Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Dormant Accounts Fund

Catherine Connolly


71. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the details and progress of projects earmarked for Galway city and county under the Dormant Accounts Action Plan 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38597/18]

I have a specific question on the details and progress of projects earmarked for Galway city and county under the Dormant Accounts Action Plan 2018. I ask this with the background that a substantial amount of the dormant accounts has been underspent. It has not been spent, while community groups are crying out for money. I ask for this to be clarified in the first instance.

I thank the Deputy for her question. The 2018 Dormant Accounts Action Plan, which was published in July, approved funding of up to €39.7 million for 45 different measures across ten Departments. In line with the provisions of the Dormant Accounts Acts, the measures identified in the action plan target social, economic and educational disadvantage and people with a disability.

The approved measures will support a wide range of projects and programmes relating to issues such as social inclusion, assisting migrants, support for carers, speech and language therapy, support for dementia sufferers, and sports measures. The majority of measures will commence in 2019, subject to Voted expenditure being available in each relevant Department.

With regard to funding for projects based in Galway city and county, most of the measures in the action plan are national scale programmes, for example, sports measures for disadvantaged communities, a baby box measure through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and education and employment initiatives for disadvantaged communities. The funding for specific geographic areas will only become clear as the measures are implemented on the ground. However, while the delivery of measures is a matter for each relevant Department, I would expect such measures to impact throughout the country.

In my Department, the measure to support ICT utilisation among older people will involve the delivery of a pilot programme in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. The measure to support enterprise and digital hubs along the Atlantic economic corridor will also benefit Galway city and county directly.

The dormant accounts have been the subject of discussion at the Committee of Public Accounts and the Department has tried to take hold of them in recent months. Departmental officials have done an amount of work. This is the third change of Department with responsibility for dormant accounts. It has taken quite a while to get to the bottom of previous commitments, moneys not spent, decommittals and the rest. We published a comprehensive action plan in July. It is a rather complex programme and the projects can only be delivered from the action plan through a vote on the Estimates for each Department. Any project listed in the action plan must be funded thorough the Estimates of that Department.

I thank the Minister of State for trying to clarify the situation. I have read the action plan but I am not any wiser about Galway city and county. The Minister of State is telling me it will take a further Vote. I do not know what projects are earmarked for Galway city and county. There was more than a discussion with the Comptroller and Auditor General. He pointed out that over the period 2012-16, Departments spent €28.7 million, less than half of the amount provided in the Estimates, mainly due to a lack of preparedness. The Minister of State will agree we have a serious problem. Money is available but less than half of it has been spent. I wrote to the Minister of State in my capacity as a Deputy about a particular organisation in Galway, which I will not mention. Clearly, community groups and organisations are crying out for money but we have a 50% underspend. It took a very long time to conduct the recognised statutory review and it took a long time to publish the action plan but I am still no wiser as to what projects are earmarked for Galway city and county. Will the Minister of State try to spell them out for me? He stated some of them are national projects that will have a positive impact on Galway. What are the projects for Galway city? If there is none, tell me so.

The plan published is across ten Departments so the initiatives really are for the ten Departments. I have listed some of the measures for the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Deputy should ask each relevant Department whether it has the funding in the Estimates process. Over the summer, the Minister, Deputy Ring, departmental officials and I had discussions with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to try to put in place a simpler process for the spend but the fact is the €39 million plan that has been published must still go through the Estimates process to ensure an equivalent amount is in the Estimates of every Department to fund the listed project initiatives. I suggest the Deputy table specific questions for those Departments that have sponsored initiatives because this question has come to the Department of Rural and Community Development. I have listed some of the measures under the remit of the Department with regard to ICT utilisation, the Atlantic economic corridor and other initiatives for which we have direct responsibility. Other Departments have responsibility for their own programmes.

I did table a specific question but for some reason it became a general question. There must have been a misunderstanding somewhere in the Questions Office. I took the trouble of getting the action plan and going through it. Because it was so general I asked a specific question about the Department of Rural and Community Development but unfortunately the question is general across all Departments. It was not my intention to ask that question. I asked specifically about the planned projects under the remit of the Department of Rural and Community Development. I read page 47, which mentions social enterprise, senior alert schemes, new volunteer centres and young social innovators. These are all very worthy but I cannot explain to anybody in Galway city or county what projects are going ahead next year or how we can make it easier for them in terms of access. I am thinking in particular of the organisation about which I wrote to the Minister of State with regard to autism. I will not go into the details. It is crying out for money. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General there is an underspend and we seem to have a very complicated system. I think the Minister of State is nodding in agreement, which is welcome, but we really need to push this forward so we can use the money.

I agree it is a very complex system, which is why we have tried to get to the bottom of it. I again put on record the work done by staff in the Department in trying to get to the bottom of this. We had meetings over the summer with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. I thought it was going to be easier to be able to spend the money but, unfortunately, there is still the process with regard to the votable element of this. I cannot give the Deputy information on some elements with regard to Galway city and county. The initiatives for volunteer centres do not cover Galway city or county because they are for eight specific counties where volunteer information centres are being converted to volunteer centres. There are other initiatives across the board with regard to the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs; Transport, Tourism and Sport; and Rural and Community Development. I can get more clarity with regard to the Department of Rural and Community Development but I suggest the Deputy tables specific questions to the other nine Departments to ask them what projects they have listed for Galway city or county.

Leader Programmes Expenditure

Charlie McConalogue


72. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the additional funding that will be made available to County Donegal under the LEADER programme; when the funding will be made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38405/18]

Will the Minister give an update on the additional funding that will be made available, or which we hope will be made available, to County Donegal under the LEADER programme? As the Minister knows, on page 42 of the programme for Government there is a commitment to provide additional funding to the LEADER programme. Initially the programme had €250 million nationally.

How much additional LEADER funding will be provided nationally and what proportion of that will be provided to County Donegal?

LEADER is a multi-annual programme for the period 2014 to 2020 that has a total budget of €250 million over the programming period. Some €220 million has already been allocated to the LEADER sub-regional areas across the country. This allocation has been made for the duration of the programme, rather than on an annual basis, to provide greater flexibility to the local action groups, LAGs, which administer the programme. A further €30 million in funding is available for schemes that will be administered at a national level. This includes the LEADER food initiative and funding to support local action groups that come together to deliver a LEADER project.

The allocation to the local action group in Donegal is €12.9 million over the lifetime of the programme. This allocation covers both project expenditure and the administration costs of the LAG. Significant progress has been made to date in Donegal, which I welcome. The LAG has so far allocated 35% or €3.9 million of its project budget to 92 applicants, leaving a further €6.3 million available to be allocated over the remainder of the programme. I am confident the funding available to LEADER in County Donegal is sufficient to meet the expected demand. However, the position will be kept under review by my Department over the remaining lifetime of the programme.

County Donegal has also benefitted significantly from funding under other rural development programmes operated by my Department, including the town and village renewal scheme, the local improvement scheme, and the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme.

I thank the Minister for his reply but I am exceptionally disappointed by it. He has clarified that he does not see any need or have any intention to allocate additional LEADER funding to County Donegal over the coming years. As I indicated in my initial question, the programme for Government on page 42 commits to increasing LEADER funding. The initial allocation was €250 million nationally and the programme for Government has indicated that this will be increased. However, today in the Dáil the Minister has indicated his opinion that Donegal has enough money to meet demand.

First and foremost, I point out that the allocation given to Donegal under this LEADER programme is more than 30% less than it had in the previous programme. From speaking with LEADER management in the county and those on the various committees, I know the programmes in Donegal would be well able to deal with any additional funding that might be allocated to them. It would be of great benefit to rural development in our county. Will the Minister go back to the drawing board and revisit the programme for Government's commitment to increase funding and specifically to ensure there is increased funding for LEADER provided to Donegal. I give the Minister the utmost assurance that this would be spent well if allocated to the county.

I state again that 35% of available funding, or €3.9 million, has been allocated. I cannot reallocate money until the money there is spent. I will monitor this to see how LEADER programmes do that. The Deputy's question relates to preparation support costs, which amounted to €1.468 million, with administration costs of €19.601 million. Project expenditure is €6.724 million, with total programme expenditure to date of €27.793 million.

I have made all the changes I can to the LEADER programme. Deputy Ó Cuív should look at his own county, which is a disgrace. There are two LEADER programmes there and in one case not one euro has been paid out.

The Minister should respond to Deputy McConalogue.

Not in my side of the county.

I will monitor what is going on with the LEADER companies in Donegal. I compliment the Kerry LEADER programme, which is great at initiatives for town and village and outdoor recreation. It is doing great and if that programme can do it, everybody else can do it as well. To date in Donegal, €3.9 million has been allocated, which is 35% of the total. We hope that this year we will have 40% of the budget approved.

The current LEADER programme has been mismanaged by the Government from the outset as there was much confusion over how it was to be administered and structured. As a result, there were two years of limbo with no funding given out. Only belatedly did the Government agree the structures and allow the LEADER companies to get on with work. As I indicated previously, the Government commits in its programme for Government to increasing those funds. Today, within a programme that was supposed to run from 2014 to 2020, only €27 million has been allocated at this stage, as the Minister stated. That is from a total of €250 million and despite the fact we are past the halfway mark.

I can assure the Minister that Donegal will ensure the money is well spent if further funds are directed towards it. I ask the Minister to look at his overall envelope to ensure additional funding can be allocated to the county. Unfortunately, the Minister has indicated that as it stands, he does not have any intention of increasing that overall amount.

It is amazing that €19 million has been spent on administration of the LEADER programme while project expenditure only amounts to €6 million. The total programme to date has a spend of €27 million. We made 31 changes to simplify the programme and we must comply with European Union regulation and rules. We looked at the schemes and the programme, including ways to make it easier for people to make applications. It should be remembered there are supplementary schemes as well, including the town and village scheme and those relating to outdoor recreation and rural regeneration. There are many other schemes where people can now make an application. I have been told by some people working in LEADER programmes that groups intended making an application but did not do so because they got funding elsewhere. As the Deputy knows, one cannot draw down from two programmes in such cases. I am monitoring the LEADER programme but I cannot do much more in the running of the scheme. I have simplified the process and made it easier. There were 31 changes to the LEADER programme. There is spending on the administration side. The projects must be approved so that funding can be drawn down as quickly as possible. At that stage, I can review the process and if LEADER programmes are not drawing down funding, I can see if the money should be redirected to other companies that are spending the money.

Programme for Government Implementation

Catherine Connolly


73. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the details of the co-ordinating unit within his Department pursuant to the programme for partnership Government that is tasked with working with communities to develop co-operative structures; when it was set up; the membership of the unit; the work programme of the unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38595/18]

My question is very specific. I am asking for details of the co-ordinating unit within the Minister's Department pursuant to A Programme for Partnership Government. It is on page 42 of that document. Under the impact assessment heading, which is very important, there was a promise to set up a co-ordinating unit to consider the impact assessment on rural communities of various decisions. This was to work with communities and develop co-operative structures, etc. This was set out in the question. Has that been set up and what are the details?

A Programme for Partnership Government, agreed in May 2016, contains a commitment to task "a co-ordinating unit to work with communities to develop co-operative structures to keep vital local services in place and to retain and develop vibrant local enterprises." This commitment in the programme related to job creation and rural development, and it was planned at the time that the unit and its work would be situated within a new Department of regional development and rural affairs. My Department was established in July 2017 and throughout the Department as a whole, rather than in one unit, various funding programmes and schemes are delivered within communities and in co-operation with them that are supporting enterprise development and job creation in rural Ireland.

The establishment of my Department continues to drive better co-ordination and prioritisation of all Government investment in rural Ireland. Structures within the community sector are also being used to further drive rural economic development.  I can give some examples. On foot of A Programme for Partnership Government the Action Plan for Rural Development was put in place in January 2017. This sets out more than 270 actions being implemented across government to support the economic and social development of rural Ireland. Its implementation is overseen by a monitoring committee, which I chair. The committee meets regularly and publishes six-monthly progress reports.  The community policy unit in my Department has policy responsibility for cross government co-ordination of local and community development supports. It provides guidance and supports to local community development committee structures which have primary responsibility for co-ordinating, planning and overseeing local community development funding.

The framework policy for local and community development delivered by my Department is formed on a cross-government basis and seeks to ensure joined-up approach to community development at a local level. Furthermore, the local action groups through which the LEADER programme is delivered, a significant source of funding for rural Ireland, ensures community engagement in delivery of this important programme. In addition, my Department supports the public participation networks, whose main purpose is to enable the public to take an active formal role in policy making and oversight committees of the local authorities, providing an avenue for community and voluntary groups to participate in the local decision making processes.

I thank the Minister for reading out that answer, but he has failed to answer my question. I thank the Minister for confirming there is an action plan. I welcome that and he is to be praised for that and that there is a monitoring committee. That is not what I asked. I am looking at the programme for Government and the paragraph on impact assessment. Whoever wrote the reply might look at it and simply tell me whether the co-ordinating unit has been set up. The aim of that unit was to develop co-operative structures to keep vital local services in place and to maintain and develop local enterprises and that is a good aim. Has that now been abandoned? I do not hear a reply that it has been set up. I do not hear a reply that it has been abandoned and the Minister has taken a new direction. It is a very simple question: has that gone by the board and is the Minister now looking at the other things he is talking about, or has it not gone by the board?

The question the Deputy asked related to commitments in the programme for Government. The new Department of Rural and Community Development has overtaken that. That is why, within the Department, other schemes have been set up, particularly in relation to local and community schemes, the community enhancement programme and local community development committees, LCDCs. The point of the community enhancement programme is to bring it down to a local level where local people who know the local needs and have the local knowledge want to be able to make local decisions. I have increased the funding for these programmes. Not only have I allocated money once this year, but I have done so twice because I believe the people on the ground know where the difficulties are.

The question the Deputy asked was in respect of commitments in the programme for Government. The new Department has overtaken that and my Department is leading community and rural development, particularly for libraries. That is why the funding I have allocated this year has gone down to the LCDCs, working with the county councils. Local people and local communities can identify where local problems are.

I thought I had a grasp of the English language. I appreciate the Minister is doing his best but the new Department was to set up this co-ordinating unit. Whoever wrote that reply can go back and look at the paragraph in the programme for Government which states "within the new Department of ... Regional Development and Rural Affairs ..., we will task a coordinating unit to work with communities to develop co-operative structures". It is set out in black and white. Looking at a co-operative way forward is a laudable aim and a specific unit within the Minister's Department was to lead it. If I know anything from sitting on the Committee of Public Accounts it is that if there is no chain of command and responsibility, then nothing happens.

Has the idea of this unit been abandoned now? That is a simple question and I ask it in the context of impact assessment. For example, had an impact assessment been done on the issues pertaining to the recent post office closures? That is straying a bit from my question, so I will stick with my question. Has the new unit been abandoned? Is the Minister not going ahead with that?

The Deputy has asked a question about a commitment that was given in the programme for Government. When that programme was formed, the particular Department that the Deputy refers to was in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. A new Department was set up a year ago. In that Department-----

That was acknowledged in the reply.

That was acknowledged in the reply and I am trying to acknowledge it again. The responsibility for the schemes that were promised that the Deputy is talking about is now in that Department. The community enhancement programme, the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, and all these programmes are now within my Department and the Deputy would agree it is better to have it in one Department than having over a number of Departments. The commitment is there. The Taoiseach set up a new Department of Rural and Community Development. The operative word is "community" and what it means to me is that decisions that can be made at local level should be made there. Decisions are being made at the local level within programmes like community enhancement and SICAP. I am monitoring those. We meet on a regular basis in accordance with the action plan. People come in from different agencies. They respond and report to Government and to me, as the chair of that committee, and then we make policy decisions.

Rural Development Policy

Bernard Durkan


74. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which he has identified specific issues in rural and community life with a view to putting in place particular measures to address these issues with the objective of improving prospects for all involved in rural Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38592/18]

Bernard Durkan


81. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans for the evolution of rural and community development with particular reference to those areas of responsibility under his aegis; the extent to which he has identified key issues most likely to contribute to an enhancement to community and rural life here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38591/18]

I ask the Minister the extent to which he has a vision in respect of the input he sees as being crucial to enhancing rural Ireland in its various forms throughout the country and with particular reference to community and local groups, as well as to the environment.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 74 and 81 together.

As Minister with responsibility for rural and community development, my primary focus is to support the creation of vibrant and sustainable communities across the country. This can be achieved through the implementation of programmes and initiatives that facilitate economic development through the creation of jobs and the infrastructure required to support these jobs and to support our communities to become and remain desirable places to live, work and raise families.

Through Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, the Government will be providing investment of almost €116 billion over the next decade, much of which will be invested in the regions, including €1 billion through the rural regeneration and development fund.

Project Ireland 2040 will help breathe new life into communities across the country, providing access to recreational and leisure facilities, by increasing the attractiveness of communities to visitors and, most importantly, by supporting job creation and employment for people who live in rural areas.

My Department has also been working to achieve these objectives through a number of existing schemes and programmes, such as LEADER, CLÁR, the town and village renewal scheme, the local improvement scheme, the outdoor recreation scheme, the social inclusion and community activation programme and the community enhancement programme. These have delivered funding and supports to numerous small and large-scale projects and my Department looks forward to continuing to operate other programmes, including the rural regeneration and development fund in the future.

I thank the Minister for his reply. To what extent has the Minister received a response from local rural communities across the country and have all areas responded in a way he expected and with sufficient enthusiasm to ensure the procedures he has put in place and the measures he is taking are going to have the maximum beneficial impact throughout the areas?

There is an investment of €44 million in community services programmes in 2018 to support more than 400 organisations. The Department also provides a lot of funding to the libraries programme and I know the Deputy is a supporter of libraries. I want to see libraries being used as community hubs to make sure that people will be able to use them across the country and that is what the capital programme and the extra funding I have given this year is for.

The community enhancement programme was given an investment of €4 million earlier this year and it has now been given a further €8 million. That is €12.5 million in total. Programmes like the town and village scheme, the CLÁR programme and the local improvement schemes all help to put a bit of life into rural Ireland.

If I was asked which is the best scheme that the Department has introduced, I would answer the town and village scheme. It takes public realms and makes towns and villages nice places to live. It supports community hubs, like food hubs and digital hubs. It also supports people who want to get investment into local areas. I have asked my Department to look at job creation this year within the town and village scheme. The scheme has worked very well. There has been approval for 1,300 projects within the LEADER programme, as we mentioned earlier. I would like to see more projects being approved. I would like to see more drawdown of funding and more schemes being drawn out of the LEADER programme.

Is the Minister in a position to identify specific issues such as infrastructural deficits throughout the regions, such as roads and communications, which might impede investment in major industries?

To what extent will the Minister be able to link in with other Ministers who are in the business of ensuring an even spread of industrial investment throughout the country?

A big issue, which we discussed earlier, is that of broadband. We are having some success in the roll out of broadband, particularly with the announcement last week of interest in competing or tendering for its future development, which is very important. A simple thing that has been a big help to local communities - I do not know if it is a big issue in the Deputy's area, but it is in mine - is the local improvement scheme, LIS. It is a very simple scheme that helps people to get in and out of their houses or boreens. These people pay for their water supply and they pay property and other taxes but the State does not provide any real services for them. The one thing that they ask for is the local improvement scheme. There are other schemes in my Department, including the CLÁR programme and the rural regeneration scheme, which we are excited about and which closes on Thursday. We will see how many applications for that come in from across the country. This targets investment in rural areas and I hope we will see some very good projects come in as part of that scheme. We hope adjudication on that scheme will be complete by November and that next year there will be a draw down of some of that funding and jobs created on the back of it. The town and village scheme is another scheme that has worked well. I have given the examples of Drumshanbo and Skibbereen but there are many other examples around the country where there have been digital, food and enterprise hubs and where people have broadband which gives them the opportunity and the start they need.

Local Improvement Scheme Funding

Joe Carey


75. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount allocated under LIS in 2018 nationally and in County Clare, respectively; if there will be a second round; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38322/18]

Will the Minister give the amount allocated under the local improvement scheme nationally and in County Clare and if there will be a second round?

The local improvement scheme, LIS, is a programme for improvement works on small private and non-public roads. The scheme is currently funded by my Department and administered through the local authorities.

Following on from the successful relaunch of the scheme in 2017, I announced details of the 2018 local improvement scheme on 27 February. I allocated an initial amount of €10.8 million to local authorities across the country this year under the scheme. The 2018 funding includes an allocation of €482,000 for County Clare.

The list of projects which the councils have selected for improvement works on the basis of their allocations can be found on my Department’s website.

As part of the LIS scheme this year, I also requested each county council to compile a secondary list of suitable LIS road projects which they could complete if additional funding becomes available within my Department's Vote later in the year.

I am assessing the level of expenditure on all my Department's programmes on an ongoing basis, and I will make decisions shortly on whether there is scope for any additional funding to be allocated to the local improvement scheme this year.

More than 1,100 roads have benefitted from improvement works since I relaunched the LIS in September last year. This is having a hugely positive impact for residents and landowners along those roads in terms of access to their premises and properties.

I compliment the Minster for reinstating this vital scheme for rural Ireland. He listened to the Fine Gael backbenchers when they called on him to do so, and it was important that he did. It was great to see it reinstated last year, and also a further allocation being given late last year. I have welcomed the allocation of €482,000 for County Clare this year. It is fantastic. Much work has been done and applications have been submitted. There were requests that Clare County Council would draw up a secondary list. I compliment the road section of Clare County Council for its work in conjunction with landowners and the people who live in rural Ireland to deliver on this programme.

Will the Minister consider a further round of funding for the local improvement scheme? It is very important because it was delayed and was not there for many years before it was reinstated? He could continue this good work if he made a further allocation.

This scheme has been one of my Department's success stories and I thank the Deputy for his kind comments. There had not been a local improvement scheme for many years. Last year there was a total allocation of €866,000. I am looking to see if the Department has any spare funding because this is a great scheme and is one that works well. The local authorities received funding in the middle of last year and again towards the end of this year. They did very well to complete it. I allocated the funding early this year, in February, and asked them to have the schemes completed by July so that if there was any extra funding, I would announce it. I will examine that in the coming weeks. To be fair to the local authorities, if I give them extra funding, I must do so now because they will need to get the work done before the weather gets bad. It is a scheme that has worked well and there is a deep appreciation among rural people for it. People in towns have an expectation that their roads should be done, but rural areas do not have the same chances, although the people who live there pay the same taxes and pay for their water supply.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I encourage him to make the further allocation and to do so shortly, with winter approaching. It would be better if they received the allocation in the next couple of weeks so that they could get on with the work.

I thank the Deputy for his kind words. The scheme has worked very well and I will make a quick decision on it. To be fair to local authorities, if they are to receive any funding, it must be soon so that they can do the work between now and the end of the year. Many people at the National Ploughing Championships said they were delighted to see the scheme and were looking for more funding. It is a scheme I want to develop. If other Departments came in and allocated a small amount of funds, twice the amount of work would be done. I am pleased I reintroduced the funding and that it is there.

Dog Breeding Industry

Clare Daly


76. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he is satisfied that the new dog breeding guidelines due to come into effect in January 2019 will be adequate to deal with the mistreatment and illegal sale of dogs here. [38566/18]

Clare Daly


89. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the steps he will take to enforce compliance by dog breeders with the recently published new dog breeding establishment guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38567/18]

I welcome the Minister's publication of the new dog breeding guidelines as promised. There are many positive inclusions on the conditions in which dogs are kept, the environment, health and welfare record keeping and so on. However, the problem is that they are still only guidelines and it is up to individual breeders to take them on. There is a lack of sufficient enforcement by the local authorities. Given the public outcry over the "Panorama" programme on the Misty Meadow puppy farm in Cavan and the fact the council took no action in spite of the evidence, how can the Minister reassure us that the guidelines will make a difference?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 76 and 89 together.

I thank the Deputy for her continued interest in this important area. My Department published new guidelines for dog breeding establishments in July. These will come into effect on 1 January 2019.

I want to see the highest standards achieved by dog breeding establishments and these guidelines will help to do this. They form part of the framework within which local authorities carry out inspections and issue improvement notices, where required.

My Department developed these guidelines through consultation with both industry experts, including the Dublin Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, the Irish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, and the veterinary sector, and the public. Some of the issues raised related to matters beyond the scope of the guidelines and they are now being considered as part of a wider review of the legislation.

It is important to bear in mind that the enforcement of animal welfare standards for all animals, including dogs, is a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the Animal Health and Welfare Acts. Both Departments work closely with each other to ensure a co-ordinated approach is taken in this area. In this context, I understand that last May the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched a public consultation on a voluntary code of practice for pet shops and on the need for further legislation in relation to the advertising and sale of animals as pets.

Much co-ordination and consultation is ongoing between my Department and the veterinary section of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as well as the local authorities, which fall within a third Department. This was something that was raised during the consultation, where people expressed the view that too many Departments were dealing with this issue, and I tend to agree. We discussed this with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine but we did not reach a conclusion in relation to changing the system.

Obviously, the local authorities are responsible for enforcement and the registration regime. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is responsible for animal welfare. The Department of Rural and Community Development is responsible for dog control and for legislation. There has been a substantial shift in the guidelines. Experts have emphasised the need to socialise pups by ensuring they experience the company of people before they are sold. There have been changes in staffing levels. As part of the move towards an increase in socialisation, pups spend more time enjoying human contact. This is important because it helps to aid their progression when they are purchased by a family with children or by an individual. We are examining the primary legislation and initiating public consultation on the list of restricted dog breeds. A number of changes have been suggested by the people involved. A number of incidents involving dogs that are not on the list of restricted dog breeds have taken place. Consideration will be given to whether there should be a change in policy so that we have a list of dangerous dogs rather than a list of dangerous breeds. This consultation will be initiated by the Department in the coming year.

The issue is whether the guidelines will improve the conditions in breeding establishments and have an impact on the sale of puppies. Our first concern relates to the local authorities' lack of ability to inspect premises properly, given that we are talking about criminal activity in some instances. The guidelines say that 24 hours' notice should be given, which means that those involved have a heads-up. Even though subsequent visits are unannounced, I do not think local authorities have enough resources to make unannounced visits. Internet sales are particularly problematic. There were 126 dogs for sale on the Internet this morning. Illegal sales are continuing at an alarming rate. There were a number of tragic cases over the summer. In May, 27 puppies were found in Scotland in a van that originated in Ireland. In July, 16 puppies were found in a horse trailer in Galway. They all died afterwards. In August, over 100 dogs were rescued by the ISPCA. Earlier this month, a man was fined over €1,000 by the District Court after 37 dogs were seized from his farm. The only penalty he received was to be banned from having dogs for 18 months. He should not be allowed to have dogs ever again. Even though the number of convictions has increased, large profits are continuing to be made from this activity, which shows no sign of receding. I think we need to monitor it constantly. We need to do more.

I agree with that there is a need for continued and improved monitoring. As I have said, the local authorities are responsible for that. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is considering whether there is a need for further legislation governing the advertisement and sale of pet animals, including pups. The Deputy has highlighted some of the atrocious cases that have made the headlines in recent times, including a case in Galway. I commend the volunteer groups like Madra that did tremendous work to try to save as many pups as possible in those cases. We must recognise the difference between illegal and legal activity. We want to stamp out illegal activity on the part of those who are operating small-scale dog breeding establishments that are hidden underground. We have to consider whether we should change the definition of a dog breeding establishment. If we wanted to provide for a reduction, as suggested in the consultation, that would have to be done in primary legislation. We need to improve standards in dog breeding establishments that are legal and registered while stamping out those that are carrying out illegal activities.

The Minister of State has correctly identified one of the key problems, which is that responsibility for this key area is divided across three Departments. We must get to grips with that if we are to deal with this issue properly. Dogs are not livestock. They are not bred for slaughter or food production. We need to give this the attention it deserves. The problem is that the local authorities are not taking their responsibilities seriously, or have not been adequately resourced to do so. The inaction of Cavan County Council in failing to deal decisively with the Ray Cullivan puppy farm has sent out a dreadful signal to those involved in the illegal activity that has been mentioned by the Minister of State. We need to pay attention to this issue. Will the Minister of State agree to meet some of the groups that are at the coalface in this area? Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has already asked the Minister of State to meet certain animal protection individuals who are eager to meet him. Would he be willing to meet a group of these responsible volunteers, who have stepped into the breach? I think they would welcome a hearing with the Minister of State if he were able to afford it to them.

I am delighted to meet groups that are interested in animal welfare, which is an important area. I accept it is not ideal that responsibility for this matter is spread across three Departments. There were discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on foot of the public consultation process. There is a lot of co-ordination and collaboration across Government Departments. As I have mentioned in this House previously, my family got a small rescue dog, Ciara, from the Madra dog rescue centre in Galway. Madra, which does great work, is inundated with volunteers who organise hugely impressive initiatives to raise funds for the centre. The local authorities and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine provide funding towards the end of the year to a number of animal rescue organisations that care for dogs, cats and other animals. I am happy to meet interested groups.

Western Development Commission

Tony McLoughlin


77. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if in the engagement he has had with the Western Development Commission the operation and administration of the western investment fund has been raised; and if the provision of additional resources to enhance the operation of the fund is being considered. [38324/18]

Has the operation and administration of the western investment fund been raised during the Minister's engagement with the Western Development Commission? Is consideration being given to the provision of additional funding to enhance the operation of the fund?

The Western Development Commission, WDC, operates the western investment fund, which contributes to the development of the region by investing through equity or loans in business startups, growth-oriented small and medium-sized enterprises and community-based measures to encourage enterprise development. The western investment fund was established as a revolving fund. The WDC uses the moneys revolving back into the fund to support new investments. To date, the western investment fund has invested €48 million in 140 enterprises, supported 2,500 direct jobs and leveraged more than €280 million in additional investment. At the beginning of 2018, the western investment fund had €21.4 million available for reinvestment in small and medium-sized enterprises, microenterprises and community and social enterprises in the western region. The Deputy will agree that this represents a huge opportunity to support job creation in the west.

When I met members of the board of the WDC last May, they raised with me their view that additional staff were required to maximise the potential of the western investment fund and the benefits it can bring to the western region. The Deputy will appreciate that any question of increased resources is a matter for consideration in the context of the annual Estimates process, which is taking place at present. The possibility of securing extra resources for the WDC will be examined in that context. I appreciate and understand that additional staff resources would help to maximise the positive impact and effect of the western investment fund. Such resources have been sought by the board. I congratulate the new chief executive officer of the WDC, Mr. Tomás Ó Síocháin, who is taking up his new position this week. I commend the outgoing acting chief executive officer, Mr. Ian Brannigan, on his work over recent times. The WDC has a huge role to play. It is important for the Government to support this important fund by maximising the potential for it to create jobs.

I thank the Minister of State. As he mentioned, up to the end of 2017 the western investment fund had invested approximately €48.5 million in 135 enterprises. I would like to focus on the demand for enterprises as we go forward. The Minister of State rightly mentioned small and medium-sized enterprises and community-based measures to encourage additional enterprise development. What are the plans? Is staffing going to be an issue? The amount of money available for reinvestment in small and medium-sized enterprises in the western development area, which I am talking about, is vital.

Perhaps the Minister of State might elaborate on that.

The potential is great. The investment in these companies to provide loans and secure share capital has the potential to ensure the WDC Investment Fund can continue to grow. As it grows and as some companies spin out, make money and repay their loans, the return on investment is considerable for the Western Development Commission. The potential for the fund to grow is great. The board has requested, however, that it needs extra staff to realise this. This case has been made to me. There is an ongoing Estimates process and we cannot pre-empt the discussions. I will certainly be advocating for extra resources for the Western Development Commission so it can increase its number of staff. This is its top requirement.

With the success of recent years, there has been an increase in demand for the fund, particularly given the number of entrepreneurs and various others who wish to avail of it. It is vital that the staff is in place. Perhaps this will be a priority of the Minister of State. Without an adequate number of staff, it will be very difficult to administer and provide what is needed. Across the western region, people are crying out for investment. The enterprises that have availed of funding over the years have been well served. It is vital to address the issue of staffing. I agree with the Minister of State on the appointment of the new CEO. Perhaps additional staff are required fairly quickly.

There is a new CEO, a new chairman of the board and a new board has been in place over the last period. There is potential. There have been a number of success stories and initiatives, including the western regional audiovisual producers, WRAP, fund, under the Western Development Commission and local authorities. It was launched last year and it has been a great success. It has generated enthusiasm across the sector. There is potential, and continued support by the Government is important. I will certainly continue to work with the board, the new CEO and the team to continue to drive investment in the western region. That is why the commission was set up. It has a positive track record. We can continue to enhance its importance and secure its future based on its experience and the new ideas, innovation and input of people.

Community Development Initiatives

Éamon Ó Cuív


78. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the policies and programmes he has introduced in order to reduce community and social deprivation in the most deprived urban communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38605/18]

Members who are waiting should note this is the last question. We have only five minutes left. If Deputy Ó Cuív forfeits his introduction, he will have time for one supplementary question.

My Department's mission is to support viable, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Ireland. In that context, it has a central role in tackling social exclusion and addressing deprivation in all communities, both urban and rural.

The Framework Policy for Local and Community Development in Ireland, published in 2015, focuses on tackling poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion and seeks to provide better ways of working with communities. A cross-sectoral group representative of all key stakeholders and chaired by my Department is developing an implementation plan for the framework policy.

I announced the second SICAP, covering the period 2018 to 2022, earlier this year. It has a funding allocation nationally of €38 million in 2018 and will provide some €190 million over its next five-year period. SICAP supports disadvantaged communities and individuals, including unemployed people, people living in deprived areas, people with disabilities, single-parent families, people on a low income, members of the Traveller and Roma community and other disadvantaged groups.

I have announced €8 million in additional funding for the community enhancement programme, which I put in place earlier this year. The programme provides funding towards grants for community groups across Ireland. The allocation of funding is weighted towards those communities in most need. I have provided ring-fenced supports for particular areas of urban deprivation including, for example, €3.5 million for initiatives in Dublin's north-east inner city, an area suffering from extreme deprivation.

There is to be one supplementary question and one response. The Deputy should make the best of it.

The Minister's reply is extraordinary because he did not address the very specific question I asked about the most deprived urban areas. Can he confirm that although he brought back the RAPID programme, it is no longer confined to dealing with the issues in the most deprived urban communities? Can he confirm that, under the RAPID programme, the area implementation teams that used to be in each RAPID area where the locals were involved no longer exist?

That is not true. With regard to the community enhancement scheme, I have brought that down to the local authorities. I refer to the local community development committees, LCDCs. The Deputy always puts his hands up in the air. He reminds me of an umpire who gets it wrong when the ball goes wide. He does not know where he is; he wants the cameras. I am going to give him the figures. Very simply, I have brought this down to the local authorities, the LCDCs. Who knows best in Galway, Mayo, Cork, Kerry, Laois or Dublin where the poverty is and where the funding is needed most? The complaint the Deputy had on the last occasion was that I was not giving enough money to the bigger areas. I have done that. I started off with a base amount of €125,000. Then I took into account the areas based on their populations. Let me give examples of the areas that got the most funding. Cork city got €459,000 and Dublin city got €1,329,000. Fingal got €477,000 and South Dublin got €737,000. These are areas with real problems and difficulties. This explains the position regarding the community enhancement programme and SICAP. The latter has been a brilliant success. One hundred and ten thousand people have been dealt with and supported on a one-to-one basis. Five thousand-----

Go raibh maith agat. I have been overly generous all day. I have to move on.

I love giving the figures because Deputy Ó Cuív hates the figures. He hates the truth. These are not my figures. The Deputy just hates the truth.

If the Minister wants to continue-----

One thousand six hundred and ninety-five people-----

If the Minister wants to continue, he will have to go to MacHale Park or Pearse Stadium. That is it.

Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.