Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Ceisteanna (110)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

190 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress to date in his Department in advancing measures to support rural development through the provision of community focused schemes and in particular to support rural enterprise. [3254/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs)

My Department is committed to maintaining the maximum number of people in rural areas and to strengtheningrural communities economically, socially and culturally. Government policy on rural development is set out in the White Paper published in 1999. As an integral part of this process my Department operates a number of programmes, as set out below, designed to assist rural development, including support for rural enterprises.

The Leader programmes are EU programmes in place to encourage the implementation of integrated, high-quality and innovative strategies in rural communities, including a number of rural enterprise projects. Some 22 local action groups throughout the country deliver the EU Leader+ initiative. The allocation for Leader+ for the period 2000 to 2006 is €73.6 million which is co-funded by the EU. The Leader national rural development programme closely complements the Leader+ initiative and is operated by 13 local groups in areas of the country not covered by Leader+. It also provides nationwide coverage for rural and agricultural tourism and focuses more on mainstream activities. The allocation for 2000 to 2006 is €75.7 million which is also co-funded by the EU.

There is provision of €42.2 million in my Department's Vote to support local development social inclusion measures. Funding is allocated to area partnerships and community groups to deliver the local development social inclusion programme, LDSIP, under three measures — services for the unemployed, community based youth initiatives and community development. An element of this funding is provided to rural enterprises.

My Department's responsibilities also include the rural development aspects of the joint cross-Border programmes PEACE and INTERREG as well as the farm relief services measure of the national development plan. The rural measures under these programmes aim to foster the economic and social development of rural communities. Projects supported by the programmes are community based as well as focused on farm diversification.

Total funding of €7.351 million is being provided under the rural development measures of the PEACE II programme during the period 2000-2004. Support is available for cross-Border and cross-community development and the development of agri-diversification projects.

Under the INTERREG Ireland-Northern Ireland rural initiative measure support is available to rural businesses and communities to engage in developing the economic and social sustainability of the region and to promote the development and expansion of cross-Border businesses through integrated local area based projects with a strategic focus in geographically defined areas of rural disadvantage. Total funding of €18 million is being provided for the period 2000-2006.

Total funding of €10 million is being provided under the rural initiative measure of the joint INTERREG Ireland-Wales programme for the period 2000-2006. Under the programme support is being provided in the eligible area for joint projects promoting rural business skills, rural tourism, rural health and on and off-farm diversification to complement agricultural activities.

The development of Gaeltacht areas, which are mainly rural, is actively supported by the activities of Údarás na Gaeltachta. An tÚdarás promotes enterprise and community focused schemes and provides assistance to Gaeltacht community co-operatives.

The measures I have introduced under the CLÁR programme support physical, economic and social infrastructure across a variety of measures. These measures reflect the priorities identified by the communities in the selected areas whom I consulted at the outset.

The measures with a community focus are group water schemes, group sewerage schemes, local improvement scheme roads, village enhancement schemes, local authority housing estate enhancement schemes, bi-lingual signage schemes, top-up schemes, sports capital grants and community initiatives schemes. Those with particular reference to rural enterprise are the single phase to three phase electricity conversion scheme, wireless based Internet service for selected projects in the Border, midland and regional assembly area, call for broadband proposals in 15 CLÁR locations and fibre optic network supply in Belmullet, County Mayo and Dungloe, County Donegal.

In September 2003 I announced that Fitzpatrick Associates, economic consultants, had been appointed to carry out a review of enterprise support in rural areas. This review aims to analyse official enterprise support, including tourism enterprise, already available in rural areas. The greater Dublin area, as well as gateways, hubs and their areas of influence, were excluded from the analysis to ensure that the focus remained on regions that have not benefited from urban-generated economic growth. I hope to receive the completed report later this month.