The CLÁR programme provides funding for small infrastructural projects in rural areas which have suffered high levels of population decline. The areas originally selected for inclusion in the programme in 2001 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 of 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.
As the Deputy is aware, the CLÁR programme was closed for new applications in 2010. However, I relaunched the programme in the second half of 2016, using the areas identified in the work carried out by NIRSA as a baseline. The projects supported since 2016 include safety measures around schools and community facilities, the provision of play areas, supports for first responders in emergency situations and measures to provide vehicles to transport people to cancer care and respite centres.
I have initiated a review of the CLÁR programme which will examine CLÁR areas by reference to data from the 2016 census. I will also consider whether any other factors should be taken into account in designating areas for eligibility under CLÁR in the future. The review process began last November with targeted consultation meetings with a number of experts who are recognised for their background in rural development issues. Following on from this, my officials have been in contact with NIRSA with regard to carrying out a detailed analysis of the most recent census data in order to inform the review process further. I envisage that a wider stakeholder consultation will also take place before the review is fully completed. Once completed, the review will help inform the design of future CLÁR programmes and any additional measures which may need to be included.