Thursday, 5 December 2019

Ceisteanna (12)

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

12. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to improve service provision in rural areas in view of the latest CSO figures released in respect of distance to everyday services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50370/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (23 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Rural)

I ask the Minister to outline his plans to improve service provision in rural areas in view of the recent publication of CSO figures in respect of distances to everyday services and to make a statement on the matter.

I thank Deputy Aylward for his question. The CSO recently published a statistical report, Measuring Distance to Everyday Services in Ireland 2019, which shows how close people live to everyday facilities such as schools, hospitals, fire stations and public transport stops.

The report shows that the average distance to most everyday services was at least three times longer for rural dwellings compared to urban dwellings. People in counties Galway, Donegal, Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon had higher average distances to most everyday services compared to other counties.

This is why we need policies to support rural areas. It is estimated that 50% of the population live in settlements of fewer than 10,000 people and that rural-based enterprises support hundreds of thousands of jobs and contribute significantly to our national economy. Rural communities are also important guardians of our heritage, culture and natural environment. It is important that we ensure that people living in rural areas have reasonable access to services if they are to continue to live and work in rural Ireland.

Since 2017, the Action Plan for Rural Development has been delivering a wide range of measures across Departments and agencies to support job creation, invest in town and village renewal and improve the delivery of services in rural areas, taking account of the ever-changing nature of our society.

My Department is currently developing the next phase of rural policy to succeed the Action Plan for Rural Development which reaches the end of its life cycle this year. The new policy will reflect a whole-of-Government commitment to a range of matters impacting on rural Ireland.

My officials will reflect on the data in the recent CSO report in finalising that policy.

In the meantime, my Department will continue to support communities across Ireland through a range of activities and initiatives. The funding allocation for my Department has been increased from €291 million in 2019 to €308 million in 2020, reflecting my Department's ongoing commitment to supporting rural Ireland and communities more generally.

By the Minister's own admission, the latest CSO figures confirm that this Government is leaving rural Ireland behind with regard to service provision. The report published last week on the distance to everyday services in Ireland makes for very sobering reading. Rural dwellers face distances to most services that are at least three times greater than those faced by their urban counterparts. The average distance rural residents must travel to supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies or GP clinics is approximately seven times longer than that travelled by their urban counterparts. People in rural Ireland are facing longer commutes to work while the distances they must travel to medical facilities or 24-hour Garda stations are much more pronounced than in urban areas. These statistics are alarming and show how the Government is failing to deliver public policy solutions that improve public service provision and make living in rural Ireland attractive. What is most disappointing is the fact that these figures are not surprising. Under Fine Gael, rural Ireland has been abandoned and the aforementioned figures serve to highlight this. It is clear that the Government's much-referenced action plan is not delivering. The Minister must outline the steps being taken to rectify the imbalance across the country.

Rural Ireland was never more alive than it is today. The Deputy is quoting one set of CSO figures but I will give him another. The CSO has found that more people are working and living in rural Ireland now than since the foundation of the State.

The Department's funding allocation-----

I only quoted figures from the CSO-----

One moment. I did not interrupt the Deputy.

Allow the Minister, please.

I know Deputy Aylward does not want to hear this but my Department's funding allocation is increasing from €291 million in 2019 to €308 million in 2020. To date the rural regeneration scheme has provided €148 million, plenty of which went into Deputy Aylward's county, for 110 projects worth a total of €212 million. Almost 2,500 LEADER projects will have been approved by the end of 2019 and we expect 80% of the €164 million allocated for projects will be approved. The spend to date under the town and village renewal scheme is €11.2 million, while funding under CLÁR is €14.8 million. The community services programme has disbursed €49 million while €43 million has been spent under SICAP. A total of €4.5 million has been spent to date under the community enhancement programme. There was never as much money going into rural Ireland. This Department is working well and is delivering. I assure Deputy Aylward that rural Ireland is vibrant and alive, with great people working and living in our rural communities.

Statistics are great and the way they are used-----

Kilkenny is a great place.

The Minister is a great story teller and the way he tells it is great but for people living in rural Ireland, the story is not so good. I do not begrudge people in Dublin and other urban areas their fair share of Government funding. My issue is with the imbalance in terms of what is being spent in rural Ireland. We are crying out for broadband and for transport providing connectivity from village to village. Under the PSO we had transport services which have now been stopped. We need those services back. Rural Ireland is no different to urban Ireland in terms of need. People need to get from A to B, C, D and E. The Minister must admit that there are not enough transport services being provided in rural Ireland. The Minister can shout loudly and quote all the statistics he likes but the facts tell a different story. People in rural Ireland need more connectivity and more services.

The Minister has just one minute in which to respond.

I would need more than a minute to answer but I will do my best. Fianna Fáil took away most of the services when it was in government but its members forget that. Post offices-----

Fine Gael has been in government for nine years.

Fianna Fáil took away most of the services when it was in government-----

Will we go back to 1932 altogether?

It ran the economy into the ground.

(Interruptions).

I have one question for the Deputy opposite. Is he going to support this Government's broadband plan or is he going to say one thing here in Dublin and another in Kilkenny? Is he going to support us?

We have signed the contract. Will Fianna Fáil support us on broadband?

There is no broadband.

(Interruptions).

It was €3 billion. It may be €5 billion before it is over.

I am glad this is not happening in Christmas week.