Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Community Development Projects Funding

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

6. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the degree to which the support and services provided by his Department have been most regularly sought by communities nationwide; his views on whether adequate interaction takes place at present; if changes are envisaged which may broaden the appeal and availability and consequently further improve community involvement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50615/19]

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which local communities have ready access to the kind of funding which they see as being fundamental to their needs and whether it might be possible to improve the existing situation or if it is working satisfactorily.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

My Department is committed to the successful delivery of a wide range of programmes and supports to benefit all communities.

These supports include large-scale investments in rural regeneration and renewal of our towns and villages. Funding is also provided for rural development with small-scale grants and supports directed to help community and voluntary organisations.

Close engagement with communities is key to ensuring that the positive impact of my Department's policies, programmes and supports is maximised and targeted at those most in need. Consultation with local groups, stakeholders and the public plays a key role in the preparation of all Department policies including the next rural development policy and forthcoming national volunteering strategy.

Earlier this year I launched a new five-year strategy for community and voluntary sector development. Work has begun and funding is in place for the implementation of these measures.

These include enhanced supports for the structures which drive local engagement in decision making – the public participation networks and the local community development committees. Further funding will be provided to support the delivery of the national social enterprise policy for Ireland. This funding is in addition to existing supports already in place for social enterprises.

My Department has been proactive in interacting with communities and delivered, in conjunction with Pobal, a series of six "Helping Hands" events nationwide earlier this year to engage with communities and create awareness and understanding of funding programmes. Feedback from these interactions was very positive and I have asked my officials to consider running other similar events into 2020.

The 2019 series of regional "Rural Opportunity" information sessions run nationwide also raised awareness of the extent to which assistance is available to rural communities from across Departments. This engagement with rural communities will continue on the issues which impact them.

These ongoing consultations and interactions will continue to enhance the effectiveness of the work of my Department and the positive impacts being felt by communities on the ground from our important work.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply and I note the expansion of the various programmes.

For example, where conditional expenditure, matching expenditure or some proportion of expenditure is expected by the body or group which has applied, such conditions sometimes put it in a difficult position. It may be virtually a charity and dependent entirely on what it gets either by its own fund-raising or by way of grant aid from the Minister's Department or others. I am merely wondering if it might be possible to ease that requirement without rendering the scheme in any way ineffective.

As somebody who has been very much involved in community all his life, the Deputy is a long time here and he understands it. In some of our schemes, there has to be a local contribution. Particularly if we are dealing with the local authorities, we expect them to put some kind of a contribution into the scheme. In relation to communities themselves, we have a number of schemes that do not involve a local contribution. We give them some funding for the smaller schemes.

It is interesting that Deputy Durkan asked the question this morning because I could name six community groups from all over the country which are involved in major developments, some of which are costing over €1 million. There was one particular project for which the Department granted nearly €1 million. The project was to come in at €1.2 million and the community came back to me stating it is costing €1.6 million. I have that problem now in a number of places. That is where my Department plays a role and where elected representatives play a role. It is fine that these community groups provide great service. If we did not have them we would not have the service, but we need somebody, whether he or she is from my Department, from the local authorities or from other State agencies, to guide them through the process because if a group has €1.2 million and it finds itself €400,000 short, it creates a problem. I would like to see these projects grant aided and completed. I have a number of these problems now around the country and it is something that I and the Department need to look at.

I am aware of one or two of them as well. It is because of interaction with them that I discovered it might be possible to ease the sharp corners that exist in a way that would be beneficial to both the Department and themselves. Following on the Minister's comments, I certainly would be prepared to go back and interact with them and try to improve the situation.

The Deputy has them in his constituency. Every Deputy here has them in his or her constituency. Without those is in the voluntary sector, we would have a difficult situation in this country. They have to be complimented. I have to thank them. They do tremendous work. There are people who put their lives into voluntary schemes and put a lot of work into it and they do not get anything out of it. Sometimes they get abuse. They do not get the respect that they deserve.

I want to put this on the record today and thank them on behalf of the Government and on my own behalf. I see what is happening all over this country and, but for the voluntary sector, we would have a very serious problem, particularly with services. The State will not provide them. The HSE will not provide them. The local authority will not provide them. If we did not have the voluntary sector, we would have a very difficult time in this House.

LEADER Programmes

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

7. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the Great Western Lakes project; if a copy of the feasibility study will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50640/19]

I want to know the status of the Great Western Lakes project and whether the feasibility study is available.

The Great Western Lakes feasibility study referred to by the Deputy was funded under the co-operation strand of the LEADER Programme.

The study was a pre-development phase project which precedes the full co-operation project. It allows local action groups, project promoters and other contributors to investigate the merit and potential to develop concrete actions that could form a full co-operation project.

Funding of €9,750 was approved for the project in question.

The feasibility study involved the investigation into the possibility of creating a scenic driving route linked to the Wild Atlantic Way, and taking in Lough Mask and Lough Corrib.

The study has been completed and was launched in June of this year. It is now open to the project promoters to decide what course of action they wish to take following the completion of the study.

I am arranging for a copy of the feasibility study to be forwarded to the Deputy's office.

I welcome that confirmation that the Minister of State will give me a copy.

Public funds were given out for a feasibility study for a good project. I want to see where it is going to next, what has been learned and how can we roll it out, if it is effective, to other areas because local areas are crying out for projects. The Minister of State knows that. I can name Kilmaine and Shrule - towns that are struggling to survive and need input. I have a later question on the empty residential buildings in different towns which I will come back to.

Has the Department no more contact in relation to this? Is it correct that the Minister of State is waiting for the group on the ground to come back and tell him what it will do?

The local authority partners for the project are FORUM Connemara in west Galway and Mayo Local Community Development Committee, LCDC, through its implementation partner, South West Mayo Development Company. They have done the feasibility study, which involved the investigation of the possibility of creating this scenic driving route linking through counties Galway and Mayo, termed the Great Western Lakes of Lough Mask and Lough Corrib. The proposed driving route would take in Leenane, Maam, Cornamona, Clonbur, the Neale, Ballinrobe, Partry, Tourmakeady, Aghagower and finishing in Westport. The findings of this study will be used to produce a five-year plan for 2018 to 2023 for the development of the driving route, the steps required to progress this project and the financial requirements to implement the plan as well as incorporating the relevant components towards achieving a successful driving route.

The project promoters are reviewing the report's findings and will decide if they wish to proceed to a full co-operation project. The Department and the Minister have no role in the progression of this project. It is a matter for the promoters to review the findings in the report and then decide if they want to apply for further funding to progress the project. The Deputy mentioned the towns and villages. This is very important and it is hoped that they will come forward with a very good proposal.

I also hope they come forward with such a proposal. I am a little confused about whether there will be a cycle route.

The feasibility study involved an investigation into the possibility of creating a scenic driving route linked to the Wild Atlantic Way and taking in Lough Mask and Lough Corrib. The study has been completed. They may decide to put in cycling routes as well as driving routes. I am not so sure what they will come back with in the aftermath of this feasibility study. The important thing is that we hope they come forward with a full co-operation plan because there is funding for that type of project, provided it is feasible. I would hope that they will come forward with something. It is the type of project we need to revitalise rural areas and the small towns and villages along the route, and to create a tourism offering that will bring people to stop in the towns and villages to have a cup of coffee and bring life into some of these towns.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Rural Development Plan

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

9. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the timeline for the completion of the new Action Plan for Rural Development; and if he has made a request seeking the transfer of further responsibilities for rural development to his Department. [50621/19]

The Minister and I spoke briefly earlier about the new version of the Action Plan for Rural Development, which is in preparation. I ask him to outline the timeline for that and state when he sees it being published. To go back to other Departments, the Minister also said, "We cannot allow other Departments to throw everything over to my Department. There is a bit of that happening at the moment [...]". He said that last July; I got the exact phrase. Is he looking for further responsibilities and further budgets to be transferred officially into his Department as part of the action plan?

The Action Plan for Rural Development has been the key vehicle for delivery of the Government’s support for rural development over the last three years. My Department is currently developing the next phase of rural policy for Ireland, to follow on from the action plan which reaches the end of its three year life cycle at the end of 2019.

The new five-year policy will be forward-looking and will build on the progress achieved through the Action Plan for Rural Development. It will seek to strengthen and build resilience in our rural economies and communities and will identify policy measures which need to be put in place to achieve those objectives.

The process of developing the new policy has involved a wide range of stakeholder consultation events with rural communities and groups, Departments, State agencies, young people and the wider public.

An online survey was also conducted, which allowed the public to prioritise what they consider to be the main challenges and opportunities facing rural Ireland over the coming years. There was a very significant response to the survey, with over 1,700 responses. The insights and views captured through this extensive consultation process have helped to identify the issues that matter to people living and working in rural Ireland.

The new policy is being finalised and I anticipate that it will be launched early in the new year. As is the case with the current action plan, the new policy will reflect a whole-of-Government commitment to rural Ireland.

Since my Department was established in July 2017, we have developed and delivered a wide range of strategic programmes and policies to support the economic and social progress of rural areas and urban and rural communities. I am always open to the possibility of considering additional responsibilities that are consistent with my Department's mission of supporting vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Ireland.

The Minister speaks of resilience. Rural communities are resilient; that is their nature. I am not being political in saying that permanent Government policies get in the way of that resilience and undermine it. We need a plan that encourages and fosters resilience and growth that is sustainable without being choked by various initiatives. I have been reflecting on the response of the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, in respect of the broadband connection points which are a key part of the national broadband plan and were being unveiled as its opening phase. Frankly, I do not see the capability for delivering 300 of them in 50 weeks. If we go for a year from the signing of the contract, we are looking at 50 weeks. We also spoke earlier about the services story, on which Deputy Aylward has a further question. There are so many programmes in rural Ireland. We need to define the basic level of service and adapt all those programmes to support the basic level of service and grow on it. A key part of this new plan must be an agreement on basic services that we will put in place and then adapt all the programmes to grow that basic level into sustainable communities.

On the plan, the Deputy is quite correct. This time we really went all out. We had 11 regional workshops, two special workshops with young people and a public online survey in which 1,700 people participated. We went into the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development and it made a submission. There were submissions also received from rural-based organisations. The Deputy made a very valid point and it is one I look at all the time. I want to respond in respect of other things that should be done in the Department as well. The Deputy is quite correct. There are many organisations and we need some way to bring them together and not have half services here and half services there. We need to look at a means of sitting down with community groups, local authorities and stakeholders to see how we can bring them all together. There are bits being done by one organisation and bits being done by another. I need to be able to get them to sit down together. Were it not for some of these organisations, we would not have the services. I am not being critical of them and I am delighted they are there. If we did not have them, we would have difficulty.

The Deputy asked about possible areas for transfers of responsibility. When we are back in government and I am Minister again, Deputy Calleary is going to have a wider brief as Opposition spokesman. Tourism and sport would be a lovely fit with my Department's brief. The greenways and national parks would fit into it, as would Waterways Ireland. All these would fit with the outdoor recreation schemes. I announced further funding for Cavan for the walks scheme yesterday. All that would fit into my Department. We are well capable of delivering all those schemes. I have a very good team, a very good Department and great young officials who are very bright and very able. I can tell the Deputy they are anxious for more work.

I wish the Minister well in the remaining weeks of his ministry to deliver all those things. He has a super team of officials. Would those very excellent individuals not be absolutely delighted to have their Minister living in the town in which the Department is based? In bringing organisations together, one of the difficulties with LEADER at the moment is that we have brought it under the local community development committees, LCDCs, programme in the local authorities. We are losing a connection because of that. It is getting in the way of delivering the programme. I agree that we have to bring them together but we cannot lose what makes them work and what makes them tick in that process. This comes back to my initial point. The process of bringing them together through the LCDCs has not worked. I do not think it has resulted in better services. We need to be careful when bringing them together that we do not lose that spark.

The Department needs additional responsibilities but it also needs a budget to cover them.

If it takes on all these things without the necessary budget, the projects and the delivery of services will be utterly diminished. In the context of preparing the action plan, what engagement has the Minister had with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, or his Department about the transfer of responsibilities and, most importantly, the transfer and ring-fencing of the budget?

Deputy Calleary is right. Where we bring them together, we do not want any splintering of the work that is being done. It is not a power struggle but to provide better services for rural areas, giving them the services and support that they need. As for transfers I was offered some from other Departments to be taken on as a priority but the budget did not come with them. I will not allow my officials or Government to do that. Anything that comes in, the budget will have to come with it. That is very clear. The existing budget is committed, and if something new comes in, the budget must follow. We are very lucky in the many voluntary organisations we have and the great people who work in these services. They give their lives to it and we do not really appreciate the work they do.

CLÁR Programme

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

10. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the allocation for the CLÁR scheme in 2020; his plans to change the scheme in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50429/19]

I want to know what the Minister's plans are for his CLÁR scheme 2020.

As the Deputy will be aware, I reopened the CLÁR programme in 2016, following a number of years when the scheme was closed for new applications. More than 1,400 projects have been approved for funding of almost €33 million under the programme since then.

The type of projects that have been supported include safety measures around schools and community facilities, the provision of play areas, supports for emergency first responders, and a measure to provide vehicles to transport people to cancer care and respite centres.

This is much-needed funding for small-scale capital projects in rural areas that have experienced significant levels of population loss. Although the amount of funding available to individual projects under CLÁR is modest, I know that it makes a huge impact on the rural areas it serves. I have visited many of the projects and I have seen first-hand the difference that these projects make to local communities.

I expect that the CLÁR programme will be opened again for new applications in 2020, and I will make decisions in the new year regarding the measures to be included in the programme.

I will also conduct a review of the programme to take account of the 2016 census data and to consider any factors, other than depopulation, that should be taken into account in designing future CLÁR programmes.

I absolutely concur with the Minister that CLÁR is a source of funding and has a positive impact on schools around the country. St. Mary’s national school in Ballyhaise in County Cavan and Drumcrave national school do not fit into the mapping for CLÁR funding. I understand that about five schools in the county are affected in this way. They feel aggrieved that they are not able to access funds that make a big impact on their playgrounds and safety measures. Many schools use CLÁR for safety features that local authorities do not have the funds for. The local authorities are put to the pin of their collars too. They cannot step in and help these schools that do not fit in to CLÁR funding. Does the Minister have any plans to extend CLÁR funding to appropriate schools such as St. Mary’s national school in Ballyhaise, which is well outside Cavan town, Drumcrave and other schools that do not get it?

I thank the Deputy for her comments. She is right. Under CLÁR I can target some of the schemes to where the need is. I found when I came into office that one of the needs was safety outside schools. Anyone who has children knows that when parents and others bring children to school, they want them to be in a safe environment. I considered that scheme and reintroduced it. It has been very successful.

I am doing a review of the CLÁR programme. I do not want it to focus on depopulation. I want it to be where there is a need and to expand it. My officials recently met experts from the National University of Ireland, NUI, Maynooth to see how we can target it. The Deputy will understand that I have to be careful because there is small funding. I wish I could get more funding because it is one of the better schemes. I would like to be able to fund more schools. Under CLÁR I can see where there is a need and no other Department or local authority is dealing with it. I understand the Deputy’s question because there are areas in my constituency that are not in the CLÁR programme that would like to be funded.

Ms Cathy McGoldrick, the principal of St. Mary's national school, who is listening in today, will, I hope, take some comfort from the possibility that the school in Ballyhaise could be included in CLÁR funding because there really is nowhere else for her to go. She sees schools close by that are faced with the same challenges but she is not able to access the funds they have.

I have mentioned Killinkere national school on numerous occasions. It has applied for CLÁR funding but unfortunately has been unsuccessful up to this point. I hope that will change in the near future. It is a school that desperately needs CLÁR funding for safety measures there. It is very much in the country but there is an 80 km/h speed limit on the road outside and the car park is across the road from the school. Something like CLÁR funding and a successful application for Killinkere national school would make a world of difference and give parents peace of mind.

This is a comment, not a promise. I want to sit down with people from the Departments of Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs to see whether we can formulate some kind of a scheme that would deal with the problem that the Deputy has. I know it. I see it in areas that genuinely need the safety scheme but have a problem because they are not in the CLÁR area.

Common Agricultural Policy Reform

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

11. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he has fully engaged in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reform process to ensure his plans are rural proofed. [50297/19]

We are into the CAP reform cycle, which has huge implications for Pillars 1 and 2 across rural Ireland. What plans does the Department of Rural and Community Development have to ensure that what happens will be rural proofed?

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the lead Department responsible for negotiations on the CAP reform process. However, as CAP impacts significantly on rural Ireland, my Department has a strong interest in developments in CAP reform. The LEADER programme, which my Department administers, is also funded through the CAP.

In June 2018, the European Commission launched proposals for new regulations for the Common Agricultural Policy 2021-2027. These proposals aim to make the CAP more responsive to current and future challenges, with an increased focus on the environment and climate, supporting the transition towards a more sustainable agricultural sector and the development of vibrant rural areas. Since the launch of the draft regulations, my officials have engaged extensively on the European Commission's proposals with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This engagement will continue for the duration of the CAP reform process.

In addition to my Department's engagement with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, my officials will also consult all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the views of people in rural Ireland are considered when the next LEADER programme is being designed. LEADER operates on the basis of a local-led approach to rural development and I am confident that our consultation will ensure that the new LEADER programme will address the issues of most importance to the people who live and work in rural areas.

Until now the CAP has disproportionately benefited large farmers. There has been a strong emphasis on upping production and that is fine and dandy but it is recognised now that we have to add value and keep a little bit of money in local communities. Farmers’ costs have gone up and that money is leaving local areas. The LEADER programme is key to making improvements. Would the Minister of State consider developing and improving farmers’ markets? We are lobbying the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to reintroduce the organic scheme. There are also opportunities in the areas of small-scale energy production. Both the Minister and the Minister of State, coming from the west, will be familiar with the large disadvantaged areas, no different from parts of the midlands, where we could generate extra income in terms of energy, farmers' markets and diversification. We need to recalibrate things in that direction with the new CAP. We also need to put a cap on the maximum payment because that has disproportionately benefited large farmers.

I agree with the Deputy that we need to recalibrate towards smaller farmers. I come from a rural area in east Galway where there are lots of small farmers who are struggling. The Deputy referred to climate action and supporting the transition to a more sustainable agricultural sector in the context of CAP. It is also important to reiterate that the LEADER programme operates under CAP and that is where we will play our part. We are working closely with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, in order to ensure that we have a strong approach to the new CAP and how it is introduced. There is a delay in the adoption of the new CAP proposals and the EU budget post 2020, with a resultant delay in the strategy for the period but negotiations are ongoing at European level. Ireland is involved in those negotiations through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with strong support from the Department of Rural and Community Development. Our support is greatly appreciated by the lead Department. Draft transition regulations seek to address the delay as it relates to rural development, sectoral interventions, direct payments and LEADER programmes through transitional arrangement for 2021. I wish to reassure the Deputy that there will not be a gap and transitional arrangements will apply until the new CAP is in place. These provide an option for member states to extend their rural development programmes for a period of one year up to 2021, subject to certain conditions. It is expected to take six to eight months to finalise the transitional regulations.

I thank the Minister of State for that reply. Under Pillar II, LEADER has a key role to play. The maximum payment that can be received under Pillar I is high but the focus must be on small and medium sized farmers. We must assist those farmers to increase their capacity and their income generating abilities. The land alone and the production of beef or sheep, for example, is not enough. There are other opportunities for farmers that must be pushed and developed but we are behind other countries in that regard. If one looks at France and other countries in Europe, one sees that we are way behind in terms of farmers' markets, organic production and so on. We must up our game. Some of the focus in that regard must lie under Pillar II as well.

Project Ireland 2040 recognises that the agrifood sector is critical to the broader social and economic well-being of Ireland. In recognition of the importance of agriculture to Ireland's economy, there will be a focus on this topic in the new rural policies being introduced. One example of this is the Bia Innovator Campus at Athenry, which will be constructed soon, hopefully. It has been supported by my Department through the rural regeneration fund. The campus is expected to create a lot of jobs in the food innovation sector, with up to 280 being created in the first three years of operation. This is the type of project we need to put in place to provide sustainable jobs in rural areas. The forthcoming agrifood strategy to 2030 and Food Wise 2025 are also going to be reflected in our overall policy for rural development over the next five years.

Rural Development Policy

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

12. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to improve service provision in rural areas in view of the latest CSO figures released in respect of distance to everyday services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50370/19]

I ask the Minister to outline his plans to improve service provision in rural areas in view of the recent publication of CSO figures in respect of distances to everyday services and to make a statement on the matter.

I thank Deputy Aylward for his question. The CSO recently published a statistical report, Measuring Distance to Everyday Services in Ireland 2019, which shows how close people live to everyday facilities such as schools, hospitals, fire stations and public transport stops.

The report shows that the average distance to most everyday services was at least three times longer for rural dwellings compared to urban dwellings. People in counties Galway, Donegal, Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon had higher average distances to most everyday services compared to other counties.

This is why we need policies to support rural areas. It is estimated that 50% of the population live in settlements of fewer than 10,000 people and that rural-based enterprises support hundreds of thousands of jobs and contribute significantly to our national economy. Rural communities are also important guardians of our heritage, culture and natural environment. It is important that we ensure that people living in rural areas have reasonable access to services if they are to continue to live and work in rural Ireland.

Since 2017, the Action Plan for Rural Development has been delivering a wide range of measures across Departments and agencies to support job creation, invest in town and village renewal and improve the delivery of services in rural areas, taking account of the ever-changing nature of our society.

My Department is currently developing the next phase of rural policy to succeed the Action Plan for Rural Development which reaches the end of its life cycle this year. The new policy will reflect a whole-of-Government commitment to a range of matters impacting on rural Ireland.

My officials will reflect on the data in the recent CSO report in finalising that policy.

In the meantime, my Department will continue to support communities across Ireland through a range of activities and initiatives. The funding allocation for my Department has been increased from €291 million in 2019 to €308 million in 2020, reflecting my Department's ongoing commitment to supporting rural Ireland and communities more generally.

By the Minister's own admission, the latest CSO figures confirm that this Government is leaving rural Ireland behind with regard to service provision. The report published last week on the distance to everyday services in Ireland makes for very sobering reading. Rural dwellers face distances to most services that are at least three times greater than those faced by their urban counterparts. The average distance rural residents must travel to supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies or GP clinics is approximately seven times longer than that travelled by their urban counterparts. People in rural Ireland are facing longer commutes to work while the distances they must travel to medical facilities or 24-hour Garda stations are much more pronounced than in urban areas. These statistics are alarming and show how the Government is failing to deliver public policy solutions that improve public service provision and make living in rural Ireland attractive. What is most disappointing is the fact that these figures are not surprising. Under Fine Gael, rural Ireland has been abandoned and the aforementioned figures serve to highlight this. It is clear that the Government's much-referenced action plan is not delivering. The Minister must outline the steps being taken to rectify the imbalance across the country.

Rural Ireland was never more alive than it is today. The Deputy is quoting one set of CSO figures but I will give him another. The CSO has found that more people are working and living in rural Ireland now than since the foundation of the State.

The Department's funding allocation-----

I only quoted figures from the CSO-----

One moment. I did not interrupt the Deputy.

Allow the Minister, please.

I know Deputy Aylward does not want to hear this but my Department's funding allocation is increasing from €291 million in 2019 to €308 million in 2020. To date the rural regeneration scheme has provided €148 million, plenty of which went into Deputy Aylward's county, for 110 projects worth a total of €212 million. Almost 2,500 LEADER projects will have been approved by the end of 2019 and we expect 80% of the €164 million allocated for projects will be approved. The spend to date under the town and village renewal scheme is €11.2 million, while funding under CLÁR is €14.8 million. The community services programme has disbursed €49 million while €43 million has been spent under SICAP. A total of €4.5 million has been spent to date under the community enhancement programme. There was never as much money going into rural Ireland. This Department is working well and is delivering. I assure Deputy Aylward that rural Ireland is vibrant and alive, with great people working and living in our rural communities.

Statistics are great and the way they are used-----

Kilkenny is a great place.

The Minister is a great story teller and the way he tells it is great but for people living in rural Ireland, the story is not so good. I do not begrudge people in Dublin and other urban areas their fair share of Government funding. My issue is with the imbalance in terms of what is being spent in rural Ireland. We are crying out for broadband and for transport providing connectivity from village to village. Under the PSO we had transport services which have now been stopped. We need those services back. Rural Ireland is no different to urban Ireland in terms of need. People need to get from A to B, C, D and E. The Minister must admit that there are not enough transport services being provided in rural Ireland. The Minister can shout loudly and quote all the statistics he likes but the facts tell a different story. People in rural Ireland need more connectivity and more services.

The Minister has just one minute in which to respond.

I would need more than a minute to answer but I will do my best. Fianna Fáil took away most of the services when it was in government but its members forget that. Post offices-----

Fine Gael has been in government for nine years.

Fianna Fáil took away most of the services when it was in government-----

Will we go back to 1932 altogether?

It ran the economy into the ground.

(Interruptions).

I have one question for the Deputy opposite. Is he going to support this Government's broadband plan or is he going to say one thing here in Dublin and another in Kilkenny? Is he going to support us?

We have signed the contract. Will Fianna Fáil support us on broadband?

There is no broadband.

(Interruptions).

It was €3 billion. It may be €5 billion before it is over.

I am glad this is not happening in Christmas week.

Community Development Projects Funding

Joan Burton

Ceist:

13. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the discussions held with Fingal County Council, the archdiocese of Dublin and the local community in Hartstown regarding the building works needed for a centre (details supplied) to continue operating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50617/19]

Joan Burton

Ceist:

28. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the discussions his Department has held with Fingal County Council and the local community in Huntstown regarding the fire safety and structural remedial works needed on a centre (details supplied) in order for it to continue operating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50616/19]

I have a very easy question for the Minister. What is he going to do to assist the very large communities in Huntstown and Hartstown? I realise they are not rural areas, but community centres in both areas are at risk of closure following fire inspections and urgently need work done. I raised the matter previously with the Minister. Fingal County Council has tried to be helpful. Does the Minister's Department have money for urban areas? These are big urban areas with large populations. Crèches and preschools there will close unless the Department comes forward with funding.

I am trying to ensure there is time for another Deputy to ask a question. I ask Deputy Burton to co-operate.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 28 together.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I am aware of the situation regarding Hartstown and Huntstown community centres and know how important the centres are to the people there.

Community facilities are funded from a range of sources across various Departments and agencies. For example, my Department has provided funding to Huntstown community centre under the community services and community enhancement programmes. My officials have been in discussions with Fingal County Council regarding the two centres. I am aware that both have specific and exceptional funding requirements.

I was previously asked about the possibility of opening a national fund to support community centres with emergency funding requirements for fire safety works. I stated that, given the constraints on my Department's voted funding, it was not possible for me to open a new line of national funding for that purpose. However, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that under the dormant accounts action plan for 2020 I have put in place a very modest fund of €250,000 to assist in a limited number of particularly critical cases. Given the large number of community centres, it is not possible for this fund to support a national programme of remediation works. However, it will allow me to make a contribution towards the costs of works in a small number of exceptionally urgent and critical cases. In that regard, I am prepared to examine what level of funding can be provided to the two centres referenced by the Deputy.

I thank the Minister for his reply and the promise of potential funding, albeit possibly not of the scale required. He is correct to accept that there is significant pressure on community centres to meet very intensive and expensive fire survey review requirements, particularly those imposed by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The centres to which I refer serve urban areas west of Blanchardstown Centre with populations of between 7,000 and 10,000. Approximately 70,000 people go through each centre per year. What do they have to do to access funding from the dormant accounts fund? This issue has been raised at community meetings. I would welcome the Minister's advice on the matter.

I have made clear that I am prepared to support the two communities in question, but my Department does not have the required amount of funding. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the local authorities must play their part. Deputy Calleary earlier raised the issue of other Departments running to my Department when there is a crisis. I do not have enough funding to provide for all requests. I found funding for an exceptional case which was raised with me. My officials are in discussions with the local authority. It will have to step up to the plate, as will the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and other Departments. The alternative is for the Government to establish and support a specific fund. I do not have the resources to so do. I have allocated a certain amount of funding to try to deal with some of the critical cases and that is all I can do.

The local authority will now be aware that funding will be available from the dormant accounts fund on a limited basis, as well as from the Minister's Department. These issues are being experienced all over the country. Crèches and other services must obtain a fire certificate in order to get an operating licence. Fire safety is important. As the Minister is aware, the inspections are expensive and the work is particularly expensive. These are just two of many centres that will be seeking support. I acknowledge that the allocation of funding may be a decision for the Government as a whole. The Minister referred to the role of other Departments. We must ensure that crèches and preschools adjacent to local primary schools in the heart of local communities are not closed. It would be a black mark against the Government if that were allowed to happen. As Minister with responsibility for community affairs, Deputy Ring might take leadership on the issue.

I have responsibility for community affairs, including the community services programme, from which the areas to which the Deputy refers are benefiting. My Department is responsible for the community enhancement programme and the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP. However, I will not take responsibility for the repair of halls all over the country. I do not have the budget to so do. There is a problem and I am trying to deal with it, but it is not solely the remit of my Department. A cross-Government approach needs to be taken and funding must be found.

Local authorities must not simply pass this issue to my Department or the Government. They have funding and responsibilities. There are certain difficulties in this area relating to local authorities, the church or other groups holding title and deeds. That does not mean that every problem comes into my Department. I will try to deal with part of this issue for the Deputy, but I will not take responsibility for every community hall. That is what the LEADER and community enhancement programmes are for. The community services programme is available to assist with staffing and the SICAP may be availed of. My Department and the Government are looking after those who need to be looked after.

Rural Development Policy

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

14. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development when the interim progress reports of each of the six relevant local authorities in respect of the town and village pilot residential occupancy scheme will be published; when the final report will be published; the progress of the scheme to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50639/19]

When will the interim reports regarding the six relevant local authorities involved in the very important town and village pilot residential occupancy scheme be published? I have previously raised this very important pilot project with the Minister. We need to learn from it and roll it out. What is its status?

The pilot scheme to encourage increased residential occupancy in rural towns and villages was launched in October 2018. Funding of up to €100,000 is being made available to each of the six towns involved in the pilot to assist them in developing innovative proposals to encourage town centre living. It is intended that the lessons learned through the pilot will help to inform the future approach to support for and investment in rural towns and villages. It is envisaged that the pilot could lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the rural regeneration and development fund.

Representatives from each of the participating towns have met collectively on a regular basis to discuss the issues emerging from their work on the scheme. This included a workshop hosted by my Department in September which was also attended by experts on the topic.

In June of this year, I received an interim progress report from each of the local authorities involved in the pilot scheme. It was not intended that these reports would be published as they were preliminary in nature and part of an ongoing process. A further and more comprehensive report on the issues identified through the pilot, as well as suggested courses of action, is being prepared for my Department. I expect to receive a draft of the report later this month. Once I have considered it, I intend to make the final report available for publication in the new year.

The Deputy may wish to note that officials from my Department and the local authorities involved in the pilot discussed progress on the initiative with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development at its meeting on 13 November. The transcript of the meeting will provide an indication of the progress being made by the various towns in the pilot.

I thank the Minister for the update. I welcome that a final report will be published in the new year. I ask the Minister to confirm that will be done. This is a very important project. I was concerned that County Galway had been completely ignored by the project, but the Minister explained it is a pilot project which will be considered further. This is an urgent matter, as the Minister, who is even more familiar than I am with many of the towns in question, is aware. In a previous question, I referred to the villages of Kilmaine and Shrule. Many other towns and villages throughout Galway, such as Carraroe or Carna, as well as the islands, could benefit from this project. It is vital that the report is published, we learn from it and we roll it out.

It will be published in the new year. Galway was not ignored. I picked six towns, but I could have picked 60. They are Boyle, Callan, Ballinrobe, Banagher, Castleblayney and Cappoquin. I tried to spread it around the country. The most important thing is that the report is being done. We want to see what it will contain and then I will have to go to the Government with regard to its recommendations. These people have met and they appeared before the committee. I am looking forward to seeing the report and I will publish it. I want to publish any reports we have produced, whatever they contain. This report is not ready yet but will be ready early in the new year.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.