Local Improvement Scheme

Questions (1060)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

1060. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development when funding for the local improvement scheme will be allocated to local authorities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8044/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The Local Improvement Scheme, or LIS, is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas which are not under the normal maintenance of the Local Authorities. It is funded by my Department and administered through the relevant Local Authorities.

Since the LIS was re-launched in 2017, over €58 million has been allocated for improvement works on over 2,300 qualifying roads. It has significantly improved access to agricultural land, homes and public amenities in rural areas, benefitting over 10,000 people.

An allocation of €10 million was available for the scheme in 2020 and this was fully utilized. Recognising that many counties have lists of eligible roads that still require improvement works, I secured an increase in the budget for the LIS this year. The allocation for 2021 is €10.5 million, an increase of 5% on last year.

I will be launching this year's LIS shortly and will announce the funding distribution to each Local Authority at that stage.

Community Development Initiatives

Questions (1061)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1061. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which her Department continues to monitor urban and rural community activity with a view to addressing issues arising from Covid-19, Brexit or other reasons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8602/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

My Department’s policies and funding programmes aim to deliver sustainable outcomes that positively impact the quality of life of those living and working in our communities.

The Department of Rural and Community Development is finalising a new whole-of-Government Rural Development Policy for the next five years, which will set out a range of measures to strengthen the resilience of our rural communities and economies, including addressing the impacts of challenges experienced by people living and working in rural Ireland and maximising opportunities for rural areas. The development of this policy was underpinned by extensive consultation with rural communities. Ongoing dialogue will be maintained with rural stakeholders throughout the duration of the policy timeframe, in order to respond to new issues identified, including, the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the impact of Brexit.

My Department has continued to deliver the range of policy measures to support urban and rural communities. Those policies are informed during development, by extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including Government Departments, State Agencies, rural stakeholder groups, young people and the wider public. This on-going engagement process has been important in monitoring urban and rural community activity and in identifying areas relevant to the work of my Department where interventions such as targeted supports or funding are required and the most appropriate remedial or proactive measures that can be taken in response.

The Rural Regeneration and Development Fund provides investment to support suitable projects in towns and villages with a population of less than 10,000, and outlying areas which will deliver on the National Strategic Objective of Strengthened Rural Economies and Communities and achieve sustainable economic and social development in these areas. The third call for Category 1 applications to the Fund closed in December 2020. Based on an analysis of the challenges faced by rural communities and ongoing discussions with stakeholders, this call for applications had a dual focus - to deliver planned and sustainable regeneration in towns and villages, and to channel investment towards economic recovery in the post Covid-19 environment, providing an immediate stimulus to support the recovery and further development of rural economies and communities. For similar reasons, changes were also made in relation to the intensity of funding which could be sought from the Fund under this call, with the Fund providing up to 90% of the total project value for successful projects under this call. I will announce the successful projects under this call in the weeks ahead.

The LEADER programme remains operational through the COVID-19 crisis and payments continue to be made to the Local Action Groups, their Implementing Partners and to project promoters. In December last, I announced details of a Transitional LEADER Programme which will come into effect from 1 April 2021, with an initial allocation of €20 million this year.

A key focus of the Transitional Programme will be on building capacity within communities which have not received LEADER funding to date. The programme will also support job creation, foster and encourage entrepreneurship, and support projects which address the climate agenda, digital transformation and the Smart Villages approach to building on local strengths and assets.

Under the Transitional Programme, the grant rate for enterprises and commercially-focused community projects will be increased from a maximum of 50% to a maximum of 75%. This will further help to support enterprise development and job creation in rural areas in a post COVID and Brexit environment.

My Department currently supports over 420 community organisations under the Community Services Programme, or CSP, to provide local services through a social enterprise model, in both urban and rural communities. CSP funding is provided as a fixed contribution towards the cost of employing an agreed number of full-time equivalent positions (FTEs) and a manager, where warranted. The Department provides a co-funding contribution of €32,000 per annum towards the cost of supporting a manager and €19,033 per each FTE. In response to the difficulties being experienced by organisations due to COVID-19, my Department developed a Support Fund totalling €4.75M which assists all CSP supported organisations to continue to retain their CSP supported employees on their payroll, regardless of whether the organisations are in a position to continue to provide normal activities or whether they have had to close their facilities/services as a result of the COVID restrictions. The CSP Support Fund provided funding to many of these CSP supported organisations, ensuring that they can pay their full-time equivalent (FTE) CSP supported employees a maximum of €350 net per week, with a proportionate amount for part-time CSP supported employees, while also assisting with the Employers PRSI contribution, during this crisis period up to April 2021.

My Department and Pobal, who administer the programme on behalf of my Department, will allow the maximum level of flexibility to these organisation and we will continue to monitor the situation closely in light of COVID and any issues that may arise.

I will continue to collaborate with my Government colleagues and will monitor the issues which impact our urban and rural communities in order to respond to emerging needs.

Community Development Initiatives

Questions (1062, 1064)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1062. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which her Department has received applications for various forms of support available from her Department in respect of urban and or rural communities; the extent of the assistance offered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8603/21]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1064. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the full extent of funding approved by her Department in respect of applications from community urban or rural groups; if she expects to be in a position to offer support to potential applicants in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8605/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1062 and 1064 together.

My Department’s mission is to promote rural and community development and support the creation of vibrant and sustainable communities across this country and I am committed to the successful delivery of a number of programmes which have provided financial and other supports to community groups and organisations.

These supports enable economic growth and development and also support communities in urban and rural areas to address gaps in meeting social needs, and these supports are more important than ever as we deal with the impacts of COVID-19 and Brexit.

These ongoing challenges ensure continued demand for such supports in the form of applications received by my Department. I was delighted that we were provided with a gross Budget allocation in 2020, of over €374 million, which included €37 million in once-off COVID-19 supports and funding for communities under the July stimulus package. This allowed significant funding supports to be provided to community groups and organisations, local authorities and towns and villages across the country.

Looking ahead, my Department has been allocated €341 million in the 2021 Revised Estimates and this ensures that we are in a position to further assist communities seeking funding and other supports for important local activities and projects.

My Department will continue to support our communities to become and remain sustainable and desirable places to live, work and raise families and we are committed to reviewing the many applications received to ensure that our funding programmes remain targeted at those most in need.

Community Development Initiatives

Question No. 1064 answered with Question No. 1062.

Questions (1063, 1070)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1063. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if, in the course of discussions with urban and rural communities, her Department has devised a means of addressing issues arising such as isolation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8604/21]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1070. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which she and her Department continue to address issues of social inclusion and isolation in every sense; her Department’s programme of activity for the future in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8611/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1063 and 1070 together.

Addressing the issue of social inclusion and isolation in communities is central to many of my Department’s policies and funding programmes which deliver targeted supports to benefit vulnerable individuals. Policy in my Department is informed, during its development, by extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including Government Departments, State Agencies, rural stakeholder groups, young people and the wider public.

This engagement process has been important in identifying areas relevant to the work of the Department where interventions such as supports or funding are required and the most appropriate remedial or proactive measures that can be taken in response. The policies and programmes developed to address isolation and promote social inclusion include the following:

The Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) is Ireland’s primary social inclusion funding intervention, delivered locally by Local Development Companies (LDCs) to help those in the greatest need access supports to enable participation in communities. SICAP workers have extensive local connections and in-depth knowledge of available resources and supports and are continuing to work to ensure the emerging needs of their localities are responded to.

- Local Development Companies (LDCs) have put in place various measures to ensure SICAP supports continue to be delivered and that vulnerable people continue to be supported throughout the COVID-19 crises, examples as follows:

- Online supports are delivered via telephone, email, Zoom, etc., with LDCs providing additional support to individuals with limited access to technology, in the form providing them with laptops/tablets and upskilling them in their usage.

- LDCs that operate a “friendly call” service to elderly people saw an increase in demand for the service with some LDCs mobilizing local community groups to become involved in making regular contact with older, vulnerable isolated people during the COVID-19 crises.

- LDCs supported an increase in demand for Meals on Wheels services and foodbanks, particularly for those not able to travel to shops and those experiencing food poverty.

- Other responses included Pharmacy & Shopping Services; Employment and Self-Employment Supports; Supports to Community Groups; Online Training; Health, Well-Being and Social Prescribing; Mental Health Supports.

- My Department offered every flexibility to the LDCs which freed up SICAP workers to focus on a community response to the crisis. Given their presence in local communities, the LDC response to the crisis was rapid and widespread with many of their 170,000 service users reached in the early days and weeks of the crisis.

- There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on certain communities those already suffering from disadvantage would be more vulnerable to an interruption of services. Measures were put in place to support LDCs who continued to work under the SICAP programme with disadvantaged individuals. My Department offered flexibility to the LDCs to redeploy SICAP staff to work as part of the response to COVID-19. This Programme of flexibility will also continue into 2021 with additional areas of flexibility considered where required. In light of challenges faced by LDCs in engaging with beneficiaries the opportunity to reduce their targets was offered in 2020 and again in 2021.

- Thematic support workshops will be delivered remotely by the Department and Pobal to LDCs in 2021. The purpose of these is to provide a platform to share experiences and learning from new ways of delivering supports during COVID-19.

Isolation of people of all ages is a significant risk during the pandemic, particularly during periods of tight restrictions on movement and social interaction. The Community Call programme was introduced last year to provide local helplines through Local Authorities for practical supports, information sharing and befriending. As part of the “Keep Well” campaign, and in particular, the ‘Staying Connected’ strand, this has been significantly expanded to be proactive with outreach to potentially isolated persons, as the main aim. My Department is represented on the oversight committee for this initiative.

Physical and social isolation can have a significant impact on people living in rural areas. My Department is finalising a new rural development policy for the next five years, which will build on the progress achieved through the Action Plan for Rural Development, which concluded in 2019. The policy will seek to strengthen and build resilience in our rural communities and will identify policy measures for delivery, in order to achieve these objectives.

The National Social Enterprise Policy aims to enable social enterprises increase their social, environmental and economic impact. Many social enterprises are based in rural or isolated areas and provide services to communities that may not otherwise be available. They also operate in our cities and other urban areas, often providing services to disadvantaged communities.

Other key interventions include funding the Seniors Alert Scheme, which enables older people to live securely, with peace of mind, in their homes through the provision of personal monitored alarms, ensuring contact is maintained with those who are vulnerable.

In addition, as part of the Department’s COVID-19 Action Plan, increased support was provided for older people through our funding partnership with ALONE for their crisis telephone support line and follow-on practical supports for those who need it.

Volunteering is also very much at the forefront of initiatives of this nature and the Department will continue to support volunteering both by the provision of funding and other supports, and the implementation of the recently published National Volunteering Strategy.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) funding will ensure that remote areas, particularly those that are likely to wait longest for connections, are provided with access to high-speed broadband in their communities while waiting for the National Broadband Plan roll-out to reach them.

The CLÁR programme provides funding for small scale infrastructural projects in rural areas that have suffered significant levels of population decline. In 2020 the programme placed a particular focus on supporting CLÁR communities to deal with the impact of COVID-19 in rural areas through the addition of a new funding measure - Meals on Wheels and Linked Services. This measure was open to established organisations and groups involved in the provision of meals on wheels with linked services. Funding of €340,000 was announced on 20th November 2020 for 45 projects under this Measure. The programme also supports voluntary organisations who provide transport for service users in rural areas under the Mobility and Cancer Care Measure. On 11th December 2020, funding of almost €1.3 million was announced for 26 organisations under this measure.

The issue of isolation in rural and urban communities cuts across the work of a number of Departments, and this is reflected in ongoing work on community policing, rural transport and social inclusion, among other areas. I will continue to collaborate with my Government colleagues to monitor the adequacy of these supports to address isolation and to work to deliver sustainable outcomes that positively impact the quality of life of those living and working in our communities.

Question No. 1064 answered with Question No. 1062.

Community Enhancement Programme

Questions (1065)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1065. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of applications on hand in respect of the community enhancement programme; the extent to which she expects to be in a position to respond positively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8606/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The Community Enhancement Programme provides small capital grants to community organisations to enhance facilities in disadvantaged areas.

Under the programme, funding is allocated to each local authority area and administered by the Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) in each area.

The 2021 Community Enhancement Programme has not yet been launched and will be announced in due course. It is hoped to provide details to LCDCs in early Q2, 2021 and I recommend that groups engage with their LCDC so they are aware of this and any other grants that are available.

In 2020 the programme had two rounds of funding totalling €7m and over 3,000 projects have been approved to date for funding. Among the projects are childcare groups and playgrounds, recreational groups, community gardens and premises, sports grounds and initiatives that support the elderly.

Details of the projects approved for funding during 2020 are available on the Gov.ie website at https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/1e973a-community-enhancement-programme-projects/

Public Participation Networks

Questions (1066)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1066. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent of support from her Department through the public participation network for various groups and communities around the country over the past 12 months; her future proposals in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8607/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

A Public Participation Network (PPN) is a structure that brings together volunteer-led groups in each local authority area from the Community and Voluntary, Environment, and Social Inclusion sectors. The PPNs are the main link between these groups and their local authorities, and they enable the groups to make their voices heard within formal local decision-making structures. It is important to note that PPNs are wholly independent entities and decide for themselves what networking and capacity-building supports they wish to provide to their member groups.

My Department supports and advances PPNs at a national level and they are accountable to my Department for their use of public monies and the activities they undertake on behalf of their communities.

Over the past 12 months, my Department has provided direct funding of €75,700 to each of the 31 PPNs around the country as well as providing structural supports, and this will continue into the future. This funding supports the ongoing development of the PPNs. The Department also chairs and provides administrative support to the National PPN Advisory Group.

My Department is currently funding and advancing a number of important national initiatives and key recommendations made by PPN stakeholders in the PPN's Annual Reports to promote their development (e.g. training, awareness-raising, IT support, visions for community wellbeing). Two important initiatives supported by my Department in this regard are the national training course for PPN stakeholders, which is currently underway, and a communications campaign due to be conducted this year. The Department also recently published a PPN Handbook to assist and guide the PPNs and stakeholders in their day to day work.

My Department is committed to continuing to support PPNs both financially and structurally so that local communities, including marginalised communities, can continue to have an influence on matters that affect them.

Community Development Initiatives

Questions (1067)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

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]

View answer

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.

Community Development Initiatives

Questions (1068)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1068. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which her Department has engaged with local authorities in the context of the delivery of community-based services or requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8609/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

Local Authorities play an essential role in supporting vibrant and sustainable communities and community based services.

My Department regularly engages with Local Authorities through their representation on the Cross-Sectoral Group on Local and Community Development, who oversee implementation of Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: a five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland . This engagement will continue as we endeavour to support the full implementation of the strategy.

My Department has statutory responsibility to coordinate the design and implementation of the Local Economic and Community Plans (LECPs) at a local level. LECPs work with a 6-year life cycle and current LECPs are completing in 2021 and into 2022. An LECP Advisory Group has been established to support the process to develop Guidelines for the forthcoming LECPs, with representation from Local Authorities. This process will be key for building an effective LECP framework on which community based services will thrive.

My Department also has statutory responsibility for the local and community development governance structures introduced on foot of the local government reform process, namely the Local Community Development Committees (LCDCs), the Public Participation Networks (PPNs) and Local Economic and Community Plans (LECPs). As a result, the Department has ongoing interaction with all of these structures to support their ongoing work and the work of Local Authorities in the context of community development and social inclusion, including my Department's Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP). Other examples of my Department's engagement with Local Authorities in the context of delivery of community-based services or requirements include the following:

- The Department funded programmes in 2020 including two rounds of the Community Enhancement Programme (€7m) and two rounds of the COVID-19 Emergency Fund (€4.2m). These were either administered by the Local Authority (LA) or by the LCDC (with support from the LA) in each area, and provide small grants to community groups.

- The Department worked to support the Community Call initiative which was an unprecedented mobilisation of both state and voluntary resources to combat the effects of COVID-19. The initiative was led by LAs in each area.

- My Department has responsibility for supporting the delivery of a public library service by LAs and provides funding to assist the authorities with the provision of this service.

- My Department provides ongoing financial support to support the community function in local authorities including the work of the LCDCs. This funding is in the region of €2m on an annual basis.

Voluntary Sector

Question No. 1070 answered with Question No. 1063.

Questions (1069)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1069. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which she and her Department have interacted with the voluntary sector in the past 12 months; her proposals for the future in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8610/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

My Department has extensive engagement with the community and voluntary sector as part of its ongoing work to support empowered, inclusive and resilient communities and a thriving volunteer culture, and to help this sector to contribute fully to civil society. In the last year, in particular, my Department has put in place various initiatives including:

- Worked with Pobal to put in place guidelines for the community and voluntary sector for reopening or operating their premises safely, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

- Worked to support the Community Call initiative which was an unprecedented mobilisation of both state and voluntary resources to combat the effects of COVID-19. This included providing funding for a COVID-19 Community Outreach initiative implemented by the Wheel and Irish Rural link, which supported the voluntary sector.

- Provided flexibility under the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) to allow Local Development Companies work to support initiatives put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

- Funded programmes in 2020 including two rounds of the Community Enhancement Programme (€7m) and two rounds of the COVID-19 Emergency Fund (€4.2m).

- My Department currently supports over 420 community organisations under the Community Services Programme, or CSP, to provide local social, economic and environmental services through a social enterprise model. Pobal, who administer the programme on behalf of my Department engage with organisations under this programme on a regular basis.

- In response to the difficulties being experienced by organisations due to COVID-19, my Department developed an additional Support Fund totalling €4.75M which assists CSP supported organisations to continue to retain CSP supported employees on their payroll and also provides assistance towards the cost of the Employers PRSI contribution, during this crisis period, and up to April 2021. My Department and Pobal are continuing to monitor the situation closely.

- The CLÁR 2020 programme placed a particular focus on supporting CLÁR communities to deal with the impact of COVID-19 in their areas through the addition of a new funding measure - Meals on Wheels and Linked Services. This measure was open to established organisations and groups involved in the provision of meals on wheels with linked services. Funding of €340,000 was announced on 20th November 2020 for 45 projects under this Measure. The programme also supports voluntary organisations who provide transport for service users in rural areas under the Mobility and Cancer Care Measure. On 11 December 2020, I approved funding of almost €1.3 million for 26 organisations under this measure. I anticipate that the measures to be funded under the CLÁR 2021 programme will be launched in the coming weeks.

- My Department takes a partnership approach to its work with the voluntary sector and this will continue through the implementation of many of the strategies and action plans under the aegis of this Department, in the development of policy and delivery of services, and through the networks and support structures, many of which we help to maintain. In doing this, we will continue to put communities at the centre of finding and implementing solutions for their own areas.

Question No. 1070 answered with Question No. 1063.

LEADER Programmes

Questions (1071)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1071. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which her Department has supported various communities throughout the country through the LEADER programme in the past year; her current engagements and future proposals in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8612/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The LEADER programme, which is co-funded by the EU, is based on a local-led, bottom-up approach to rural development. The programme supports projects from local community groups and businesses which, amongst other objectives, promote economic development, social inclusion and the protection of the rural environment.

The programme is administered at local level by 29 Local Action Group across the country who are responsible for selecting and awarding LEADER funding to projects within their own geographical area.

Under Ireland's current LEADER progamme 2014-2020, €168.7 million was allocated to Local Action Groups (LAGs) for project approvals over the lifetime of the programme. In the twelve-month period to 31 January 2021, a total of 1,425 core projects, with a value of over €60 million, were approved for LEADER funding by the LAGs. The investment in these projects make a significant contribution to the development of rural communities across Ireland.

The current LEADER programme will come to an end on 31 March this year as far as new project approvals are concerned. Due to a delay in agreeing the post-2020 EU Budget, the next EU LEADER programme will not commence until 2023.

To bridge the gap to the start of the next programme, in December 2020 I announced details of a Transitional LEADER Programme which will come into effect from 1 April 2021, with an initial allocation of €20 million this year. One of the objectives on the Transitional Programme is to build capacity in communities, particularly those that have not yet availed of funding under LEADER or my Department's other rural development programmes.

My officials and I meet with stakeholders involved in the delivery of the LEADER programme on a regular basis, including Local Authorities, Local Development Companies and the Irish Local Development Network. This engagement will continue throughout the course of this year, particularly in the context of the design of the next EU LEADER programme from 2023.

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

Questions (1072, 1073)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1072. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which applications under the town and village renewal scheme originating in County Kildare have been submitted to her Department for consideration in 2021; if adequate resources remain available to her to address the subject adequately; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8613/21]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1073. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which applications under the town and village renewal scheme have been submitted to her Department for consideration in 2021; if adequate resources remain available to her to address the subject adequately; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8614/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1072 and 1073 together.

The Town and Village Renewal Scheme aims to support the revitalisation of Ireland's rural towns and villages. In 2020, the scheme was adapted to assist towns and villages to respond to the impact of COVID-19.

I approved over €25.7 million in funding for more than 500 projects under the scheme last year, with the support of an extra €10 million from the Government's July Stimulus package. The approvals included 18 projects with a value of €854,533 in Co. Kildare.

I have secured a budget of €20 million this year for an expanded Town and Village Renewal Scheme. This represents an increase of €5 million, or 33%, on the 2020 baseline figure of €15 million, exclusive of the July Stimulus package funding.

€5 million of the 2021 funding will be used specifically to support the development of remote working facilities at digital hubs and Broadband Connection Points throughout the country. These facilities can play an important role in supporting the revitalisation of town centres and stimulating local commerce.

In addition, I have secured funding of €2 million to enable rural towns and villages to prepare masterplans as a basis for their strategic development. I believe that the development of a shared vision and direction for any town is an essential ingredient for its successful long-term future, and will provide a strong basis for each town or village to seek support to meet its own individual developmental needs.

Full details of the various elements of the 2021 Town & Village Renewal Scheme will be announced when the scheme is formally launched the coming months.

Island Communities

Questions (1074)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1074. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development her plans to address issues affecting island inhabitants and their quality of life on the islands; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8615/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

My objective is to ensure that our offshore islands continue to support sustainable and vibrant communities. In this regard, the integration of the islands function into my Department last year will ensure a more integrated and cohesive approach the development of island communities and their economies, as an integral part of rural Ireland.

My Department is currently developing a new Policy for the development of the islands. This policy will address all aspects of island life and will be underpinned by associated Action Plans to achieve specific goals.

As part of the process of developing the new policy, in 2020 my Department began a series of consultation meetings with island communities prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The consultation process was temporarily suspended during 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, but it recommenced through on-line meetings later last year.

With this phase of the public consultation process drawing to a close, in the past number of weeks my Department reconvened an Inter-Departmental Committee which was established to oversee the development of the policy. My officials have also commenced a series of bilateral meetings on the policy with key stakeholders, including Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, relevant Government Departments and Local Authorities.

The objective is to publish the policy later this year. Once completed, the policy will be a significant milestone for our offshore islands and will include commitments to support a cross-Departmental approach to the future development of the islands.

Departmental Contracts

Questions (1075)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

1075. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the contracts for public relations advice and consultancy entered into by her Department over the cost of €10,000 since January 2021; the nature of the contract; and the length of the contract in tabular form. [8898/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

My Department has not entered into any such contracts, as described by the Deputy, this year.

Ministerial Communications

Questions (1076)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

1076. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if there has been any contact with her counterpart in the United States administration. [8918/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

There has been no contact to date between my offices in the Department of Rural & Community Development and the US administration.