Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Ceisteanna (33)

Dara Calleary


33. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the EU funding supports available for regional development. [22887/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Rural)

Is there any chance of a few bob for a microphone because somebody's microphone must not be working in view of all this roaring? Here is a fact for the Minister; the EU has downgraded the Border, midland and western, BMW, region from developed to a region in transition after an independent analysis of the GDP figures for the period 2015 to 2017. This proves what we all know but we now need to act. Are opportunities available for that? The Minister cannot do this on his own. We need a whole-of-Cabinet approach to rebalancing regional growth in this country. Those figures show that it is not happening.

The development of Ireland's regions is a shared priority across Government and a core objective of Project Ireland 2040. The main EU funding streams for cohesion policy and regional development include: the European Regional Development Fund, which is managed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; the European Social Fund, which is overseen by the Department of Education and Skills; the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which is delivered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, which is also overseen by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

As far as my Department is concerned, EU funding to support regional development is provided through LEADER and the PEACE IV programmes. Some EU funding is also provided to my Department from the European Social Fund under the SICAP programme.

LEADER contributes significantly to the development of rural communities and businesses. Almost 2,000 projects with a value of €69 million have been approved under the current LEADER programme. LEADER is funded through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

PEACE IV is a cross-Border programme for the period 2014 to 2020 that supports peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border counties of the Republic of Ireland. Overall responsibility for the programme rests with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, my Department is accountable for three of the four measures under the programme. The total funding allocated to date under these measures is approximately €179 million.

Both LEADER and PEACE IV make a significant contribution to the development of the regions.

I would like more information on the EU's decision to downgrade the BMW region from developed to a region in transition. When was the Department informed of that decision and what will be the consequences of that decision? The Minister outlined the various funds to which the Department has access. There are proposals in the European Commission to reduce some of those funds. For example, cohesion funding could potentially be cut by 13%, while there is a €1 billion cut on the table for the CAP, which funds LEADER, particularly in the context of Brexit and the departure of the UK. What role is the Department playing to protect those funds and defend rural and urban communities from bearing the brunt of cuts to those funds? What role is the Government playing in the negotiations on the new multi-annual financial framework to ensure that communities, rural and urban, will not take the brunt of these cuts?

My role is very simple. When funding is coming from Europe and being allocated to each Department, my role as Minister for Rural and Community Development is to rural-proof the spending of same at Government level. It is my job to make sure that rural Ireland and, as Deputy Curran consistently argues, the community sector, are given due consideration. The community sector is very important, particularly in disadvantaged areas and I must make sure that the funding made available to every single Department is rural, urban and community proofed. I must make sure that we get the funding we require and that every other Minister understands the issues on the ground. The Deputy is quite correct in saying that this is not just an issue for one Minister. I cannot be the only Minister dealing with the development of rural and urban communities. There must be a combined, across-Government approach. All Departments must support me and must ensure that a fair percentage of the funding available to them is invested in things like the SICAP, LEADER and other programmes that focus on disadvantaged communities, particularly in rural Ireland. We must ensure that we develop the regions.

I ask the Minister to address the issue of the downgrading of the BMW region. When was he informed of that and what consequences will it have? I agree with what the Minister just said but the fact remains that the funds to which he refers are under threat. Decisions on these funds will be made and the groundwork for the next EU budget will be done during the summer period. We need to know that the Minister will be involved in those decisions and negotiations and that the Taoiseach, in the context of the current negotiations on various jobs within the European Commission, is standing up for these funds because they are the only source of money for many rural and urban communities. We must be sure that someone stands up for these funds and that we are awake to the threat of losing them. I have no doubt that the Minister is awake to that threat but I seek assurances that there is a cross-Government approach to protecting these funds in the context of the EU budget negotiations.

That is why we provided funding for the Atlantic Economic Corridor, AEC, task force, which is advising the Government. The Deputy is correct in what he says but Commissioner Hogan understands the issues here. Indeed, at one time, he had responsibility for this Department and understands the difficulties and problems. He will be supporting us in every way he can. The Deputy is quite correct-----

Will the Government renominate him?

I do not have that power-----

Will the Minister write him a reference?

All I can say is that he has done an excellent job and I wish him well but the decision in that regard is above my pay scale. The Deputy is quite correct to point out that it is important that we continue to focus on the rural and community sectors. My Department must focus on accessing whatever funds are available at European level. The current Commissioner has an understanding of what is involved here because at one point in time he had a similar job in another brief.