Thursday, 24 October 2019

Questions (1)

Dara Calleary


1. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number and value of approved projects being funded under the rural regeneration and development fund; the funding allocated for the scheme in 2019; the value of the total amount of payments made for approved projects to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43881/19]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Rural)

The rural regeneration and development fund is another of the Minister's big ticket items that is struggling to spend its funding. Only €14 million of the €52 million fund for this year has been drawn down. This points to a difficulty whereby the Minister has the money but the partners do not appear to have it or seem to be very slow in spending it. It is a constant theme and the impact of these programmes on the ground is being diminished. I wish to pursue this in respect of the rural and regeneration fund in particular.

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 ten years to the fund and €315 million is allocated to the fund for the period from 2019 to 2022. A total of €52 million was allocated to the fund for 2019.

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 under categories 1 and 2. Category 1 related to projects with all necessary planning and other consents in place and which were ready to proceed, while category 2 projects were those which required further development to become ready for category 1 status.

On foot of the first call, 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.

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. In this regard, significant progress is already being made on the implementation of successful projects. A number of the projects have reached their first milestone and had funding released.

To date, €16 million has been drawn down from the fund by 29 separate projects. This is made up of €13.31 million drawn down for 15 category 1 projects and €2.69 million for 14 category 2 projects. I expect that payments from the fund will continue to accelerate over the coming weeks and months as further milestones are achieved across the other projects. The second call for category 1 applications for the rural regeneration and development fund closed on 6 August.

Some €52 million is allocated for 2019 and €16 million of that has been drawn down to date. Is the Minister confident that the full €52 million will be drawn down? With regard to the most recent call for applications, which closed in August, when will the Minister announce the successful applicants? One assumes that if the category 1 projects were ready to roll that they are now rolling. Category 2 projects are in pre-clearance, as it were. As regards the €14 million that has been drawn down, does the Minister anticipate that this figure will increase substantially? Finally, what is the co-funding element in place for all these projects or does it differ around the country depending on who the partners are?

We had to carry out due diligence in respect of the category 1 schemes. We had to make sure that the contracts were ready and confirm the funding that they said would be in place. I am pleased that many projects are up and running. In fact, I am due to be in Galway tomorrow to open projects that have been funded under the rural regeneration scheme. The Deputy asked about the spend.

We certainly will not spend all of the money between now and the end of the year, and I am not going to say that we will, but we are hoping to re-profile it elsewhere. As the Deputy knows, the LEADER programme has ramped up. I will transfer some of the excess funding from the rural regeneration scheme into LEADER, even though the Deputy and his colleagues have been telling me for the past two years-----

-----that LEADER would not ramp up, and that we would not be able to spend the LEADER money. The Deputy told me last year that I would not spend my budget. Some 100% of the capital budget and 99.9% of the current budget has been spent. I wanted to take the opportunity to say that because I was sick and tired of hearing this from every Fianna Fáil Deputy over the summer. I know they had nothing else to do but to look at my figures, but I assure the Deputy that I spent the money. With regard to the second round, I am hoping to announce further schemes under the rural regeneration scheme in the next two to three weeks.

I thank the Minister, but I might add that it was not every Deputy.

We were right; the Minister has just admitted he is not going to spend all of the money under the rural regeneration and development fund in 2019.

I was on about LEADER. I did spend it.

He is going to move money from this fund into the LEADER programme. We will have a discussion about the programme later. The Minister has allocated €350 million for the period from 2019 to 2021 under the rural regeneration and development fund. He is not going to reach that target in the first year, so is that figure of €350 million going to change? It is unbelievable that the Minister will not spend all his money when 70% of applications under the November 2018 call were not green-lighted for progress. Only 84 of 280 applications progressed. I am sure that many applicants whose projects did not get through assessment would love to have the kind of money the Minister is going to send back. How much money does the Minister anticipate re-profiling, to use his own word, from rural regeneration into some other pot to open everything up over the next few weeks?

I am very confident that all of our programmes are on profile. The Deputy will know that projects in his own county have started and I am told they will be completed by the end of December. I expect they will draw down the funding. That is happening all over the country.

I do not yet know the amount I will not spend. Earlier in the year, I had thought that I might have money to reallocate from LEADER. That is not going to happen. In fact, I am going to have to look to other areas to fund LEADER. In all fairness, Deputy Calleary was not too bad but there was another man in Galway who was on the radio or in the newspaper every week suggesting that I was not going to spend, no matter how often I sent him information showing that last year I spent my full allocation and almost 99.9% of my current expenditure budget. I will do the same this year. All of my programmes are on profile. The Deputy knows about this rural regeneration scheme. He knows that we have to carry out due diligence, which is important. These are large schemes into which a lot of State money is going. I have to make sure that everything is above board. We set milestones with regard to contracts and procurement. Everything has to be in order.

I compliment my staff. They have worked very hard with all of these communities, State agencies, and councils. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty to get some of these schemes up and running. I could make further comments today but I will not. I thank my staff for their patience, their work, and the effort they put into getting these schemes across the line. If this was a private company, I know what these projects would be told to do. They would not draw down funding from that private company; they would be told "Bye, bye". To be fair to my officials, they have worked very hard. They were very good. This is a great scheme. The Deputy knows it is a good scheme. Fantastic projects will be undertaken. As I have said, I will be in Galway to open one of these projects tomorrow. It is just fantastic.

Before we move on to Question No. 2, I ask Deputies and Ministers to be conscious of time so that we can get as many of the listed Deputies as possible in for their questions.