Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Questions (13)

Martin Kenny


13. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the reason only €4 million was allocated to the community enhancement programme for 2019 in view of the fact that €13 million was spent on the programme in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3032/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Rural)

I raise the issue of the community enhancement programme, which as stated earlier was an amalgamation last year between RAPID and the previous scheme. A substantial amount of funding was made available last year which was very welcome and made a big difference in many areas throughout the country. This year, however, there is a much smaller pot. I would welcome the Minister telling us today that he will make a further investment in these communities in the coming months to ensure they get at least the level of funding that was available last year. When I stay in Dublin, I stay in the north inner city and I see in many cases that these-----

The Deputy will have another opportunity to come in.

In 2018 I launched the community enhancement programme which helps community groups to improve facilities in their area.  Some €4 million was originally available for the programme within my Department's budget for 2018.

The community enhancement programme supports a range of investment in all areas of communities, such as childcare facilities, playgrounds, recreational facilities, sports grounds, landscaping projects and supports for the elderly. There was a huge level of interest in the programme right across the country following its launch so I was delighted to be in a position to allocate additional once-off funding to the programme later in the year, and the final amount allocated was €13 million. This included €0.5 million that was ring-fenced for men's sheds. More than 3,000 projects across the country were funded, all of them targeted at enhancing facilities in disadvantaged communities.

The details of the 2019 programme are currently being considered and will be announced in due course.

I thank the Minister. In the areas RAPID used to deal with, we do not see the impact of it as clearly as one would see it in a rural village or area. I stay in the north inner city when I am in Dublin and I notice there are major problems of deprivation and decline in the area. Entire streetscapes need a major amount of enhancement and other work to be done. The people in those communities want a chance and any effort that can be made to invest in those areas, as well as in rural areas, is absolutely necessary.

The amount of funding provided seems to be very small compared to that made available last year. While I acknowledge the Minister said that the €8 million allocation was a once-off, we hope it will be a once-off allocation every year, and perhaps a bit more, because it is a scheme that has made a huge difference. We should recognise and acknowledge when something is done well. That particular scheme has made a big difference to many small communities throughout the country. The level of funding available needs to be increased at least to the level available last year but hopefully a little more, if that was possible.

The Deputy mentioned the Dublin issue in terms of poverty. As I said, in 2017 we allocated €2.5 million for inner city Dublin, €3.5 million for 2018 and €6.5 million for 2019, in addition to the funding we allocated for South Dublin County Council.

The Deputy is right about his own constituency. In the Sligo-Leitrim area more than €433,000 was allocated. When I amalgamated the community enhancement programme and the RAPID scheme, there was €2 million in each of them, making a total of €4 million. The Deputy is correct. From savings in my Department last year I made a political decision. I felt this scheme was a good one. It was targeting the areas it should target. As I said to Deputy Curran earlier, I have to monitor the scheme to make sure this funding is going to the most needy and disadvantaged areas. So far, I am happy that is the case but I will be monitoring it to identify the areas that got the actual funding. It is important that if this fund is allocated for a specific purpose it is spent on a specific purpose. I am giving the local community development committees, LCDCs, the opportunity to do that. I know they have done a good job this year but I will have to monitor that. For this year, however, we have €4 million in a programme. If I can get some savings later in the year, I will look at that again.

Last Tuesday morning I was in Bundoran, at the other end of my constituency, where the issue raised concerned the number of buildings in the town that are closed. Nobody is living in them and nothing is happening with them. That is another aspect of this. While this funding is for public and community works, there are many people who own buildings that are a liability rather than an asset. If some element of a scheme could be brought in to provide funds to help people turn those liabilities into assets in which people could live in towns and villages throughout the country, it would make a huge difference. I have spoken about that to the Minister previously but at this point we know there are major problems in many areas of the country. One of the big problems we have is housing, which is an issue all of us and every Department has a responsibility to try to do something about in a proactive way. I am aware some local authorities put the squeeze on people through threats of compulsory purchase orders and so on. In most cases they cost a lot of money and they do not work. If some incentive could be put in place to encourage people to regenerate these buildings into housing accommodation for people they would become an asset they can use: the Government would get tax on it as well. It makes common sense and I implore the Minister to do something around that issue.

The Deputy is right. This is a very good programme and I believe the funding was allocated fairly. I gave €125,000 to every local authority. I then looked at disadvantaged areas and gave 60% for those. I refer to 40% of the population. It was distributed fairly throughout the country. The funding can be used for CCTV equipment, energy efficiency projects or community amenities. It is a scheme that can be used at local level. The LCDCs will look at it. They will make the decisions. They are the ones on the ground who should be able to identify the areas with the most need. That is why I am hopeful this scheme will work and that we give the funding to the people who need it most.