Thursday, 5 December 2019

Questions (6)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

6. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the degree to which the support and services provided by his Department have been most regularly sought by communities nationwide; his views on whether adequate interaction takes place at present; if changes are envisaged which may broaden the appeal and availability and consequently further improve community involvement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50615/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which local communities have ready access to the kind of funding which they see as being fundamental to their needs and whether it might be possible to improve the existing situation or if it is working satisfactorily.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

My Department is committed to the successful delivery of a wide range of programmes and supports to benefit all communities.

These supports include large-scale investments in rural regeneration and renewal of our towns and villages. Funding is also provided for rural development with small-scale grants and supports directed to help community and voluntary organisations.

Close engagement with communities is key to ensuring that the positive impact of my Department's policies, programmes and supports is maximised and targeted at those most in need. Consultation with local groups, stakeholders and the public plays a key role in the preparation of all Department policies including the next rural development policy and forthcoming national volunteering strategy.

Earlier this year I launched a new five-year strategy for community and voluntary sector development. Work has begun and funding is in place for the implementation of these measures.

These include enhanced supports for the structures which drive local engagement in decision making – the public participation networks and the local community development committees. Further funding will be provided to support the delivery of the national social enterprise policy for Ireland. This funding is in addition to existing supports already in place for social enterprises.

My Department has been proactive in interacting with communities and delivered, in conjunction with Pobal, a series of six "Helping Hands" events nationwide earlier this year to engage with communities and create awareness and understanding of funding programmes. Feedback from these interactions was very positive and I have asked my officials to consider running other similar events into 2020.

The 2019 series of regional "Rural Opportunity" information sessions run nationwide also raised awareness of the extent to which assistance is available to rural communities from across Departments. This engagement with rural communities will continue on the issues which impact them.

These ongoing consultations and interactions will continue to enhance the effectiveness of the work of my Department and the positive impacts being felt by communities on the ground from our important work.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply and I note the expansion of the various programmes.

For example, where conditional expenditure, matching expenditure or some proportion of expenditure is expected by the body or group which has applied, such conditions sometimes put them in a difficult position. It may be virtually a charity and dependent entirely on what it gets either by its own fund-raising or by way of grant aid from the Minister's Department or others. I am merely wondering if it might be possible to ease that requirement without rendering the scheme in any way ineffective.

As somebody who has been very much involved in community all his life, the Deputy is a long time here and he understands it. In some of our schemes, there has to be a local contribution. Particularly if we are dealing with the local authorities, we expect them to put some kind of a contribution into the scheme. In relation to communities themselves, we have a number of schemes that do not involve a local contribution. We give them some funding for the smaller schemes.

It is interesting that Deputy Durkan asked the question this morning because I could name six community groups from all over the country which are involved in major developments, some of which are costing over €1 million. There was one particular project for which the Department granted nearly €1 million. The project was to come in at €1.2 million and the community came back to me stating it is costing €1.6 million. I have that problem now in a number of places. That is where my Department plays a role and where elected representatives play a role. It is fine that these community groups provide great service. If we did not have them we would not have the service, but we need somebody, whether he or she is from my Department, from the local authorities or from other State agencies, to guide them through the process because if a group has €1.2 million and it finds itself €400,000 short, it creates a problem. I would like to see these projects grant aided and completed. I have a number of these problems now around the country and it is something that I and the Department need to look at.

I am aware of one or two of them as well. It is because of interaction with them that I discovered it might be possible to ease the sharp corners that exist in a way that would be beneficial to both the Department and themselves. Following on the Minister's comments, I certainly would be prepared to go back and interact with them and try to improve the situation.

The Deputy has them in his constituency. Every Deputy here has them in his or her constituency. But for that voluntary sector, we would have a difficult situation in this country. They have to be complimented. I have to thank them. They do tremendous work. There are people who put their lives into voluntary schemes and put a lot of work into it and they do not get anything out of it. Sometimes they get abuse. They do not get the respect that they deserve.

I want to put this on the record today and thank them on behalf of the Government and on my own behalf. I see what is happening all over this country and, but for the voluntary sector, we would have a very serious problem, particularly with services. The State will not provide them. The HSE will not provide them. The local authority will not provide them. If we did not have the voluntary sector, we would have a very difficult time in this House.