The CLÁR programme is an important part of the Government’s Action Plan for Rural Development and provides funding for small infrastructural projects in rural areas which have suffered high levels of population decline.
The programme was first launched in October 2001. The areas originally selected for inclusion in the programme were those which suffered the greatest population decline from 1926 to 1996. The Cooley Peninsula was also included on the basis of the serious difficulties caused in that area by Foot and Mouth disease. The average population loss in the original CLÁR regions over the period 1926 to 1996 was 50%.
In 2006, an analysis of the 2002 Census data was carried out by the NIRSA Institute at Maynooth University and the programme was extended to include areas with an average population loss of 35% between 1926 and 2002.
The CLÁR programme was closed for new applications in 2010. However, I re-launched the programme in the second half of 2016, using as a base-line the areas identified in the work carried out by NIRSA. Over 1,200 projects have been approved for funding of €25 million under CLÁR since I re-launched the programme in 2016.
I have initiated a review of the CLÁR programme which will examine CLÁR areas by reference to the 2016 Census of Population data. It will also consider whether there are any other factors that should be taken into account in designating areas for eligibility under CLÁR in the future.
The review process began in November last with a targeted consultation meeting with a number of experts who are recognised for their background in rural development issues. A more detailed focus group consultation will be held in the coming weeks which will help to inform the next steps in the review process.
I envisage that a wider stakeholder consultation will also take place before the review is completed. Once completed, the review will help to inform the design of future CLÁR programmes.