Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

CLÁR Programme

Tom Neville


6. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the 2019 CLÁR programme, the 2019 outdoor recreational infrastructural scheme and the walks scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30081/19]

I ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the 2019 CLÁR programme, the 2019 outdoor infrastructural scheme and walks scheme 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. I launched the 2019 CLÁR programme on 28 February last and applications were invited under three separate measures. Measure 1 provides support for school and community safety measures; measure 2 provides support for play areas and multi-use games areas; and measure 3 provides funding for community well-being support. The closing date for applications under the 2019 CLÁR programme was 30 April and almost 500 proposals were received by my Department. My officials are currently finalising the assessment of these applications and I hope to be in a position to announce successful projects shortly.

The outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme provides funding to develop new outdoor recreational infrastructure and to maintain, enhance and promote existing infrastructure. I launched the 2019 outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme on 29 March last and applications were invited under three separate measures, based on the scale of the projects. The closing date for applications was 31 May, and over 260 applications were received. These are now being assessed by my officials.

The walks scheme supports the development and maintenance of some of Ireland’s key walking trails. The scheme currently covers 39 trails, with payments made to approximately 1,900 private landholders to maintain these trails. The Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to increase the number of walks covered by the scheme, and funding for the scheme was doubled in budget 2019, from €2 million to €4 million.

In February this year, I invited expressions of interest for new trails to join the scheme. To date, 46 trails have been put forward by local development companies for consideration. I hope to be in a position to announce the first tranche of trails to be added to the scheme by the end of the summer. There is no closing date for the expressions of interest to be made to my Department under the walks scheme at this time. Interested groups should contact their local authority or local development company for further information if they have a trail that they want to have added to the scheme.

I thank the Minister. I welcome the outdoor recreation scheme. There has been added benefit in County Limerick from it. One walkway in which I was heavily involved was the Askeaton Slí na Sláinte. Approximately €120,000 was given to that last year, which was very welcome. The local authority said it will be developed and work will be happening there quite soon.

This may not come under his Department but I ask the Minister to use his influence being a rural Deputy on the issue of tertiary roads and low-cost safety junction improvements throughout the country. A programme needs to be set up on that. Every year there is a list of junctions in rural Ireland that need to be refurbished or made safe. Usually within a council electoral area, one will get two or three junctions done if one is lucky. A programme should be put together over three or four years so that we can deal with this. The people of rural Ireland will see the fruits of the economy coming back to alleviate or help in road safety. I ask the Minister to use his influence with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on that and to give me an update.

The only responsibility I have for roads is in respect of the local improvement scheme, LIS, which I have opened and for which I have provided funding again this year. At Cabinet level, I always promote and push for funding for tertiary roads. The Deputy is correct that it is an issue, and it is one we need to promote. I will talk to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ross. The LIS has worked well.

The Deputy will be doing a bit of walking down the road in the next fortnight. I hear the Deputy is getting married and I wish him well. I hope his road will be in very good shape that morning for the bride to be.

And the walkway.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for his good wishes which have been well-noted. On the broader debate on rural Ireland and on an issue I have raised here before and which is one for all rural Deputies, some towns and villages are beginning to feel the fruits of the economy and are starting to grow. They need help to get to the next level and these are towns and villages that were left behind during the boom. I refer to the sewerage scheme debacle during the Celtic tiger where schemes were bundled and unbundled but which were never done. These schemes need to be put to the forefront and developed. That would give these small towns and villages a critical mass that would sustain a market for small indigenous businesses. If a number of these towns and villages had an expanded sewerage scheme, it will would help them to grow. That is the next step in the development of rural regeneration.

I agree with the Deputy. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his Department is looking at some schemes. The Deputy is correct in that we need to develop sewerage and water schemes. Many small schemes throughout the country need to be extended and, in some cases, new schemes are required. These are small schemes. My officials and officials in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government have been talking about what we can do to provide some support. My Department does not have the resources and I do not mind if the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government plays some part in it. We can look at the CLÁR and other programmes assisting small communities but we need a scheme. The Deputy is correct that many towns and villages throughout the country are expanding and want a sewerage treatment plan and to extend the water scheme. To be fair, it is communities that are leading this and not local authorities or State agencies. They deserve a bit of support and a scheme. My colleagues and I are looking at that. In regard to the CLÁR programme, I am looking at different ways to see what I can do to assist rural areas.

I speak on behalf of all Members when I wish Deputy Neville well.

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Aindrias Moynihan


7. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the discussions he or his Department have had with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht regarding the eligibility of a theatre (details supplied) for the rural regeneration and development fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30432/19]

Aindrias Moynihan


31. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if the refurbishment of a theatre (details supplied) is eligible for funding under the rural regeneration and development fund; if a special case to prioritise the theatre will be made in view of the circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30430/19]

The Briery Gap theatre in Macroom closed its doors in recent weeks after three years of trying to operate out of temporary arrangements. It has now been three years since the fire that damaged the theatre and it was difficult for it to continue operating out of a temporary set-up. There are ambitious plans in place to do up the existing facility, but those plans need funding. We need to establish what options are available to the theatre to bring about that ambitious reopening.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 31 together.

The rural regeneration and development fund seeks to support ambitious, strategic projects which have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion to the fund over ten years and €315 million is allocated to the fund for the period of 2019 to 2022. I launched the second call for applications to the fund in April 2019, details of which are set out in the information booklet and application form relating to the fund on the Government website. The information booklet provides full details on all requirements for potential applications. The second call is currently only open to category 1 applications, which relate to projects which have full planning permission, have all necessary consents in place and are procurement-ready. The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Tuesday, 6 August 2019. Calls for applications to the fund are competitive in nature once all requirements are met and no project is prioritised for funding. My Department will provide general guidance relating to both the application process and the objectives and requirements of the fund. In that regard, a public information session was held last week in Athlone to inform prospective applicants, which was well attended and positively received. Officials from my Department are willing to speak to applicants to assist them in any way.

There is an ambitious plan in place to do a job on the Briery Gap theatre, which will cost up to €4 million. It has been a big loss in Macroom over the past three years since it was lost in a fire. The council already has its own funding of over €1 million in insurance money, but only 6% of the cost is being put forward by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, or by any State agency beyond that. Has any discussion taken place between the Minister and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to fund the scheme up to now, beyond the scheme having now opened? The question is fairly specific. To what extent, if any, have the two Departments discussed this up to now? The talk locally is that this scheme is the only show in town for funding, as the arts funding only amounts to €200,000 or €300,000. Is some commitment already in place to fund this through the Minister's Department, or have any discussions taken place?

I want to be honest with the Deputy. Applications for the rural regeneration scheme close on 6 August. Department officials will assist anyone in putting applications together and will give advice on how they have to be done. However, no scheme or particular project would be discussed with any other Department. When the applications come in, they are assessed by an evaluation committee which brings them to me for a decision. We do not discuss individual cases and would not discuss them with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht because that it is a separate Department which is doing its own thing. If the Briery Gap application comes in, it will go through the evaluation committee and be assessed and a decision will then be made.

I am glad the Minister has cleared that up because the talk locally, including from many of his own party colleagues, is that this is already a done deal and the plan will be funded through this channel. It is now clear that discussions are not taking place with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It is good that the scheme is open and that there is an opportunity to make applications. I am keen for this project to be prioritised through this channel. The Briery Gap is looking for about €1.5 million in funding. Is that kind of project preferred for the rural regeneration scheme? Would it be a real contender and can it be prioritised?

I confirm that the scheme is open and that funding is there. While anyone can make an application, it must fit the criteria in order to be successful. We do not discuss individual cases with anyone, in the interests of fairness. The process is there and any group, including the one the Deputy has referred to, can make an application. There is a process and an evaluation committee in place. If an application comes through the process, it will be considered like all other schemes. We do not talk about individual cases to anyone. One would expect that as it would not be fair to any particular project.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

CLÁR Programme

Dara Calleary


9. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the review of the CLÁR programme; and if additional measures will be considered to be permissible under the programme. [30426/19]

The Minister is currently reviewing the Ceantair Laga Ard-Riachtanais, CLÁR, programme. It is a superb programme, invented by Deputy Ó Cuív, which has made a significant difference with a small amount of money. It is a good project. Where is that review at and how open is the Minister to new suggestions for assisting rural facilities through CLÁR?

The CLÁR programme provides funding for small infrastructural projects in rural areas which have suffered high levels of population decline. The areas originally selected for inclusion in the programme in 2001 were those which suffered the greatest population decline from 1926 to 1996. The Cooley Peninsula was also included on the basis of the serious difficulties caused in that area by foot and mouth disease. The average population loss in the original CLÁR regions over the period of 1926 to 1996 was 50%. In 2006, an analysis of the 2002 census data was carried out by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis, NIRSA, at Maynooth University and the programme was extended to include areas with an average population loss of 35% between 1926 and 2002.

As the Deputy is aware, the CLÁR programme was closed for new applications in 2010. However, I relaunched the programme in the second half of 2016, using the areas identified in the work carried out by NIRSA as a baseline. The projects supported since 2016 include safety measures around schools and community facilities, the provision of play areas, supports for first responders in emergency situations and measures to provide vehicles to transport people to cancer care and respite centres.

I have initiated a review of the CLÁR programme which will examine CLÁR areas by reference to data from the 2016 census. I will also consider whether any other factors should be taken into account in designating areas for eligibility under CLÁR in the future. The review process began last November with targeted consultation meetings with a number of experts who are recognised for their background in rural development issues. Following on from this, my officials have been in contact with NIRSA with regard to carrying out a detailed analysis of the most recent census data in order to inform the review process further. I envisage that a wider stakeholder consultation will also take place before the review is fully completed. Once completed, the review will help inform the design of future CLÁR programmes and any additional measures which may need to be included.

We need to start looking at infrastructure and long-term developments, as well as some of the short-term measures the Minister has taken. For instance, Newtownwhite national school outside Killala in our constituency in County Mayo, a school the Minister is familiar with, has expanded significantly in recent years under the patronage of Educate Together, and it now needs to acquire land. However, the Department of Education and Skills does not support this land acquisition as it is intended for traffic safety and a playing field. That is the kind of project CLÁR could support in order to sustain a developing rural school.

We are also awaiting information from the Minister's Department on the Downpatrick group water scheme, which the Minister is aware of. This is again about putting facilities and infrastructure in place that will sustain communities to live in certain areas and protect the environment. Those kinds of infrastructure investments, which are long term but will sustain communities and help them grow, are what Deputy Ó Cuív had in mind when he first introduced CLÁR and we need to re-focus the programme on them.

I again acknowledge, because I have always been fair, that CLÁR is one of the better schemes we have in place. My biggest problem is that I wish I had more funding for it. I need that funding now, which is why I am conducting this review. When I reintroduced CLÁR after many years, I brought it back in a limited way. The Deputy is correct and as Deputy Neville also mentioned we need to be able to examine schemes. I do not know whether we will be able to buy the land the Deputy referred to, because when I worked on the sports capital programme people were only given funding for capital works and never for buying land. That should be looked at, because that is a small school in a small area that needs support and it can only get so much from local contributions.

Many other places in rural areas also need small bits of support. It is like the rural regeneration scheme we discussed earlier.

That is for bigger projects that need support. The Deputy is correct to say there are small schemes and the CLÁR programme has been one of the best. We have not reviewed it for a long time but we will get an opportunity and I want it to be done before the review of the next CLÁR programme. I want to sit down with other Departments to look at how to do it.

I hope the Deputy and other rural colleagues support me in what I have to say next. We cannot allow other Departments to throw everything over to my Department. There is a bit of that happening at the moment and I want to be careful about it. Other Departments have an obligation to rural-proof projects but I have to ensure that Ministers do not see my Department as a soft touch that has to do everything. They have responsibilities too. They have their own programmes and schemes and they have their own money. I have to make them accountable as well.

I agree with the Minister about other Departments. His Department cannot be just a clearing house. He said he wanted more money but one quarter of his 2018 CLÁR budget is still unspent. We keep coming back to this in respect of all the schemes we discuss. There is an announcement but this is not the same as actual spending. What is it about schemes that we are making them so difficult for communities? I do not care about local authorities, as they are big enough and bold enough, but communities are being affected. If the Minister is saying that he has not got enough money, we will support him and the reintroduction of CLÁR was, of course, part of the confidence and supply agreement. Communities suffer, however, when more than one quarter of the 2018 budget remains unspent half way through 2019. All Departments need to work collectively and to not dump all the rural issues into the Minister's Department.

All the money for schools and community safety, play areas, including the multi-use games areas, MUGAs, community well-being and support, first responders and the mobility and cancer care transport scheme was spent last year. Why must I and my officials write to local authorities to ask them to spend the money they have received? Why are elected representatives not up on their feet at every council meeting asking why money on approved projects is not being spent? I can only do so much and I seek the Deputy's support in this. I have secured the funding but whoever is here after the next election will have the same problem. Pressure is coming on me from the Department not to spend more, because councils have not yet spent what they have got. If I do not have a stream of spent money, we will have the same situation in a few years' time. I would love to put the money out into the private sector, if I could, but I cannot do that.

Rural Development Policy

Bernard Durkan


10. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which he continues to monitor social or economic deficits in urban and rural areas nationally with a view to identifying the more salient interventions available to his Department in order to maximise the social or economic outcome; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30441/19]

Bernard Durkan


889. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which he has identified gaps in the system in which urban or rural communities, older or younger persons have suffered as a result of geographic location or economic exclusion with a view to offering assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31389/19]

Deputy McLoughlin has been given permission to introduce a question submitted by Deputy Durkan.

I ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which he continues to monitor social or economic deficits in urban and rural areas nationally with a view to identifying the more salient interventions available to his Department in order to maximise the social or economic outcome; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 889 together.

I am satisfied that my Department delivers an effective package of supports which strengthen rural and urban communities. Funding priorities are reviewed and monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure our supports remain targeted at those most in need socially and economically. 

The social inclusion and community activation plan, SICAP, is the largest social inclusion intervention in the State. The current programme, which runs from 2018 to 2022, was launched last year and will provide approximately €38 million this year for communities in need. SICAP allocations to areas are informed by the Pobal Haase deprivation index, which measures the relative affluence or disadvantage of areas within the State. This ensures that the programme is targeting disadvantage. Other relevant programmes, supports and interventions funded by my Department include the provision of €6.5 million towards the regeneration of the Dublin north-east inner city, NEIC.

My Department also funds the community services programme, which is currently being reviewed and has €46 million available to support community organisations in 2019. The community enhancement programme, born out of a review of the RAPID programme and communities facilities scheme, addresses disadvantage in urban and rural communities and allocated €13 million to more than 3,000 projects in its first year. The 2019 scheme was launched in May last with an allocation of €4.5 million.

My Department also continues to develop policy that can assist with the effective targeting of future funding. We are engaging with communities throughout the country on a new Government rural development policy to follow on from the Action Plan for Rural Development, a cross-Government plan to support economic and social development in Ireland’s rural areas. An implementation plan for the framework policy for local and community development in Ireland, as well as Ireland’s first national policy on social enterprise, are also at an advanced stage of development. In addition, the rural regeneration and development fund will provide €1 billion over the next ten years for rural towns and villages, while the town centre living initiative, a pilot programme aimed at testing approaches to the revitalisation of towns and villages, was rolled out in six towns across the country in 2018.

The Department is confident that all the initiatives it is delivering will combine to have a significant positive impact on all communities, rural and urban, both socially and economically.

The Minister of State mentioned urban regeneration funding of €6.5 million. Rural areas are crying out for an extension of regeneration and additional funding over the next number of years and money is earmarked for the plan for 2018 to 2022. How many rural areas will benefit from this regeneration? There is a need for additional funding and I am sure Deputy Durkan's constituency is like mine in this regard. I welcome the allocation of €38 million for drawdown. There is €46 million for community schemes and this is the way forward. The Minister, Deputy Ring, spoke about how these have been in place for a number of years and we see how many communities have benefitted from that funding.

The rural regeneration development fund is a game changer for rural Ireland. The Department has allocated €52 million in funding in 2019 for projects supported by the rural fund. The first call for applications was closed in September 2018 and 280 applications were received, out of which 38 successful category 1 projects were approved, which have planning and other consents in place and are ready to go. The 46 vital projects in category 2 have been announced with funding of €86 million to support projects worth €170 million. A total of €1 billion is available in the rural regeneration fund over the next ten years and we need to have a cycle of projects coming through, from inception to getting the consents, at which point they move to category 2, the detailed design and procurement stage, before being built. This is the game changer that rural Ireland needs. When we look back on it, we will see it as one of the most significant funding opportunities rural Ireland has had from the Department.

Getting schemes ready, from the planning stages to being shovel-ready, in order that funding can be drawn down in local communities across the length and breadth of the country, is very important. It has been a game changer and it is the only way forward for communities to get funding to enhance their areas. Local people get involved in these schemes once they get the incentive and the funding from the Department. I welcome this and I hope it continues. The Minister of State said there was approximately €170 million over the next number of years for these schemes and that will make a huge difference across the country, including in urban areas where derelict parts of town need regeneration and funding. In the future, we also need to assist local authorities with funding.

The Deputy referred to rural regeneration and social deprivation in urban areas. SICAP is informed by the deprivation index, which measures the relative affluence or disadvantage in areas within the State. It is important that we do not leave anybody behind. The community services programme extended in 2019 will provide an additional €1 million to organisations finding it difficult to meet the minimum wage obligation. The budget for the Dublin north east inner city initiative that was put in place following the Mulvey report budget is €6.5 million in 2019, an increase of €3 million on 2018, which may be of interest to the Deputy. It funds further projects, including pilot drug schemes, social employment projects and community grants and events.

The community enhancement programme, which initially received funding of €4.5 million for 2019, focuses on supporting groups in disadvantaged areas. The framework policy for local and community development in Ireland's implementation plan, as well as Ireland's first national policy on the very important theme of social enterprise, are in advanced development. We must not forget the urban regeneration fund, which helps larger projects in cities that will start the process and are key to achieving social inclusion.

Community Enhancement Programme Funding

John Curran


11. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the reason the allocation to the community enhancement programme is only a third of the allocation made in 2018 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30087/19]

John Curran


13. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to provide additional funding for the community enhancement programme in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30088/19]

In a previous reply, the Minister indicated that the community enhancement programme has been established since the RAPID programme was closed. He referred to the €13 million he made available last year and indicated that a budget of €4.5 million is available for the community enhancement programme this year and another €500,000 for men's sheds. A far smaller allocation has been made for 2019 than was the case in 2018. Does he plan to make additional funding available for the programme during 2019?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 13 together.

The community enhancement programme helps community groups to improve facilities in their area. The allocation of funding is weighted towards those communities in most need. It supports a range of investment in all areas of communities, including childcare facilities, playgrounds, recreational facilities, sports grounds, landscaping projects and supports for the elderly.

In 2018, I launched the programme with initial funding of €4.5 million allocated to it in the Vote. As there was significant interest in the programme, I was delighted to be in a position to allocate additional once-off funding to the programme later in the year, with the final amount allocated being €13 million. This included €500,000 that was ring-fenced for men's sheds and women's sheds. More than 3,000 projects across the country were funded, all of which were targeted at enhancing facilities in disadvantaged communities.

There is funding of €4.5 million for the 2019 programme, the same amount that was initially provided in 2018. If savings are identified elsewhere in the Department as the year progresses, then, as a result of its success of last year, I will consider additional funding for the community enhancement programme.

This issue follows on from my previous question. The funding this year is substantially less than it was last year. As the RAPID programme is no longer in operation, there is a particular need for the most disadvantaged communities to receive continuous long-term support. They need to know on a year-to-year basis that programmes will be supported. Although the allocation of €13 million last year was very welcome and I have looked at projects funded under it, the most disadvantaged areas are not receiving the required level of support. Will the Minister review the community enhancement programme in light of the fact that it has replaced the RAPID programme, which targeted funding at the most disadvantaged areas? I previously raised my concern that the most disadvantaged communities are not being engaged and receiving funding on the ground. I welcome the funding for men's sheds and other programmes but I am concerned that it is at the expense of the most disadvantaged communities. While I acknowledge that savings were made last year, the fund this year is substantially less than the outturn last year.

I know from where the Deputy is coming. We are speaking the same language and I would like to discuss the matter further with him. I am not having a go at him. In my view, I amalgamated the RAPID and community enhancement programmes. The Deputy will dispute that, which is fine. I accept that. The core budget line was €4.5 million. Thereafter, savings became available from elsewhere in the Department. I would be worried if that money was not being targeted at the intended areas. I acknowledge that the Deputy did not make that point. I want the money targeted at the people in the areas identified under the RAPID programme who need it most.

A review was carried out this year on the community enhancement programme because I do not want it to become a slush fund to be used by councils for other works they wish to undertake. The programme must target the most disadvantaged in society. That is why the LCDCs are of such importance. I expect them to take a bottom-up approach and to identify where the needs are, where the money should be spent and who should receive it. I am prepared to listen to the Deputy because he is saying the same things as I am. I want the money to be spent on the people who need it most.

I agree that the community enhancement programme must not become a slush fund. The Minister is well aware of the importance of investment in disadvantaged communities. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, alluded to it in a previous response regarding the north east inner city. We know the challenges in the most disadvantaged communities. As I referenced earlier, the Taoiseach is also of the view that our most disadvantaged communities need additional supports. I am not hanging all of this on the Minister's Department as other Departments have a role to play.

However, there has been very few advancements in DEIS schools or in funding drugs and alcohol task forces in our disadvantaged communities. Most of those programmes support very disadvantaged communities and the only such programme that relates to the Minister's Department is the community enhancement programme, which has replaced the RAPID programme. The Minister should go back to the drawing board with his colleagues at the Cabinet table, in addition to within his Department, to consider what the Government is doing to support these communities. The Taoiseach rightly said that we cannot afford to support all communities financially in the same way as has been done for the north east inner city, but we need to support them proactively and we are not doing that.

I do not disagree with anything the Deputy stated. We are speaking the same language. I want to learn from the programme in the north east inner city and see if there are measures we can bring to other areas, including towns and cities, that need support. The Deputy asked about the community enhancement programme. I will look at it again because I want that funding to go where it ought. That is what the programme is about.

A programme that the Deputy did not mention, but which I know he likes and which I think is a great scheme that does not get the credibility and support it deserves is SICAP. There is a lot of flexibility in it. Deputy Calleary earlier referred to making schemes difficult to access. Since I became Minister, I have tried to make schemes easier to access. Deputy Curran and I disagree in regard to the funding of men's sheds, women's sheds, the community enhancement programme and the relationship to the RAPID programme. I established the community enhancement programme to make it easier to target the groups that need it most. If, following the review, the Deputy and I are unhappy with the reforms that have been made, I will consider the matter further.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Sitting suspended at 10.20 a.m. and resumed at 10.30 a.m.