Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, answered orally.

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions (8)

Martin Heydon

Question:

8. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he will report on the town and village renewal scheme and the town and village pilot residential occupancy scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30222/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The Town and Village Renewal Scheme is a key initiative under the Action Plan for Rural Development and forms part of a range of measures to support rural Ireland under the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 Rural Regeneration Programme.

Since the scheme was introduced in 2016, almost €53 million has been approved for more than 670 projects across the country.

I launched the 2019 Town and Village Renewal Scheme on 16th April last. Local Authorities were invited to submit up to 12 applications to my Department for consideration under the scheme. The closing date for receipt of applications was 28th June. My officials will be assessing all of the applications received, and decisions on the applications will be made when the assessment process is completed.

The Action Plan for Rural Development includes a commitment to develop a pilot scheme to encourage increased residential occupancy in rural towns and villages. I launched this initiative last October and announced that six towns had been invited to participate in the initial pilot. The 6 towns which were identified for inclusion in the pilot are:

1. Boyle, Co. Roscommon

2. Callan, Co. Kilkenny

3. Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo

4. Banagher, Co. Offaly

5. Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan

6. Cappoquin, Co. Waterford

Funding of up to €100,000 each is being made available to these towns to develop proposals to encourage town centre living. This funding is being used by the Local Authorities to engage with communities and local businesses to identify practical solutions to increase the number of people living in their town centres. It is envisaged that the solutions they identify could lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund in due course.

The lessons learnt through this pilot initiative can help to inform our approach to supporting and investing in rural towns and villages in the future. I recently received interim progress reports from each of the relevant Local Authorities involved in the Pilot Scheme and anticipate receiving a comprehensive report in respect of the entire pilot initiative, before the end of the year.

Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Question No. 13 answered with Question No. 11.

Questions (12)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

12. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount of the rural regeneration and development fund allocated to date; and if a breakdown of spending in each of the categories to date will be provided. [30255/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The Rural Regeneration and Development Fund seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects which have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over 10 years to the Fund and €315 million is allocated to the Fund for the period 2019-2022.

In November 2018 and February 2019 I announced details of a total of 38 Category 1 projects (capital projects which were fully planning and consent ready) and 46 Category 2 projects (those needing further development to make them ready for delivery) which were successful under the first call from the Fund, providing €86m in support for projects worth a total of €117m.

Following the announcement of the successful projects, my Department engaged with each lead party to complete due diligence requirements. Contractual arrangements were also drawn up with the release of funding based on the achievement of key milestones in the projects.

I am satisfied that significant progress is already being made on the implementation of successful projects. A number of the projects have already met their first milestone and had funding released. To date, €1,722,043 has been drawn down from the Fund by seven separate projects. This is made up of €1,654,161 drawn down for five Category 1 projects to date and €67,882 for two Category 2 projects.

I expect that payments from the Fund will significantly accelerate over the coming weeks and months as further milestones are achieved across all the 84 projects.

Question No. 13 answered with Question No. 11.

Community Development Projects Funding

Questions (14)

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

14. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if assistance will be provided to a centre (details supplied) to continue to provide essential community services in view of the fact that it is faced with significant costs for fire safety works and renovations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30090/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

My Department provides a range of supports to communities nationwide, helping people to participate in the development of their communities and providing funding to improve community facilities. I am aware of the current situation in Hartstown Community Centre and I know how important the centre is to the community there.

Community facilities are funded from a range of different sources across different Government Departments and agencies. In many cases, they also receive funding supports from the local authority, as is the case in Hartstown.

My Department funds the Community Enhancement Programme which funded capital projects to the total value of €12.5m in 2018 and can be used to contribute towards the renovation of community infrastructure such as community centres. There is an initial allocation of €4.5m nationally under this programme in 2019. The Programme is administered locally by the Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) in each Local Authority area. Fingal County Council has been allocated €163,310 in respect of the CEP this year.

Given my overall responsibility within Government for Community Development, I am looking at ways in which my Department might assist in finding a resolution to this particular situation. I understand the local authority concerned, Fingal County Council, is also engaging with the Centre.

Charitable and Voluntary Organisations

Questions (15)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

15. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he or his officials have been briefed by the board of Pobal in relation to its review of its charitable status; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30438/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

Pobal is a not for profit company which was originally established by Government in 1992 as Area Development Management (ADM) Ltd. Charitable status was granted to the company by the Revenue Commissioners on the 20th November 1996. In 2005 ADM was re-named Pobal. In accordance with Section 40 of the Charities Act, 2009, Pobal was entered onto the Register of Charitable Organisations on 16 October 2014.

The basis for Pobal having charitable status is tied to the objects of the Company, which are specified in its Memorandum and Articles of Association. I am satisfied that Pobal is fully compliant with the relevant legislative requirements including those of the Charities Act, 2009.

On its own initiative, Pobal undertook a review of its charitable status and in that regard sought independent legal advice on the matter. The review has now concluded. The Board of Pobal met in May 2019 to finalise their discussions relating to the review. I understand that it was decided by the Board that it was appropriate for the company to retain its charitable status. An update on the review was provided to my officials at an Oversight Meeting in June. I am satisfied that Pobal have considered the matter thoroughly and have acted appropriately on the findings of the review.

Land Issues

Questions (16)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

16. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of his proposal to introduce an indemnity scheme for landowners in relation to the use of their land for recreational purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30083/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department has been working for some time to develop a scheme to indemnify private land owners, particularly in upland areas, with regard to the use of their lands for recreational purposes.

This is a complex issue and the legal rights of landowners must be respected, while trying to facilitate access to their lands for recreational users on a permissive basis. The introduction of such a scheme is a key priority for my Department to protect land owners and to support the continued provision of access to the countryside for recreational users.

My Department has been advised that an indemnity scheme such as the one envisaged will require legislative provision. In this context, my officials met with the Attorney General's Office recently to explore the various options open to the Department and to identify the precise legislation which would require to be introduced to implement such a scheme. It appears that a number of separate pieces of legislation could require amendment.

In light of the complexity involved, I am also considering other options that might be available to address the matter as an interim measure. My officials have been making enquiries into alternative options and will continue to work to find a solution that meets the concerns of landowners who provide access to their lands for recreational purposes.

Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme Funding

Questions (17)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

17. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development further to Parliamentary Question No. 577 of 18 June 2019, if the funding available for disadvantaged urban communities will be increased in Budget 2020; if he is planning new initiatives in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30072/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

Many Government Departments have responsibilities in relation to tackling urban disadvantage, through capital projects and income supports. My own Department has several programmes in place to assist disadvantaged communities both urban and rural, and in the forthcoming discussions on Budget 2020 I will be seeking to ensure that we can continue to provide supports to communities who need it most.

While additional funding is always welcome, it is important to acknowledge the great work that is currently underway with resources provided by my Department. For example, in Dublin, the SICAP programme will provide €9.7m in 2019, giving vital support to those community groups and individuals most in need. In addition, under the Community Enhancement Programme (CEP) my Department allocated €675k to the Dublin area in 2019 so that community groups could avail of small capital grants to improve facilities in their areas.

The Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) in each area manages the SICAP programme and administers the CEP at a local level to ensure the funding is targeted to address disadvantage. LCDCs play a key role in tackling issues in disadvantaged areas, bringing a more coordinated, whole-of-Government approach to local and community development. They are best placed to ensure that state funding is channelled to those areas and communities most in need.

My Department will continue to work with Local Authorities through the LCDCs to ensure that appropriate local plans are developed and available resources are targeted effectively to support the development of vibrant and sustainable communities.

LEADER Programmes Administration

Questions (18)

Martin Kenny

Question:

18. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the reason the allocation and processing of applications for LEADER funding is perceived as being slow; if there delays in this regard; if so, his plans to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30219/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The LEADER programme is very much driven at a local level by the Local Action Groups who administer the programme and approve projects in their respective areas.

The LEADER programme effectively commenced in the second half of 2016, following the signing of Funding Agreements with most of the LAGs. While there were some issues concerning the administrative requirements at the start of the programme, over the course of the last 2 years, I have implemented a series of actions to simplify the delivery of LEADER. These actions were developed in consultation with the Local Action Groups themselves.

I have previously highlighted the package of 31 actions I made to improve the programme. This package included:

1. A significant reduction in the number of checks that are carried out on project applications;

2. A standardised application form to assist applicants and streamline the approval process; and,

3. Revised and clarified procurement arrangements.

In addition, I have continued to make a number of additional changes, over and above the package of 31 actions, to further empower Local Action Groups to approve projects.

The impact of these changes is clear to see. 2,135 LEADER projects have been approved for funding of €75.8 million since the programme commenced. Almost 100 other Food and Co-operation projects have also been approved at national level, outside of the core budget available to the LAGs.

The amount of funding approved last year was over double that approved in 2017. This year alone, nearly 600 projects have already been approved.

While my Department will continue to examine ways to further enhance the programme, I am satisfied that changes already made have substantially improved the process for LEADER applicants.

LEADER Programmes Administration

Questions (19)

Martin Heydon

Question:

19. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of progress on the roll-out of the new LEADER programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30221/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The current LEADER programme effectively became operational in the second half of 2016, following the signing of Funding Agreements with most of the Local Action Groups (LAGs) who deliver the programme. Projects must be selected under the programme by the end of 2020, while payments will continue in 2021 and later years as necessary.

We are now making significant progress in the delivery of the LEADER programme. 2,135 project applications have been approved by the LAGs for funding of over €75.8 million. A further 383 projects seeking funding of €27.6 million are at earlier stages of the approvals process.

In addition, almost 100 projects have been approved at national level, outside of the core budget available to the LAGs, for Food and Co-operation projects.

The level of progress on the LEADER programme varies between each Local Action Group. However, on average, the LAGs have indicated that over 80% of their available project budget will be allocated by the end of 2019. This will place the LAGs in a strong position to allocate the full amount of funding available before the end of 2020.

Indeed, there is a growing demand for more LEADER funding to be made available in some areas. In this regard, I was very pleased to announce earlier this week that an additional €5 million will be shared between the LAGs that are most advanced in delivering the LEADER programme. This is further evidence of the huge progress made since my Department introduced a range of administrative improvements to the programme in 2017 and 2018.

Voluntary Sector

Questions (20)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

20. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans for the development of a national volunteering strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30084/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The development of a National Volunteering Strategy is a key priority for my Department.

A Call for Input (CFI) paper was launched in December 2018, as a first step in the development of this strategy. The CFI was circulated to a wide range of stakeholders and was also posted on my Department's website www.drcd.gov.ie. This paper was designed to inform stakeholders about the proposed development of the strategy, to seek their views on what constitutes volunteering and what the strategy should contain.

Among the areas that stakeholders were asked to provide their views on were:

- a definition of volunteering;

- a shared vision for the future of Irish volunteering;

- the objectives of a draft volunteering strategy;

- the volunteering community;

- governance and funding issues;

- various challenges and opportunities that exist within volunteering today; and

- monitoring, measuring and evaluating the impact of volunteering in society.

The response to the CFI was presented to the a National Advisory Group on Volunteering at its inaugural meeting, on 29th May 2019. The Group, which will advise on and oversee the development of the strategy, is made up of a range of stakeholders representing Government and the community and voluntary sector. It is chaired by Minister of State, Seán Canney.

It is anticipated that the draft strategy will be completed later this year, following which there will be a further opportunity for the public to provide input before the strategy is finally presented to Government for approval.

LEADER Programmes Administration

Questions (21)

Tom Neville

Question:

21. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the roll out of the LEADER programme as at the end of June 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30080/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The current LEADER programme effectively became operational in the second half of 2016, following the signing of Funding Agreements with most of the Local Action Groups (LAGs) which administer the programme and approve projects at a local level.

At the end of June 2019, 2,130 projects had been approved for LEADER funding of over €75 million since the commencement of the programme. A further 370 LEADER projects seeking funding of more than €27 million were at earlier stages of the approvals process. These figures have increased slightly since the end of June.

There were also close to 100 other LEADER Food and Co-operation projects approved for funding outside of the core budget available to the LAGs.

Overall, expenditure on the LEADER programme to end of June was over €53.4 million. This expenditure includes both project costs and the costs of the Local Action Groups who administer the programme and work with promoters to develop projects. Project expenditure will increase significantly this year as the works under the approved projects are completed and claims are submitted for payment.

The level of project approvals and the increase in expenditure since the start of 2018 shows that we are now making good progress in the delivery of the LEADER programme. However, I will continue to monitor the programme carefully to ensure that the budget available is fully utilised.

Community Development Projects Funding

Questions (22)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

22. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which he has sufficient resources available to meet requests for grant aid or other forms of assistance from both rural and urban areas nationally and County Kildare in particular; the extent to which he has allocated such funding to date in 2019; the extent or value of applications pending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30440/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

My Department funds a range of programmes and schemes that provide financial assistance and other supports to eligible community groups and organisations in urban and rural areas throughout the country, including in Kildare. These schemes provide much needed funding, support and assistance to communities at local level.

These include the €1 billion Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, the LEADER programme; the Community Enhancement Programme, the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme; the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP); the Town and Village Renewal Scheme; and the Community Services Programme.

My Department has been provided with a gross budget of €294.2 million for 2019 and I intend to ensure that this money is fully allocated through these and other schemes under my Department's remit.

I can confirm that, to date, more than €196 million of this budget has been allocated nationally, with in excess of €5.4 million allocated to projects and organisations in Co Kildare.

Requests for assistance under particular programmes can be made at the appropriate time in respect of the application period for each programme, and these details, along with eligibility criteria and other information, can be found on the Government's website, gov.ie.

The value of the applications pending will be determined following their assessment under the various schemes, later in 2019.

Walks Scheme

Questions (23)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

23. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of new mountain and other walkways funded each year since 2011 under the walkways scheme; his plans to develop this sector further; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30075/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The Walks Scheme currently covers 39 trails, with payments made to approximately 1,960 private land-holders to maintain those trails.

No new walks had been taken onto the scheme since 2010. However, the Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to increase the number of walks covered by the scheme. In line with this commitment, funding for the scheme was doubled in Budget 2019 - from €2 million to €4 million - to allow this expansion to proceed.

In February of this year, I invited Expressions of Interest from Local Authorities and Local Development Companies for inclusion in the scheme of additional trails that meet specific qualifying criteria.

Interested trail management committees, community groups and other relevant bodies were invited to make contact with their Local Authority or Local Development Company to commence the process. To date, 14 Local Development Companies have submitted 46 Expressions of Interest to my Department.

Based on these submissions, I hope to be in a position to announce the first tranche of trails to be added to the scheme by the end of the summer.

There is no closing date for Expressions of Interest at this time, and interested parties can continue submit proposals for additional trails to be included in the Walks Scheme through their Local Authority or Local Development Company.

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Questions (24)

Peter Burke

Question:

24. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the rural regeneration development fund; the impact the fund will have on counties, for example, County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30082/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The Rural Regeneration and Development Fund seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects which have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over 10 years to the Fund and €315 million is allocated to the Fund for the period 2019-2022.

Following the conclusion of the first call under the Fund in February 2019, a total of 84 successful projects had been announced, with funding of €86m provided from the Fund to support projects worth a total of €117m.

Amongst the successful projects was the development of a regeneration plan for the core area of Kinnegad, including plans for the development of a public library and educational campus and a park and community facility in the town centre. The project received €600,000 in funding.

The successful projects under the first call from the Fund were spread across a wide range of sectors – from tourism and enterprise development to heritage protection to community facilities. The projects are located across the country and I believe that their delivery will achieve significant benefits not just for counties but across regions.

I announced the second call for Category 1 applications - those with full planning and consents in place - in April 2019, with a closing date for applications at noon on Tuesday, 6th August 2019. Category 2 applications, relating to projects which need further development to be ready for Category 1 status, will be sought later in the year.

This is a 10 year Fund and I am asking that all local authorities, State agencies, LEADER Local Action Groups and other potential lead parties work with rural communities to identify and develop ambitious projects which will deliver significant regeneration and development to their areas. My Department will work with you to ensure the greatest possible impacts are realised by the support provided by the Fund in the years ahead.