Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Questions (3)

John Curran


3. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the level of funding that has gone to projects in the most disadvantaged communities previously known as RAPID areas since the amalgamation the RAPID and the community facilities schemes into the new community enhancement programme with regard to the recently announced funding allocation for 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3396/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

Last year the Minister merged two programmes, namely, the community facilities scheme and the RAPID programme, into what has become the community enhancement programme. At the start of this year, the Minister made a substantial announcement regarding the groups that were successful in securing funding and the amounts of funding. My question specifically asks the Minister to indicate the level of supports that have now been targeted at the most disadvantaged urban communities, as had been represented by RAPID communities in the past.

The community enhancement programme, which I launched in 2018, provided €13 million to community groups to enhance facilities in their areas. The new programme does not ring-fence funding for specific locations. Instead funding is allocated to each local authority area, taking into account the relative deprivation levels. Local community development committees, LCDCs, administer the programme locally to ensure that funding is provided to groups and areas that need it most in order to address disadvantage.

The LCDCs monitor the problem closely using local knowledge to ensure that funding is benefitting communities in the fairest way possible. Over 3,000 projects have been approved to date and a list of all approved projects is available on my Department's website.

RAPID areas were identified a significant number of years ago. Over time, demographic changes meant that it is no longer appropriate to ring-fence funding to these areas. Instead my Department takes into account the relative disadvantage of each local authority area when allocating funding and LCDCs then administer these funds at local level.

The 2019 programme has not yet been finalised, as it currently being considered by my Department.

I thank the Minister. First and foremost, I disagree with the comment of the Minister that there is no longer need to have RAPID areas. Such areas are the most disadvantaged urban areas. The problems that existed ten and 20 years ago in many of those communities exist to this very day. They do not need a level playing field; they need positive discrimination to support them and to give them an opportunity they have never had before. The merging of these two programmes means the clarity that existed previously, where there was identified targeted funding to the most disadvantaged communities, has been taken away.

The report on why these programmes should be merged has no basis. It is a convenience rather than a practicality. The Minister has walked away from those most disadvantaged communities. I am not opposed to the community enhancement programme. I am not opposed to any of the groups getting funding. What I am opposed to is that urban disadvantaged areas, which have been disadvantaged for many years and which came through the last recession having seen their funding cut, now see that when funding is reintroduced, it is not prioritised and targeted towards those with greatest need.

I disagree with the Deputy because if one takes the north inner city of Dublin, in 2017 we gave €2.5 million, in 2018 we gave €3.5 million and in 2019, it will receive €6.5 million. This funding is targeted to the greatest disadvantage.

On the RAPID programme referred to by the Deputy, the value-for-money report that was produced on it specifically stated it was not to be run in the way it had been run in the past. I was obliged to change it.

The Deputy must agree with me that the LCDC groups are drawn from the community. They include elected representatives and representatives of community groups in the disadvantaged areas. If these groups do not know where the disadvantage is, then who does? I have tried this scheme and I am prepared to give it a chance. I will evaluate it, however. I, like the Deputy, want to ensure that this funding is given to those who need it most and I do not want it used for anything else.

I take the Deputy's points on board. I am reviewing but I do want to see that funding targeted. I believe the people on the LCDCs are those who should know best, as they are the people on the ground and they should know their own local communities.

In the Minister's opening comment, he hit the nail on the head when he spoke about the inner city. The additional funds will be made available to it where there are particular problems. There are particular problems in a range of urban areas around the country. These areas are not getting that targeted level of support, which the Minister clearly believes and understands makes a difference. There are communities right across Dublin that are not receiving anything like the level of support that the inner city is receiving. In previous parliamentary questions, the Minister referred to rural issues but what I do not wish to see is a raid on an urban fund for disadvantaged communities. That is what RAPID funding was all about, namely, for the most disadvantaged communities with the least capacity to provide for themselves and with the greatest challenges. Those challenges were clearly identified in the past. They have not gone away. The Minister has clearly articulated that in relation to the inner city.

I am pleased to hear the Minister will keep this under the review. I acknowledge the great work many of these projects do. They cannot be funded, however, at the expense of our most disadvantaged communities. I urge the Minister to look through those programmes and identify how much of the funding he is allocating is going to those with the greatest level of need.

The Deputy is not saying anything different to what I have said myself. Dublin inner city was allocated €6.5 million this year. Last year's funding for South Dublin County Council was €737,700, which provided for 120 projects that have been approved to date. These projects were ring-fenced. I also gave funding to the men's shed programme and ring-fenced €500,000 for this programme. The men's shed is working particularly well in disadvantaged areas. I wish I had more money to give to that group, which does a lot of work on the ground.

Staying with the question the Deputy has asked, I am glad the scheme is open and that I was in the position to open it. I put a substantial amount of money into the scheme last year from savings in other Departments. That scheme was worthy of more support. I could have allocated this funding to roads or other areas but I wanted to put it into disadvantaged areas. I, like the Deputy, want to see the areas that need to be targeted receive this funding. The Deputy is quite correct in saying that these areas are to be found in both urban and rural areas.

I visited Dublin inner city with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. I would love to bring some of the rural people up to see the level of disadvantage. There is disadvantage in both urban and rural areas. It would do one's heart good to see the respect these people have regarding the small level of funding that was available to them and what they do with it. There is a great community spirit there and I would like to target more areas like that and give them the support and finances they need.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.