Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Questions (46, 47, 48, 49)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

136 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress to date on the RAPID programme; the amount of funding which will be spent in 2004 and the groups that will benefit; and if he intends to extend the RAPID programme to new areas in 2004. [3246/04]

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Seán Ryan

Question:

186 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made to date in regard to the implementation of the RAPID programme; the number of areas in respect of which plans have been submitted to his Department; the projected budgets for these plans; when work on the implementation of the plans is likely to get under way; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3100/04]

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John Bruton

Question:

204 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the way in which he intends to distribute the fourth measure of the LDSIP in RAPID areas; when the guidelines for this distribution will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3225/04]

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Willie Penrose

Question:

220 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the specific steps his Department intends to take to ensure that actions targeted at disadvantaged areas, such as the RAPID and CLÁR programmes, operate effectively, in regard to the commitment given to Sustaining Progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3096/04]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 136, 186, 204 and 220 together. My Department, supported by ADM Limited, co-ordinates the implementation of the RAPID programme. It is, therefore, a matter for each of the other Departments to report on progress on the implementation of RAPID and details of funding for the proposals that fall within the remit of their own Department.

In the case of my Department, proposals from RAPID plans fall to be considered under the community development programme, CDP, funding for local drugs task forces, LDTF and the young peoples' facilities and services fund, YPFSF. Allocations of funding have been made to a LDTF project and a number of CDPs. I refer the Deputies to my reply to Questions Nos. 102, 103, 106, 108, 127 and 131 on 21 October 2003, for details of these allocations and general progress on the RAPID programme. There are no plans at present to extend the RAPIDareas.

As I have stated previously, many of the proposals from RAPID plans have been sent unnecessarily to Departments for consideration, when it would be more efficient for them to be dealt with at local level. To this end, a dedicated fund of €4.5 million has been set aside for capital expenditure for the RAPID programme to support such small-scale projects. These projects will be co-funded by the relevant Department or local agency with levels of co-funding agreed at national level. Projects will be co-funded under a number of categories and I am in the process of conducting a series of meetings with my ministerial colleagues to agree such arrangements. Once these measures have been agreed, it is envisaged that an allocation will be made to each RAPID area based on size and population, for example. Area implementation teams will then select projects to be supported in this manner. I intend to make a formal announcement shortly regarding the precise details of the operation of this fund.

My Department also provides the sum of €1.3 million to ADM Limited to meet administration expenses and to provide support to area implementation teams. The dormant accounts disbursement plan also gives priority to RAPID and CLÁR areas.

As regards CLÁR, the measures introduced under the programme were decided after consultation with the communities in the areas concerned. They are, for the most part, operated in tandem with the lead Departments or agencies, as appropriate, thus ensuring coherence and effectiveness by public bodies in delivery of such measures in CLÁR areas.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome the fact that money is finally being allocated to RAPID. In today's edition ofThe Irish Times it states that €1 billion was promised when it was launched, not €4.5 million. I ask the Minister to produce the goods and to say where the money is.

There are many bodies involved, such as local authority employees who work for the RAPID programme, partnerships and ADM Limited. What are the Minister's plans for these funding bodies? Is there a case for having one organisation in charge of these schemes on a county basis?

I question the non-involvement of elected public representatives in RAPID at the district level when projects are being developed. They are involved at county level but not in the decision making or the nomination of projects at local level. Will the Minister give the House his views and will he ensure that local representatives would be part of that partnership because they are excluded from it at present?

The irony of RAPID is that the big money was spent. The figure being spent on housing renewal runs to approximately €900 million or €1 billion. Much of that money is concentrated in a small number of RAPID areas. Many things happen and I accept it has been difficult to define whether they would have happened anyway or whether RAPID has made a difference. It was one of the weaknesses in the scheme. There are new schools and new health centres in these areas but many people say that would have happened anyway and it is also happening outside the RAPID areas.

This time last year I said there were weaknesses, even though the concept is very sensible and good. I have set about redressing those weaknesses. I see the operation on four levels. The fund is in place to deal with small issues — it is not intended to deal with the big issues.

It seems ridiculous that one has to call the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to deal with a small area of a housing estate, for example, that needs some landscape management but is not receiving it. Similarly, if minor changes are needed to a health centre or a school — for example, if a few ramps or CCTV cameras are needed, one should not need to process the matter through the whole system. My idea was to put in place a fund to match it with other things so that, as is the case with the CLÁR programme, the small issues can be dealt with on the ground. The advantage of this approach is that by separating the small issues from the thousand other issues that exist, we are left with a much smaller number of big issues that need to be dealt with in RAPID areas. We will focus on such issues on a Department-to-Department basis. The reprioritisation element of the big things has not been removed from the scheme. It clears the way to focus on them to a much better extent.

One of the weaknesses of the RAPID scheme since its beginning is that there has not been a report at a worthwhile level into what happened under the scheme. It was suggested that projects in the RAPID areas would be front-loaded, but there is no measure of that. There has been no effective monitoring of it. I agree with the Minister's idea of taking micro-decisions at local level and macro-decisions in Dublin. Nobody at central level is responsible for the implementation of the RAPID programme, however. I went through this in more detail on the last occasion the Minister took questions in the House. Nothing the Minister has said today leads me to believe that there will be a real coherence to improve on what is an awful situation.

The Deputy asked about a report. I have a fairly simple view of life. The country is full of reports, each of which is glossier than the next. People in the CLÁR areas, for example, are aware of things happening there. I receive feedback from those on the ground. The compilation of a big, glossy report will not necessarily change very much, but it will take up a great deal of time and staff resources. Although it might give some glory to the Minister, that is not what it should be about. Our approach should be about making people's lives better.

Many things have happened. If I trawl through the Departments and ask them to list everything they have done in RAPID areas in the past four years, I will find that many things have been done. In such circumstances, we would have a big debate in the House about whether such things would have happened in any event. My concern is to make more things happen. As I have said, I am trying to deal with the micro-matters at local level and, based on the IT plans, then deal with the big issues that remain. Individual Ministers will be responsible for trying to make progress in that regard. Those of us who understand the nature of the system accept that it is much easier to progress three, four, five or ten issues at interdepartmental level than try to progress hundreds of big and small issues.

Deputy O'Shea asked who is responsible for the implementation of the RAPID programme at central level. I wish to make it absolutely clear that I will take central responsibility for this. I have put a great deal of time and effort intotrying to advance this matter in a way that will work and I will take responsibility for it. I am taking a hands-on approach. Some people have accused me of adopting too much of a hands-on approach, but if one is elected to do a job, the greater the hands-on approach one takes the better if that is the way to get the job done. I will answer to any committee of this House at any time in respect of any of the actions under the RAPID programme.

I would like the Minister to give me a simple answer if possible. The RAPID programme is available in the progressiveCavan town area, but it is not in place in the Monaghan town area. Is there any possibility of the programme being extended in that direction or is there any reason it is not being so extended?

The answer to the Deputy's penultimate question is "No". One of the mistakes we made in pursuing previous programmes was that we could not resist the temptation to extend the boundaries. The effect of this policy was that too large an area of the country was covered. We did a disservice to those suffering the greatest levels of disadvantage by diluting the programme's effect. The boundaries of the CLÁR and RAPID programmes are fixed for the foreseeable future. I would like to make something happen within those lines.

One of the good aspects of the CLÁR programme is that one receives letters from people outside its area who say they would love to be included. I think that is a great measure of the success of the programme. I will be happy when people start to ask for their areas to be included in the RAPID programme because I will know I am making a difference and that it is better to be in rather than out. We have not mentioned the transfer of moneys from dormant accounts, under the terms of which funds spent on social and economic matters had to be distributed in RAPID and CLÁR areas.

We said that a large proportion of the funds allocated to combat educational disadvantage should be ring-fenced for RAPID areas. Let us be honest, rural Ireland does not suffer from educational disadvantage in the same way as the areas covered by the RAPID programme. Our decision led to the provision of an amount of money, over and above the sum of €4.5 million which I believe I can double following discussions in my Department. The funds from dormant accounts will be provided on top of that. These provisions will make a difference in advancing many smaller issues. They will allow us to deal with the big issues at Department-to-Department level. I do not intend to extend any borders, however.

I asked my original question because I am concerned about educational disadvantage, particularly as it relates to the Monaghan Collegiate School.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.