Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Questions (39)

Tom Neville


39. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to review the CLÁR areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51678/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

What are the Minister's plans to review CLÁR areas and will he make a statement on the matter?

CLÁR is an important part of the Government’s Action Plan for Rural Development and focuses on areas which have suffered the greatest levels of population decline. It is a programme that provides modest amounts of money for small scale initiatives in rural areas, but the impact of the funding for these areas is huge.

CLÁR was effectively closed for new applications in 2010. However, since I relaunched CLÁR in 2016, more than 1,200 projects have benefitted from funding of €25 million under the programme. The type of projects which have been funded, include safety measures around schools and other community facilities, multi-use play areas, supports for voluntary first-responder emergency organisations and funding for vehicles to transport people to cancer care centres and other respite services.

I have visited many of the projects which have received funding under CLÁR and I can see the difference the support from the programme makes in improving the lives of people in CLÁR communities.

As I have outlined, CLÁR focuses on areas which have suffered significant population decline. However, the underlying data need to be reviewed to take account of the 2016 census of population.

In this context, I have commenced a review of the programme which will examine CLÁR areas in light of the 2016 census data. The review process began last month with a targeted consultation meeting with a number of experts who are recognised for their background in rural development issues.

The review will also involve more detailed stakeholder consultation and I anticipate that it will be completed in the first half of 2019.

I welcome the fact CLÁR funding was opened again in 2017. There was no delivery since 2010 given the economic crash. With the subsequent recovery, we are able to give back to and redevelop rural Ireland. As the Minister outlined, the investment has been in providing small scale infrastructural projects in rural areas that have suffered the greatest level of population decline. Some of these areas were undergoing population decline before the economic recession ever hit. We know that from our research on that. It is about trying to find more innovative ways to combat that.

I welcome the funding for Limerick under measure one of CLÁR, including funding for Bulgaden national school, Meekilly national school, Doon girls' national school, Athea national school, Kilbehenny national school, Mountcollins national school, Oola community council, village and school, Raheenagh national school, Knockadea national school and Ashford national school. I also welcome funding under measure two for Kilfinane community council and Kileedy development committee. Are there any measures to extend or review the CLÁR programme?

The CLÁR programme is one of the better programmes introduced over the years. While I have differences with my colleague across the floor, it was one of the better schemes introduced. It was closed from 2010. I am reviewing the schemes and I am looking to identify schemes that will be supportive of rural areas and of communities that are not able to get the support they need from other State agencies. The one thing about CLÁR is it can identify programmes that help.

Last year one of things that worked out very well was in regard to first responders, particularly in some rural areas that do not have health board services. They depend on ambulances and voluntary organisations, like the Order of Malta, to bring people to hospital. That has worked out very well.

I refer to cancer services. In particular in rural Ireland, many people do not have the funding and are not able to get to hospital appointments. We need to support them and help them to get to their appointments and home again. I am delighted I brought in that initiative. I am looking at other initiatives and that is why we are doing the review. I am going on the old figures, so I need to do a review and to identify the areas that need to be targeted for CLÁR funding.

I welcome the Minister's statement. I ask that there be some sort of synergy in regard CLÁR funding. I welcome the funding from the rural regeneration and development fund announced in the past couple of weeks. There will be huge investment in the Great Southern greenway in Limerick. It will start at Rathkeale and will go to Newcastle West and to the Kerry border. In Glengrohane in my constituency, there will be a community hub that will encompass an enterprise hub, a community hub and a Men's Shed. This is a very small village in south Limerick and this hub will be a great enhancement.

I ask for co-ordination with other Departments, in particular the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. In terms of moneys being delivered to rural areas that have been depopulated, it may be thought that there is no demand for housing in them. However, when these moneys are delivered, it will generate demand. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government should look favourably on that from a demand point of view.

The Deputy mentioned the outdoor recreation scheme and the town and village scheme, which have all worked very well.

I must be careful that other Departments do not see this as a mechanism to allow them not to do what they should be doing. Deputy Neville is correct: I need to get my Department to act. I have asked my officials to meet with other Departments. I am already aware that some Departments are telling groups to go to the Department of Rural and Community Development because it has the funding, even though they are the ones that have the direct funding. I do not want that situation to arise. I do not mind supplementing schemes. An issue that was raised on the previous Question Time and to which the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, referred a moment ago, is the wonderful job group water schemes do for rural communities. One of the difficulties is that a small number of people are involved and they must make a big contribution. I must examine how I can support them on foot of their contribution but what I do not want to see happening is the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment or local authorities increasing their charges and taking the money from my Department. This money must go into rural areas.