted the mobile and broadband committee - I do not know its name off the top of my head but I will think of it in a minute - and we will examine whatever roadblocks there are with a view to progressing matters as quickly as we can.

I will be announcing the Department's schemes shortly. They will be open earlier in 2022 to support the most efficient use of funds in communities across the country. It is intended to publish the schedule of schemes shortly in order to allow local authorities to plan for the preparation of submissions with full information on our entire suite of schemes. We have many schemes and I want to show local authorities the entire suite. They can then decide which projects fit into which schemes and make their plans on that basis. Sometimes, authorities say that they did not know this or that scheme was coming. We will do it together this time; it will be a joined-up announcement this year.

I believe I have covered all of the Deputy's questions. If there are more, I am happy to answer them.

Since I believe in taking one step at a time, what I have in mind in terms of the RRDF is an application from Mayo and Galway that would once and for all see a full survey being done of the railway line, thereby ascertaining the exact engineering work that has to be done in order that we can have an accurate budget. There are figures of €60 million and €70 million flying around the place. Nationally, it is a small project. Projects with a higher cost come in at approximately €200 million. Lower-cost projects come in €140 million or €150 million lower than that. It would be useful if a survey was done, allowing for a physical plan. That would cost a few million euro. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, has already put aside money for restoring a bridge. If we could get that much in place, the rest would follow. There might be modest top-up funding, but such funding is a great carrot for Departments. I admire what the Minister's Department has done with the Ulster Canal. It shows the kind of ingenuity that I would like to see applied to the western rail corridor so that, when the Minister leaves the Department, she can say that she made the Ulster Canal and the western rail corridor happen because, without her facilitative input, the line Departments might not have done the job.

I will put another question to the Minister in a moment.

In fairness, the Deputy started the Ulster Canal. If I could get it well on its way, I would be happy. These projects take a long time. Category 2 of the RRDF targets this type of funding. It is about doing the groundwork, looking at costs, finding out what work needs to be done and carrying out surveys. I suggest that people make an application when category 2 is open again. Obviously, the application will have to stand on its own merits, as does every application, but category 2 is where it needs to be made. We should do that.

When is the Department opening category 2? There are many Deputies from-----

Category 1 is open at the minute. Category 2 was announced after Christmas and I will open it later this year, probably August or September.

For applications.

Just one second while I double-check. I am sorry - I will shortly be publishing a schedule for all the schemes.

We will get sight of it then.

Everyone will be able to see exactly when applications can be made. I believe it will be around August when we will be opening up category 2. People can start getting their plans together because you do not feel the months going by and it takes a while to pull together all the various strands needed for a good application.

I welcome the Minister and thank her for her ongoing and constructive engagement with the committee.

The RRDF is a positive scheme and we in Clare have benefited greatly from it since its introduction. Recently, a project in Scarriff received more than €500,000 under category 2. It is an exciting project transforming a derelict building in the centre of the town into an innovation and engagement hub. Dramatic improvements in the public realm will also happen and it will provide a tourism offering. I congratulate and thank Mr. Urban McMahon, an official in Clare County Council, for his work on this. The Minister would know him well, having visited the county a number of times.

Two category 2 applications were not successful, though. They were in respect of Loop Head lighthouse in west Clare and the maritime training centre in Kilrush. It is disappointing that they were not funded. Having engaged with junior officials, I understand why. I am following up on the projects with the Minister and hope to have some engagement on them. Where projects fall down, could the Minister explain something about the feedback from officials? It is important that community groups, local authorities and LEADER groups understand where an application fell short and whether it is possible to improve the application so that it can be submitted for another call, be it category 1 or category 2. Is there a formal feedback process?

I have raised a matter regarding the LIS a number of times. Clearing the lists is key. They are significant in counties Clare, Cavan and Monaghan and all across the country. The Minister and her predecessor, Deputy Ring, funded this scheme, but that is actually unfair because the Department of Transport should have a role. The Minister has engagements with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I ask her to re-engage with him on this. She could have a substantial scheme if the Departments of Rural and Community Development and Transport and local authorities each provided one third of its funding. Without proper financing for this essential scheme for rural Ireland, the lists will not be cleared. Although work has been ongoing in Clare for the past number of years, we are clearing only a handful of roads. Will the Minister re-engage with her ministerial colleague? I also ask that this committee write to him and recommend that he put his hand in his pocket and provide some funding from the Department of Transport to finance this vital scheme.

A number of schemes in County Clare are reaching a conclusion. I am thinking of Lahinch Seaworld and Leisure Centre, where wonderful work was done there under the RRDF, and the river walk in Ennistymon, where work has been completed under the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme, providing a wonderful amenity for the people of Ennistymon and further afield, particularly during Covid.

I invite the Minister to County Clare to perform an official opening of these two wonderful facilities.

I thank the Deputy. Scarriff received €524,000 for a project under the rural regeneration and development fund that has just been announced. There are projects that have not been successful and I know people are disappointed. Sometimes the projects do not just fit into the criteria. Perhaps there are other sources of funding that are more suited for certain aspects of projects. My officials are meeting applicants who were unsuccessful in the category 2 call. They are happy to meet them, go through all of it with them and find out where the applications fell down. When these applications come in they are assessed by an independent panel. Some of them are multipurpose applications that have various aspects and some of those aspects are outside my remit. For example, they may fall into the tourism category and they do not hit the bar or meet the criteria. What I would say to anybody who has been unsuccessful is not to lose heart. They should go back to the officials and speak to them and look again at the application. On many occasions I have seen where an application can be tweaked and changed to make it a much stronger application.

I compliment Clare County Council. I visited it last year. It launched a digital strategy and Urban McMahon was hugely involved. I have been saying that it is an example for other county councils to follow. It is a wonderful digital strategy. It encompasses everything. Clare is probably ahead of the rest of us in terms of what it is doing in this regard. I will be happy to go back down. The Deputy mentioned a few projects including Lahinch Seaworld and Leisure Centre and the walk in Ennistymon. I will certainly be back to visit Clare. There is no doubt about it. I would love to be going in the summer but I will have to let the officials decide when it will suit or when I should go. Certainly I will be happy to go back down. I had a very busy day the last time I was in Clare. There is a lot happening. I compliment everybody involved. Whether they are in the local community or local authority they are certainly not lacking in ambition when it comes to submitting applications.

With regard to the local improvement scheme, the former Minister, Deputy Ring, reopened the scheme. It had been closed. Fair play to him, he reopened it and we have been able to fund it. There is no doubt that it is about roads. I will follow up again with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Perhaps he can give us a bit of help. It would all add up and it would mean that we can get rid of the very long list. If the committee saw fit to write to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, it would be useful. If he were able to match some of the funding I am providing it would make a big difference.

I am not sure what programme we are discussing. I have questions on the community services programme and the funding that is-----

If Deputy Paul Donnelly gives me a chance, we will move on to programme B and I will call him then. Having finished with programme A we will move on to programme B, which is community development. It has a budget of €171.68 million, which is a 2% increase on 2021. Deputy Donnelly has indicated and I invite him to speak on this.

The funding for the community services programme is €48.89 million, which is the same as last year. I acknowledge an extra €2 million in funding was provided two years ago but it is staying static this year. I am concerned because of the increases in the cost of living we have had over in recent years. The increase in the cost of fuel has a knock-on effect for heating and other bills. It is acknowledged that many of these centres were closed for pretty much the entirety of the past two years and are only getting themselves up and running and on their feet again. Why has there not been an increase for them to reflect the increase in the cost of living?

The community enhancement programme is to be supplemented by a €5 million capital carry-forward. Does this mean that €10 million will go towards the community centres? Have the terms of reference for the allocation of the funding been announced? If not, how close are we to it?

We are all anxious to know the terms of reference for the community centre funding. As Deputy Ó Cuív pointed out earlier with regard to co-ordination, this should be co-ordinated with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and with the funding provided for digital hubs. We could have an all-encompassing approach for projects.

I will pass over to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, for some of the queries that have been raised. I will speak about the community centre fund, which I will be announcing very shortly. Community centres and facilities are funded from a number of streams across Government and local government. I am aware there is no dedicated stand-alone funding stream for capital works for community centres. Within the Department, funding streams such as LEADER and the community enhancement programme provide opportunities for community centres to obtain grant funding. They are fairly small grants that are rolled out through the local community development committees, LCDCs.

The pandemic has shown us the need for more investment in community facilities. The Department has secured an additional €5 million for the community enhancement programme subhead. I am looking at using some of the capital carry-forward from 2021 for this purpose also. I do not have a huge amount of money but I will get it started this year. It is a new scheme. It will take some time to finalise it. I hope to make the announcement very shortly. The Deputy can be sure there will be a community centre grant fund. This is important. It will be available throughout the country. Communities have not been able to fundraise and structural defects have appeared in these halls. We need to support them. It is vital that communities have a community centre. I will pass over to the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien.

I will address Deputy Paul Donnelly's question on the community services programme, CSP. The core allocation is the same as last year. As the Deputy is probably aware, it is closed to new entrants at present while we are restructuring the scheme. This is being done in consultation with the steering group, which has representatives from the sector. What is not reflected in the figures is that we developed a support scheme of almost €9 million specifically to get the community services programme through Covid. This is because community services were lacking income because they had to close community halls and were not generating traded income. You can add €9 million to the total, as this is the amount spent on keeping them going over the past year or two. We hope to open the programme later this year. It is not as soon as we had hoped simply because the unit that has responsibility for it also has responsibility for the stability fund. There have been a couple of rounds of the stability fund and the unit's time was taken up by this, the support fund and generally working to keep the community and voluntary sector going during Covid.

That is why there is a delay to reopening the CSP. Approximately 15 are in the pipeline that had gone through the expression of interest process before we closed the scheme. We hope to make announcements about them at the end of this quarter or, if not, in quarter 2.

I wish to raise one other issue with Minister of State, which has, sadly, raised its head on foot of a court decision during the past year. That relates to defibrillators that are funded through the Department. The difficulty, as a result of that High Court judgment last year, is that if defibrillators are not being checked, if the pads are not replaced, if they are not housed in heated defibrillator cabinets or if they are out of warranty, community groups could be found liable should someone die when they look to use a defibrillator. Community groups and sports clubs either have to become legal limited companies to get around this or the volunteers themselves will become personally liable. There is a second option, which is to expand some of the existing community emergency response systems so that they would effectively take over liability of these issues in a more cost-effective way.

I will send a note to the Minister of State's officials. I would ask that he would examine this issue. We need operational defibrillators throughout this country. I do not want to see a chilling effect on foot of this court decision. The Department, as well as the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, needs to be far more proactive in ensuring that we can find a workable solution to this problem.

I am not 100% familiar with the court decision, but I understand the Chair's point on its finding. It is important that if a community organisation is going to invest in a defibrillator, it should be in a position to maintain it as well. To my knowledge, it has been supported under the community enhancement scheme previously to some extent.

I look forward to getting the Chair's submission on it and I will bring it up with officials.

We will now move on to programme C, which is the Charities Regulator. There is €4.06 million, which is not a change on last year's allocation. Nobody has a comment or question on that allocation. Members are happy enough with that.

While there has not been an overall change in the budget, there has been a transfer of moneys within the subheads. Can the Minister of State explain the reason for that?

I am not familiar with the particular lines in the subhead. This is specifically for the Charities Regulator, is it?

Yes, within the subhead. Can the Minister of State ask the officials to come back to us on it?

We will move on to programme D, which is appropriations-in-aid, in which there is a 24% increase on 2021. The total sum is €53.25 million. No member wishes to comment on that. Do members wish to put any final questions or make a comment on the Vote before we conclude? Members are happy; that is great.

Does the Minister wish to make any closing remarks?

I thank the members of the committee. It is a new year now, and I look forward to working with them in the year ahead. I thank them for their assistance.

I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and their officials for assisting the committee with its consideration of the Revised Estimate. As supplementary questions have been raised by members, I ask that the Minister would come back to the committee directly with that. Is that agreed? Agreed. Members should note that the clerk to the committee will circulate any replies once they are received.

Before we adjourn, I remind members that a photograph for launch of our report on the pensions commission will be taken at 12.30 p.m. on the Plinth.