Thursday, 24 October 2019

Questions (4)

Ruth Coppinger


4. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he will establish a national fund to assist community centres in need of fire safety works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43806/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Rural)

The Minister will be aware that fire and safety audits are being done by many community centres and it results in them needing to significantly enhance their buildings and raise funds for that work. We all agree with increased fire safety regulations but there has to be a way for public buildings and community centres to get this work done. Hartstown and Huntstown are two community centres in close proximity in my constituency and the Taoiseach's constituency. They have been told they need to raise €120,000 each. I have raised this matter previously with the Minister and with the Taoiseach. It is not tenable for one local community to raise nearly €250,000 for fire safety.

Will the Minister set up a national fund for such work?

Community centres are cornerstones of community life in many towns, villages and urban areas. They bring people together in safe spaces for social, educational and other purposes. I acknowledge that it is very important that community facilities be safe for the groups and individuals that use them. Where upgrades to community centres are needed, whether for fire safety or other reasons, a range of funding sources across Departments and agencies can be availed of. On the funding provided by my Department, rural community centres can benefit from the town and village renewal scheme and LEADER programme funding. The community enhancement programme can also contribute small capital grants for facilities in both rural and urban areas. Given the constraints on my Department's Vote, it is not possible to open a new line of national funding for community centres in need of fire safety works. However, I am examining the possibility of setting aside a modest fund to assist in a limited number of particularly critical cases. I stress that where a community centre is in the ownership of a local authority, it is that authority's responsibility to identify and resolve any issue. Where ownership rests with other parties, I urge the communities involved to contact their local authority when issues are identified to explore and discuss the options available.

When I raised this idea with the Taoiseach earlier in the month, he said it was a good idea and indicated that he would look into it. However, in a letter he sent subsequently the fund was no longer mentioned. Instead, he pointed towards six funds. Is the Government seriously suggesting people go out fundraising and then claim from six funds, with all of the administration that involves? There will be a public meeting in Huntstown community centre tonight and there was a very large attendance at a meeting in Hartstown with the new board of management last night. All people want to know is whether the Government will support the vital work community centres do or is it merely paying lip service. It is not clear that money will be provided. The problem is that claims have been made to some of these funds already and that people do not have the time, energy and space to go looking in six locations.

I want the Deputy to be clear that I do not have a baseline in my budget for community halls all over the country. The Deputy, among others, the Taoiseach and a number of people came to see me. They had a problem in Hartstown and now there is a problem in Huntstown. I have put aside a small sum in my Department to assist these communities. In Hartstown we are waiting for the local authority to come back to tell us how much is actually required. The local authority is also committed to providing funding for the project. I do not have a baseline in my budget, but in other parts of the country people can obtain funding from the LEADER programme for community halls. The community enhancement programme is also available, whereby local authorities can provide assistance for community halls. This is a major issue that is developing. As such, I will put aside €250,000 from Dormant Accounts Fund money next year and will see what I can do to help. However, this issue cannot be left to one Department. Local authorities have to play their part, as do other Departments and people in leadership positions. We are committed to helping communities, which is why we have SICAP, the CSP and other programmes to assist them.

It is bizarre that fire safety regulations were increased, yet there is no mechanism to help organisations to meet them. Unfortunately, local authorities do not run all community centres. That is the problem. The greyhound industry which many believe is cruel received €17 million from the Government in the recent budget, while community centres have been left to bag-pack, organise pub quizzes, race nights and so on to raise funds to pay for fire safety measures such as fire doors. Is this for real? What are the priorities? As it is, community centres plug gaps where the Government has failed, in particular in dealing with the housing crisis in Dublin West. They provide breakfast clubs for kids, washing facilities for homeless families, hot meals and so on and are doing so from their own budgets. People do not care from where the money comes. They just want it to be made clear that the centres will be supported in what they do. While some people are employed, in involves a great deal of voluntary effort. I ask the Minister to sit down with the people involved to ensure they can draw down funds just as he would sit down if there was a crisis in a rural area, or wherever else, with which I fully agree.

The Deputy should remember that this is the Department of Rural and Community Development and that it deals with urban, as well as rural areas.

I have been in and out of many areas in urban as well as rural locations. This is a new problem that has developed. While the Deputy says it is a Government problem, the Government does not own some of the community halls. They may be owned by the church, local authorities or communities. A lot of the schemes and community organisations operating in them are being funded by the Government, rightly so. If we did not have those involved providing services, they would not exist. I appreciate that, but we have a problem and I am trying to help in dealing with it in some way. However, I will need cross-Government support. I have a small Department and the funding about which the Deputy is talking is not within my budget. I am making some funding available to deal with one or two of the problems highlighted by the Deputy and know that the same problems in other areas will be raised. It is something at which I have to look with the Government. I cannot give a commitment in circumstances in which funding is not available in my budget line for next year. Nevertheless, I am making some funding available to deal with the problems we have. Ultimately, there will have to be a cross-Government decision.