Thursday, 15 July 2021

Questions (100, 102)

Brendan Griffin


100. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if increased funding will be provided for local improvement scheme roads around the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38520/21]

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Brendan Smith


102. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if additional funding will be provided in 2021 for the local improvement scheme in the event of a reallocation of capital funding during 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38483/21]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Rural)

I thank the Minster wholeheartedly for the fantastic news this week of the additional allocation of €10.5 million in funding for local improvement schemes. When I tabled this question, the funding had not been announced. The Minister effectively doubled the budget for this year with her announcement yesterday. It is great news. I would like to discuss the matter further with the Minister today.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 102 together.

The local improvement scheme provides funding for work on rural roads and laneways, as Deputy Griffin well knows. He has raised this matter with me on a number of occasions. These particular laneways are not normally maintained by local authorities. They are normally private and go into agricultural land and houses.

This funding is vital for rural residents and for improving connectivity for rural farm families, in particular. The scheme is funded by my Department and is administered through the local authorities. I launched the 2021 local improvement scheme on 14 May with an announcement of funding of €10.5 million, representing a 5% increase on last year's funding. As part of the our rural future policy, the Government committed to ensuring that the local improvement scheme is funded into the future. This reflects the important contribution that the scheme makes to connectivity in rural Ireland. It is against this background that I am very pleased to confirm that I recently announced the allocation of a further €10.5 million to the local improvement scheme in 2021 to bring the level of funding to €21 million. That means that the level of funding has been doubled this year compared to the original allocation. The increase will be funded from expected savings elsewhere in my Department. I am also continuing to engage with my colleague, the Minister for Transport, to explore the potential for further financial support from his Department.

My Department is currently ascertaining the capacity of each local authority to deliver this additional funding and to complete works on additional roads before the end of the year. Following on from this engagement, I expect to shortly announce the exact additional allocation to each county. The announcement will mean that almost €80 million will have been allocated under the local improvement scheme since it was reintroduced by the former Minister, Deputy Ring, in 2017. This demonstrates the Government's commitment to improving connectivity in rural Ireland, as outlined in the our rural future policy.

It certainly does emphasise the Government's commitment. I welcome the funding that the Minister has delivered. It is very rare for a Minister to deliver such a level of funding in an area such as this. She has played her part. However, I certainly feel, and I agree with the Minister, that it is time for other Departments to chip in, particularly large capital budget Departments like the Departments of Transport and Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Those Departments have a role to play. It cannot just be left to the Minister's Department. A huge burden is being placed on the Department of Rural and Social Development and there is a massive list.

I will be parochial and say that when it comes to distributing the extra €10.5 million in funding, County Kerry has one of the longest lists in the country. There are hundreds of worthy roads that are very valuable to the local communities and are awaiting repair and resurfacing. I ask the Minister to look kindly on the Kingdom when it comes to the local improvement scheme. Our roads are the worst in the country and we badly need that money.

There is a long list of roads that need repaired. I know there are many such roads in counties Kerry, Cavan and Monaghan, Mayo and all over the country.

We have contacted the local authorities. We have asked them to outline what they can deliver before the end of the year. I want the money allocated to be spent on the roads. The allocations will be looked at by my Department. We will be also looking at what local authorities can do themselves and if they can deliver. It is important that they submit realistic and achievable targets for the end of the year. If they do not meet the targets, we will take a very dim view of it. To be clear, they need not put in a list of roads to get the funding and then not spend it.

The Deputy is a former Minister in the Department of Transport. He will appreciate that roads are normally funded by that Department. This scheme is a specific commitment to rural Ireland. I have raised the matter with the Minister for Transport. In fairness, I think he is open to the idea of assisting in this particular area. Obviously, he will have to have discussions with his officials in the Department.

I appreciate the efforts that have been made with the Department of Transport. I have been a long-time advocate of the Department of Transport supporting the local improvement scheme. The Department should not have abdicated all responsibility back in 2016. It should have retained its commitment to co-funding the scheme, as far as I am concerned. I wish to acknowledge the efforts that were made over those years by both the current Minister and her predecessor, the former Minister, Deputy Ring, to get the scheme moving again and to start clearing the lists.

From a Kerry perspective, any money that ever came into the county was rapidly spent. The local authority went through the previous list very quickly and showed that once it received the funding, it was spent and put to good use. I am sure that will happen again with any funding that is allocated in future. I ask the Minister to bear that in mind when she is making her decisions.

We will not get through the list, in any acceptable amount of time, without that level of co-operation from other Departments. I support the Minister in her efforts. The other Departments must step up to the plate and acknowledge the role that has to be played by the Department of Transport, in particular, in acknowledging the use of these roads for walking and cycling.

As the Deputy is aware, we try to be as fair as possible when allocating the funds. The officials will come forward with recommended allocations in due course. They are currently engaging with the local authorities on the matter. In fairness to the Deputy, it will not be his fault if Kerry does not get a fair share of the cake, as it were. It is an issue the Deputy has raised with me previously. To be fair, I have more than doubled the budget this year, with funding of €21 million.

It will be a help. I am aware there is a long list. There is no doubt about that.

I thank the Deputies who have raised this issue with me today. The LIS was previously under the Department of Transport but we have got it kick-started. I will be working with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who is open to working with me. The Department just has to identify the funding streams.

I have some rural roads in Dublin South-West. The Minister should not forget Dublin when it comes to rural roads.