Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

Dara Calleary


1. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the timetable for the roll-out of the town and village renewal scheme in 2019 in terms of the applications process; when project funding approvals will issue; and the timetable for implementation of the scheme to encourage residential occupancy in rural towns and villages as committed to in the Action Plan for Rural Development. [3395/19]

The Minister does not need to be told that towns and villages are under significant pressure in facing not just the challenge of depopulation but also online trading. For those who do not understand that challenge, I encourage them to listen back to the recent "Drivetime" reports by John Cooke who gave views from the ground. I want to discuss with the Minister how the town and village scheme and the scheme to encourage people to move back to towns and villages are progressing. Will he also outline his key priorities in this area in 2019?

The town and village renewal scheme forms an important part of the Action Plan for Rural Development and has the potential to stimulate economic recovery and job creation in towns and villages across rural Ireland. The scheme is specifically focused on rural towns and villages with a population of less than 10,000.

The town and village renewal scheme was introduced in the second half of 2016. To date, almost €53 million has been approved for more than 670 projects across the country. The projects cover a range of activities, from improving the public realm to make towns and villages more attractive for locals and visitors alike to job creation initiatives such as the development of enterprise and digital hubs. Details of the 2019 town and village renewal scheme are being finalised by my officials. I anticipate that the scheme will be announced during the first quarter of the year, with approvals being announced in the second half of the year, as was the case in previous years.

The scheme to encourage residential occupancy in rural towns and villages is under way. I launched the initiative last October and announced the six rural towns which had been invited to participate in the initial pilot scheme. The scheme is being led locally by the local authorities, in close collaboration with all relevant stakeholders and my Department. Up to €100,000 is being made available for each participating town. The funding will be used by the local authorities to engage with communities and local businesses and identify practical solutions to increase the number of people living in rural towns. I expect to receive a report from each of the local authorities in the first half of the year on the progress they have made. It is envisaged that the solutions identified in the six pilot scheme towns will lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the rural regeneration and development fund in due course.

The Minister has said funding of €53 million has been approved for the town and village renewal scheme. Will he confirm for the House how much of that sum has been drawn down? The replies to parliamentary questions to the Minister indicated that there had been a €2.5 million underspend under the programme in 2018. Will he confirm whether the money has been spent since and if all of the money allocated in 2018 was spent?

The Minister and I see the effects of both schemes daily. There is significant potential in towns and villages, but there is no sense in the Minister ploughing away with this initiative in his Department if other Departments are ignorant of what is going on or not co-operating with his Department. For instance, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government should provide for rates remissions for those who invest in their properties. Instead, if someone invests in a business property in a small town or village, he or she receives a bigger rates bill. There is significant space overhead in many properties in towns and villages that would be ideal for use as assisted accommodation or accommodation for older people who want to live near services. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government should engage with the Minister to devise a scheme for existing properties to get people back into services.

The Department of Health is dragging its feet on the GP contract. A GP service is essential in any local community. It, too, would help to keep people in rural areas and encourage others to move back. The schemes should be bigger. What else is going on at the Government table to provide services in local communities?

A total of €13.854 million has been drawn down to date. To be fair to the local authorities, the schemes were always intended to be run over a 15-month period. We allocated the funding in October and expect it to be spent this year. It is a rolling scheme and that is the way it will operate, regardless of who will have this job in the future. That is the way it has to be because local authorities are not able to deliver schemes within the year.

They need a bit of time to get their Part 8 projects in place and there is other work they need to do. Local authorities have not had themselves in glory around the country on this programme or any other. I will ask my officials, over the next number of days, to write to the local authorities about all of the funding I have allocated under the CLÁR programme and for outdoor recreation and rural recreation and I will seek four-monthly reports from the local authorities to see what they are delivering.

As the Deputy is aware, the town and village scheme has been very good. We allocated €200,000, for example, for the community centre and Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ballycastle. That was with the local developer who developed the street. The Céide Fields Visitor Centre gets €1.5 million. The signature point in Ballycastle and the GAA there are also getting funding. It is not all about funding but Ballycastle is a town we should use as an example because it has been given a lift. That has happened all over the country. The same thing has happened with the funding we have given for the walk scheme in Drumshanbo.

The town and village scheme has been very good, as the Deputy knows. We allocated €200,000 to Ballycastle, for example, for the community centre and the Ballinglen Arts Foundation. That was with the local developer who developed the street. The Céide ields there are getting €1.5 million. Signature Point in Ballycastle is also getting funding, as is the GAA. It is not all about funding, but what it has done for that town, which we should use as an example, it has given it a lift. That has happened all over the country. The same thing has happened with the funding we have to the walk scheme in Drumshanbo.

I agree with the Minister about Ballycastle, but that has been led by the community and not by the local authority. Out of €53 million drawn down, €13 million has been spent. The Minister needs to start kicking heads. Local authorities are great at showing up for openings but there is no sense in the Minister allocating money that is not being drawn down and spent in the communities where it is needed, and it is badly needed. I encourage the Minister to get that information and publish it. It is time for the Minister to start publicly calling out local authorities that are letting their communities down by not spending this money.

There are substantial under-allocations and funds that are not being drawn down across many of the Minister's programmes. Members and officials of local authorities need to be told they are letting their communities down by not drawing down this money. The Minister needs to do more than write to them. He needs to name and shame those poor performers.

I thank the Deputy, and I really mean that, for his support because he is correct and this is something I have been saying within the Department. Of course, civil servants do not like to give out to other civil servants and they will protect one another whenever they have to, but local authorities have not had themselves in glory. Every week, I read cuttings from local papers all over the country and it annoys me to see Fine Gael councillors, Fianna Fáil councillors and Independent councillors criticising the Government for not providing funding. There has never been as much funding put into rural Ireland. There has been €22 million given through the LEADER programme. The town and village scheme has provided €53 million. There has been €41 million for outdoor recreation. The CLÁR programme has provided €25 million. The local improvement scheme has provided €38 million. The SICAP programme has provided €190 million. It is not that the funding is not going in. Sometimes the local authorities are not doing what they should do and I will tell them, in the next rounds of these schemes, that they are not to make application for schemes if they are not ready to deliver them. That is a message that will go out loud and clear.

Deputy Calleary is right that it may be the time to put out figures that show what local authorities have got from my Department. I have a list here showing how much money each county got from my Department last year but I do not have the corresponding list of how much they have then spent and that is something I need to start working on.

Deputy Calleary was talking about a pilot scheme earlier and he is quite correct. I want to sit down with all Departments when the report comes back from the six towns. Deputy Calleary touched on something I do not want to see happening. I do not want every other Department throwing schemes over to the rural regeneration scheme or over to my Department. It happens regularly that letters come in from Deputies or community programmes and the Departments wish to state they do not wish to touch them but that it is a matter for my Department. It is not. We need to sit down and start working that out and we will do that when we get the results from this pilot scheme.

Brexit Issues

Martin Kenny


2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the preparations or contingency planning being carried out to address a no-deal Brexit for rural communities especially in the Border region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3142/19]

My question regards the impact of Brexit, even if there is a deal but particularly if there is no deal, on the entire country and particularly rural Ireland, which will be most badly affected. That is particularly true of the Border corridor. The INTERREG programme recognises border corridors throughout Europe as areas of economic disadvantage by the very fact that they have a border running through them. The Border in Ireland is a most unnatural border because it breaks townlands and parishes and cuts through the whole of rural Ireland. It runs through a very rural area. I seek an assurance from the Minister and his Department that plans are in place to invest in those areas in the context of Brexit. Those areas will need an absolute commitment that we can pour money into them to try and ensure the negative impacts of Brexit will be curtailed.

My Department has been undertaking appropriate planning for various Brexit scenarios, including a no-deal Brexit. As is the case for all Departments, this planning has fed into the cross-Government preparations being led by my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. Planning by Government and at the EU level, for all possible outcomes, has been ramped up and will continue. The Government published a contingency action plan, which my Department inputted into, on 19 December. This plan sets out the Government's approach to dealing with a no-deal Brexit. We are determined that Ireland will be as ready as it can be in mitigating any impacts from Brexit and of a no-deal scenario.

In the case of my Department the preparations in advance of Brexit have been focused on engagement and awareness in relation to our stakeholders in the rural and community development sectors. My focus is on anticipating and preparing for all such outcomes which may lead to impacts on rural Ireland and communities generally. I am very conscious that the potential effects of a disorderly Brexit on communities and on certain economic sectors, such as the agrifood sector, will have a major regional impact. Therefore, a key element of my Department’s contingency planning is to ensure maximum flexibility in our programme of funding initiatives, to allow for needed responses to emerging needs and to continue to build resilience in all communities. The funding provided by my Department to communities throughout this country will become even more important in the event of a disorderly Brexit.

What I take from that answer is that the preparations the Minister has made is that he will allow greater flexibility to exist in respect of funds. While I understand we need flexibility, and we will be looking for flexibility in funding arrangements in any case, we really need a plan to seek additional funds particularly from Europe because this is a European problem, not just an Irish problem, although Ireland will meet the biggest impact of it. We need to see from where we can get additional resources to support the small businesses that will be under threat in the Border corridor and, indeed, across the entire country as a consequence of Brexit. These are businesses in transport, agrifood and a whole range of sectors. I spoke to a man last week who is importing products. He feels he will face serious problems, particularly with VAT, because, if Britain is out of the European Union, he will have to pay the VAT when he imports goods, rather than when he sells them. That will have a huge impact on him and his business and he is not even prepared as to how to do the paperwork around that, let alone how he will pay for it. He spoke to the bank about it. Will he get the resources he needs? Will he get an extension of the credit he needs to do that? There is no answer there. It is on issues like that the Government needs to come in and show that it has the resources in place to protect these small businesses.

I can only speak for my Department, but as a member of the Government and Cabinet, I can say that preparations are taking place on a daily basis. The answer to the Deputy's question is that there is flexibility in my Department and there will be more flexibility. When the time comes and if there is a no-deal Brexit, which puts certain communities and areas in bigger difficulties than others, that is where I will have to target funding. I will do that and that is my plan. There is flexibility within all the schemes in my Department and that is a good thing. I will continue to leave that flexibility there. We will deal with the areas where there is the most need.

My Department is working with the Government. We have played our part with regard to the plan that has been announced and we have to wait and see the outcome of Brexit. My job, as Minister for Community and Rural Development, is to make sure that I am there to support rural communities. At Government level, I am there on a daily basis and I policy-proof whatever decisions are made to ensure that rural Ireland is protected. We have to wait and see what will actually happen but I stress the word "flexibility". My Department is flexible and we will target the areas that need it most.

I acknowledge that the Minister's Department is prepared to be flexible but the issue here is about more than that. It is about the additional funds that will be needed. I would like to hear from the Minister that the Government is working, through all its Departments, to put together a package of anticipated needs and then go to Brussels and put it on the table and say that, as a consequence of Brexit, we have many small businesses, particularly in the Border region but across the whole country, that will need additional resources.

We also need additional infrastructure to be put in place. The Minister's Department is key to that. I welcome the funding that came, for instance, to places like the Food Hub in Drumshanbo as small businesses in places like that will need additional resources.

The reason we are in this position is because of a conflict between a member of the European Union and the European Union itself. For that reason, it is important that Government seeks the initial funding that it requires.

If Europe is saying it is prepared to stand behind us when it comes to the backstop and all of these matters, funds must be put in place to do this. There is no good in saying that they stand behind us in poverty. That is the way it is going to end up in a lot of areas in rural Ireland where we do not have the resources or the capacity to build into the future.

The Minister's Department is key to this and he has a role in rural Ireland. As most of the Border corridor is very rural, he needs to come up with the goods in this respect.

I reassure the Deputy that all Departments, Ministers and the Government as a whole are working on the Brexit proposals. We published a plan on 19 December. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, have a fund to help small businesses prepare for Brexit. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has such plans, as does every other Department, including my own, for when the time comes.

We are not in a position to talk about funding yet, until we know the nature of the problem.

We all are still hoping that we will have a deal.

The Minister is whistling past the graveyard.

To be honest, I could point out a few small matters to the Deputy. He and his party would be a great help to us if they took up their place in Northern Ireland and their seats in the House of Commons. We would then have somebody to represent the nationalist view both in the North and in England.

The Dáil has just had a sitting in the Mansion House where we were talking about that.

The Minister, without interruption.

All I can say to the Deputy is his party is not afraid to take the Queen's shilling. They took the expenses but they will not go in to represent us. We need you now more than ever but you will not go in to represent us.

That is not the point.

I ask the Minister not to be inviting interruptions.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme

John Curran


3. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the level of funding that has gone to projects in the most disadvantaged communities previously known as RAPID areas since the amalgamation the RAPID and the community facilities schemes into the new community enhancement programme with regard to the recently announced funding allocation for 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3396/19]

Last year the Minister merged two programmes, namely, the community facilities scheme and the RAPID programme, into what has become the community enhancement programme. At the start of this year, the Minister made a substantial announcement regarding the groups that were successful in securing funding and the amounts of funding. My question specifically asks the Minister to indicate the level of supports that have now been targeted at the most disadvantaged urban communities, as had been represented by RAPID communities in the past.

The community enhancement programme, which I launched in 2018, provided €13 million to community groups to enhance facilities in their areas. The new programme does not ring-fence funding for specific locations. Instead funding is allocated to each local authority area, taking into account the relative deprivation levels. Local community development committees, LCDCs, administer the programme locally to ensure that funding is provided to groups and areas that need it most in order to address disadvantage.

The LCDCs monitor the problem closely using local knowledge to ensure that funding is benefitting communities in the fairest way possible. Over 3,000 projects have been approved to date and a list of all approved projects is available on my Department's website.

RAPID areas were identified a significant number of years ago. Over time, demographic changes meant that it is no longer appropriate to ring-fence funding to these areas. Instead my Department takes into account the relative disadvantage of each local authority area when allocating funding and LCDCs then administer these funds at local level.

The 2019 programme has not yet been finalised, as it currently being considered by my Department.

I thank the Minister. First and foremost, I disagree with the comment of the Minister that there is no longer need to have RAPID areas. Such areas are the most disadvantaged urban areas. The problems that existed ten and 20 years ago in many of those communities exist to this very day. They do not need a level playing field; they need positive discrimination to support them and to give them an opportunity they have never had before. The merging of these two programmes means the clarity that existed previously, where there was identified targeted funding to the most disadvantaged communities, has been taken away.

The report on why these programmes should be merged has no basis. It is a convenience rather than a practicality. The Minister has walked away from those most disadvantaged communities. I am not opposed to the community enhancement programme. I am not opposed to any of the groups getting funding. What I am opposed to is that urban disadvantaged areas, which have been disadvantaged for many years and which came through the last recession having seen their funding cut, now see that when funding is reintroduced, it is not prioritised and targeted towards those with greatest need.

I disagree with the Deputy because if one takes the north inner city of Dublin, in 2017 we gave €2.5 million, in 2018 we gave €3.5 million and in 2019, it will receive €6.5 million. This funding is targeted to the greatest disadvantage.

On the RAPID programme referred to by the Deputy, the value-for-money report that was produced on it specifically stated it was not to be run in the way it had been run in the past. I was obliged to change it.

The Deputy must agree with me that the LCDC groups are drawn from the community. They include elected representatives and representatives of community groups in the disadvantaged areas. If these groups do not know where the disadvantage is, then who does? I have tried this scheme and I am prepared to give it a chance. I will evaluate it, however. I, like the Deputy, want to ensure that this funding is given to those who need it most and I do not want it used for anything else.

I take the Deputy's points on board. I am reviewing but I do want to see that funding targeted. I believe the people on the LCDCs are those who should know best, as they are the people on the ground and they should know their own local communities.

In the Minister's opening comment, he hit the nail on the head when he spoke about the inner city. The additional funds will be made available to it where there are particular problems. There are particular problems in a range of urban areas around the country. These areas are not getting that targeted level of support, which the Minister clearly believes and understands makes a difference. There are communities right across Dublin that are not receiving anything like the level of support that the inner city is receiving. In previous parliamentary questions, the Minister referred to rural issues but what I do not wish to see is a raid on an urban fund for disadvantaged communities. That is what RAPID funding was all about, namely, for the most disadvantaged communities with the least capacity to provide for themselves and with the greatest challenges. Those challenges were clearly identified in the past. They have not gone away. The Minister has clearly articulated that in relation to the inner city.

I am pleased to hear the Minister will keep this under the review. I acknowledge the great work many of these projects do. They cannot be funded, however, at the expense of our most disadvantaged communities. I urge the Minister to look through those programmes and identify how much of the funding he is allocating is going to those with the greatest level of need.

The Deputy is not saying anything different to what I have said myself. Dublin inner city was allocated €6.5 million this year. Last year's funding for South Dublin County Council was €737,700, which provided for 120 projects that have been approved to date. These projects were ring-fenced. I also gave funding to the men's shed programme and ring-fenced €500,000 for this programme. The men's shed is working particularly well in disadvantaged areas. I wish I had more money to give to that group, which does a lot of work on the ground.

Staying with the question the Deputy has asked, I am glad the scheme is open and that I was in the position to open it. I put a substantial amount of money into the scheme last year from savings in other Departments. That scheme was worthy of more support. I could have allocated this funding to roads or other areas but I wanted to put it into disadvantaged areas. I, like the Deputy, want to see the areas that need to be targeted receive this funding. The Deputy is quite correct in saying that these areas are to be found in both urban and rural areas.

I visited Dublin inner city with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. I would love to bring some of the rural people up to see the level of disadvantage. There is disadvantage in both urban and rural areas. It would do one's heart good to see the respect these people have regarding the small level of funding that was available to them and what they do with it. There is a great community spirit there and I would like to target more areas like that and give them the support and finances they need.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.