Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Ceisteanna (44)

James Browne


44. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to review the CLÁR areas based on the 2016 census returns; the timeline for the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51732/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Rural)

I ask the Minister his plans to review CLÁR areas based on the 2016 census.

The CLÁR programme was originally launched in October 2001 to provide for targeted investment in disadvantaged rural areas. The areas originally selected for inclusion in the programme 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 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.

The CLÁR programme was closed for new applications in 2010. However, I relaunched the programme in the second half of 2016, using as a baseline the areas identified in the work carried out by NIRSA. Over 1,200 projects have been approved for funding of €25 million under CLÁR since I relaunched the programme in 2016.

I have now initiated a review of the CLÁR programme which will, in particular, examine CLÁR areas in light of the 2016 census of population data. The review process began on the 23 November with a targeted consultation meeting with a number of people who are recognised for their background and expertise in respect of rural development issues. The review will also involve more detailed stakeholder consultation and will inform launches of the CLÁR programme in the future. I anticipate that the review will be completed in the first half of 2019.

I thank the Minister. As he knows, I have raised this issue a number of times since I was elected to the Dáil. There are only two counties outside of Dublin which are excluded from the CLÁR programme - Kildare and Wexford. That is partially because the CLÁR programme is still based on the 2002 census. We have had three censuses since then. A number of areas in Wexford would have been eligible for the CLÁR programme but have been excluded because of the reliance on the 2002 census. That has been deeply unfair to Wexford especially as it is consistently and unfortunately the third or fourth worst county in any assessment of disadvantage or socioeconomic assessment. To be excluded from a source of income is quite unfortunate.

To highlight another matter, CLÁR sometimes masks areas of concern. In areas along the south coast and into Wexford where there has been depopulation of young people, the overall population tends to remain stagnant because many retirees move down. Those retirees are very welcome but they can sometimes mask depopulation due to the departure of young people. Without young people our rural areas simply cannot progress. Perhaps the Minister might look at that in the future.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. He has raised it before. My first priority was to get the programme opened again, which I did. To be fair, using the census figures we are using does not really make sense. I now need to do the review. I want it done quickly. I need to look at ways and means. There might be other issues, such as the one the Deputy has just raised, we need to consider in including areas in the CLÁR programme. Things have changed in certain areas. One would have to question whether some parts of my own constituency which were in the original CLÁR programme should be in it now. There are other areas which should be in the programme which are not. I need to start looking at it. I need to start looking at ways and means to include areas where there is disadvantage and where there are issues which need to be dealt with. One good thing about the CLÁR programme is that it can actually be targeted at schemes. One can look at ways and means to target schemes. I like the scheme and I want it to continue but the census figures I am using now are out of date. I need to get new figures and I have done so. We have started consultation. I also want to get down to those at grassroots level, rather than just the professionals, to see what they have to say and to see if they come back with any ways and means to improve the CLÁR programme.

I welcome the Minister's intention to review the CLÁR programme and its use of census figures. I hope that the Minister will, as he stated, look at the deeper issues and ensure that the proper funding is targeted at areas of true disadvantage.

As already stated, the review process has commenced. I have the views of well-respected researchers from Maynooth University but I also want to talk to people on the ground. I want to talk to the practical operators who operate some of these schemes. As I said, the one thing I like about the CLÁR programme is that difficulties can be identified and schemes can be created to help and support communities that need help. It is a bit like what the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, was speaking about earlier.

Sometimes areas do not get what they should because they may not have the supports they need to be able to make the applications. That is something I will be looking at in this scheme.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----

We do not have time for the Deputy's question. I told Deputy Calleary that too and he was also waiting. I can take the question if Deputy McLoughlin will allow the Minister only to give the reply. The Minister can give the response to Question No. 47.

Question No. 45 answered with Question No. 42
Question No. 46 replied to with Written Answers