Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Departmental Schemes

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

80. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if she will increase funding to the local improvement scheme to meet demand; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38936/21]

Events have now superseded this question. It was to ask the Minister about increasing funding for the local improvement scheme, LIS. I welcome the recent announcement that funding for this year will be doubled. This provides the Minister with an opportunity to tell us more about that doubling of investment.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The local improvement scheme supports the improvement of rural roads and laneways that are not normally maintained by local authorities but which represent vital infrastructure for rural residents. The scheme is funded by my Department and is administered through the local authorities. Nearly 2,400 roads have already been funded for repair works since the scheme was relaunched in 2017. Prior to then there was no funding for this scheme for a number of years. I launched the 2021 LIS on 14 May with funding of €10.5 million. This represented a 5% increase compared with last year.

As part of Our Rural Future, the Government committed to ensuring that the local improvement scheme is funded in the future. This reflects the important contribution that the scheme makes to connectivity in rural Ireland. It is against this background that I am pleased to confirm that I recently announced the allocation of a further €10.5 million to the local improvement scheme in 2021 to bring the level of funding to €21 million. This means that the level of funding is being doubled this year compared with the original allocation. This increase will be funded from expected savings elsewhere in my Department.

I continue to engage with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to explore the potential for further financial support from his Department. My Department is currently ascertaining the capacity of each local authority to deliver this additional funding and to complete works on additional roads before the year's end. Following this engagement, I expect to announce the additional allocations to individual counties shortly. This announcement will mean that almost €80 million will have been allocated under the local improvement scheme since it was re-introduced in 2017. This demonstrates the Government's commitment to improving connectivity in rural Ireland as outlined in Our Rural Future.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I welcome that new investment and increase in funding for the local improvement scheme because it is a vital scheme for access to homes and farms in rural areas via rural roads and laneways. A colleague in this House asked for the numbers of local authorities that had a waiting list until now but those figures were not available. Galway County Council has received 241 valid applications and the funding it has received up until now will allow 28 of those projects to proceed. It is clear that there is significant demand. That is just one local authority. I imagine that it is similar across the State. It is especially important for really rural counties such as Roscommon and Galway where there is a need and demand for the local improvement scheme. Will the newly announced funding cover the entire backlog?

I thank the Deputy. There was €10 million for the LIS in 2020, so I have more than doubled that this year, with funding of €21 million being made available. That is a 110% increase in funding, which is not bad going. I know the Deputy acknowledges that. I accept that the lists are long nationwide. That is why I have not been found wanting when it comes to providing additional funding. I am familiar with it. Like Deputy Kerrane, I am from a rural constituency and I know the benefit of this scheme. The Deputy will be aware that the LIS was previously funded by the Department of Transport and she will appreciate that that Department has a sizeable capital budget compared with my Department. I believe that the Department of Transport has a role to play here. If it started to provide matched funding, we could start to make inroads into these waiting lists. I have raised the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and I think he is open to the idea, but he has to discuss it with his own officials in the Department of Transport.

Does the Minister know what the backlog is? She is doubling investment in the scheme. Galway County Council had 241 valid applications and 213 could not be moved. Will Galway County Council be able to cover those projects with this new funding? I welcome what the Minister said about matched funding. She has engaged with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, which is welcome. Does she see that engagement coming to fruition and providing funding next year or ahead of the budget in October? I assume she intends to proceed with matched funding and that will be her intention in future for the local improvement scheme.

I do not have the details of every county but my officials have liaised with local authorities and asked how many lanes they can deliver. When I launched the scheme on 14 May, local authorities were given until 11 June to provide a list of roads to be completed. All of those have now been received and approved, with one exception, which is Westmeath, for some reason. We have shown flexibility for local authorities that required more time. Local authorities will now be able to claim up to 10% of the net cost. My officials have contacted local authorities again and asked them for another list for additional funding. They want to know that local authorities can give a clear commitment that they will be able to finish those roads by the end of the year. I do not want local authorities to submit applications for funding that they cannot deliver on. I want the money to be spent. We will distribute the funding across the different counties for those that are able to spend it on roads.

Question No. 81 replied to with Written Answers.

Men's Sheds

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

82. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if she will examine the possibility of establishing a funding stream under her Department for an organisation (details supplied) which is a lifeline for persons especially in rural communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38937/21]

I ask the Minister if she will examine re-introducing a funding stream in her Department for men's sheds across the State. There is a wonderful, growing organisation, but it is struggling since it does not have a funding stream. It applies for funding here, there and everywhere. Sometimes it gets funding and sometimes it does not. It would be great to see a definite and direct funding stream as was previously in place for our men's sheds, which do wonderful work across the State.

The emergence of men's sheds in recent years has been a positive development for communities across Ireland. They provide a safe, comfortable and inclusive environment where people of all ages can share skills, work on meaningful projects and connect with their communities. My Department is providing a range of supports which both men's and women's sheds can avail of, depending on the works being completed. For example, in May, I launched the 2021 community enhancement programme with funding of €4.5 million. The programme provides small grants to community groups to enhance their facilities and for the reopening of facilities.

The social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, has provided supports to more than 200 men's sheds since 2018, with small grants totalling over €80,000 being awarded to 69 men's sheds. This support will continue to be available throughout the current iteration of SICAP, which runs until 2023. Additionally, funding for men's sheds may be available through the €70 million LEADER transitional programme which was launched by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, earlier this year. This programme, which will cover the period from 2021 to 2022, came into effect on 1 April for new project applications. Crucially, the scheme to support national organisations provides multi-annual core funding to national organisations in the community and voluntary sector. The Irish Men's Sheds Association has been allocated €270,000 over the 36-month period of the scheme, which commenced in July 2019 and which will run to July 2022. These funding supports are available to all community groups, including men's and women's sheds, and I have no plans to establish a separate funding stream.

As the Minister of State knows, a stream of funding under that very community enhancement programme was in place, which was extended to women's sheds in 2019. That funding has not been in place since. I am not speaking about the community enhancement programme, which I acknowledge the Minister of State referenced and is in place, but the direct stream of funding for men's sheds under that scheme that is no longer available. I acknowledge that there are many different grants and schemes across both rural and community development but it is very difficult for members of men's sheds to have to apply for this and that grant. They might get it this year and not get it the next. It is not sustainable and the funding available to them is not guaranteed. Many men's sheds have major overheads, for example, some are paying up to €1,500 in insurance. These men's sheds provide such a valuable and vital source of support in rural communities for many people who live alone and who otherwise may be isolated. I again ask the Minister of State to consider making available the direct funding stream under the community enhancement programme.

While that was a one-off funding round, men's sheds are a testament to the vibrancy of the community and voluntary sector in continually identifying new areas of need. The men's shed movement has been one of the stand-out exceptional examples over the past few years. However, other Departments and agencies are funding men's sheds, which is a good thing and ensures their future growth. The Irish Men's Sheds Association, for example, also receive funding from other sources. In 2019, it received funding of €243,000 for core costs from the HSE under the healthy sheds programme and €43,000 from Sláintecare under the Sheds for Life programme. Sheds for Life is a community-based health promotion programme aimed at supporting the physical, mental and social well-being of men's sheds members. The programme has been designed by the Irish Men's Sheds Association, the HSE and men's health experts and developed in association with sheds' members and leading experts in the field of men's sheds.

The vital work that men's sheds and the support they offer, especially in remote and rural areas, is very important. It will be even more important now as we emerge from the Covid pandemic. I had the pleasure of visiting the men's shed in Ballaghaderreen last week, which is a really wonderful support for men in the town and outside it. It is replicated in 460 sheds throughout the State. I met with the Irish Men's Sheds Association, which the Minister of State referenced, yesterday. Its members are putting together their pre-budget submission. I ask the Minister of State to look at that submission and consider it in light of the budget. The association has just seven paid staff members for 460 sheds throughout the State. It has been inundated with calls from men looking to get back into the sheds post Covid, which is something that is very positive. The association also runs a health and well-being programme that makes a real difference in the lives of men. We know that sometimes, going to the doctor or getting a health check is a big thing for a man. The fact that it is available in the likes of the men's sheds where they are comfortable and feel safe is so important. That mental health role is critical.

I reiterate and double down on the Deputy's recognition of the value of the men's sheds programme. It is an extraordinary group. In the stability fund last year, we provided the national organisation with a €70,000 grant. As community groups go, it is very vibrant. Looking at how the number of member groups has grown in the past ten years, they went from 40 in 2011 and increased to 100, then to 160 and to 237 before reaching 435 in 2018 and, as the Deputy said, are up to 460 now. If not for the pandemic last year, I have no doubt but that they would be growing stronger again. It is a grassroots movement, which is very good and healthy and what will sustain it over time. Different funding streams will also help it in future. The scheme to support national organisations, SSNO, is core support we provide to the national organisation but having different funding streams will stand to men's sheds and will stand the test of time.

Departmental Programmes

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

83. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the funding her Department makes available for the development and upgrading of playgrounds. [38168/21]

The past year has highlighted the significance of community facilities. Playgrounds are important for children as spaces for physical activity, development and socialisation. However, too many towns and villages do not have playgrounds. To be fair, most do, even if they are the bare minimum. However, most prominently in west Cork, Bandon, with a population of almost 7,000 and which is the most populated town in what is quite a large constituency, does not have a playground. What funding does the Minister's Department have in place to build playgrounds?

I thank Deputy Cairns for raising this issue. As she said, playgrounds are an important resource with positive impacts for communities. Funding provided by the community enhancement programme provides small grants to community groups to enhance facilities, including playgrounds, in disadvantaged areas. Funding is allocated by my Department to each local authority area, and the local community development committee, with support from their local authority, administers the funding in that area. In 2021, total funding of €4.5 million is available, with €156,299 of this allocated to the Cork County Council area, for example.

Additionally, funding for playgrounds may be available through the €70 million LEADER transitional programme, which I launched earlier this year. This funding supports locally-led projects, which focus on delivering on the key themes of Our Rural Future, the Government's ambitious plan for rural Ireland, such as building capacity and empowering local communities, supporting remote working, developing our outdoor amenities and creating jobs in rural areas. The LEADER programme is delivered through local action groups, LAGs, in each of the 28 LEADER sub-regional areas around the country.

Finally, the CLÁR programme, with an allocation of €5.5 million in funding in 2021, provides funding for small-scale projects in designated rural areas. Measure 2 of the 2021 CLÁR programme supports outdoor community recreation facilities, including the enhancement of existing, and-or the development of, new accessible outdoor community recreation facilities, including playgrounds, skateboard parks and multi-use games areas, MUGAs. The closing date for receipt of applications for 2021 has now passed. The assessment of the applications received is ongoing and I expect to make an announcement on the approved projects in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister for her response and for outlining her support for playgrounds and other community facilities. I highlighted the case of Bandon due to the clear need for a playground there. It is thanks to massive work from volunteers that there is a plan for a fantastic inclusive space for children, including a sensory garden. The land has been donated by Cork Marts and the community has already raised an incredible €60,000, which includes money raised by a group of girls who ran a bake sale recently, money tins being distributed to all housing estates and local businesses making donations.

However, we all know they should not have to raise the money. They should have a playground and, given they do not, there should be an easily accessible fund for this vital infrastructure. They are working with me, other public representatives and the council to ensure the necessary funding to make this playground a reality. They have been looking for this funding going back to when I was on the council but it just has not materialised. As I said, Bandon is a big town with many children in it. When the applications come through the Department and the Minister is making that announcement, the people of Bandon would really appreciate her support.

The Deputy is right in stating that Bandon is a fine town and it should have good playground facilities. However, in many cases, applications have not been put in. That is often a problem as we must get quality applications. All of them are assessed when they come in. I do not know the specific reason Bandon has not received funding but there are many different sources of funding it should be looking for, such as the CLÁR programme. I am not too sure if Bandon is in a CLÁR area or not, but that programme is available and has funded numerous playgrounds for schools in the community. The funding available for that is up to €50,000. Many projects in Cork have benefited from the CLÁR programme. The community enhancement programme, through which small grants are distributed by local authorities, gives funding to upgrade equipment and, possibly, buy new equipment. It is a very useful fund. If people want to fund green spaces and family amenities in the town, we have also supported playgrounds through the town and village fund.

The people of Bandon and I also do not know why they have not received funding yet. As I said, they are very dedicated to acquiring the site by themselves and have raised €60,000 so I agree it does not make sense. A few weeks ago, I ran a consultation project with national schools throughout Cork South West, including those in Bandon, regarding the county development plan. Every school highlighted the need for more facilities for young people, with playgrounds being one of the most valued amenities. In addition to Bandon, Belgooly and other villages need playgrounds and places like Clonakilty need extensions to their facilities to cater for the growing population.

Playgrounds are too often overlooked when it comes to important infrastructure for children, young people and parents. I encourage the Minister to bring a particular focus to these facilities in her consideration of the funding mechanisms. The recent rural development policy refers to a lack of tailored amenities for younger children. I appeal to the Minister specifically to ensure that playgrounds are funded as part of this approach.

I do not have specific information on the area the Deputy raised. Many playgrounds have been funded, however. I have had the pleasure to visit many of them and I have seen the benefits they bring to schools and communities. In addition to the funding that is provided through my Department, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, launched the summer of play initiative. The initiative will roll out grants, information resources and other supports over the summer months to early learning and childcare centres to improve their outdoor spaces for play, as well as funding local authorities to improve parks and playgrounds. Let's Play Ireland 2021 resources are available at gov.ie/letsplayireland. The initial announcement of the summer of play initiative included €6 million in funding for outdoor play areas and parks. This will support more families to get outside with their children. I encourage the group in question to apply for that source of funding, which is, I believe, open. Several streams are available and people should engage. I am happy to engage with Deputy Cairns on it.

Voluntary Sector

Paul Donnelly

Ceist:

84. Deputy Paul Donnelly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if it will be ensured that a dedicated training and development strategy is developed and fully funded for the charitable, voluntary and community sectors in budget 2022. [38989/21]

Will the Minister ensure that a dedicated training and development strategy is developed and fully funded for the charitable, voluntary and community sector in budget 2022? As we know, training is not a luxury. It is essential for all community, voluntary and charity sector projects to enable them to deliver a quality service.

Building capacity and training opportunities for the community and voluntary sector is key to realising the intent of sustainable, inclusive and empowered communities, the Government's five-year strategy to support the sector. The strategy details clear commitments in respect of training. Action 2.1 commits to support community groups and organisations to identify and meet their training needs. It commits to implement a formal programme of training to meet these needs and support capacity in groups and organisations. Action 2.2 commits to design, promote and implement a comprehensive programme to support capacity among leaders, board members and volunteers of community and voluntary organisations, including voluntary board members of local and community development organisations. Action 2.3 commits to support capacity in public participation networks, in particular in respect of the social inclusion colleges. Action 2.4 commits to develop education and training mechanisms based on the all-Ireland standards for community work for those charged with implementing and monitoring community development.

The implementation plan agreed for 2021 includes a modular research project into the training needs of the sector and this is under way. There are three separate reports. The first will examine the training needs of the local community development committees in preparation for the local economic and community plan, LECP, reviews. The second will involve an assessment of the skills gap of voluntary boards of mid-sized organisations. The third will involve an assessment of skills gaps across smaller community and voluntary groups. I expect the recommendations arising from these research reports will feed in to further considerations across government on how best to support the training and development needs of the sector.

In the meantime, training for the sector is being addressed in a number of other ways across my Department and across government, with tailored supports as required that have been identified in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders.

I appreciate the answer given by the Minister of State in respect of the training needs and proposals outlined. One major concern has been whether these schemes will be funded. We get copious reports, documents and proposals relating to many different schemes, but the proof of the pudding will be in whether the funding will be available to deliver the quality training to which the Minister of State referred.

Some current projects have been unable to provide much-needed training for their workers during the past ten years to enable them to continue in their roles and prevent them from being poached by bigger organisations that have the capacity to deliver such training.

I draw attention to some training programmes that are ongoing. The Charities Regulator launched its annual report today. The regulator provides a suite of free training options and free guidance that all charities can access. Community Work Ireland funding was provided last year to the All Ireland Endorsement Body for Community Work Education and Training to raise the standards of community development work throughout the country.

Public participation networks, PPNs, are a particularly important on which to focus. I mention these because there is funding available for PPNs. Member groups are often small informal groups to start with but when they come into the PPN structure they get support. We are conducting a root and branch review of PPN structures to figure out the needs of the various organisations so that we can back them up with the training they need. Grassroots and small local groups are where the need for training and support is greatest. That is the area we are focusing on this year.

I understand and acknowledge the Minister of State's comments on PPNs and other aspects of training. The focus is on community, voluntary and charity groups. I have been involved in projects over the years which have specific and ongoing training needs. One example involves supporting older drug users and others include community development projects supporting vulnerable communities. The training is ongoing. A budget awarded for a project at the beginning of the year enables them to provide that quality training. What is happening is that bigger organisations, such as Tusla and the HSE, can provide the training. People are going to them because of the professional development they need to ensure they, too, can provide the service.

I am open to hearing where there are gaps. Our initial plans this year are based on agreement with the cross-sectoral group that oversees the national strategy. Various community and voluntary sectors are represented on that group. It has prioritised the three areas that I have mentioned. We are, therefore, taking our lead from it.

As the Deputy knows, the community and voluntary sector is wide and diverse. We are one Department in the mix. Often, the key relationship for many community and voluntary organisations is not with us but with the relevant lead Departments. Responsibilities arise in that regard as well. I am not passing the buck but making the point that there are opportunities. I would be happy to push the relevant Department if the key relationship is with another Department and training that should be provided is not being provided. I am happy for any such cases to be brought to my attention.

I outlined the three priorities we have agreed with the sector, broadly speaking. The PPNs are also a priority, as there is a clear need in that area also.