Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Ceisteanna (38)

Bernard Durkan


38. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans for the development of services within his portfolio in the coming years with particular reference to the need to develop and modernise services affecting rural Ireland and the Border regions; the extent to which he expects to be in a position to interact with and provide funding for voluntary community groups while, at the same time, enhancing the quality of services available through both the public and the private sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51861/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Rural)

My question is similar to my previous one. It relates to the extent to which infrastructure provision is being made throughout rural Ireland with a view to encouraging population to develop, ensuring the quality of life in rural Ireland is comparable to the best and ensuring the population will want to live, work and invest there.

The Department of Rural and Community Development was established to support the creation of vibrant and sustainable communities across the country, which supporting the development and promotion of the modern and efficient services needed for such communities to thrive is key to achieving.

The Department provides a wide range of supports to communities in rural Ireland, including in the Border regions, through funding programmes such as the rural regeneration and development fund, the town and village renewal scheme, the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme, the community services programme, libraries capital investment programme, the LEADER programme and others.

Local communities deserve much of the credit for harnessing these supports and driving and delivering economic growth regionally and in rural areas. The Government remains committed to funding to enable and facilitate access to the services that are necessary for communities to thrive in the 21st-century economy.

The Department is finalising an implementation plan for the framework policy for local and community development in Ireland, published in 2016. I am confident the implementation plan will propose actions that will support the local and community development sectors to continue providing valuable needed services to both urban and rural communities.

On support for voluntary community groups, my Department operates a number of programmes and schemes that provide funding and other supports, such as the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, LEADER and the community enhancement programme, which are open to those in the voluntary sector who satisfy the criteria during the application timeframes set for each scheme.

The Department's community and voluntary supports and programme provide a framework of supports for the community and voluntary sector, including support for 21 volunteer centres, eight volunteer information services and a number of volunteer-support organisations, such as Volunteer Ireland. My Department is supporting the upgrading of the volunteer information services to volunteer centres in 2019.

In addition, my Department recently issued a call for inputs to a paper on key aspects to be included in a national volunteering strategy, with a view to obtaining views from the sector in preparation for the development of a volunteering strategy in 2019.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Would it be possible to encourage the provision of what I would regard as basic locally required services, such as group water schemes, of which there is a significant dearth in many parts of the country, and the upgrading of many existing schemes and the provision of community facilities the modern dweller normally seeks throughout rural Ireland, in particular in the aftermath of Brexit when this country will come under pressure? The Border areas and Northern Ireland will come under pressure as well. There is a moral obligation on us in this part of this island to do what we can to enhance the facilities available and to make the country a better place in which to live and to visit.

LEADER, the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, community services, CLÁR, townland and village and outdoor recreation are departmental schemes to enhance communities and to make them more vibrant. Of course, we need to do more because we have had a significant deficit in the rural areas and they have suffered most. CLÁR is there to help the areas where there is a serious decline in population and to bring them on and make them more vibrant. Some communities are better at it than others so we need to work on that.

The Deputy mentioned the group water schemes. These have been the backbone of communities in rural Ireland and have brought services to the doors of many families which would not have been provided without the meitheal going on within parishes and half-parishes. When reviewing all these schemes, we will look to see how best we can develop them. For instance, we will look at the group water schemes to see if there is anything we can do to assist the local authorities in providing funding there. It is important we work across Departments to see how we can source the funding to make the communities better places to live, work and invest in.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. In regard to any discussions the Minister of State may have with the local authorities, there are indications to the effect that rural dwellers are being denied planning permission in their own areas. Since this is a very basic requirement, would it be possible to engage with the local authorities on this? If we do not have a rural population, we do not have a need for services and eventually everything will decay. That happened in the mid-west of the United States many years ago and it has happened in many other countries.

Will the Minister of State and the Department commit to an ongoing programme of creating an awareness of the necessity to ensure that all these areas in rural Ireland have the ability to absorb and to grow a population and to make a serious contribution to the community and economic life of the country?

The Deputy's sentiments are the same as the Minister's, mine and other Deputies present. It is exactly what we want to do. We want to provide equal opportunities for people. There are many opportunities for us. The Minister, myself and the Department meet regularly with local authorities. The very good councillors in the municipal districts bring forward the issues. There is a huge amount of work that we can do in these areas and I look forward to doing that with the local authorities, the Minister and the Department. It is something we discuss on an ongoing basis because we know what the issues are as we all come from rural Ireland. We know where the issues coming from rural Ireland are. We need to make sure we identify the problems and find solutions to them. The local authorities will be of great assistance there.