Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Questions (8)

John Curran


8. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if consideration will be given to establishing a specific funding grants scheme under the community enhancement programme to support groups (details supplied) nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2897/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

We got to this question very quickly. In the Minister's last reply he referred to the fact that the Department provided funding for men's sheds. The Department has great capacity to provide a relatively small amount of money which has an impact on a wide range of people. Will the Minister consider putting a funding scheme in place for Tidy Towns projects, as he did for men's sheds?

In 2018 I launched the new community enhancement programme under which grants are provided for community groups to help them to improve facilities in their area. The programme is aimed at improving community facilities to address disadvantage. In 2018 I allocated a total of €13 million for the programme, which included €500,000 that was ring-fenced for a men’s sheds fund. The issue of whether I will be in a position to allocate funding in 2019 to Tidy Towns committees will be considered by me at a later date. However, Tidy Towns committees are free to apply, with any other community group, for funding under the general programme. Under the 2018 programme, 158 applications from Tidy Towns groups were approved for funding under the community enhancement programme to a total amount of €536,816. They also received funding in 2018 and previous years under other grant schemes operated by my Department. Under these other schemes, funding of €2.8 million was allocated for provision for Tidy Towns committees between 2017 and 2018.

I take the opportunity to acknowledge the great work carried out by Tidy Towns groups across the country. They are all independent voluntary groups and can apply for funding under this scheme. I will look again this year to see what I can do for Tidy Towns groups which do a tremendous job in many areas. They are cleaning up rubbish dumped by people on a regular basis. They have to be complimented on doing so. The time has come to start looking at ways and means to give them some support and recognise the great work they do as volunteers.

I am aware that Tidy Towns committees can apply under the general scheme, but I was taken by the fact the Minister had a specific scheme for men's sheds. Tidy Towns is a national organisation which impacts positively in every community throughout the country. It would be worthwhile if there was an annual grants scheme which, for very small money, would have a huge impact. I encourage the Minister to look at such a scheme. Before I came into the Chamber, I looked at the results in my area for the Tidy Towns committees that had entered the national competition this year in Clondalkin, Lucan, Newcastle and Palmerston. Each one of them has improved its score every year and people living in the area can see the value of it. With it comes pride of place. While I acknowledge committees can apply under the general scheme, I encourage the Minister to consider a designated scheme similar to the one for men's sheds specifically to develop Tidy Towns on a national basis.

For the past two years, since I took up office, I have made funding available to every Tidy Towns group in the country. It is something at which I could and might look as no other group is more worthy of it, but it is all about the finances. I was able to allocate the money from savings in the Department. Perhaps I might look at having something on a more permanent basis. In the rules and regulations I used for this and the community enhancement scheme, which probably did not suit everybody, I did not stop them from applying under both schemes because whatever funding they receive they spend very wisely. The criterion I used for Tidy Towns groups was they had to participate in the Tidy Towns competition. Last year marked its 60th anniversary, which is why I gave a further one-off grant. The groups do a superb job. They have great volunteers who do not receive the recognition they deserve for doing a tremendous job which is always done by the same three or four people in every community. As Deputy Calleary will tell us, there are voluntary groups in Castlebar, Westport and Ballina. Those involved are out working at 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. cleaning up. Perhaps we might support them more. The local authorities are receiving funding from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to catch people who are dumping, a problem which is getting bigger. It is very serious and one we need to tackle.

It is positive that the Minister is giving consideration to the issue. Tidy Towns committees have a positive impact on all of our communities. I mentioned the four towns in my area in which the results have all improved year on year. In areas which have not traditionally been part of Tidy Towns competitions Tidy Towns committees are also being established and beginning to take part in the process. It is important that they be seen to be supported at Government level. This year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the competition. Most Tidy Towns committees work in collaboration with the local authorities. They do not operate in isolation. They link with other community and environmental groups and the overall benefit is enormous. They fundraise locally. It is small money from the Department, but the difference €1,000 or €2,000 makes to a Tidy Towns committee in terms of its annual budget is significant. The indications the Minister has given are positive. Those of us on this side of the House will give him every support and encouragement in developing a national grant scheme for Tidy Towns committees.

It is something at which I will look. Like the Deputy, I have a lot time for Tidy Towns groups. Perhaps I might look at the community enhancement programme and ring-fence money for them. It is something at which I will look because they are worthy of support. As I move across the country to visit every town and village, I see certain projects which people tell me were carried out with the assistance of funding made available to them by the Department. It is money well spent. The local authorities work with the Tidy Town groups. They need to work with them because they are doing a tremendous job and should be supported.