As the Deputy will be aware, the Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 - Our Rural Future, was published on 29 March 2021, which represents a new milestone in the approach to rural development in Ireland. The Policy is supported by 150 commitments across Government, which will address the challenges facing communities and deliver new opportunities for people living in rural areas.
The policy will help rural Ireland to recover from the impacts of Covid-19, enable long-term development of rural areas, and create more resilient rural economies and communities for the future. It is an ambitious five year whole of Government policy for the future development of rural Ireland.
As part of the July Jobs Stimulus Package, the Government announced 3,000 additional places on Employment Support Schemes, including Community Employment and Tús. These additional places will provide valuable opportunities for long term unemployed persons and will support CE and Tús schemes in providing services to local communities in rural and urban communities. Funding for these additional places will support additional CE and Tús participants in projects within rural communities in accordance with the commitment in the Rural Development Policy.
The Department is working closely with stakeholders at present to identify ways in which these opportunities can be made available to the long-term unemployed and those furthest removed from the labour market, including those in rural communities.
The Rural Support Scheme is an income support measure and during 2017 and 2018 the number of places available on RSS was increased by 750, bringing the total number of places available up to 3,350. As at the end of March 2021 there were 3,088 participants availing of RSS with over 250 RSS places still available.
Referrals to RSS will begin to increase as current Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions ease and I will be asking Intreo offices to continue to promote the existing vacancies on RSS. Rural areas will also benefit from the opportunities that the additional 3,000 CE and Tús placements will bring to communities once they have been introduced across the country.
I recognise and appreciate the importance of RSS and the Rural Development Plan commits to expanding the scheme. My Department will continue to monitor RSS and the numbers of participants availing of this valuable income support programme, including the related qualifying criteria. Should the demand for RSS places exceed the number of places available during the course of the Rural Development Plan, then my officials will seek to raise the matter with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to consider any additional funding required to further expand the RSS and build on the good work and additional places announced in 2017 and 2018.
My Department continues to review all aspects of its income and employment support programmes to ensure their most effective delivery and the best outcomes for both participants and communities.