Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Questions (29)

Michael Collins


29. Deputy Michael Collins asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if County Cork, in particular west Cork, will receive a fair share of funding in the next round of rural regeneration and development funding in view of the fact that in the second round of rural regeneration and development funding announcements, west Cork was passed over and received no funding for community-type projects even though projects were ready to go or shovel-ready. [22899/19]

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Oral answers (18 contributions) (Question to Rural)

In the second round of rural regeneration funding announced in February of this year, west Cork - and Cork in general - was passed over and received little or no funding for community-type projects even though some were shovel-ready. Will Cork county, in particular job-starved west Cork, get a fair share of funding in the next round of rural regeneration funding?

The rural regeneration fund seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects that have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over ten years to the fund. A total of €315 million is allocated to the fund for the period 2019-22.

The first call for applications to the fund closed in September 2018. There was a large response to the first call with 280 applications received. On foot of the first call, a total of 38 successful category 1 projects and 46 category 2 projects were announced, with funding of €86 million provided from the fund to support projects worth €117 million.

It is worth noting that calls under the fund are determined on a competitive basis and not all projects that meet the requirements may be funded. In that regard, all applications to the rural regeneration and development fund undergo a detailed evaluation process. This involves assessment by my Department and oversight by an independent project advisory board established to assist in making recommendations on the suitability of applications for funding.

Under the first call from the fund, I announced funding of €4.4 million for eight projects located in County Cork. Among these projects was the development of a multi-purpose flood-lit all-weather facility in the village of Banteer. The facility will be available for use by the community throughout the year. Another project involved the relocation, restoration and fit-out of a heritage building in Kinsale town centre as the new library for the town. A further project involves development of an international standard mountain bike trail in the Ballyhoura region. The new trail will provide recreational, health and tourism benefits. Other projects include the development of regeneration strategies for the towns of Rathcormac and Ballydesmond.

The second call for category 1, shovel-ready applications to the fund is now open.  Applicants who have been unsuccessful in the first call may reapply for the second call. I want the Deputy to listen to my next point because he always complains. In 2018 and to date this year, my Department has provided €27.75 million in funding to Cork. The Deputy might be parochial but I am not.

I reject what the Minister said. I do not always complain. I have praised the Minister on many occasions - possibly more than I have praised most of his ministerial colleagues. When the Taoiseach launched this fund, he stated that it was set up to create jobs in rural Ireland. Those 48 projects in Cork county applied for funding in the second round in February. From what I gather, €276,000 was allocated to the whole of Cork county. The Minister can juggle figures all day long but those are the facts and they speak for themselves. The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has a budget of €363 million, which it deserves. It receives a massive amount of money from rural regeneration funding, as does Coillte, while community and voluntary organisations in west Cork - be they in Schull, Clonakilty, Innishannon, Bandon or Dunmanway - spent €500,000 of their own money and had projects shovel ready but received they did not get funding. Those groups whose projects were not shovel ready did not receive any advice. The Minister should not throw dirt at me across the floor of the House. These are the facts and the facts speak for themselves.

I know that many people in west Cork object to a lot of things when they happen. I will give the Deputy the facts. Kinsale Library was funded, as was Banteer Community Sportsfield. Unsuccessful projects included those in Ballyvourney, Bandon, Macroom and Bantry, which were not shovel ready, while the Kanturk link road, Schull harbour, Ballinspittle and Skibbereen did not score well compared with others. Successful projects in category 2 included those relating to Ballydesmond and Ballyvourney. The development of the rural digital innovation hubs across the country will benefit west Cork. There were unsuccessful projects that did not score well in comparison with others. The evaluation board brings the schemes to me and I make the decisions. Some of these projects did not make the cut because they were not shovel ready or did not score well enough.

What does the Minister consider to be a shovel-ready project? These projects are getting no advice as to where they stand. They are submitting the applications and I am talking to the groups. There is no communication from the Department from the day those applications arrive to the day the projects discover that they have not been successful. Yes, Kinsale received funding during the first round, something for which I congratulate and thank the Department, but west Cork has been completely omitted since then. A total of 48 projects received little or no funding in the second round. The amount involved, after so many millions had been spent throughout the country, was €276,000. Why was proper advice not given to these communities? The Minister should remember that these are community and voluntary groups. They do not have €363 million like the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the budget of which the Minister tops up, or Coillte, the budget of which is also topped up. These groups have received no advice and the Department or the local authority should come back to them and explain matters. I am concerned that this matter is turning into a political football. Local community and voluntary groups are being overlooked and Ministers can wag the tail of the Government. We must turn it around. This funding was meant for rural projects but it is not being delivered in rural areas. Six Fine Gael councillors ran in west Cork but only two got across the line thanks to the Government. They are great people but the Government let them down in the Clonakilty-Bantry electoral area. West Cork has had it with the Government, not with me.

One thing the Deputy must do is respect the clock.

There is one thing about them, which is that, unlike the Deputy, they did not object to everything that went into west Cork. I will put this on the record-----

On a point of order-----

Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended.

The 2011 Regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard Household Means Policy. The 2011 Regulations do not provide local authorities with any discretion to exceed the limits that apply to their administrative areas.

Under the Household Means Policy, which applies in all local authorities, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, and the universal social charge. The Policy provides for a range of income disregards, and local authorities also have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once off in nature.

The income bands are expressed in terms of a maximum net income threshold for a single-person household, with an allowance of 5% for each additional adult household member, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%; and 2.5% for each child, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%. On that basis if the household consists of three adults and at least four children, the maximum net income threshold for a household in Co. Tipperary is €30,000 and the maximum net income threshold for a household in Waterford City and County is €36,000.

The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. It is important to note that the limits introduced at that time also reflected a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation, in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn, both promoting sustainable communities and also providing a degree of future-proofing.

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.

However, as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is underway. The review will also have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.

The Minister is-----

I will suspend the House. The Minister has one minute-----

What did I object to?

I will suspend the House.

I apologise but the Minister made an allegation against me-----

The Deputy can deal with that at another time.

I want to tell the Deputy what shovel ready means. It means that the project is ready to go when it gets the grant aid. The county council sent us an application for a project and told us that it would be ready in the fourth quarter so it wanted us to allocate money for a project that would not commence until December of next year. That is not shovel ready. Shovel ready means that a scheme can start the minute the funding is granted. Any of the projects that were shovel ready were considered by the evaluation committee.

The Deputy does not like facts but I will give him the facts. My Department has allocated €27.75 million in funding to Cork in 2018 and to date this year. That is a substantial amount of money. LEADER, the town and village renewal scheme, the outdoor recreation scheme and the local improvement scheme and many other projects in Cork were funded by the Department. I reject what the Deputy says about this scheme. An evaluation committee composed of highly qualified people makes the decisions. The Deputy listens to the local authorities telling him that projects are shovel ready when that is not the case.

Forty-eight projects were rejected. That is a fact.

Do not invite interruptions.

Questions Nos. 30 to 32, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.