Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Questions (1067)

Bernard Durkan


1067. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the degree to which she and her Department can interface with various community groups to address issues of IT deficiency and connectivity; her future plans in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8608/21]

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Written answers (Question to Rural)

My Department works closely with Local Authorities and community groups across the State on a range of issues, including connectivity and digital development.

Under the Broadband Connection Points (BCP) initiative, which my Department has been leading on, some 300 locations will be provided with high-speed broadband connections for onsite public use. BCPs are typically community centres and sports clubs, in the majority of cases managed by local community groups. These sites will primarily be located in areas expected to wait longest for the arrival of fibre services under the National Broadband Plan.

The objective is that the BCPs will become long-term community assets, providing for a multitude of local needs as they develop over the coming years. In this regard, my officials are designing a suite of programmes, underpinned by the connectivity at BCPs, to develop remote working, eHealth, education and training, and arts and culture projects.

I have secured an additional €5 million under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme this year for the further development of remote working facilities in digital hubs and BCPs, which I hope to be in a position to announce shortly.

My Department also funds the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) which supports over 2,500 local community groups across Ireland annually. In 2020 my Department relaxed SICAP programme rules in order to respond to issues that arose as a result of COVID-19, such as IT deficiencies and connectivity for both individuals and community groups. The threshold for grants to community groups has risen from €1,500 to €2,500, to respond to ICT and other needs during the pandemic.

Funding for the type of projects referred to by the Deputy may also be available through the LEADER Transitional Programme. This programme will come into effect on 1 April 2021 for new project applications. The programme will be delivered through Local Action Groups (LAGs) in each of the 28 LEADER sub-regional areas around the country. In order for a project to be eligible for LEADER funding, it must be compatible with the actions outlined in the approved Local Development Strategy for the relevant LEADER area, and it must comply with the Operating Rules and EU Regulations in place for the programme.