I propose to take Questions Nos. 693 and 694 together.
My Department's mission is “To promote rural and community development and to support vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Ireland".
A key part of achieving this mission is regularly reaching out to organisations in the community and voluntary sector through consultation, engagement and outreach regarding the Department's policies and all of our programmes. This allows us to ensure that those most in need are able to access services and supports and that we deliver outcomes that positively impact the quality of life of those living and working in our communities. This has been of particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic this year, where such communication has assisted us in identifying supports or funding needs and the most appropriate remedial or proactive measures that can be taken in response.
These engagements include groups involved in rural development, the community and voluntary sector and smaller local community groups and organisations, while we also collaborate and seek the views of other Government Departments and the statutory bodies under the aegis of the Department in regard to these issues.
One example of proactive interaction with communities was the delivery in 2019, in conjunction with Pobal, of a series of 'Helping Hands' events nationwide, to engage with communities and create awareness and understanding of funding programmes. Feedback from these interactions was very positive, and it is hoped that similar events could be scheduled in the future when permitted by public safety advice.
Several consultation processes sought submissions from community groups in 2020. These include my Department's new Statement of Strategy and the new Rural Development Policy, both of which I expect to publish in the near future, and the new National Volunteering Strategy, which was launched by my colleague, Minister of State Joe O'Brien, earlier this month.
My Department has continued to engage proactively with its stakeholders during the COVID-19 crisis through various on line means. This engagement has helped deliver solutions including additional funding to address challenges being faced by those in communities and their representative groups at this time, and I look forward to continuing these interactions moving forward.