Thursday, 5 December 2019

Questions (13, 28)

Joan Burton

Question:

13. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the discussions held with Fingal County Council, the archdiocese of Dublin and the local community in Hartstown regarding the building works needed for a centre (details supplied) to continue operating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50617/19]

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Joan Burton

Question:

28. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the discussions his Department has held with Fingal County Council and the local community in Huntstown regarding the fire safety and structural remedial works needed on a centre (details supplied) in order for it to continue operating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50616/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Rural)

I have a very easy question for the Minister. What is he going to do to assist the very large communities in Huntstown and Hartstown? I realise they are not rural areas, but community centres in both area are at risk of closure following fire inspections and urgently need work done. I raised the matter previously with the Minister. Fingal County Council has tried to be helpful. Does the Minister's Department have money for urban areas? These are big urban areas with large populations. Crèches and preschools there will close unless the Department comes forward with funding.

I am trying to ensure there is time for another Deputy to ask a question. I ask Deputy Burton please to co-operate.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 28 together.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I am aware of the situation regarding Hartstown and Huntstown community centres and know how important the centres are to the people there.

Community facilities are funded from a range of sources across various Departments and agencies. For example, my Department has provided funding to Huntstown community centre under the community services and community enhancement programmes. My officials have been in discussions with Fingal County Council regarding the two centres. I am aware that both have specific and exceptional funding requirements.

I was previously asked about the possibility of opening a national fund to support community centres with emergency funding requirements for fire safety works. I stated that, given the constraints on my Department's voted funding, it was not possible for me to open a new line of national funding for that purpose. However, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that under the dormant accounts action plan for 2020 I have put in place a very modest fund of €250,000 to assist in a limited number of particularly critical cases. Given the large number of community centres, it is not possible for this fund to support a national programme of remediation works. However, it will allow me to make a contribution towards the costs of works in a small number of exceptionally urgent and critical cases. In that regard, I am prepared to examine what level of funding can be provided to the two centres referenced by the Deputy.

I thank the Minister for his reply and the promise of potential funding, albeit possibly not of the scale required. He is correct to accept that there is significant pressure on community centres to meet very intensive and expensive fire survey review requirements, particularly those imposed by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The centres to which I refer serve urban areas west of Blanchardstown Centre with populations of between 7,000 and 10,000. Approximately 70,000 people go through each centre per year. What do they have to do to access funding from the dormant accounts fund? This issue has been raised at community meetings. I would welcome the Minister's advice on the matter.

I have made clear that I am prepared to support the two communities in question, but my Department does not have the required amount of funding. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the local authorities must play their part. Deputy Calleary earlier raised the issue of other Departments running to my Department when there is a crisis. I do not have enough funding to provide for all requests. I found funding for an exceptional case which was raised with me. My officials are in discussions with the local authority. It will have to come to the plate, as will the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and other Departments. The alternative is for the Government to establish and support a specific fund. I do not have the resources to so do. I have allocated a certain amount of funding to try to deal with some of the critical cases and that is all I can do.

The local authority will now be aware that funding will be available from the dormant accounts fund on a limited basis, as well as from the Minister's Department. These issues are being experienced all over the country. Crèches and other services must obtain a fire certificate in order to get an operating licence. Fire safety is important. As the Minister is aware, the inspections are expensive and the work is particularly expensive. These are just two of many centres that will be seeking support. I acknowledge that the allocation of funding may be a decision for the Government as a whole. The Minister referred to the role of other Departments. We must ensure that crèches and preschools adjacent to local primary schools in the heart of local communities are not closed. It would be a black mark against the Government if that were allowed to happen. As Minister with responsibility for community affairs, Deputy Ring might take leadership on the issue.

I have responsibility for community affairs, including the community services programme, from which the areas to which the Deputy refers are benefiting. My Department is responsible for the community enhancement programme and the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP. However, I will not take responsibility for the repair of halls all over the country. I do not have the budget to so do. There is a problem and I am trying to deal with it, but it is not solely the remit of my Department. A cross-Government approach needs to be taken and funding must be found.

Local authorities must not simply pass this issue to my Department or the Government. They have funding and responsibilities. There are certain difficulties in this area relating to local authorities, the church or other groups holding title and deeds. That does not mean that every problem comes into my Department. I will try to deal with part of this issue for the Deputy, but I will not take responsibility for every community hall. That is what the LEADER and community enhancement programmes are for. The community services programme is available to assist with staffing and the SICAP may be availed of. My Department and the Government are looking after those who need to be looked after.