Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Questions Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Tidy Towns Committees Funding

John Curran

Ceist:

8. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if consideration will be given to establishing a specific funding grants scheme under the community enhancement programme to support groups (details supplied) nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2897/19]

We got to this question very quickly. In the Minister's last reply he referred to the fact that the Department provided funding for men's sheds. The Department has great capacity to provide a relatively small amount money which has an impact on a wide range of people. Will the Minister consider putting a funding scheme in place for Tidy Towns projects, as he did for men's sheds?

In 2018 I launched the new community enhancement programme under which grants are provided for community groups to help them to improve facilities in their area. The programme is aimed at improving community facilities to address disadvantage. In 2018 I allocated a total of €13 million for the programme, which included €500,000 that was ring-fenced for a men’s sheds fund. The issue of whether I will be in a position to allocate funding in 2019 to Tidy Towns committees will be considered by me at later date. However, Tidy Towns committees are free to apply, with any other community group, for funding under the general programme. Under the 2018 programme, 158 applications from Tidy Towns groups were approved for funding under the community enhancement programme to a total amount of €536,816. They also received funding in 2018 and previous years under other grant schemes operated by my Department. Under these other schemes, funding of €2.8 million was allocated for provision for Tidy Towns committees between 2017 and 2018.

I take the opportunity to acknowledge the great work carried out by Tidy Towns groups across the country. They are all independent voluntary groups and can apply for funding under this scheme. I will look again this year to see what I can do for Tidy Towns groups which do a tremendous job in many areas. They are cleaning up rubbish dumped by people on a regular basis. They have to be complimented on doing so. The time has come to start looking at ways and means to give them some support and recognise the great work they do as volunteers.

I am aware that Tidy Towns committees can apply under the general scheme, but I was taken by the fact the Minister had a specific scheme for men's sheds. Tidy Towns is a national organisation which impacts positively in every community throughout the country. It would be worthwhile if there was an annual grants scheme which, for very small money, would have a huge impact. I encourage the Minister to look at such a scheme. Before I came into the Chamber, I looked at the results in my area for the Tidy Towns committees that had entered the national competition this year in Clondalkin, Lucan, Newcastle and Palmerston. Each one of them has improved its score every year and people living in the area can see the value of it. With it comes pride of place. While I acknowledge committees can apply under the general scheme, I encourage the Minister to consider a designated scheme similar to the one for men's sheds specifically to develop Tidy Towns on a national basis.

For the past two years, since I took up office, I have made funding available to every Tidy Towns group in the country. It is something at which I could and might look as no other group is more worthy of it, but it is all about the finances. I was able to allocate the money from savings in the Department. Perhaps I might look at having something on a more permanent basis. In the rules and regulations I used for this and the community enhancement scheme which probably did not suit everybody, I did not stop them from applying under both schemes because whatever funding they receive they spend very wisely. The criterion I used for Tidy Towns groups was they had to participate in the Tidy Towns competition. Last year marked its 60th anniversary, which is why I gave a further one-off grant. The groups do a superb job. They have great volunteers who do not receive the recognition they deserve for doing a tremendous job which is always done by the same three or four people in every community. As Deputy Calleary will tell us, there are voluntary groups in Castlebar, Westport and Ballina. Those involved are out working at 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. cleaning up. Perhaps we might support them more. The local authorities are receiving funding from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to catch people who are dumping, a problem which is getting bigger. It is very serious and one we need to tackle.

It is positive that the Minister is giving consideration to the issue. Tidy Towns committees have a positive impact on all of our communities. I mentioned the four towns in my area in which the results have all improved year on year. In areas which have not traditionally been part of Tidy Towns competitions Tidy Towns committees are also being established and beginning to take part in the process. It is important that they be seen to be supported at Government level. This year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the competition. Most Tidy Towns committees work in collaboration with the local authorities. They do not operate in isolation. They link with other community and environmental groups and the overall benefit is enormous. They fundraise locally. It is small money from the Department, but the difference €1,000 or €2,000 makes to a Tidy Towns committee in terms of its annual budget is significant. The indications the Minister has given are positive. Those of us on this side of the House will give him every support and encouragement in developing a national grant scheme for Tidy Towns committees.

It is something at which I will look. Like the Deputy, I have a lot time for Tidy Towns groups. Perhaps I might look at the community enhancement programme and ring-fence money for them. It is something at which I will look because they are worthy of support. As I move across the country to visit every town and village, I see certain projects which people tell me were carried out with the assistance of funding made available to them by the Department. It is money well spent. The local authorities work with the Tidy Town groups. They need to work with them because they are doing a tremendous job and should be supported.

Social Isolation

James Browne

Ceist:

9. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the actions he will take to combat rural and urban isolation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2918/19]

What actions will the Minister take to combat rural and urban isolation? Will he make a statement on the matter?

Addressing the issue of isolation in rural and urban areas requires a combination of policy initiatives and actions to improve both economic development and to address gaps in meeting social needs in these areas. Many of the initiatives form part of the Government’s published Action Plan for Rural Development and framework policy for local and community development which include a range of measures which will contribute significantly to addressing isolation and social inclusion in communities. As Minister for Rural and Community Development, I will continue to advocate for a cross-government approach to ensuring the rural and community voice is heard in matters of policy. My Department is committed to the successful delivery of a number of programmes which provide financial and other supports for organisations throughout the country to assist in combating rural and urban isolation. They include the seniors alert scheme, the social inclusion and community activation programme, the LEADER programme and the community services programme. In addition, groups can input into the policy-making process through the local structures established by my Department, the public participation networks and local community development committees.

On volunteering, the call for an input paper is a first step in developing a new national volunteering strategy. We want to hear from stakeholders as we draft the new strategy and there will be further opportunities to have an input via public consultation later in the process.

I have raised the issue of isolation in rural and urban settings which is closely linked with loneliness. Since I became my party's spokesperson on mental health and engaged on various issues, there has been one issue that has consistently exacerbated any mental health issue and that is loneliness which results largely from isolation and affects both physical and mental health. Whether in the urban centres of Gorey, Wexford, Enniscorthy and New Ross and the surrounding rural areas or Dublin city or Cork where I meet various groups, isolation is consistently raised as an issue when discussing loneliness and its effect on mental health. There is much we could do. Many of the traditional structures that helped to prevent isolation and loneliness are no more. The State could do a lot to develop new structures where people could meet, interact and engage to combat this epidemic.

The Deputy is correct. It is why some of the schemes in my Department such as the seniors alert scheme have worked very well. In 2018 we spent €6.984 million in supporting 19,000 new participants. There is a new initiative which I will introduce and for which I would like to receive the Deputy's support and that of everybody else in the House.

It is the national community weekend event we intend to run in May. We have announced some details, but we will have a national launch shortly. We will try to get communities to host events to allow people to get to know their neighbours to reduce isolation which is one of the issues at which we are looking. There are many people who would be prepared to visit on a voluntary basis neighbours, friends and others who need visitors. The scheme commenced in September and will shortly be the subject of a national launch during the weekend event in May. I hope it will encourage people to get to know their neighbours.

I note our other schemes. We have provided for investment of €190 million under SICAP between 2018 and 2022. To date, over 25,000 individuals have received assistance. The men's shed movement is working in that regard also. Another scheme people do not consider in the context of rural isolation is the local improvement scheme, under which funding is available to help people to get into and out of their homes.

Supports must be provided for voluntary and community groups in both urban and rural settings, in particular, the groups that are already active. Some villages are strong in that regard, but they tend to be the ones with schools and shops. There are many small villages in rural Ireland that do not have that centre and we must find ways to encourage greater interconnectivity in them. Obviously, people with disabilities and older people are vulnerable, but there are many young and healthy people, in particular, farmers, who are being isolated also. The creamery man collects milk without talking to the farmer, while the postman leaves post in a little green box at the bottom of a lane. Farmers can go days without speaking to anyone, which is a serious issue. Equally, there is an issue in urban settings, including large cities. Sometimes the loneliest place someone can be is where he or she is surrounded by people, especially if he or she is elderly. I ask the Minister to do whatever he can to combat this epidemic.

I also have the community services programme which works very well. In 2019, €46 million has been allocated for that programme to support more than 400 organisations to deal with many of the issues raised by the Deputy. We also have social enterprises and voluntary groups targeting disadvantage, albeit sometimes they do not fit in with the schemes I have set out. I am carrying out a review of the community services programme and want to protect its community aspect, in particular. At €46 million, the programme receives very significant funding and the 400 organisations and groups it supports do a tremendous job for their communities. I hope some of them might look at the issue of loneliness raised by the Deputy to determine what they could do to support elderly persons.

CLÁR Programme

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

10. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development when the next round of CLÁR funding will be announced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3002/19]

When will the next round of CLÁR funding be announced and will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

CLÁR has been very successful since I reintroduced it in 2016, following a number of years during which it was closed to new applications. Under the programme funding is provided for small-scale projects in rural areas which have experienced significant levels of depopulation. While the amounts available to fund projects under CLÁR are relatively modest, the impact of that funding is significant. I have visited many projects and seen at first-hand the difference they make to local communities. Funding of €25 million has been approved under CLÁR to provide for 1,200 projects since 2016. They have included the provision of safety measures around schools and community facilities, the construction of play areas, support for emergency first responders and a measure to provide vehicles to transport people to cancer care and respite centres. I intend to launch a further call for proposals under CLÁR this year and will make decisions shortly on the specific measures to be supported in 2019. I anticipate that the programme will be opened to new applications in the first quarter of the year.

I agree that CLÁR funding makes a significant difference, in particular in rural communities. I have seen the brilliant and positive influence it has had in the provision of playgrounds, first responders and many community events. I have received a great deal of feedback on the impact on local primary schools of traffic calming measures, in particular. I have raised with the Minister the application of Killinkere national school for CLÁR funding for traffic calming measures. It is a rural school in a thriving community, in which well over 100 pupils are being taught by a significant number of teachers. The principal and parents' association are very anxious that traffic calming measures be introduced. There are few sources of funding available to small primary schools, but the CLÁR programme has been used to make provision for measures such as this. Will the Minister outline whether traffic calming measures will be included in his next announcement and when might it be made?

CLÁR is a programme under which we have some flexibility which we use. Deputy Calleary was, however, correct in the issue he raised earlier. I do not want to start to take on matters which it is the role of other Departments to address. I had to do that in respect of the local improvement scheme when other Departments would not take on the role, with the result that no scheme was in place for many years. Deputy Smyth will know how important that scheme is to County Cavan and rural areas in general. She is correct that if there is one good scheme, it is CLÁR. While it is small money, a great job is done. I will look at the issue raised by the Deputy in that context. I am looking at new schemes to support rural communities that cannot draw down funding from other Departments which are not coming forward to support them. In particular, I have no difficulty in supporting the provision of child safety measures at schools. To be fair to the Deputy, she has acknowledged that the CLÁR programme has worked well. We have done a great deal of very good work on school safety, including providing warning signs that there is a school ahead. I am sure we have saved many lives nationally as a result. I will be opening the scheme again shortly and considering ways to improve CLÁR. However, I do not want to find myself taking on the work of other Departments as the minute one starts to do so, the funding will be drawn away. I need to sit down and work with other Departments also.

That is welcome. I agree with the Minister that LIS funding should come from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. If it did, there would be more money for the Minister to give to rural communities which is what he is all about. Killinkere national school is very curtailed in what it can do and there are many schools in the same position across the country. For instance, the car park is actually located across the road from it and there is no safe drop-off point. The principal and school management do their best to ensure the school is as safe as possible, but the car park is still located across the road and tremendous worry, angst and frustration have been experienced in the community for many years. Therefore, I ask the Minister to be mindful of the need for flexibility in that regard in any further announcement he will make on CLÁR funding. Funding for projects such as this is not easy to attain for small primary schools in the countryside. The Minister's role is making countryside communities and rural areas thrive. CLÁR funding has had a great influence in that regard. However, I make the case again for Killinkere national school. It has applied unsuccessfully for CLÁR funding before, but the parents' association, board of management, staff and management are anxious to access it now to make their school a safer place.

I ask the Deputy to send on the details of the case and will get the Department to see why the school was unsuccessful in applying previously. Under the scheme support is provided for schools in the provision of community safety measures. When it comes to safety measures, there is some flexibility. As such, I ask the Deputy to send on the details and I will have a look at them. The other area at which I looked last year was the provision of support for mobility and cancer care transport services. I found that it was a major problem in rural Ireland and that the resulting scheme worked very well. Many patients had not been able to get to their cancer care appointments and the HSE had reneged in the provision of funding to support them. Voluntary groups had taken up the call, but they were finding it very difficult to source funding for their buses to bring patients to and from cancer treatment appointments. It was one of the schemes I introduced last year and I continue to look at ways and means to introduce schemes to help to provide a benefit for communities in rural Ireland. That is what it is all about. As such, the Deputy might send on the details of the individual case and I will have a look at them.

LEADER Programmes Expenditure

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

11. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount spent to date under the present LEADER programme on projects; the amount spent in 2018 on projects by local action groups, LAGs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3029/19]

It is time to sound the emergency bells on LEADER funding. The programme was supposed to end at the end of 2020, which is next year. It is a €250 million programme but the figures for the end of 2018 show that while €38 million was spent, only €13.6 million of that was on natural projects. Will the Minister provide the Department's most up-to-date figures on LEADER expenditure at the end of 2018? To return to a discussion we had earlier, will he outline his plans for allocation versus expenditure?

Project expenditure under the current LEADER programme commenced in 2017, following the signing of funding agreements in the second half of 2016 with the majority of the local action groups, LAGs, which deliver the programme throughout the country. To date, 1,644 projects with a grant value of more than €55.8 million have been approved for LEADER funding by the LAGs. A further 355 projects, requesting funding in excess of €22 million, are at various stages in the approvals process. Project payments have increased significantly in the past year, as approved works are completed and project promoters submit claims for payment.

Approximately €13.6 million was spent on projects between the commencement of the programme and 4 January this year. Of this total, more than €12.5 million of project expenditure was incurred in 2018 compared with just under €700,000 in 2017. These figures clearly demonstrate the scale of the increase in project activity under LEADER last year. The following table provides details of the project expenditure incurred in 2018 in each LAG area.

I am confident that the progress being made by the LAGs in approving projects, along with the administrative improvements introduced by my Department over the past year, will result in a continued increase in project approvals and payments under the LEADER programme during 2019.

LEADER 2014-2020 Project Expenditure in 2018 by LAG

LAG Area

Total Project Expenditure in 2018

Carlow

€716,514

Cavan

€398,960

Clare

€460,913

Cork North

€463,909

Cork South

€208,113

Cork West

€146,440

Donegal

€1,697,201

Dublin Rural

€376,806

Galway East

€21,367

Galway West

€102,284

Kerry

€724,370

Kildare

€57,827

Kilkenny

€489,968

Laois

€386,440

Leitrim

€368,803

Limerick

€480,115

Longford

€51,398

Louth

€199,788

Mayo

€439,470

Meath

€26,531

Monaghan

€331,873

Offaly

€887,842

Roscommon

€198,518

Sligo

€506,202

Tipperary

€450,879

Waterford

€1,484,035

Westmeath

€254,216

Wexford

€470,699

Wicklow

€103,759

Total

€12,505,239

While I welcome the increase in expenditure on projects during 2018, we have had these assurances before. The Minister said 1,644 projects are worth €55.8 million. When is that money anticipated to be drawn down? Will it be during 2019 or 2020? With only two years remaining, does he envisage an extension to the LEADER programme? What is the final date on which he expects LAGs to be able to draw down money in the context of the programme? Is he concerned that the delays in spending money rather than approving it will affect our chances of a new LEADER programme post 2020?

Negotiations for the new LEADER programme are already taking place. I hope that, unlike every other programme, there is no gap in the new programme, and at Government level I will push to ensure there is no gap but rather a continuation of the scheme.

On the drawdown of funding, as the Deputy will know, when approvals are made, if the LAGs present with receipts and evidence of work having been done, they are paid and there is no delay in that regard. As I said in my reply, there has been a major improvement, given that two years ago there was only €700,000 in expenditure whereas last year there was €12.5 million, and I expect that to be further ramped up this year. It is expected that 80% of the project budget will be approved by the local action groups by the end of 2019, and further funding can be allocated to projects up to the end of 2020. Project promoters have a further three years to complete the proposed works and submit claims for payments.

The team is doing its best but it can deal only with what is coming into it. The Minister again referred to approvals, which are super, but the funding needs to be drawn down. What changes will he make? I welcome his plans to have a seamless transition to the new LEADER programme, which is essential, but what changes will he make to a new programme to ensure we do not have difficulty in drawing down approved funds?

We have made 32 changes to the existing scheme and we have made it easier to make applications and improved supports for groups that apply for the LEADER programme. The scheme works better because of the changes we made, as can be seen in the number of allocations made as well as those coming down the line. I am happy that the scheme works better than it was. As Minister, I have made all the possible changes that were sought.

Approvals have been made and now it is a matter for promoters and the people who received the grant aid to do the work and draw down the funding. It is similar to what the Deputy rightly said earlier in that I can deal only with the issues that are in my remit. I addressed the issue of the logjam that existed and I made it easier for the LEADER programme to be implemented. The funding has been allocated and the groups must spend the money. To be fair to the Department and everybody involved, we pay groups as the receipts are received. As the Deputy will know, I must be careful. Many programmes have had many difficulties and every day I continue to receive queries about grant aid-----

We must move on because other Deputies are waiting to ask questions.

Tidy Towns Committees Funding

Pat Deering

Ceist:

12. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to allocate funding in 2019 to a committee (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2995/19]

One of the best ways to help rural Ireland is to go to the heart of community, and Tidy Towns organisations are at the heart of communities throughout the country. What plans does the Minister have to allocate funding for Tidy Towns committees in 2019?

I will answer the question on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Ring, because he has been answering questions all morning.

The Tidy Towns competition was originally launched by Bord Fáilte more than 60 years ago. Since its inception, the competition has grown from 52 entrants in 1958 to 883 entrants in 2018. The continued success of the competition is due to the countless hours of effort from Tidy Towns committees the length and breadth of the country. As Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring was delighted to be in a position to announce grant funding to Tidy Towns committees of €1.4 million for each of the years 2017 and 2018 to mark the 60th anniversary of the competition. This funding has allowed the committees to prepare better for the annual competition through the purchase or upgrade of small equipment and other materials.

Under the 2017 allocation, 906 Tidy Towns committees received grant funding of between €1,000 and €4,000, depending on the size of their town or village, while under the 2018 allocation, 722 Tidy Towns committees have received similar levels of funding to date, with a number of applications still to be processed. Later this year, the Minister will consider whether he will be in a position to allocate funding to the Tidy Towns committees through this funding stream in 2019. It should be noted, however, that Tidy Towns committees can apply, as community groups, for funding to other schemes within his Department, such as the community enhancement programme, which is administered through the local community development committees, LCDCs. In 2018, 158 applications were approved for funding of €536,816 to Tidy Towns committees under the community enhancement programme.

Funding last year and in the previous couple of years was welcome to mark the 60th anniversary of the Tidy Towns competition. I come from a village, Rathvilly in Carlow, which has the honour of winning the Tidy Towns competition on three occasions in the early years - 1961, 1963 and 1968. Considerable effort has been made in recent years in my community, as in every other community, to try to return to former glory. It is important that communities are made aware of any potential funding early in the year in order that they can plan and develop whatever projects they may have. While funding is always welcome, if it is received mid-summer, it is too late because much work will have been done to get ready for the visit of the judges in June, July or August.

It has been indicated that funding may be made available. When exactly does the Minister of State expect that to happen, given that plans need to be put in place at this stage of the year in order that communities can have a fair idea of what to expect later in the year?

The Deputy is quite right that it is important for communities to have the information at the start of the year or as early as possible in order that they can plan. The Minister is discussing the matter with his officials and he will make his decision as soon as possible in the coming months.

While on the subject, it is important to acknowledge that SuperValu has been involved in the competition for many years and it provides much support and cohesion to communities throughout the country.

I want to congratulate Listowel, even though I do not believe there are any Kerry Deputies here but perhaps there are, on winning the national award, which is a great honour for any town. I was in Abbeyshrule in December presenting the certificates. The pride in the members of every community who arrived on the night for the regional awards was palpable. The local authorities play a great role in that respect also. To answer the question, the Minister will make his decisions as early as possible in the coming months.

I thank the Minister of State for that clarification. I come from a village that won the award on three occasions. Carlow has quite a good history in that regard. Only two years ago the village of Clonegal won the tidiest village national award, which was a great achievement for it. Previously, Leighlinbridge, in County Carlow, also won a substantial award. The clarification is welcome but it is important that the plans are put in place early in the year. Some communities are looking at different ideas including developing community gardens, which is a different initiative. It is important that that can be put in place.

It is important to acknowledge the sponsorship, on which I compliment the Minister, and ensure that sponsorship is continuously available. SuperValu plays a major part not only in sponsorship but in its promotion on national television and media. I compliment everybody in that regard.

I reaffirm the importance of having an early date for the announcement of any potential funding that might be available to ensure that communities can put their plans in place in terms of the extra expenditure that may be available to them.

I want to reassure the Deputy and everybody in the House that the Minister will take on board what he said. He has had discussions already with the Department. The important point is the valuable work being done by the Tidy Towns committees, which is so relevant when we talk about our environment, climate change and keeping communities tidy. The committees do a great deal of work on a voluntary basis picking up rubbish on a Saturday or whenever that has been dumped by people who are selfish. It is important that we recognise the work they do but also that we cite those who do not have any regard for the environment or pride in the areas in which they live. I hope we will see Kilkenny coming back up again-----

I am sorry. I hope we will see Carlow coming back up to the top of the ranks, perhaps after Galway or Mayo.

Departmental Schemes

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

13. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the reason only €4 million was allocated to the community enhancement programme for 2019 in view of the fact that €13 million was spent on the programme in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3032/19]

I raise the issue of the community enhancement programme, which as stated earlier was an amalgamation last year between RAPID and the previous scheme. A substantial amount of funding was made available last year which was very welcome and made a big difference in many areas throughout the country. This year, however, there is a much smaller pot. I would welcome the Minister telling us today that he will make a further investment in these communities in the coming months to ensure they get at least the level of funding that was available last year. When I stay in Dublin, I stay in the north inner city and I see in many cases that these-----

The Deputy will have another opportunity to come in.

In 2018 I launched the community enhancement programme which helps community groups to improve facilities in their area.  Some €4 million was originally available for the programme within my Department's budget for 2018.

The community enhancement programme supports a range of investment in all areas of communities, such as childcare facilities, playgrounds, recreational facilities, sports grounds, landscaping projects and supports for the elderly. There was a huge level of interest in the programme right across the country following its launch so I was delighted to be in a position to allocate additional once-off funding to the programme later in the year, and the final amount allocated was €13 million. This included €0.5 million that was ring-fenced for Men's Sheds. More than 3,000 projects across the country were funded, all of them targeted at enhancing facilities in disadvantaged communities.

The details of the 2019 programme are currently being considered and will be announced in due course.

I thank the Minister. In the areas RAPID used to deal with, we do not see the impact of it as clearly as one would see it in a rural village or area. I stay in the north inner city when I am in Dublin and I notice there are major problems of deprivation and decline in the area. Entire streetscapes need a major amount of enhancement and other work to be done. The people in those communities want a chance and any effort that can be made to invest in those areas, as well as in rural areas, is absolutely necessary.

The amount of funding provided seems to be very small compared to that made available last year. While I acknowledge the Minister said that the €8 million allocation was a once-off, we hope it will be a once-off allocation every year, and perhaps a bit more, because it is a scheme that has made a huge difference. We should recognise and acknowledge when something is done well. That particular scheme has made a big difference to many small communities throughout the country. The level of funding available needs to be increased at least to the level available last year but hopefully a little more, if that was possible.

The Deputy mentioned the Dublin issue in terms of poverty. As I said, in 2017 we allocated €2.5 million for inner city Dublin, €3.5 million for 2018 and €6.5 million for 2019, in addition to the funding we allocated for South Dublin County Council.

The Deputy is right about his own constituency. In the Sligo-Leitrim area more than €433,000 was allocated. When I amalgamated the community enhancement programme and the RAPID scheme, there was €2 million in each of them, making a total of €4 million. The Deputy is correct. From savings in my Department last year I made a political decision. I felt this scheme was a good one. It was targeting the areas it should target. As I said to Deputy Curran earlier, I have to monitor the scheme to make sure this funding is going to the most needy and disadvantaged areas. So far, I am happy that is the case but I will be monitoring it to identify the areas that got the actual funding. It is important that if this fund is allocated for a specific purpose it is spent on a specific purpose. I am giving the local community development committees, LCDCs, the opportunity to do that. I know they have done a good job this year but I will have to monitor that. For this year, however, we have €4 million in a programme. If I can get some savings later in the year, I will look at that again.

Last Tuesday morning I was in Bundoran, at the other end of my constituency, where the issue raised concerned the number of buildings in the town that are closed. Nobody is living in them and nothing is happening with them. That is another aspect of this. While this funding is for public and community works, there are many people who own buildings that are a liability rather than an asset. If some element of a scheme could be brought in to provide funds to help people turn those liabilities into assets in which people could live in towns and villages throughout the country, it would make a huge difference. I have spoken about that to the Minister previously but at this point we know there are major problems in many areas of the country. One of the big problems we have is housing, which is an issue all of us and every Department has a responsibility to try to do something about in a proactive way. I am aware some local authorities put the squeeze on people through threats of compulsory purchase orders and so on. In most cases they cost a lot of money and they do not work. If some incentive could be put in place to encourage people to generate these buildings into housing accommodation for people they would become an asset they can use: the Government would get tax on it as well. It makes common sense and I implore the Minister to do something around that issue.

The Deputy is right. This is a very good programme and I believe the funding was allocated fairly. I gave €125,000 to every local authority. I then looked at disadvantaged areas and gave 60% for those. I refer to 40% of the population. It was distributed fairly throughout the country. The funding can be used for CCTV equipment, energy efficiency projects or community amenities. It is a scheme that can be used at local level. The LCDCs will look at it. They will make the decisions. They are the ones on the ground who should be able to identify the areas with the most need. That is why I am hopeful this scheme will work and that we give the funding to the people who need it most.

LEADER Programmes Funding

Joe Carey

Ceist:

14. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the expenditure outturn in 2018 under the CLÁR programme; when he plans to invite applications for funding under the 2019 programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2984/19]

I ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the expenditure outturn in 2018 under the CLÁR programme; when he plans to invite applications for funding under the 2019 programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The CLÁR programme provides funding for small scale infrastructural projects in disadvantaged rural areas that have experienced significant levels of depopulation. The aim of CLÁR is to support the sustainable development of designated CLÁR areas with the aim of encouraging people to continue live and work in those areas.

CLÁR was closed for new applications from 2010 to 2016, when I reintroduced the programme. Since then, more than 1,200 projects have been approved for funding of €25 million under CLÁR. The type of projects which have been supported include safety measures around schools and community facilities, the provision of play areas, supports for first responders in emergency situations, and a measure to provide vehicles to transport people to cancer care and respite centres. Total payments under the CLÁR programme in 2018 amounted to €6.9 million. This figure includes some payments in respect of 2017 CLÁR project approvals where projects continued into 2018. It is my intention to launch a further call for proposals under CLÁR this year. Decisions regarding specific measures to be supported in 2019 will be made shortly, and I anticipate that the programme will be opened for new applications in the first quarter of the year.

I thank the Minister. CLÁR is an important scheme. We did quite well in County Clare in last year's allocations. We scored in Kilmaley, Quilty and O'Callaghans Mills under measure 1. That funding allocation means a lot to those communities. The school communities of Coore, Doolin, Drumandoora, Labasheeda and Rineen also benefited from funding. I compliment the Minister on allowing an appeal for the first time under the CLÁR grants last year with regard to measure 2 projects. Two schools in County Clare, Lisdoonvarna national school and Tubber national school were successful on appeal. They were able to draw down in the region of €50,000 each. I encourage the Minister to keep that appeals mechanism in place in the new round.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. He is right that the CLÁR programme is great. I can target it and look at ways to deal with rural and urban disadvantage to see what can be done. I have initiated a review of the CLÁR programme in light of the 2016 census figures. Many areas may not need to be in CLÁR now, but there are many which should be in it. I find that myself in my area, where I see areas that have moved on. I need to look at ways to get areas in that are not in the CLÁR programme. The Deputy is quite correct that the measures we have introduced have worked well. I have seen the benefits of it from schemes that I went around the country to look at and that I have opened. The community itself contributes to it. It is a great scheme and I am delighted that I reopened it. It works well. I want the money we have allocated to be spent. The most important issue for me is to make sure that the money is spent on the projects which we have approved.

I welcome the Minister's confirmation to the House that there will be a review of CLÁR. Large areas of County Clare are not included in the CLÁR area, including Corofin, areas of Inch, Clarecastle, Newmarket, Quin and Clooney. Will the Minister let me know when he expects this review to conclude? If a project is not within the plan area, it will not be able to draw down money. This money makes a significant difference to communities which can apply for it.

The review has taken place. I hope that it will be completed some time this year. I will open the CLÁR programme soon and the review will not be done on time for these people, but it will be for the next round. It needs to be done. We need to consider the 2016 census figures. It has been many years since we reviewed the CLÁR programme and it is time that we did it. The Deputy is correct that many areas should be in the CLÁR programme and that many areas have moved on and may not need to be in it. We need to make sure that we support areas that need to be in it.

LEADER Programmes Funding

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

15. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the funding allocated for the 2014 to 2020 LEADER programme; the expenditure to date; if he is satisfied that the total funding will be drawn down by the end date for the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2977/19]

As I mentioned, I represent two counties which have had the benefit of a LEADER programme since its inception in 1991 following the decision of the then European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Ray MacSharry, to initiate a programme across the European Economic Community. Community groups have bought into it. We have seen great benefits arising from LEADER programme investment. The people whom I represent and who are involved in communities and small businesses are anxious that we achieve the maximum drawdown of funding in this programme.

The 2014 to 2020 LEADER programme has a total budget of €250 million over its lifetime. Some €220 million of this has been allocated to the local action groups, LAGs, which deliver the programme throughout the country. The allocation is used by the LAGs to administer the programme and to fund individual LEADER projects in their areas. The remaining €30 million in funding is available for schemes which will be administered at a national level. This includes funding under the LEADER food initiative and funding to support local action groups that come together to deliver projects on a collaborative basis.

Total expenditure to date under the LEADER programme is in excess of €38 million. Project payments, in particular, have increased significantly in the past year, as approved works are completed and project promoters submit claims for payment. Approximately €13.6 million was spent on projects since the commencement of the programme up to 14 January this year. Over €12.5 million of this amount was spent on projects in 2018 compared with just over €700,000 in 2017. This is a substantial increase in the past 12 months. More than 1,600 projects with a grant value of almost €56 million have been approved for LEADER funding by the LAGs. A further 355 projects, requesting funding in excess of €22 million, are at various stages in the approval process. The progress being made by the LAGs, together with the administrative improvements introduced by my Department, will result in a continued increase in project approvals and payments. As a result, I am confident that all of the funding allocated to LEADER will be fully drawn down during the course of the programme.

Like my colleague, Deputy Calleary, I share the concerns that in the overall scheme there has been a very slow and small drawdown to date. We sincerely hope that every cent of the allocated money will be spent by the end of the programme. I note from figures the Minister gave me recently that in my counties, Cavan and Monaghan, local action groups have a substantial programme and a good level of commitment. I realise that between the end of November and the end of December there was a substantial increase in the number of applications and funding committed. I sincerely hope that will be replicated throughout the country. As we are in 2019 now and the programme is to end in 2020, does the Minister envisage a reallocation of some funding towards programmes and local action groups that have moved the projects forward and have been to the fore in approving projects and drawing down funding to date? Early consideration should be given to reallocation of funding if there is a possibility that some of the overall funding programme would not be drawn down.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. As I said to Deputy Calleary, the level of funding in 2018 is double the amount that was approved in 2017. That is important. We made many changes in the programme. I will give a straight answer to the Deputy's specific question. I and the Department wrote to the LAGs in October or November allowing them, in their programmes in their counties, to move 25% of the funding into another programme if one set of funding was being used very well and there was not spending on another programme. I have allowed that to happen. I will monitor the situation with regard to funding and spending over the next months. Some of the companies have done very well, for example, in Carlow. It might be asked what is going on with other counties on the list. The same rules and regulations apply to Carlow, Kerry and Mayo. They are all doing well, as is Deputy Smith's county. It has to be asked why it is working in some counties and not in others. I will monitor the situation. For now, I have allowed LAGs to transfer money that is not being used in certain programmes to other programmes without funding and I will monitor the situation.

I want to be honest with the Deputy. I do not want to take money from any county, but if they are not spending it, I have to do something.

I welcome that the Minister has given some discretion to the local action groups, which is important. I know that the two groups with which I am particularly familiar, Cavan and Monaghan, will ensure that the taxpayers’ funding is put to good use. That discretion is welcome. I am sure many colleagues in the Oireachtas would have made representations to the Minister to have the application processes streamlined. There was some movement in that respect which helped to speed up the application process. The Minister should have an ongoing review of the way the system is working. There should be a dividend for the groups that have been to the fore in ensuring projects are progressed if there is money unspent elsewhere.

On requests from people like the Deputy and others, I have reviewed the LEADER programme. We have made approximately 32 changes regarding the programme, especially to the administration of it. I changed many actions to make it easier with respect to applications, groups and the administration of the LEADER programme. I want to see it working. I want to see the money spent. I want to see these local action groups, LAGs, delivering on the programmes. Some counties are doing very well in that regard but others are not doing as well. I need to monitor that.

I have been told that 80% of the funding for project approvals will be approved by 2018. Allocations can be made up to the end of 2020 and project promoters have a further three years to get the work done to draw down the funding. I cannot do any more as the Minister responsible, and neither can the Department, to simplify this scheme. The Deputy will be aware, as he has been very much involved in the programme down the years, that there have been difficulties in some LEADER programmes throughout the country. There have been difficulties in the way some of them were run. I have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this country and also to Europe which is co-funding this scheme.

LEADER Programmes Funding

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

16. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the level of funding committed to date under the 2014 to 2020 LEADER programme in County Meath; and the drawdown of funding to date by project in County Meath. [2998/19]

My question seeks to ascertain from the Minister the level of funding committed to date to County Meath under the most recent LEADER programme and the drawdown of funding to date in the county.

The LEADER programme is administered in County Meath by the Meath local community development committee, LCDC, which acts as the local action group for the subregion in partnership with Meath County Council and Meath Partnership.

The total amount of funding allocated to the county for the duration of the 2014-2020 LEADER programme is in excess of €6.9 million, which includes administration and project funding. To date, 24 projects with a combined value of €966,042 have been approved by the local action group. This amounts to approximately 19% of its project budget. In addition, a further five projects seeking total funding of €247,846 are at various stages of the approvals process. The local action group in Meath has indicated that it will have allocated approximately 50% of its project budget by May of this year.

Project payments are drawn down as approved works are completed and claims for payment are submitted by the project promoters. To date, claims totalling €37,301 have been approved and paid in respect of projects in County Meath.

I will be closely monitoring progress across all LEADER areas in the coming months to ensure that the budget available to Ireland under the 2014-2020 programme is fully utilised. I am confident, however, that the overall progress being made by the LAGs in approving projects, along with the administrative improvements introduced by my Department during the past year, will result in a full utilisation of the budget.

It does not look like there will be a full utilisation of the budget or anywhere near it in County Meath. In a previous response the Minister said that 80% of the budget will be dealt with this year nationally, but only 50% of budget for County Meath will be dealt with by May 2019. Therefore, we are significantly behind. The Minister said projects to the value of approximately €966,000 have been approved and funding of €6.9 million has been allocated. That is very weak. County Meath, which has very few of the official urban areas and almost the entire county qualifying under rural development, badly needs this money. We cannot stand by while there are major delays with this funding because our expanding communities, which effectively were former villages and rural areas, badly need the types of projects that LEADER funds. It is shocking to see the amount of money that has been spent under the LEADER programme in County Meath in recent years. It is appalling. Much more needs to be done to ensure that money is allocated, drawn down, spent and the facilities and community development provided for.

As I said in a previous response, I want to see that money spent. The Deputy is correct in what he said. Projects valuing €966,000 have been approved but only €37,301 has been drawn down. I will have to get my Department to check this to see what is going on. If we consider Donegal, it has 104 projects to the value of €4,382,830 approved and €1,728,000 has been drawn down. Kerry has 169 projects to the value of €3,241,571 approved and €800,000 has been drawn down. Kilkenny has 56 projects to the value of €1,520,928 approved and €565,000 has been drawn down.

Will the Minister repeat the value of the approvals and the amount drawn down for County Meath?

Meath has 24 projects approved to the value of €966,042 and only €37,301 has been drawn down. I cannot do any more, I have made all the changes I outlined. The scheme is working in many counties. Many places are doing very well with the LEADER programme. I have been advised that 80% of the funding will be spent and the group in Meath has indicated that 50% of its budget will be spent. I will get my officials to examine that particular programme to ascertain what is happening.

There was a collective gasping of breath on the Fianna Fáil benches when they discovered the figure for Meath. I am glad the Minister clarified it and that he is as angry it seems as my colleagues and I are and as the people of Meath will be when they discover this. No better man than the Minister to thump the table when it is required. This needs to happen in respect of County Meath because we need this funding more than anyone. The drawdown of a little more than €37,000 is outrageous, disgraceful and needs an explanation. The county has a population of 196,000 people in what is a rural LEADER area and we badly need these projects. We need much more than €37,000. The Minister would allocate €37,000 for breakfast for the CLÁR programme etc. This is not what we need. We need substantially more. We are entitled to more and also to greater efficiency. Clubs seeking this money have asked me what the story is with the LEADER funding. The story is that vast improvement is needed in respect of this funding for County Meath. It needs vast improvement. I urge all those responsible, including the Minister and the local companies, to get their act together as quickly as possible to ensure we can benefit from this funding to which we are entitled.

The county has got its allocation of €6.9 million but it has not delivered on the programme. I will get my officials to examine it. I would point to the Deputy's neighbouring county, County Louth, and what it can deliver. It has drawn down €604,897 while the group in the Deputy's county has drawn down only a little more than €37,000. There is something wrong. I will get my officials to have a look at it. I have made the changes in the scheme. I cannot do any more. We have given the group options as to how to spend that money. The money is there and it is a matter of the way in which it administers the programme. I will get my officials to see what is going wrong in Meath.

Seniors Alert Scheme

Peter Burke

Ceist:

17. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of expenditure in 2018 under the seniors alert scheme; the number of persons assisted under the scheme; the estimated allocation he will make under the scheme in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2920/19]

I am deputising for Deputy Burke who tabled this question. It relates to the status of expenditure in 2018 under the seniors alert scheme, the number of persons assisted under the scheme, and the estimated allocation that will be made under it in 2019. The Minister might make a statement on that.

My Department is responsible for the seniors alert scheme which encourages community support for vulnerable older people in our communities through the provision of personal monitored alarms to enable them to live securely in their homes with confidence, independence and peace of mind. Funding is available under the scheme towards the purchase by a registered community-based organisation of a personal alarm or pendant.

Following a review, I launched a new scheme which took effect on 1 November 2017 and provides one year's free monitoring to participants. A media and information campaign was organised to support the launch. I am pleased to say that since the launch of the new seniors alert scheme, the demand has been unprecedented. During 2018, more than 19,200 applications were approved, with 20,288 installations completed.

My Department's allocation for 2018 was €2.3 million. However, given the huge increase in demand for the scheme, savings were identified from other areas within my Department's allocation to ensure that all new applicants could be provided for. The total expenditure on the seniors alert scheme in 2018 was €6,984,000.

I welcome the 19,200 approvals. Everyone both inside and outside of the Oireachtas is concerned about people living alone and in isolated areas. It is very important that our senior citizens are looked after and that there is adequate funding. The Minister said there is greater demand and that everyone who received money was approved. However, is he satisfied that the moneys allocated will be sufficient for 2019? There are many other people with concerns who will apply for this and I wonder if there is adequate funding this year to cover all applicants.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.