Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Questions (34)

John Curran

Question:

34. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the level of funding drawn down by his Department under the European Social Fund's Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning, PEIL, 2014 to 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22737/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Rural)

Applicants for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan must be of good credit standing and have a satisfactory credit record. The Housing Agency provides a central credit assessment service to local authorities and credit checks are undertaken as part of the credit assessment process. The final decision on loan approval is a matter for the relevant local authority and its credit committee on a case-by-case basis. Decisions on all housing loan applications must be made in accordance with the statutory credit policy, that underpins the scheme, in order to ensure prudence and consistency in approaches in the best interests of both borrowers and the lending local authorities.

A person who has been discharged from bankruptcy and is eligible in all other respects, including being a first-time buyer, for a Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan may apply for a loan and will be subject to the same credit assessment process that applies to all applicants.

As with the previous local authority home loan offerings, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is available to first time buyers only. This is to ensure the effective targeting of limited resources, and I have no plans to amend this requirement.

The Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme, SICAP, 2018-2022 receives co-funding under the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning, PEIL. Funding of up to €60 million for the programme has been approved by the European Commission, with €30 million in ESF funding being matched by €30 million Exchequer co-funding.

A number of steps must be taken in order to claim ESF funding for the programme. In this regard, my Department is working closely with the Department of Education and Skills, the ESF managing authority in Ireland, which has submitted an application to the European Commission this month for approval of a repayment method so that the draw down process from the ESF can begin. The repayment method is due to be approved by a Commission delegated regulation in quarter four of 2019. No refund of expenditure is possible until this regulation is approved which means that, to date, there has been no draw down of funding from the ESF for SICAP. In the first quarter of 2020 a claim will be submitted to the European Commission for reimbursement of expenditure for 2018 and 2019, up to the approved budget of €20 million per year. This will be made up of €10 million in ESF financing and €10 million in national co-funding.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I asked this question because I have a particular interest in highly disadvantaged communities and youth employment in such communities is very relevant in the context of the aforementioned scheme which ran from 2014 and which will cease in 2020. Why is it that the Department is only submitting an application for funding at the end of the scheme period? Is this the maximum level of funding that was available? I ask the Minister to provide details on whether the funding was used for targeted programmes, particularly in the context of youth employment in our more disadvantaged communities. I understand that the reference year to qualify for funding was 2012, at which point youth unemployment had to be at least 25%. Certainly, in this country at that time, youth unemployment stood at more than 30%. Given that the programme timeframe was 2014 to 2020, why is the funding only being drawn down now? Is the funding being back paid for those earlier years?

It is very simple. The regulation has not been made by Europe but we expect it to be signed in the near future. When it is signed, we will make our claims. As I said previously, in 2020 we will be reimbursed for the money we have spent. This is not the fault of the Department or the Government. The regulation must be signed by the European Commission and I presume we will have to wait until the new Commission is in place. The minute the regulation is signed, we will be looking to get our money back.

Funding of €60 million is to be spent over three years, at €20 million per annum, in a co-funding arrangement between the EU and the national Government and that money will be spent. The money will be drawn down as soon as the regulation is signed. We cannot submit our funding application until the regulation is signed.

I thank the Minister for providing clarity on the issue. Obviously, the regulation has come very late in the process, given that the scheme timeframe is 2014 to 2020. In that context, were any programmes not availed of or were any opportunities missed because of the delay in introducing the regulation? Do the claims that are to be submitted cover expenditure that has already been incurred?

The Deputy knows that I will spend the money. We will draw down the money later but the money is being spent now, which is the most important element. It is vital that we spend the money. We are committed to schemes which are aimed at disadvantaged children, young people and their families, disadvantaged women, emerging needs groups and so on. The funding is being spent. We are spending the money now. The Department will be reimbursed by Europe when the regulation is signed.

I am anxious to know that nothing has been missed because of delays.

No, nothing has been missed.