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Thursday, 5 Nov 2020

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Community Development Initiatives

Questions (5)

Kieran O'Donnell


5. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the steps she will take to encourage and promote remote working; if additional funding was secured as part of budget 2021 to support this work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34024/20]

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Oral answers (14 contributions) (Question to Rural)

Remote working has very much come to the fore because of Covid-19. It was always very much in consideration but it now needs to be accelerated, particularly in rural areas. What steps has the Minister taken to encourage remote working? What additional funding has she secured as part of the budget to support this work so rural community centres and even urban community centres that can be adapted for remote working may become enterprise hubs in their own right?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The increased shift to remote work in the past six months as a result of Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to reimagine the possibilities for a greater regional distribution of jobs and to support better quality of life for many who previously spent many hours on long commutes. Remote working has the potential to transform rural areas, allowing people to build careers in good-quality jobs while continuing to live closer to home. It also provides an opportunity for those who moved away from home for work reasons to return to their roots to raise their families.

Since 2019, my Department has been working with the Western Development Commission, WDC, to build an integrated network of remote working hubs along the Atlantic economic corridor, AEC, from Kerry to Donegal. The WDC has identified and mapped more than 100 remote working hubs that serve that region. The approach to building this network and shared back-office services will serve as a model that can be replicated in other parts of the country. Budget 2021 allocated an additional €5 million to my Department to support the expansion of the AEC hub network model into a national initiative. An interdepartmental working group, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, has been convened to make progress on this work. My Department invests significantly in remote working facilities through programmes such as the town and village renewal scheme, the rural regeneration and development fund and the libraries programme.

In the constituency I represent, covering part of Limerick and north Tipperary, including Newport, Birdhill and Ballinahinch, this is a major issue on the ground. Can the Minister tell me what community centres have already been allocated funding for the broadband upgrade? What can community centres in the constituency of Limerick City, which covers east Limerick and north Tipperary, including Newport, Ballinahinch and Birdhill, do to make an application to access funding from the Minister's Department to facilitate remote working? I want people be able to go to towns such as Castleconnell, Murroe, Caherconlish and Newport to work remotely in their local community centre, where they know the people. It is a return to a very good model, which involves living and working in the community and rearing one's family there. What can people in Limerick and north Tipperary do to gain access to funding to facilitate the creation of remote-working enterprise centres in local community centres?

We will have 200 broadband connection points rolled out before the end of this year, and the remaining 100 or so will be rolled out by the first half of next year. We are rolling them out as quickly as possible. The way it works is that the broadband officer in the local authority identifies certain communities that have poor-quality broadband. We have worked with Vodafone and National Broadband Ireland to install high-speed broadband in the relevant community centres. I now have the funding. I want to make sure that if a community hall needs to install some equipment, such as a desk or two, fit out a room or do something that improves its quality, we want to work with it. We have been rolling out the initiative, working with the local authorities so they will be able to identify changes that need to be made. It will not involve big money. We would like to be able to help in this regard. In addition, there is the initiative concerning remote working or co-working spaces in towns and villages.

Could I follow up on that? A major issue in rural east Limerick and rural north Tipperary is that Eir might have broadband available at both ends of a road but no coverage in between. I ask that local authority broadband officers take into account in their analysis and appraisal the locations that cannot access broadband but where it could be made available in the local community centre. In this way, the centre would qualify under the scheme on the basis that there are areas nearby that do not have access to broadband. I ask that the criteria be expanded. The measure is very welcome. When does the Minister expect to have the scheme up and running so relevant communities can apply for broadband in their community centres through their local authorities, such as Limerick City and County Council and Tipperary County Council?

I take the Deputy's point on where there are gaps in coverage along roads. This is being examined under the national broadband plan. The types of areas in question are identified as areas that need attention.

It should be put into the community centres as well.

The local authorities are certainly working with communities across the country. They are happy to work further with them. If there are other connection points that we need to consider, I will be happy to work with the local authorities in that regard and get feedback from them.

Let me state what the €5 million is for. We need a mapping exercise because we need to find out where all the hubs are and account for the broadband connection points. There are all sorts of names in use, including "co-working spaces" and "digital hubs". We are going to put them all on one big map and see where the gaps are. We will also be able to provide a platform or app so a person will be able to find out where remote working is possible in his or her local area. We are considering town and village renewal in the sense that there might be a premises in the middle of a town suitable for a co-working hub. I am very keen to have the hubs in the middle of towns because it revitalises them. If a community centre needs to buy a desk or kit itself out, that will not be a problem; that is what the money is for.

I thank the Minister.

Does Deputy Ó Cuív wish to ask a supplementary question?

May I mention the "D" word, namely, decentralisation? It has been out of favour. Previously, decentralisation involved moving whole sections of Departments, but my idea involves a different type of decentralisation. Working from home is fine for many people, but people need socialisation at work. It is also important for the workplace. Instead of bringing people back to their parent Departments, could there be Civil Service offices, perhaps in premises currently held, where people from different Departments could work and be overseen by a principal officer? People all over the country could work remotely near where they wanted to live. Has there been any discussion on this suggestion, including with the OPW on utilising underutilised properties in the new regime? The post-Covid world will not be the same as the pre-Covid world.

I agree. For that reason, there will be a focus on remote working under the rural development plan. Co-working is better because people need social interaction. I have already spoken to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, about co-working spaces specifically designed for public servants so that they can go to towns with facilities that have been kitted out with, for example, the right Internet connections and IT security, and are good work environments. Public servants could have the contact they need because I do not believe that working from home all the time is a good idea. People need to get out. It would also encourage creativity and connectivity between different Departments and ideas could thrive.

I could talk all day about the Annaghmakerrig centre in County Monaghan. The guy who left it to the arts placed one condition on it - the artists could go about their business on their own all day, be it writing books, painting or whatever, but they had to have dinner together in the evening. A connection whereby people sit down together and have a bit of lunch or a cup of coffee allows an exchange of ideas and encourages creativity.

I would like to think that if we design such facilities, we could also have a space for an artist. We will work on these matters.

There is nothing stopping people from multiple Departments going to the same building if the broadband connection is good. Remote working is great and co-working is the key.

I will finish on this point. All politics are local. Murroe is in my constituency. It is the home of Glenstal Abbey. Murroe has the Muintir na Tíre Hall, which was founded by Canon John Hayes, who promoted the idea of people working and thriving in their communities. I am not saying we are going back to that exactly, but we are going back to it in a digital age. It should be supported. We have to think outside the box and it is a good initiative.

I have discussed this matter with the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath. He and I are committed to working on this initiative so that public servants can access good-quality facilities in locations across the country. It is the right thing to do. It will help towns and villages that are crying out for workers to revitalise them.

Harbours and Piers

Questions (6)

Mairéad Farrell


6. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development her plans to progress phase 3 of the development of Caladh Mór pier on Inis Meáin. [34022/20]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Rural)

Cuireadh céim 1 agus céim 2 de chéibh an Chalaidh Mhóir ar Inis Meáin i gcrích in 2008. Tá muintir Inis Meáin ag fanacht ar fhorbairt céim 3 ó shin. An féidir leis an Aire insint dúinn cad é stádas céim 3 den fhorbairt seo? Phases 1 and 2 of the development of Caladh Mór pier on Inis Meáin were undertaken 12 years ago. What are the plans to progress phase 3?

Go raibh maith ag an Deputy for raising this issue. As she will be aware, the pier on Inis Meáin is listed among the capital development projects referenced in the national development plan. To date, approximately €14 million has been spent on the project's first two phases. Users of the pier, including a number of State-subsidised ferry operators, have highlighted issues with capacity at the harbour as well as with currents around the harbour mouth. I understand that the next step is for Galway County Council to review the draft business case, setting out the options for further development, including options to address the issues regarding access to the harbour.

In June 2020, my Department provided funding to Galway County Council to commission the preparation of a simulation model of the harbour by the National Maritime College of Ireland, NMCI. This modelling will examine a range of designs to address the problems and provide guidance for vessels accessing the harbour. Covid-19 restrictions have meant that access to the NMCI facility has not been possible in recent months. However, Galway County Council is making arrangements with the NMCI to progress the work, having regard to public health guidelines and travel restrictions. Once the NMCI has completed its work and Galway County Council has incorporated the findings into its draft business case, the Department will evaluate the options in line with the public spending code and available funding. At that stage, the finalised plan for the pier will be prepared.

It should be noted that all requisite permissions and assessments will need to be undertaken once the final plan has been scoped out and agreed.

Mothaíonn muintir Inis Meáin go bhfuil forbairt na céibhe tar éis titim idir dhá stól. Ní raibh an céibh críochnaithe amach riamh, mar atá luaite ag an Aire. Tuigim go bhfuil taighde á dhéanamh i gCorcaigh ar ábaltacht na céibhe stoirmeacha a sheasamh, rud atá fíorthábhachtach don oileán. Tá staidéar á dhéanamh ar thomhais na céibhe freisin, le fánán. Níl aon cheo déanta air seo ó 2008. Teastaíonn freagraí ar an bhforbairt thábhachtach seo. Bhí an taighde ceaptha a bheith críochnaithe anuraidh.

I understand it is intended to progress phase 3, which will address issues such as pier capacity and the provision of an enhanced slipway, but the final phase has been delayed while the study on the project has been under way in Cork. That study was due for completion last year and has been delayed further by the pandemic. This project has been ongoing for 12 years. Is there a timeline for its completion?

My Department has given funding to Galway County Council with advice on preparing a draft business case. The Department has also provided funding of €39,360 to Galway County Council for the preparation of the modelling simulations.

The project will take some time, but progress has been made. The key aspect is that there is co-operation between the county council and the NMCI. There are problems with the harbour, for example relating to boat capacity and access issues due to currents. The council must develop a business case and the Department will have to evaluate the final plan. Other elements will also have to be considered when developing the plan, for example, environmental impact assessments. It is a complex project, but it is good that the council is working with the NMCI. That will allow the council to model a simulation and find out exactly where the problems are and how to address them.

Is léir go dteastaíonn cumarsáid níos fearr le muintir Inis Meáin. Níl a fhios acu cá bhfuil an fhorbairt seo fágtha, cé go n-iarrann siad ar an scéal is deireanaí go rímhinic. Mothaíonn siad nach bhfuil aon cheo déanta ó 2008. Is infreastruchtúr fíorthábhachtach é an céibh i gcomhair an oiléain agus níl ach céim amháin fágtha. Ba chóir don Roinn tús áite a thabhairt dó.

It is clear that there needs to be enhanced communication with the community on Inis Meáin. People feel that there have been no developments, that the pier has been forgotten and that there is procrastination. A pier is key infrastructure for an island community. We need to prioritise communication and set out a timeline so that the community knows when the project will be finished.

I imagine that Galway County Council has been engaging with the community on Inis Meáin. Some of the Deputy's colleagues have raised the matter with me numerous times. I am sure they have been in contact with the community as well.

Deputy Ó Cuív has had a long-standing interest in ensuring this project is brought to fruition. I wish to reassure the Deputy the national development plan is up for review. We want to ensure this project is in it - it is absolutely essential. We are talking about what will probably be a five-year project. I am happy that my officials can engage with the island community. There is some work to be done to get the right solution. There is no point building something that will not work. I have seen where other new piers have come up but they have created more problems when they have not been investigated fully.

When the pier went in, it was a revolution on the island. If the Minister knows Inis Meáin or visits the island she will understand. It was built at the only place on the island where it was possible to create a harbour. It was known from the beginning that phase 1 would not do the full job. However, it has made it possible for the passenger ferry to go in, even though there are some issues at the mouth - we understand that. Yet, the cargo boat does not go in. I have raised with the Minister previously the critical importance of the cargo boat not only for bringing goods into the island but because of the significant manufacturing facility, Cniotáil Inis Meáin, based on the island. The company needs constant supplies in and out. It is doing well business-wise but it is totally dependent on getting the raw material in and the finished material out.

This project has been progressing, or so we are told, for a long time but it seems at times to be going nowhere. I know about the National Maritime College of Ireland. Will the Minister organise to give us all the steps that will have to be taken between now and the completion of this project, as well as the project on Inis Oírr? They are both equally important. Will the Minister give us an estimated timeline for each step? We need to see the timescales and we need to be able to measure progress. The county council and the Department tend to tell us all the time that the other group has the ball.

I agree with the Deputy that this has been going on for a considerable period. I am personally committed to trying to do all I can to assist in progressing the matter. I understand the difficulties with the cargo ship - that it cannot get in and out - and that it is badly needed.

My officials are keeping in contact with the island committee. My officials will be happy to meet them again to discuss progress on the project. I am happy to provide the Deputy with an outline of where this project is and where it needs to get to. We want to ensure that it gets into the national development plan and I imagine Deputy Ó Cuív will help me in this. It is needed and I will be making a strong case for it. I hope the Deputy will support me in that.

LEADER Programmes

Questions (7, 12, 18)

Seán Sherlock


7. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to outline the consultation that has taken place with stakeholders on the development of a transitional LEADER programme to 2023; and the way in which she plans to proceed in developing a national rural development programme as outlined in the programme for Government. [34151/20]

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Alan Dillon


12. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to set out the LEADER funding following budget 2021 that will be allocated for projects in 2021; if funding will be provided for the delivery and administration of the LEADER programme for 2021; when an interim national rural development plan for the period 2021-23 will be available as committed to in the programme for Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34175/20]

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Seán Sherlock


18. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to set out the funding that has been made available for a national rural development programme as committed to in the programme for Government to replace the current LEADER programme in 2021. [34150/20]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Rural)

Will the Minister set out what level of LEADER funding will be allocated for the project in 2021? What funding will be provided for the delivery and administration of the LEADER programme? When will the interim national rural development plan for 2021-23 be published?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 12 and 18 together.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to prioritise a State-led programme to bridge the gap between the current LEADER programme and the next EU programme. The objective of this commitment is to allow a local-led rural development project to be delivered under a transitional programme until the new EU programme commences.

The next EU programme will not commence until 2022 at the earliest. In recent months, my Department has listened to the views of several stakeholders involved in the delivery of the LEADER programme in respect of the proposed transitional programme. This includes local authorities and the local development companies. The design, duration and composition of the transitional programme is currently being finalised. I hope to be in a position shortly to announce the details of the programme that will come into effect in 2021.

An extra €4 million has been provided for LEADER in budget 2021 to bring the total allocation for next year to €44 million. I can confirm that the allocation will be used to fund a combination of existing projects as they come to completion as well as new projects to be approved under the transitional programme. The funding will also support the administration costs of local action groups in closing out the existing programme and delivering the transitional programme.

It is important to recognise that LEADER is a multiannual programme and that payments in respect of projects which are approved in any given year are generally not drawn down until subsequent years, depending on the nature and scale of the projects concerned. In this context, overall costs related to projects under the transitional programme are likely to be met from the provision in my Department's Vote in 2022 and 2023 as well as in 2021.

I thank the Minister for her detailed response. I wish to acknowledge the excellent work she has done in her Ministry to date. She has built on the progress made since the establishment of the Department of Rural and Community Development in 2017 by the former Minister, Deputy Michael Ring.

I thank the Minister for her comments on her work alongside the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and the confirmation that the Northern and Western Regional Assembly will continue to be used as a vehicle to support EU-backed projects for the north-west region. That is crucial. It is a vital step for rural development in the west and north west.

In my constituency we have the South West Mayo Development Company and the Mayo North East company. They support vital jobs in Ireland as well as social and economic development within the county. The Mayo Local Action Group is one of the top-ten performing local action groups under the leader programme. The additional allocation of €4 million in the budget recently was vital and welcome. We need to continue with the work and with the LEADER programme. The Minister's support in this regard would be valuable and greatly appreciated.

I know the Mayo local development companies do good work. I wish to continue to support the companies in finishing off this programme. The end of this year is the end date for announcing new projects. Some of the companies still have several projects and applications to which they have yet to allocate funding. It will take some time for these projects to draw down the money. The local development companies will be fairly busy in the coming year and a half or so in ensuring these projects are delivered. They will be working with the promoters. I can assure the Deputy that there is €44 million in the budget for next year. That will cover the existing projects that have been approved. It will also include a transitional programme. I will be announcing details of that in the coming weeks and I will be engaging with stakeholders.

I have one final question on the consultation process and the steps that the Minister will undertake with the various stakeholders. Will the Minister elaborate on that as we move into this transitional LEADER programme?

As the Minister has said, there was a commitment in the programme for Government to have the transitional programme. The Minister, the former Minister, Deputy Ring, and I were responsible for that. I too welcome the decision to include the Northern and Western Regional Assembly in rolling out the next programme.

There was a lot of scaremongering around that over the summer. I am glad that commitment in the programme for Government was answered.

In the post-Covid environment LEADER may be the only show in town for a lot of organisations and a lot of major development. During 2021 how much of the €44 million will be available for new projects and new calls? Will there be any prospect of new calls for new projects launching in 2021?

I join others in paying tribute to all the LEADER staff, particularly those in the LEADER companies in Mayo and the Department's staff in Ballina, where the programme is headquartered. We look forward to welcoming the Minister to Ballina when conditions allow in order that she can see for herself the superb team she has there.

I agree with Deputy Calleary that the staff in Ballina do really good work there, work extremely hard and engage a lot. I have spoken to them on a number of occasions via the Internet, on Zoom, Webex or whatever else they are using, but I hope to visit Ballina as soon as I can.

As for the Northern and Western Regional Assembly, I was delighted to work on that matter with Deputy Calleary and the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, who gave approval for the funding to be rolled out. That is extremely important.

I am continually speaking to different people individually about the LEADER companies. I have not met them as a group yet but it is my plan to meet them very shortly. To be clear, they have until the middle of 2022 to complete these projects and there will be a fund for a transitional programme. I am considering that and will announce it in the coming weeks. I am happy to engage with the Deputies on this matter and I will also engage with the stakeholders. I wish to support them in the good work they do while bearing in mind that I will carry out a review of the programme. That is the right and wise thing to do. We want to see what has and has not worked well and identify the weaknesses and address them. I look forward to working with the LEADER companies in that regard.

Library Services

Questions (8)

John Lahart


8. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the work of her Department to support public libraries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34090/20]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Rural)

I wish to ask the Minister about her Department's work to support our public libraries. I ask her to make a statement, particularly in the context of the impact of Covid on the operation of libraries.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Department leads on the implementation of the public library strategy, Our Public Libraries 2022, which aims to improve access to, use and visibility of the library as a community hub and a focal point for cultural development. In 2020 alone my Department has allocated over €8 million to support public library services. This includes the libraries capital programme, which will invest some €29 million in 18 projects and in the My Open Library service over the next few years. The programme has six completed projects and five more under construction. The My Open Library service, which in normal circumstances allows access to the library on a self-service basis from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days per year, is available in 19 branches and is under development in a further 49 branches. In addition to this, nine new libraries are being funded through my Department's rural regeneration and development fund. Earlier this year almost €700,000 was approved to support the provision of sensory facilities and equipment in libraries and last month I approved over €713,000 for the provision of library supports for marginalised, socially excluded and disadvantaged communities.

I have also provided significant funding to public libraries during the Covid-19 pandemic. In September I approved €3 million for a small-scale capital works programme that will help adapt libraries to facilitate social distancing and other measures in order to comply with Covid-19 guidelines. My Department also provided funding of €400,000 to support the provision of additional online ebooks and e-audiobooks.

Libraries the length and breadth of the country are doing an absolutely wonderful job. There are so many more people using their local libraries, which is really encouraging. I compliment the staff in every single library. They really are a credit to us all in the great service they provide. Libraries are innovating, adapting and evolving and my Department is delighted to support them on this.

I appreciate the Minister's answer, particularly insofar as it relates to the strategy outlined in Our Public Libraries 2022: Inspiring, Connecting and Empowering Communities, to which she referred. Libraries are closed now, however. I know she is a very keen supporter of libraries. I do not think there is a public representative who is not. The library has always been one of our favourite community hubs. The view of communities, however, is that local retail stores and supermarkets are open and people are stacking shelves in them and customers are going into them in large numbers. There are never large numbers in libraries, a fact which should be taken into account in anticipation of any future lockdown, semi-lockdown or other measures that may have to be taken. Libraries play a critical role. The Minister knows that many people sometimes cannot afford to buy a daily newspaper. They call into the local library to read their daily newspaper and for the opportunity to interact with other people. They were denied that during the previous lockdown. It was a sacrifice many of them made. What is the Minister's thinking in this regard? When we come out of this, hopefully on 1 December, and if we ever have to restrict movement again, will libraries be pinpointed as one of those public places where we can be a little more flexible and a little more agile in enabling public access?

I take the Deputy's point that libraries can be controlled fairly well and I know that the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, and the local authority chief executives have asked for libraries to operate contact and collect at level 4. They have made proposals and we are happy to bring those proposals to the Department of the Taoiseach and NPHET for consideration. I absolutely accept the point the Deputy makes, that it is hard to see the risks in click and collect. Since the beginning of the pandemic the Department has provided €400,000 for the purchase of additional ebooks and e-audiobooks to meet the rising demand for these services. Library users now have access to an extensive online catalogue: more than 48,000 ebooks and 33,000 e-audiobooks, 4,000 magazines, 2,400 online newspapers from over 100 countries, more than 500 elearning courses and more than 100 online language courses. I myself did not realise the libraries were offering such a wonderful service - it is fantastic - but I take the Deputy's point that not everybody is online.

I thank the Minister for that and I hear her openness to my suggestions. I think we can see the sense in this, as she said, given the low risk and somehow analysing it. She announced €3 million to support a small-scale capital works programme in some of the public libraries. Given that they have been closing, is progress being made on that during their closure? In addition, the Minister's strategy, which I very much welcome, sets out an ambition of increasing library use and growing active membership from 6% of the population to 30%. Has she any update or news on reaching out to an increased membership?

Library membership has gone up considerably since the lockdown and that is really good. As for online material alone, in March 2020, 17,865 new users registered to use the online BorrowBox service, which provides access to ebooks. That was a 702% increase in the number of new users. There has also been a 122% increase in the number of ebooks borrowed this year and a 111% increase in the number of audio ebooks borrowed. We will continue to engage, particularly with those marginalised communities to try to get them to use library services more. As I said, when I was reading out the list, I thought, I must go online and look up some of these wonderful services the library has. I know libraries are doing great work but sometimes, as Deputy Calleary and I know, we just do not have as much time as we might like to avail of their services. I know the Deputy is a big supporter of the libraries in his own area. In his constituency €1.9 million has been allocated to libraries.

Does the Deputy wish to ask a supplementary question?

Not on this one.

I call the inimitable Deputy Durkan.

Community Development Initiatives

Questions (9)

Bernard Durkan


9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the additional funding secured by her Department in budget 2021 to support remote working initiatives; her views on the benefits of remote working for balanced regional development; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34102/20]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Rural)

My question relates to, again, that favourite subject of remote working and remote hubs. I would be grateful for the Minister's advice.

I have a prepared response but I will leave it because it is similar to what I said earlier. This is it; this is our opportunity. Remote working, or as I prefer to call it, connected working, will be a game changer not just for rural Ireland but for the urban areas as well. Many people living in the Deputy's area get on a train, bus or whatever to come into the centre of the city when, in fact, they could be working in a co-working space close to their homes and in their community. That is what I mean by connected work. A person can connect to his or her employer easily.

As I said last year, remote working was a concept. Now, because of Covid-19, it is an everyday working reality for thousands of workers. There are huge opportunities here for regional development. One only has to look at the major companies, such as Indeed and Microsoft, which have told their staff they can work remotely for longer terms. That is hugely positive. We must enable and facilitate that and make sure it happens. There are benefits right across the board. People can live and work in their own locality. It enables young people to avail of cheaper house prices, particularly in the countryside. Less time is spent computing and that is good for the environment. The reality is, therefore, that if an office worker has good phone and broadband coverage that person can do the same job in Ballybay as he or she can in Ballsbridge.

We must seize this momentum around remote working. My Department, therefore, is investing in the development of remote working hubs through schemes like the €1 billion rural regeneration and development fund and the town and village renewal scheme. As I said earlier, we secured an extra €5 million in funding for the town and village scheme and part of that budget, specifically, is for the development of remote working facilities in our town and villages.

I thank the Minister for her helpful reply. I strongly support that particular initiative. I believe Deputy Ó Cuív and others mentioned earlier the benefits of a community working together and the benefit from an employment and social point of view as well as from the point of view of having the names of some of our major players in industrial parks or similar in cities and towns throughout the country, where adequate communication facilities have been laid on.

Will a specific plan be pursued in that area with a view to making it attractive for the major players in the services and manufacturing sectors to have several locations throughout the country, bringing jobs to communities and community life to local communities? It must be taken on board that young people want to associate with each other in a work environment. That is good for them, the community and the employer.

The Deputy is absolutely right. There is a broad consensus across the House that this is the time to do it and this is the right opportunity. I discussed public servants earlier. We need to facilitate our public servants to go into designated co-working spaces in towns across the country. We must have it mapped out and planned. That is why we have the interdepartmental group led by my Department. I am aware the Tánaiste's Department is leading a policy on remote working. I am looking after these hubs and interdepartmental group has been set up. First of all, we are mapping it out. We have approximately 350 hubs across the country but some are more suited for community use than remote working full-time. My long-term plan, therefore, is to do that exercise right across the country and develop an app so any worker will be able to log on and find the closest hub.

Of course, the Deputy is absolutely right. That will be a big boost to the IDA when it is trying to attract some of the big tech companies. We already have a top class network of these hubs across the country. We will be able to say here is the skill set and here is the area. It is about the clustering as well as about bringing this information together. It is about putting it on a plate for them and saying we have all that they need. It is important to say that other countries across Europe are doing this as well but I want us to be at the head of this and to make sure we are not left behind.

Can I inquire as to whether it will be possible to ensure adequate broadband is available in the locations considered in as short a time as possible? This might be made known to employers and employees with a view to them co-operating in an effort to maximize the benefits of less time travelling, more time at work and more time available to the consumer who will eventually benefit from such investment.

The Deputy is right. When I was Minister with responsibility for business, a young lad with a wife and children said to me it is a no-brainer. He said people need to be able to work in their communities and said it makes such a difference to his home life. It is true. Many people have now discovered they are able to spend more time with their families. It is a better quality of life at the end of day but it is also good for communities and for the environment. We will certainly look at the area.

Let us face it that the one good thing is that we have signed national broadband plan. That was the best thing we ever did. It is not a question now of whether we should have it but when we will get it. The most frequent representation in my constituency office these days is on when people can get broadband. Of course, we are working on that.

In Deputy Durkan's constituency, I notice that under the town and village renewal scheme hub investment in County Kildare and the 2020 accelerated measure, which was to cope with Covid-19, a nice application came in for the kit-out of a broadband connection point. The applicants got €9,900 to renovate and decorate rooms in Bigstone, Crookstown, County Kildare. They will renovate and decorate rooms for remote working to provide seating desks and IT equipment so sites can be used for remote working and learning. The learning is the other bit and we can have education rolled out in these centres.

Deputy Healy-Rae has a brief supplementary question.

There is much talk and promises about broadband but will the Minister please give the money and get people working? Nothing has happened in County Kerry in two years. There is nothing at all since Eir stopped. It stopped repairing even simple things. Nothing at all is happening. It says a new company has been drafted in by the Government and yet nothing is happening. Please, get people working. County Kerry is decimated without service and on top of it, we do not even have mobile phone coverage. The whole thing has gone wallop. That is the honest truth.

The responsibility for the roll-out of the national broadband plan falls within the Minister, Deputy Ryan's, Department. I know he is working closely with National Broadband Ireland, NBI, in an effort to try to roll this out as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, however, the good news is my Department has a number of broadband connection points in the local community halls. A person can go in there and get the high-speed broadband he or she needs. That is why I have provided money. I just mentioned one in County Kildare and I am sure County Kerry was not left out. I do not have the list here but County Kerry certainly was not left out when it came to the broadband connection points. The purpose of those is that if a person does not have good broadband in his or her house, he or she can go down to the local community centre and get that connection he or she needs. A person can either get it outside in his or her car or go into the into the community hall. The local broadband officers in the local authorities have been working extremely hard right across the country. They identified the areas which needed that and asked us to get those connected.

We will have 200 connected by the end of the year and another 100 will be connected early next year. That will give another 300 connection points throughout the country. If there are instances of real need, people should contact the broadband officer in their local authority.

The 300 connection points being provided for the whole country are needed for Kerry alone.

That might be bad for the Deputy's health.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (10)

Cormac Devlin


10. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the allocation to date provided under Covid-19 stability funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34087/20]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

I understand that more than 1,000 community and voluntary organisations have applied for funding under the Government's €35 million Covid-19 stability fund. Can the Minister provide an update on this very important scheme?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Government is aware of the challenges facing community and voluntary organisations and is committed to working closely with the sector in managing those challenges, recognising that it will require a whole-of-government approach. The community and voluntary sector Covid-19 stability fund provided €35 million initially from the Dormant Accounts Fund. It was intended to be a targeted once-off cash injection for organisations and groups currently delivering critical front-line services to the people most at need in our society and which are in danger of imminent closure due to lost fundraised or traded income as a direct result of restrictions to counter the spread of Covid-19.

My Department received 1,060 applications during the application periods. To date, four tranches of successful applications have been announced, allocating funding of more than €30 million to 568 organisations. This funding is supporting the delivery of many critical front-line services in every part of the country. Though the fund is now closed to new applications, additional checks are continuing on a small number of applications and remaining outcomes will be communicated on an individual basis. Lists of successful applicants are available on my Department's website. 

An additional €10 million has been provided for the stability fund under budget 2021. My Department is currently finalising plans for the distribution of this funding and I expect to be making an announcement in that regard very shortly. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, also has responsibility in this area and he is working on how the additional €10 million will be allocated. The extra funding is very welcome.

I thank the Minister for her answer. As she knows, community and voluntary sector organisations and social enterprises throughout the country have been hit very hard by the Covid-19 crisis. Nevertheless, many of them have been at the coalface of the response to the pandemic, whether through the Community Call or other initiatives. I acknowledge, as I am sure does everybody in the House, their efforts over the past nine months.

The Government's Covid-19 stability fund has provided significant assistance, as the Minister said, to more than 560 organisations impacted by the pandemic. I acknowledge, in particular, the allocation of €2 million for disability services in Dublin, which was targeted at services for people most at risk. It is critically important that we help these organisations with their short-term cash flow and it is good to know that funding is being prioritised for that purpose. I understand that a total of €30 million was allocated in four tranches since June. Can the Minister provide more details on the additional allocation of €10 million? If she does not have the information to hand, she might pass it on to me later. The organisations we are talking about really need to know where they stand in order to make plans for 2021 and beyond.

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is looking at how best to administer the €10 million allocation. It has been assigned to us and we are very pleased to get it. He is working with stakeholders and officials to ensure it is targeted where it is most needed. That process will be completed very shortly.

In terms of the €5 million that was not spent by my Department, there are a number of instances where applications were submitted but certain information was not included. There is an appeals process and some projects have availed of that option and been successful. We want to engage with the applicants to make sure nobody is left out. Sometimes, what is happening in reality may not be reflected on the paper application. It is important that we engage with the organisations concerned.

I thank the Minister for her clarification. It is very welcome, particularly in respect of the €5 million that was not spent. There were questions around that. The additional €10 million announced in budget 2021 is important to the organisations looking to access it. Their future is uncertain, particularly in the event of another wave of Covid infections and if a vaccine is not forthcoming. As I said, it is very important that we provide them with information as soon as we can in order to assist them as they plan for 2021.

I take the Deputy's point that the organisations want to get the details of this funding as quickly as possible. We are very conscious of that but we also want to ensure that it is properly targeted. It is a once-off cash injection for the organisations and groups that are delivering critical front-line services. They include disability services, meals on wheels, mental health services, addiction supports, residential care centres and services for older people. There is a range of services that are targeted in this initiative and the organisations have been really grateful for the support the Government has been able to give them. We will continue to engage with them and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will announce the details as soon as he has finalised them. The additional funding was only announced in the budget two weeks ago and the Minister is working on it.

National Broadband Plan

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Questions (11)

Pa Daly


11. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the timeframe for the planned remaining broadband connection points in County Kerry to be completed. [34158/20]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Rural)

What is the timeframe for the completion of the planned remaining broadband connection points in County Kerry? Since the Covid crisis, the plan has changed. While there were initially 12 places nominated as BCPs in County Kerry, it seems now that only eight are to be completed. People living on the road between Lyracrumpane and Duagh have contacted me many times about the lack of broadband. Perhaps a BCP is not really appropriate there and what is needed is for more wiring to be laid on the road, up by the post office and down by the church.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Broadband connection points will be among the first sites connected under the national broadband plan. They represent a collaboration between my Department, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, local authorities and the communities that will host the BCP services.  At present, there are more than 200 public access BCP sites scheduled for connection in 2020, in addition to 75 BCPs located in schools. Up to 100 more public access sites are planned for connection in 2021.

As of 23 October, 68 public access BCPs throughout the country had been installed with Wi-Fi equipment, with new sites being added every day. Included in those 68 sites are two public access BCPs in Kerry, namely, the Cable Station and Chapeltown community centre, both on Valentia Island.  It is important that we do not forget about the islands. The Cable Station at Valentia is of historic significance, being considered by many to be the birthplace of global telecommunications. It was the site of the first transatlantic telegraph cable between the American continent and Europe. It is very appropriate that it is now home to a BCP that will facilitate connected workers employed by companies both here and overseas.

In total, there will be nine public access BCPs and three school BCPs connected in Kerry this year. Details of the locations of all BCPs which have been, or are due to be, connected are available on the website of National Broadband Ireland,

Broadband coverage is very patchy in the whole of County Kerry, including in Lispole, Sionnach, Brandon and Cloghane, beyond Dingle, and in the Lyracrumpane area, where it is difficult even to get telephone coverage, never mind broadband. Given the peripherality of County Kerry, the fact there are three peninsulas and that only eight out of the 12 BCPs have been taken up, will the Minister look again at the provision for some of these rural areas? The whole of west Kerry does not have one BCP beyond Inch. Will she look at getting some extra wiring into some of these roads, given the bad state of the coverage there?

Is Deputy Fitzmaurice looking for a supplementary on this?

The broadband connection points have been identified by the broadband officers in the local authorities and we have been working on their recommendations on what areas we can connect. We can talk to the broadband officer in Kerry and we will see if there are any problems. If Deputy Daly wants to write to me specifically about the problems that are being encountered on the connection point he is talking about, I am happy to follow that up.

The best thing we ever did was sign up to the national broadband plan. There was a good bit of opposition to it at the time but nobody is asking for details about the broadband plan. They want to know when they can get it. That is all they want to know. I am sure all the Deputies here have questions coming into their constituency offices wondering when they can get this. The good news is it is coming. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is working with National Broadband Ireland to move it along as quickly as we can because Covid has shown us how important broadband is for communities and for businesses right across rural Ireland. As a Government, we are totally committed to making sure it is delivered.

Do not forget Kerry.

I do not think the Minister would be let forget Kerry.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.