Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Questions (36)

Bernard Durkan


36. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which he can address the stigmatisation of rural or urban communities (details supplied); his plans to address the image of rural and some urban communities as being unattractive for investment because of a lack of basic infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51862/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

To what extent can the Minister enhance infrastructural investment in both urban and rural areas with a view to making those locations more attractive for residential development and industrial investment?

Substantial progress continues to be made in improving the quality of life in communities throughout Ireland, both rural and urban.

As the Minister with responsibility for rural and community development, it is my intention that the many supports available through my Department will continue to improve conditions in these communities into the future so that they are attractive places in which to invest and do business as well as to work and live.

My focus is to support the creation of vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities across the country. This can be achieved through the implementation of programmes and schemes that facilitate and encourage economic development and provide facilities that support communities to become and remain desirable places in which to live, work and raise families.

The rejuvenation of rural towns and villages is a priority for the Government. We are promoting a new narrative around rural Ireland, namely, that it is dynamic and can adapt to the changes taking place in our modern economy. Every day and in every town and village I visit, I see great examples of the ability of rural Ireland to adapt to economic and social changes in a positive fashion.

The Action Plan for Rural Development, the framework policy for local and community development in Ireland and Project Ireland 2040 are the key policy initiatives that set out all the ways in which Government aims to address disadvantage and how we can support both rural and urban communities across Ireland.

The action plan is co-ordinated and monitored by my Department and is the most comprehensive Government plan ever produced to support economic and social development in rural areas. The measures within it are being delivered across a range of Departments, State agencies and other organisations over the period to 2020.

As part of Project Ireland 2040, the rural regeneration and development fund will provide €1 billion up to 2027 to support the revitalisation of rural towns with a population of fewer than 10,000 people. The fund will be a key driver in supporting the renewal of rural Ireland.

Additionally, my Department continues to provide other direct supports to both urban and rural communities through a range of schemes and programmes, including the social inclusion and community activation programme, the Dublin north-east inner city initiative, the LEADER programme, the local improvement scheme, LIS, the community enhancement programme, the libraries capital investment programme, the CLÁR programme, the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and the town and village renewal scheme.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. To what extent will the Minister and his Department steer the various communities in a particular direction with a view to achieving results in the shortest possible timeframe? I refer in particular to those communities that suffered during the downturn through emigration, housing shortages and a lack of modern infrastructure. Does the Minister believe he can spearhead a campaign to ensure that the required attention and investment is directed to these areas?

As I said earlier, a total of €50.5 million of funding has been approved for 1,525 LEADER projects. Under the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, for disadvantaged areas, a total of €38 million was provided in 2018. That programme will help more than 110,000 individuals and assist over 5,000 local community groups. Under the community service programme, a total of €44 million has been provided which will help 400 communities throughout the country. We also have the CLÁR programme, the town and village renewal scheme, the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and the community enhancement programme. The latter programme was given an allocation of €4 million this year and I added a further €8 million to that.

Successful programmes operate from the bottom up. The LAGs are dealing with much of this. I have asked them to identify the areas of most need. I am trying to bring this work down to a local level rather than issuing diktats from central Government. I am asking the LAGs to identify where the difficulties lie. All the aforementioned schemes are in place in an effort to target the areas that need help most. In particular, the town and village renewal scheme, the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and the CLÁR and LEADER programmes are important in this regard. While the LEADER programme has run into some difficulties, it is beginning to ramp up now. There are many good projects under way that will help both urban and rural Ireland.

Is the Minister satisfied with the speed of the uptake of these programmes and schemes or does he believe the communities involved may need some further impetus, inspiration or guidance in this regard? As well as taking advice from those on the ground and acting on it, is the Department doing anything else? We are talking here about different types of communities. Some are self starters and will drive progress themselves while other communities have become stalled or becalmed in recent years.

Does the Minister have any proposals to jump-start them?

In fairness, over the past few years the local authorities have begun to engage with communities, and communities are beginning to work with the local authorities.

On some of the schemes I mentioned, one can see there are good community groups in every corner of the country. One issue I encounter in all the schemes, however, is applications from groups which are well able to draw down funding. The matter raised by the Deputy is one which I must explore, and I will have to provide some funding to support groups to set up businesses, learn about the applications available and get the support they need. Some groups are paying people to submit applications for them but that does not mean they are the most in need. I want to identify where the need is to ensure the groups which need it most are looked after.