Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 15 to 18, inclusive, resubmitted.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Questions Nos. 20 to 25, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 26 to 29, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (19)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

19. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he spoke with Prime Minister May in relation to her upcoming vote on the withdrawal treaty Bill in June 2019 while in Paris. [22083/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I travelled to Paris on 15 May for an event co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in response to the terrorist attack on the Muslim community in Christchurch. I had the opportunity to speak with Prime Minister May and other leaders in the margins of the event. Prime Minister May expressed her hope at that stage that she would be able to secure support in the House of Commons for her Withdrawal Bill. Of course, the situation is less clear now in light of her announcement that she will resign as PM in June. We agreed to keep in contact on the matter.

Questions Nos. 20 to 25, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 26 to 29, inclusive, answered orally.

Rural Transport Services

Ceisteanna (30)

Catherine Martin

Ceist:

30. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to develop better rural connectivity through increased funding to the transport measures of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23049/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

Responsibility for overall Government transport policy and funding lies with my colleague the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

This includes funding for the national road network and public transport services in rural areas.

Work being funded through Project Ireland 2040 and the National Development Plan underlines the Government’s commitment to ensuring that people living in rural Ireland remain connected with their local communities and beyond, through investment in public transport and the road network.

My Department provides some funding for transport measures which help connect those in rural areas.

These include the Local Improvement Scheme, a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas. I reintroduced the LIS in September 2017 and since then have allocated €48 million to the Scheme.

I have also provided €1.4 million under the CLÁR Programme for Supports for Mobility and Cancer Care Transport.

My Department also continues to provide funding for projects such as trails and blueways that may help connect rural towns and villages across the country under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme.

The €1 billion Rural Regeneration and Development Fund is currently open for applications and will consider applications for funding for the development of community or public facilities infrastructure including improvements to roads, bridges and car parking facilities but only in the context of wider rural regeneration projects.

Additionally, my Department is the coordinating Department in respect of the Action Plan for Rural Development. This all of Government Plan for rural Ireland contains a number of actions relating to improvements in transport services, the majority of which are delivered by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and agencies under their aegis.

We are now looking towards the next phase of rural development policy. We are currently consulting with stakeholders and interested parties around the country on the future policy and welcome all views on improving connectivity in rural Ireland as part of that process.

Departmental Programmes

Ceisteanna (31)

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

31. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to help communities which require assistance in formulating proposals for funding from the various programmes under his remit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22719/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

Communities across the country can access many different sources of funding and supports and I am delighted that many of these are delivered by my Department. 

The recent series of regional Rural Opportunity events highlighted the funding opportunities available to those in rural communities across Government. It was inspiring at these events to hear from people who have used Government supports to improve the quality of life in their communities. Government funding is being used to create jobs, develop community facilities and tourism offerings and generally improve quality of life for those in rural communities.  

The response to these events has been overwhelmingly positive to date and my hope is that individuals and communities will be encouraged to take their own ideas or projects forward.  

I want to do all I can to help communities access the funding that is available. I therefore asked my Department to review the applications process for a number of funding programmes to ensure it is understandable and fit for purpose.

I also know that there are some groups or community organisations that may not have considered seeking funding because they don’t have the experience of submitting funding applications or lack understanding of the criteria in place.

To help these groups, I am currently running a series of 'Helping Hands' events nationwide to make groups more aware of funding programmes, and to provide practical guidance on making applications. The fifth event was in Tullamore yesterday evening and the final event takes place in Darndale, in Dublin, tomorrow.

These events provide hints and tips on how to make a better funding application and how to identify local supports that community groups can draw upon.

My hope is that these events and other ongoing measures will ensure that our funding has the broadest possible reach and that all eligible groups have the opportunity to access available supports.

CLÁR Programme

Questions Nos. 33 to 40, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (32)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

32. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development when successful applications under 2019 CLÁR funding will be announced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22754/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The CLÁR programme provides funding for small scale infrastructural projects in disadvantaged rural areas that have experienced significant levels of de-population. Since I relaunched the programme in 2016, more than 1,200 projects have been approved funding of almost €27 million.

I launched the 2019 CLÁR programme on the 28th of February last, and invited applications under three separate measures.

Measure 1 provides support for "School and Community Safety Measures",

Measure 2 provides support for "Play Areas and Multi-Use Games Areas", and 

Measure 3 provides funding for "Community Wellbeing Support" . 

Community Wellbeing Support covers the provision of equipment and vehicles for voluntary first-response organisations, as well as the provision of specialist vehicles to bring people to cancer-care centres and other community-care services.  The measure will also provide funding for sensory gardens. 

The closing date for the 2019 CLÁR programme was 30th April, and almost 500 applications were received by my Department. 

My officials are currently assessing all of the applications received and I hope to be in a position to announce the successful projects shortly.

Questions Nos. 33 to 40, inclusive, answered orally.

Community Enhancement Programme Funding

Ceisteanna (41)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

41. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the level of funding under the community enhancement programme for 2019 compared to 2018; the number of additional projects that will be funded; if all funding has been allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22797/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

In 2018, I launched the Community Enhancement Programme with initial funding of €4.5m. The programme helps community groups to improve facilities in their area. It supports a range of investment in all areas of communities, such as childcare facilities, playgrounds, recreational facilities, sports grounds, landscaping projects, and supports for the elderly. 

in 2018, there was a huge level of interest in the programme right across the country following its launch.  So I was delighted to be in a position to allocate additional once-off funding to the programme later in the year and the final amount allocated was €13 million.  This included €0.5 million that was ring-fenced for Men's Sheds.   

Over 3,000 projects across the country were funded, all of them targeted at enhancing facilities in disadvantaged communities.

In March of this year, I launched the 2019 programme with funding of €4.5m, the same amount that was initially provided in 2018.  The 2019 funding has been allocated and the allocations to each local authority can be found on my Department's website.

If savings elsewhere in the Department are identified as the year progresses, I will consider additional funding for the Community Enhancement Programme.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Ceisteanna (42)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

42. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the projects delayed or shelved as a result of the financial burden created by the excessive costs of the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22752/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

As the Deputy is aware, the Government has agreed to the re-allocation of €99 million in capital funding to accommodate the additional 2019 capital costs associated with the National Children’s Hospital Project.

In this context, it has been agreed to re-schedule €3 million in capital expenditure in relation to the  Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF) this year. This changed the capital allocation in 2019 from €55 million to €52 million under the Fund.

The RRDF supports ambitious and strategic multi-annual projects which contribute to sustainable rural regeneration and development. There will not be any adverse impact on the delivery of projects supported by the Fund and it remains the case that €315 million will be invested through the Fund over the period 2019 to 2021.

The decision by Government to approve the appointment of a preferred bidder for the National Broadband Plan has not impacted on any programmes or projects being funded by my Department.

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

Ceisteanna (43)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

43. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he will report on the town and village renewal scheme and the rural regeneration pilot scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22726/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The Town and Village Renewal Scheme is a key initiative under the Action Plan for Rural Development and forms part of a range of measures to support rural Ireland under the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 Rural Regeneration Programme.

Since the scheme was introduced in 2016, almost €53 million has been approved for more than 670 projects across the country. 

I launched the 2019 Town and Village Renewal Scheme on 16th April last.  Local Authorities have each been invited to submit up to 12 applications to my Department for consideration under the scheme.  The closing date for receipt of applications is 28th June.

The Action Plan for Rural Development includes a commitment to develop a pilot scheme to encourage increased residential occupancy in rural towns and villages.  I launched this initiative last October and announced that six towns had been invited to participate in the initial pilot.  The 6 towns which were identified for inclusion in the pilot are:

1. Boyle, Co Roscommon

2. Callan, Co Kilkenny

3. Ballinrobe, Co Mayo

4. Banagher, Co Offaly

5. Castleblayney, Co Monaghan

6. Cappoquin, Co Waterford

Funding of up to €100,000 each is being made available to these towns to develop proposals to encourage town centre living.  This funding will be used by the Local Authorities to engage with communities and local businesses to identify practical solutions to increase the number of people living in their town centres.  It is envisaged that the solutions they identify could lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund in due course.

I expect to receive a report from each of the Local Authorities in the next month on the progress which they have made under the pilot.

Action Plan for Rural Development

Ceisteanna (44)

Pat Deering

Ceist:

44. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the consultations taking place with stakeholders for the next phase of rural policy post-2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22721/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The Government's Action Plan for Rural Development was published in January 2017 as a three-year plan to support the economic and social development of rural Ireland.  The Action Plan runs to the end of 2019, and my Department has now commenced work on developing the next phase of rural policy, from 2020 onwards. 

As part of this process, my Department is holding a series of consultation events throughout the country to obtain the views of stakeholders on the challenges and opportunities facing rural Ireland over the next five years. 

The new policy will build on the Action Plan for Rural Development. It will be forward-looking, and will seek to strengthen and build resilience in rural economies and communities. As is the case with the current Action Plan, the new policy will reflect a whole-of-Government commitment to rural Ireland.

To date, four events have taken place, in Cavan, Donegal Town, Carlow and Thurles. Four further events are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, in the Aran Islands on 29th May, Claremorris on 30th May, Ennis on 20th June, and Tralee on 21st June. 

The events which have taken place to date have been well attended by a range of stakeholders from local communities, State Agencies, local government, and central Government Departments.  All of the contributions from these events will assist my Department in developing the next phase of policy for rural Ireland.

My objective is to publish the policy at the start of 2020.

Greenways Funding

Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 40.

Ceisteanna (45)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

45. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of funding for the SLNCR greenway and the Cavan and Leitrim greenway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22751/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

Since I introduced funding for Outdoor Recreation infrastructure developments in 2016, I have approved almost 600 projects for funding of over €41 million.  This funding has gone to walkways, blueways, greenways, trails and other outdoor infrastructure projects around the country.

In 2016, Leitrim County Council received €401,354 in funding for 3 projects under the Outdoor Recreation Scheme, which included €135,000 for the "Sligo Leitrim Northern Counties Railway (SLNCR)" project and €190,000 for the "Cavan and Leitrim Railway Greenway Pilot Project".  It is now more than two years since this funding was provided to the Local Authority.

In September 2018, I wrote to all Local Authorities, requesting them to complete and close off projects funded under 2016 Outdoor Recreation Scheme, and other 2016 schemes.

My officials reviewed the position with regard to the close-off of the 2016 schemes recently and noted significant levels of underspend on projects.  I instructed my officials to write to each relevant Local Authority advising them that the unspent 2016 funding would be offset against future payments to the Authorities.

A letter regarding unspent funding issued to Leitrim Co. Council on the 25th April this year and noted a total underspend of €268,196 with respect to the SLNCR and Cavan and Leitrim Railway Greenway Pilot projects.

I understand that the County Council has subsequently been in contact with my Department and has submitted a written case outlining the circumstances relating to the delay in the completion of these particular projects. This submission is under consideration at the moment and my officials will revert to the Local Authority in due course.

Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 40.

CLÁR Programme

Ceisteanna (47)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

47. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the 2019 CLÁR programme, the 2019 outdoor recreational infrastructural scheme and the walks scheme, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22723/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The CLÁR programme provides funding for small scale infrastructure projects in rural areas that have experienced significant levels of de-population.  I launched the 2019 CLÁR programme on 28th February last, with a closing date of 25th April for applications.  

Almost 500 applications were received by my Department and my officials are currently assessing all of these applications.  I hope to be in a position to announce the successful 2019 CLÁR projects in the coming weeks.

The Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme provides funding for the development of new outdoor recreational infrastructure and the maintenance, enhancement or promotion of existing recreational infrastructure.

I launched the 2019 Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme on 29th March.  The closing date for receipt of applications under the scheme is 31st May, after which my officials will assess the applications received. 

The Walks Scheme supports the development and maintenance of some of Ireland’s key walking trails.  The scheme currently covers 39 trails, with payments made to approximately 1,900 private land-holders to maintain those trails.

The Programme for a Partnership Government included a commitment to increase the number of walks covered by the scheme.  In line with this commitment, funding for the scheme was doubled in Budget 2019 - from €2 million to €4 million. 

In February of this year, I invited Expressions of Interest for the inclusion of additional trails in the Walks Scheme. Trail management committees, community groups and other interested bodies should contact their Local Authority or Local Development Company with regard to this process.  To allow sufficient time for proposals to be developed against the scheme criteria, there is no closing date for the submission of Expressions of Interest at this time.

LEADER Programmes

Ceisteanna (48)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

48. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the roll-out of the Leader programme as at the end of April 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22722/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

LEADER is a multi-annual programme with a budget of €250 million for the period 2014-2020.  The current LEADER programme effectively became operational in the second half of 2016, following the signing of Funding Agreements with most of the Local Action Groups who deliver the programme.

The volume of LEADER project approvals has increased substantially since the beginning of 2018 in particular. At the end of April 2019, 1,867 projects were approved for funding of over €64.3 million. This represents a three-fold increase in project approvals since December 2017.

A further 403 LEADER projects with a value of €25.4 million were at earlier stages of the approvals process. I expect to see the approvals and expenditure figures continue to rise substantially as the year progresses.

Overall, programme expenditure to end of April was almost €48 million. This has increased further to €49.5 million since the start of May.  Expenditure includes both project costs and the costs of the Local Action Groups who administer the programme and work with promoters to develop projects.  Project expenditure will increase further throughout the year as approved works are completed and claims are submitted to my Department for payment.

The level of project approvals and the increase in expenditure shows that we are now making good progress in the delivery of the LEADER programme. However, I will continue to closely monitor the programme carefully to ensure that the budget available is fully utilised.

Rural Broadband Scheme

Ceisteanna (49)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

49. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of discussions he has had with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment with regard to broadband provision in rural areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22889/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

As Minister of State with responsibility for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, I work across both the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I also chair the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce which was established in 2016 to identify and overcome obstacles to mobile phone and broadband services.

As someone who comes from a rural area, I am keenly aware of the importance of access to high-speed, high-quality broadband services in rural areas and I engage regularly with my Ministerial colleagues in both Departments in finding ways to remove barriers to the rollout of telecommunications infrastructure.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has overall policy responsibility for the National Broadband Plan. However, the Department of Rural and Community Development works closely with that Department and with Local Authorities to help prepare rural communities for the roll out of high-speed broadband. 

The Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce, which is co-ordinated by officials of the two Departments, has successfully addressed a number of complex issues over the last three years, many of which will facilitate the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan when the contract for the State Intervention Area is signed.  Quarterly Progress Reports on the work of the Taskforce are published on the websites of both Departments, with the most recent report covering the first quarter of 2019.

The Department of Rural and Community Development also supports preparations for the roll out of the National Broadband Plan through the network of Broadband Officers located in each Local Authority.  The Broadband Officers are co-funded by the Department and provide a vital point of contact for industry and the public regarding telecoms issues.

The Broadband Officers are also leading on the development of Digital Strategies for each Local Authority.  These Digital Strategies will enable communities to make full use of digital technology in their daily lives, and will be particularly beneficial when the Broadband Plan is rolled out.

Western Development Commission Remit

Ceisteanna (50)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

50. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the operations of the Western Development Commission and its role in the development of the Atlantic economic corridor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22728/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The Programme for a Partnership Government committed to both strengthening the role of the Western Development Commission (WDC) and to developing the Atlantic Economic Corridor initiative.  As the Programme for Government has been implemented, my Department has built on the synergies between these two objectives.

My Department has been working with Board and Chief Executive of the WDC to establish the agency as a valued enabler of the Government’s regional development objectives under Project Ireland 2040.  The WDC's role in this regard is reflected in the agency's new 5-year Strategy which was published recently.

The AEC initiative aims to maximise the assets of the region from Kerry to Donegal and to better utilise the economic hubs, clusters and catchments of the area to attract investment, support job creation and contribute to an improved quality of life for people who live in the region. 

The Atlantic Economic Corridor Taskforce was established in March 2017 to oversee the initiative.  The Taskforce, which I now chair, includes representatives of key public and private sector stakeholders, including the WDC.

In December 2018, I requested the WDC to take on the role of Co-ordinating body for the AEC initiative.  Since then, the WDC has been transitioning into this role, by providing a secretariat function to the AEC Taskforce subgroups, supporting the work of the AEC Officers who have been appointed by the Local Authorities along the Corridor, and by assisting my Department in identifying and developing projects to support the goals of the AEC initiative.

A significant project in this regard is the development of an AEC-wide ‘Hub Network’.  Preliminary data indicates that there is a sizable number of Enterprise Hubs, Digital Hubs and other Hubs in the AEC area.  The WDC, in collaboration with my Department and other key stakeholders, will develop an strategy to co-ordinate the activities of these hubs and better align the services they provide.  I have allocated €1 million from the Dormant Accounts Fund to support this project, which will place a focus on enabling disadvantaged people and communities to utilize the hub space.

It is envisaged that this co-ordinated ‘Hub Network’ will also serve as a critical asset to support business development, encourage innovation and to attract investment to the AEC region.

The WDC's 5 year strategy commits the agency to supporting the AEC initiative as a flagship project.  I am confident that the talent, regional knowledge and enthusiasm which the Board and staff of the WDC bring to the AEC initiative will be immensely valuable going forward.