Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

I remind Members of the time limits, namely, 30 seconds to introduce, two minutes for the Minister, a one-minute response, a one-minute response from the Minister, a final response from the Member and a final response from the Minister. I ask Members to adhere to those times.

LEADER Programmes Data

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

54. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the amount spent to date under the 2014 to 2020 LEADER programme between project and administration costs; the amount spent to date on projects by each local action group, LAG; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15596/19]

This is my regular question. Unfortunately, the situation is not improving despite the Minister's work and effort. I want to know the breakdown between project costs and administration costs. In addition, we are still not really breaking the back in terms of LEADER expenditure. The figures for the end of quarter 1 of 2019 do not show any major improvement in terms of project expenditure. I want to flesh that out and see the Minister's plans for 2019.

LEADER is a multi-annual programme with a total budget of €250 million over the period 2014-20.  Some €220 million of this funding has been allocated to the local action groups, LAGs, for project and administration costs. The remaining €30 million is available for schemes to be delivered at a national level and is allocated as projects are approved. A total of 1,800 projects have been approved for funding by the LAGs, with a combined value of €62.2 million.  A further 377 projects with a value of over €23.4 million are at an earlier stage in the approvals process.

Total expenditure to date by the LAGs on the LEADER programme is €44.2 million and almost €17 million has been paid out to over 650 LEADER projects.  However, project payments will increase substantially as approved works are completed and project promoters submit claims for payment.  The amount of project expenditure in the first quarter of 2019 was €3.8 million, which is double the level of project expenditure incurred in the first quarter of 2018.  This clearly demonstrates the rise in project payments, which will increase substantially during 2019.

Some €27.2 million has been paid in respect of the administration costs of the LAGs, including their engagement with promoters to develop projects. LEADER administration costs are always higher at the start of the programme period when the LAGs are working with promoters in this way. However, administration costs cannot exceed 25% of the LAGs budget over the lifetime of the programme, and project expenditure will exceed administration costs as the programme progresses.

The table which accompanies my reply provides details of core project approvals and expenditure in each LAG area to date. The figures do not include expenditure under national-level schemes. 

LEADER Project approvals and payments as at 31st March 2019  

Local Action Group

LDS Project   Allocation

Projects

Approved

Applications

in Process

Project Payments made

Name

Value

No

Value

No

Value

Value

Carlow

€4,797,602

27

€1,721,744

6

€545,642

€871,066

Cavan

€6,391,715

47

€2,900,475

10

€342,403

€630,488

Clare

€6,645,000

117

€2,288,547

13

€433,805

€613,914

Cork North

€3,810,543

46

€1,819,931

15

€538,826

€514,484

Cork South

€2,803,477

18

€618,621

9

€739,093

€213,124

Cork West

€3,691,755

24

€1,026,199

15

€1,282,196

€196,938

Donegal

€9,631,407

104

€4,647,432

9

€427,143

€2,122,541

Dublin Rural

€4,777,829

46

€1,396,393

10

€284,806

€401,712

Galway East

€5,741,888

41

€1,597,745

1

€106,571

€38,024

Galway West

€3,425,425

27

€630,594

4

€524,944

€143,852

Kerry

€7,650,904

190

€3,800,300

74

€2,463,753

€1,127,766

Kildare

€3,946,200

21

€912,242

8

€526,622

€110,037

Kilkenny

€5,798,949

57

€1,589,335

11

€518,992

€674,184

Laois

€5,325,000

57

€1,302,208

10

€1,049,213

€699,089

Leitrim

€4,490,000

54

€2,022,167

17

€481,705

€433,716

Limerick

€6,946,151

72

€3,848,519

24

€2,362,709

€796,036

Longford

€5,698,500

45

€1,029,608

10

€342,327

€111,398

Louth

€4,576,397

57

€1,578,984

6

€621,868

€389,346

Mayo

€8,260,822

104

€4,320,369

36

€3,213,778

€692,008

Meath

€5,137,345

34

€1,424,771

7

€252,443

€113,876

Monaghan

€5,694,500

38

€2,257,255

4

€832,970

€516,742

Offaly

€6,000,000

111

€2,436,368

6

€200,594

€1,050,077

Roscommon

€6,581,283

39

€2,410,886

19

€1,467,311

€325,312

Sligo

€5,720,737

84

€2,658,703

4

€41,021

€791,919

Tipperary

€7,562,584

112

€3,557,629

16

€1,216,869

€649,777

Waterford

€5,525,346

45

€3,060,662

8

€824,175

€1,598,618

Westmeath

€5,563,495

49

€871,485

10

€601,336

€348,887

Wexford

€7,580,104

95

€3,465,816

4

€96,404

€576,777

Wicklow

€4,728,231

39

€1,053,314

11

€1,087,832

€211,000

Grand Total

€164,503,189

1,800

€62,248,303

377

€23,427,351

€16,962,709

 

There are a number of difficulties. First, there are changes to this particular roll-out of LEADER which the feedback from the ground suggests are making it harder to draw down project expenditure. The Minister made some changes when he came into office. Have those changes made any difference with regard to expenditure? Second, the area I want to focus on is the inconsistency in LEADER areas around the country. The average percentage of allocation spend is 20% but there are 16 counties below that average. At this stage in the programme, there is one company which has only an 11% spend and one with only a 12% spend, whereas the spend in Waterford is 33%. Why are there such inconsistences around the country? What is the Department doing to iron out those inconsistencies and to ensure the money actually gets spent in communities, which is where we all want it spent?

I agree with the Deputy. I have done everything possible to make changes in order to make it simpler for people, in particular those in the LEADER companies, to administer the scheme. Since I came into office, I have made more than 32 changes. The Deputy is correct that the inconsistency around the country is unbelievable. Yesterday, when I was going through these questions, I looked at this issue of inconsistency. The Deputy is correct that some counties have to be complimented because they are dealing with the projects, paying out funding and doing very well. I have asked my officials to go through every LEADER company, and where LEADER companies are not spending their money, I am going to start reallocating that money. That message will go out loud and clear from this House today. The Deputy referred to the administration costs, which are 25% of the overall cost of the programme. It is a lot of money but we are paying people to do the job. I have made the changes and I cannot do any more.

We are in year six of a seven-year programme and I know there will be an extension at the end of it to draw down funding. However, the reality is that €10 million more is spent on administration than on project expenditure, which is a figure that has to be kept in mind. As we go into the renegotiation of a new Common Agricultural Policy programme, along with a new LEADER programme, we have to be able to show the importance of LEADER. It is the only show in terms of community development for many communities. We cannot afford to lose European funding for it or to lose it as a scheme, given it has achieved huge things. However, we cannot allow an inconsistency in expenditure to damage it and we cannot allow this kind of spending. The Minister has to be certain in this regard. Can he give me a guarantee that by year-end, the project level of expenditure will be higher than administration?

No, I cannot give that guarantee. What I can guarantee is that I am putting pressure on the LEADER companies. As the Deputy knows, given we have LEADER programmes in our county, I can only do so much. With regard to administration costs, these people are getting paid to do the job. To be fair, there are LEADER companies doing very well under the scheme. When I look at this, I see that some have 18 or 21 projects, which is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to me or the Department, and is not good enough for the LEADER programme. We want the money and the money has been given by the Government. It would be a different ball game if the Deputy was coming here to complain to me that the money was not there. I spent last year, with my officials, trying to encourage LEADER companies and we made the changes they required. As I said, I cannot do any more. They now have to do their job. What I need to do, and will do, is look at every LEADER company in the country. When I start taking money off them, I know I will have plenty of Deputies complaining in this House because I am taking from one county and giving to another. Too bad. If they do not perform, I will take the money off them.

Brexit Preparations

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

55. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the measures he has put in place to offset the effects of Brexit for Border communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15547/19]

The question is a basic one in the context of Brexit. I know the Minister is aware of the situation. The constituency I represent is very much a Border county. Everywhere in Europe, borders are recognised as areas of economic decline because there are two jurisdictions backing up to each other. Until we hurry on the day we end that, which we hope we will do very quickly, we need to put something in place, and we certainly need to put something in place in the context of Brexit. The Department is crucial for rural communities because most of the Border counties are very rural and they need to see an increased emphasis on getting investment in place.

It should be noted that preparations for all the various Brexit scenarios are being led at Government level by my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney. The Government's planning for Brexit was initiated in advance of the UK referendum in June 2016. My Department and its agencies have fed into this process where appropriate and will continue to engage across Government and with our stakeholders in the rural and community development sectors.

The Government remains firmly of the view that the best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal and to fully protect the Good Friday Agreement is to ratify the withdrawal agreement. This is a fair and balanced deal with compromises on both sides. However, given the political uncertainty in the United Kingdom, the risk of a no-deal outcome remains. The Government, working at the EU level and at home, has been preparing for all outcomes for all communities and citizens. I am confident that we are as ready as we can be but it is important that businesses and citizens do what is necessary to be prepared. Preparing for a no-deal Brexit is about damage limitation, and a no-deal outcome may have serious implications across a number of sectors.

As part of the Government’s planning, legislation was enacted on 17 March 2019 which is focused on protecting our citizens and on supporting the economy and jobs, particularly in key economic sectors most exposed to Brexit, including Border communities. Anticipating and preparing for these possible impacts is a priority and the funding provided by my Department to build resilient communities across the country will become even more important in the event of a no-deal Brexit. My Department's focus continues to be on maintaining maximum flexibility in our programme of funding initiatives, to enable us to continue to support all communities and to target available funding to those economic sectors and geographic areas most in need.

I understand that the most emphasis has been placed on the eventuality of a no-deal Brexit. However, even if there is a deal, we need to recognise that we are in a very precarious situation, particularly people living in the Border regions. Many of those communities depend on the social economy. An awful lot of people do not have access to high-level employment with very high salaries. They live in communities where that kind of infrastructure is not in place and many of them depend on the community creating the jobs to sustain itself. To make that happen, we need to see a renewed emphasis on getting more funding in place for them. I recognise that the Department is running workshops to show people how they can apply for funding for community projects. This is welcome and good. There is one in Donegal in a couple of weeks. However, we need to see more money in place. The Minister talked about places that are not spending the money as rapidly as he would like or getting through things as quickly. Certainly the Border communities and the regions around the whole Border area have been very much to the fore in making sure they use any funding to which they have access and that they use it appropriately. I urge the Minister to put more money in place and to work with those communities to ensure they can deliver.

The Deputy is right. In my role as Minister for Rural and Community Development, community is probably the most important aspect. We have a number of community schemes. The Deputy is quite correct. A lot of people are employed in some of these community schemes and they are very important. That is why we have targeted all the schemes that we have such as the outdoor recreation scheme, the town and village scheme and the road regeneration scheme. The flexibility that I have in my Department is very important. I hope even at this late stage that we have a deal in Brexit but the Deputy is quite correct that even if we have a deal we will have problems. All I can say to him and to businesses around the Border area and around the whole country is that they have to be prepared. They have to be ready. At Government level we have put the legislation in place. We have done everything we can as a Government. At this late stage, I hope there will be a deal and I hope there will be a bit of common sense that the deal that is there will be accepted. The Deputy is right. The whole of Ireland is going to suffer and I do not want that to happen. I am hoping and I will be monitoring. That is why my Department is out there on a regular basis. We are doing the rural shows and we are also going to be lending a helping hand. We are going to be bringing in communities, telling them the schemes that we have and assisting them to fill out applications.

While I appreciate that, what I am saying is that the Minister needs to have an additional focus and emphasis on the Border counties. About two months ago, we had people in from the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN, and the other agencies around the Border. They are really animated about this situation because they see community groups all around the Border that have worked on a cross-Border relationship very well and have made great progress, many of which are related to farming businesses and the agricultural sector. They see huge problems coming down the line. They are saying that the only thing that is going to mitigate against this is money. The Government needs to put money in place to try to ensure that these communities can survive. While I appreciate that there are a whole lot of schemes, what we need to see is an additional helping hand, an additional way of ensuring that these communities will get additional resources. Many of them do not have their own resources. I will give an example. There is a community centre right beside me and it missed out on the first round of funding in LEADER to get the roof done and other projects that the community needed. It got into the second round of funding but it only got a small portion of the money it needed. People are going round in a community of 600 people trying to raise the rest of the money. It is practically impossible. There needs to be recognition that in many small rural communities there is not that emphasis on trying to raise the money themselves because they do not have the resources.

That is why last month my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, announced that the EU Commission has agreed a tenfold increase in the rescue and restructuring scheme budget from €20 million to €200 million. The Minister, Deputy Creed, is having negotiations with Brussels on a regular basis and Commissioner Hogan has said that the EU is ready to respond if there is a no-deal situation. The Government is prepared. Our Ministers are working very hard. We can only do what is required when the time comes. The Ministers, Deputies Creed and Humphreys, and every Minister in government is monitoring. My Department is meeting the LEADER companies, the Western Development Commission, rural groups, the local action groups and the councils, to make sure to have them ready. In respect of funding, we can only deal with that situation when the time arises. We are ready now. We can only do what we can do. In my own Department, we talked about the LEADER programme as Deputy Calleary did and there will be many other questions about other programmes. I have a lot of schemes out there. My biggest problem as all Deputies know is to the get the local authorities and the communities to spend the money I have actually allocated.

Telecommunications Infrastructure

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

56. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the role of the regional telecommunications development unit in his Department with regard to the national broadband plan; the progress to date on the provision of a map of black spots in mobile phone coverage undertaken by the mobile phone and broadband task force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15597/19]

To pick up on the Minister's last point, we need to make it easier for communities to spend that money. Communities are struggling to draw down that money. I know the Minister has made some changes to LEADER but we need to make it easier across all the programmes.

This question is in respect of the national broadband plan and mobile phone coverage and the role in the Minister's Department of the regional telecommunications development unit. His colleagues are preparing this for the launch of the new national broadband plan. We keep being told about the access of population to broadband but as the Minister and I know, that does not necessarily wash in a lot of areas in our region in terms of access to broadband. I want to know what involvement the Department of Rural and Community Development has in the planning for the national broadband plan and also its engagement around mobile phone black spots, which are becoming a bigger issue in rural areas.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has overall policy responsibility for the national broadband plan. However, my Department, through the unit referred to by the Deputy, works closely with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and with local authorities to help prepare rural communities for the roll-out of high-speed broadband. The unit also supports the work of the mobile phone and broadband task force, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The task force was established in 2016 to identify and overcome obstacles to mobile phone and broadband services. One of the key ways in which my Department supports the preparations for the roll-out of the national broadband plan and other telecommunications infrastructure is through the network of broadband officers located in each local authority. The broadband officers, who are co-funded by my Department, provide a vital point of contact for industry and the public regarding telecoms issues.

With regard to the mapping of black spots in mobile phone coverage, an invitation was issued in late 2017 to all local authorities to provide data on five or six prioritised local black spots, with a view to examining the potential for mapping mobile phone black spots in Ireland. The objective was not to compile a definitive list of black spots across the country, but to identify areas of immediate priority for the purposes of testing an approach to the mapping of black spots. While the exercise was informative, it was not comprehensive. Of the 31 local authorities, only 17 returned data to feed into the exercise. However, ComReg has recently published a national map of outdoor mobile phone coverage for 2G, 3G and 4G services for a range of providers. This map, which is available on ComReg’s website, shows the quality and prevalence of mobile phone coverage right across the country for each provider. It will prove to be a useful tool for consumers on the services available in their areas.

I thank the Minister of State. He commented that one of the duties of the unit was to prepare rural communities for the roll-out of high-speed broadband. As he knows rural communities are prepared for that roll-out but the Department is not and the Government keeps delaying the roll-out. What is the involvement of the regional telecommunications development unit in the preparation for the national broadband plan?

Is it good enough that only 17 of 31 local authorities provide the information on mobile phone coverage? What does the Department of Rural and Community Development do to follow up with the remaining local authorities? The Department provided €42,000 to each local authority to have a broadband officer in 2018 and nobody in the Department seemed to follow up on the 14 that could not be bothered to provide the very basic information. The Department was only looking for five sites. As the Minister of State said, he was not looking for a complex map. Fourteen did not bother to send it back and there was obviously no follow-up on the part of the Department even though each local authority has a grant of €42,000. That is not good enough. The Department cannot stick its head in the sand and allow that lack of response to go unnoticed.

I am not sticking my head in the sand, nor is the Department. We have 30 broadband officers in place. At the time they were only being put in place and were not working full time. To ensure the broadband officers are most effective, I meet them continually. I have met them bilaterally with their chief executives in Galway about two months ago. I have stressed to them the purpose of their role. It is not right to say we are doing nothing. For example, we are preparing coverage for Malin Head where there was no coverage.

In preparation for the national broadband plan, over 300 sites have been identified as the first places to get broadband when it is rolled out. Therefore we will have a hub in the communities. These have been identified by the broadband officers. In preparing for the future digitalisation of the country in rural and urban areas, the task force has been working with all the stakeholders to future-proof all our infrastructure. When installing services in the ground alongside roads etc., we are now putting in the duct work that is needed for the future.

In the Deputy's county, Mayo, the broadband officer has done a digital map of all the existing assets in every town, which will be rolled out to every county.

We are particularly fortunate that we have an excellent broadband officer. However, clearly 14 of his colleagues are not doing their job in providing the Minister of State with information. As he has said he meets them, can he not challenge them to provide him with the information?

What is the view in the Department of Rural and Community Development on the schedule for the roll-out of the national broadband plan? The Taoiseach has announced the roll-out of the national broadband plan is conditional on the implications of Brexit on our national finances. Is that the Minister of State's view? Are we nearing a conclusion of assessment of the national broadband plan? When will the Minister of State be able to tell these communities preparing for broadband that they will be able to get broadband as opposed to talking about it? When will the people in Malin Head know what year they will actually have access to high-speed broadband? What is the timeline for the national broadband plan?

It is not good enough that the Department is funding people to provide information when they are not providing the information. While I do not blame the Minister of State, someone in the Department needs to get their finger out and follow up on that information.

Just yesterday the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who is dealing with that tender, clearly stated that a report on the national broadband plan would be brought to Cabinet by Easter. That is the timeline I have, which is the same as the one the Deputy has. It was repeated again yesterday in the meeting.

The Deputy has criticised the broadband officers. I met them along with the CEOs of each of the 31 local authorities in Galway. In discussing their role, I told them what they needed to do. I am confident that the role has now been mapped out for them and they will be a very important part of the roll-out.

The Deputy spoke about rural areas that do not have broadband. The object of this exercise is to ensure that every house in the country is treated equally; that is my aim.

Question No. 57 replied to with Written Answers.

Urban Renewal Schemes

John Curran

Ceist:

58. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the impact of the €5.5 million expenditure by his Department in 2019 on the regeneration of the north-east inner city area of Dublin; his views on whether other disadvantaged communities would also benefit from significant investment in regeneration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15598/19]

This year the Department of Rural and Community Development is providing approximately €5.5 million to support projects underpinning the regeneration of the north-east inner city area of Dublin. That follows on from €3.5 million last year and €2.5 million the previous year. I ask the Minister to outline the impact that funding is having on that community. Does he believe other disadvantaged communities would also benefit from similar programmes?

In 2019 my Department is providing €6.5 million towards the regeneration of the Dublin's north-east inner city. This investment will benefit not only the local community but the city as a whole. It shows the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the recommendations of the Mulvey report are implemented.

The funding provided by my Department supports initiatives which are put forward by the Dublin north-east inner city implementation board, with the required oversight provided through Cabinet committee B. Some of the funded initiatives help families affected by addiction issues and drug-related intimidation, while others cover physical improvements to the Dublin's north-east inner city area. The investment also funds a pilot social employment scheme for 50 staff to work with childcare, youth work, care of the elderly and other projects. It is hoped that the experience from this pilot scheme will inform the development of similar initiatives in other urban areas over the coming years, as additional resources become available. Work is also under way to examine the effectiveness of the Government's investment to date.

Outside Dublin's north-east inner city, there are many examples of disadvantaged communities benefiting from significant investment from my Department. For example, last year I provided €13 million under the community enhancement programme to help groups across the country to improve facilities in disadvantaged areas. Last week I launched the 2019 programme with funding of €4.5 million. My Department also funds the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, a five-year €190 million national programme, delivered locally, to help those in the greatest need.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I acknowledge the increase of funding of €6.5 million for Dublin's north inner city. He identified some of the specific projects supported. As this is the third year of increased funding from the Department, what is the impact of that funding?

The Minister spoke about the social employment project with funding of approximately €2 million, which I welcome. Many other areas across the country suffer significantly from economic disadvantage, particularly areas in Dublin with which I am familiar. In its third year, can we build on the evidence and experience of the north inner city to transfer that to other disadvantaged communities that have been stuck in long-term economic disadvantage?

I thank the Deputy for his comments. I accept what he has said. There are many areas outside Dublin that could do with more funding to address disadvantage. What is happening is working very well. The task force is working on implementing the recommendations of the Mulvey report. It meets regularly and responds to Government. I have been to some of these places in Dublin's inner city. The Deputy has seen how the ring-fencing of funding to provide 50 positions on the employment scheme has worked. They are involved in the environment and in keeping their area tidy.

I have been in community halls that got funding from this scheme. Small amounts of money have made a difference to their lives. As the Deputy knows, wonderful community people are involved, particularly in Dublin's inner city. One could not meet nicer people. They also appreciate the funding they are getting. They see what it does for disadvantaged areas and it is working very well. I would like to be able to roll this out in other areas. We will be able to use this task force as an example, but it will, of course, all come down to funding.

I wish I had more funding, in particular for other disadvantaged areas, but this is a pilot scheme and it is working very well. The Government is committed to it.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am very pleased to hear the positive outcome for the north inner city. That bolsters the argument I am making. If it is working for the north inner city, we must consider the other very disadvantaged communities right around the city and the country. The funding they would have received traditionally through RAPID and so on is no longer available because we now have the community enhancement programme. However, that programme is not targeted at the most vulnerable areas. I have seen the projects it supports and they are far outside the traditional RAPID areas. It is also the case that the money the Minister talks about making available for community enhancement this year is relatively small by comparison with what is going to the north inner city. On the level of support required by our most disadvantaged communities, will the Minister work to identify where those communities are? I heard the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, say on the radio this morning that he is working on next year's budget. We will gladly support the Minister, Deputy Ring, in any bid to provide additional funding to target areas of significant economic disadvantage which have endured long-term unemployment and a range of other issues. While those issues are now being addressed in the north inner city, we need to roll this out to other areas nationally.

I thank the Deputy for his offer of support, which I will take him up on. It is important. The Deputy is quite correct to say that sometimes we target areas like inner-city Dublin whereas other disadvantaged areas in other parts of the country do not have the clout they should. That is why the Department uses SICAP and the community enhancement programme. Deputy Curran referred to the level of funding. I was pleased that the €6.5 million we invested in inner-city Dublin this year included an increase of €3 million on the 2018 provision. The Deputy is right that we want to see other areas being covered too. The community enhancement programme started last year with €4.5 million and we finished up by putting €13 million into it. If there are any savings in the Department this year, that is one of the areas I will look at. One of the most important programmes is one about which we do not talk but about which I have learned a great deal more since becoming Minister, namely, SICAP, which will provide funding of €130 million over a number of years. SICAP is one of the better programmes because it identifies areas and individuals and works with them. We have had many successes in Limerick and elsewhere for individuals who have been helped to create or obtain employment through SICAP. People have been helped to read and write and groups who needed help have been dealt with. I will look for further funding for the programme of which I am very fond.