The rural social scheme, RSS, is an income support initiative to provide part-time employment opportunities in the community and voluntary organisations for farmers or fishermen in receipt of certain social welfare payments who are underemployed in their primary occupation. Communities benefit enormously from the skills and talents of local farmers and fishermen and the participants have the opportunity to improve existing skills, or develop new skills, while performing this valuable work in their communities.
Unfortunately, as the Deputy knows, the scheme has its limitations. Apart from the fact that it has played an important role in sustaining rural communities, participants have the opportunity to improve themselves and make themselves ready for other employment opportunities. In tandem, communities benefit from their skills and talents. Many projects up and down the country have been carried out by RSS participants, including a beautiful church in Roscommon that has been rebuilt and is looking fabulous.
I secured extra resources to add extra places to the RSS in 2017 and 2018. The problem is that if we leave people on it indefinitely, it locks other people out and does not allow them to participate in the scheme. Participants who commenced on the scheme prior to 1 February 2017 can remain on it. As a result, anybody who would have engaged with the scheme when the Deputy introduced it will be allowed to remain on it indefinitely. In order not to lock people out, however - because the Deputy is aware that it is probably one of the highest-rated schemes in terms of participation and because we have a cap on places - we introduced a six-year participation limit that lets people come in, stay on the scheme, reskill and redevelop and make themselves available for other employment opportunities in the community.