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Gnáthamharc

Tuesday, 1 Jun 2021

Written Answers Nos. 538-559

Agriculture Schemes

Ceisteanna (538)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

538. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the single farm payment belongs on the land of the lessor in circumstances (details supplied); and if he can interfere with a lease contract freely entered into and decide that the value of the single payment data is the property of the lessee in spite of the contract. [29437/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Under the milk quota system, the milk quota was attached to lands used for milk production in 1983 – the milk quota reference year - and quota that was attached to leased (or rented) lands was transferred to the lessee at the end of the lease agreement.

The question also references the single farm payment – in accordance with the provisions of the relevant EU regulations, Single farm payment entitlements were allocated to farmers in 2005 based on the amount of payments made to a farmer and the land declared as farmed by that farmer during the 2000-2002 period.  Land that was declared as either owned or rented by the applicant was counted in the calculation of the entitlements.  The single farm payment was “attached” to the farmer and did not “attach” to lands.  

In the details supplied by the Deputy, the standard lease provision quoted refers to milk quota and how it was to be treated when a lease was expired or terminated. This has no relevance to the question of ownership of single payment entitlements. Clauses in a private contract freely entered into between two parties that contravene those conditions remain for the parties to the contract to resolve.

Agriculture Schemes

Ceisteanna (539)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

539. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he will take to minimise the impact of the eco-scheme on farmers' basic payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29447/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The CAP legislative proposals set out the mandatory requirement for Member States to introduce ECO schemes, but farmers can choose whether or not to apply.  However, participation in ECO schemes will allow farmers to maximise their payments.  

The European Parliament and AgriFish Council positions on ECO schemes differ. The Council position advocates a ring-fenced amount of 20% for ECO schemes, along with a two-year learning period at the start of the CAP Strategic Plan to allow Member States avoid any loss of unspent funds due to lower-than-expected take-up of ECO schemes. The Parliament is seeking a 30% ring-fencing amount with no learning phase.  

A significant concern for all Member States is the potential loss of unspent funds in the case of low uptake by farmers.  This is not a situation I want to see.  Current discussions are focusing on how to mitigate this risk.  In addition, I will be encouraging farmers to apply for these Schemes and seeking to make them as simple and practical as possible.

I have been consistent in my approach that I cannot accept a potentially serious risk to the loss of CAP funding with the introduction of new ECO schemes. Member States must have the necessary flexibility to manage this.  

Agriculture Ministers discussed the CAP legislative proposals, including the green architecture, at the most recent AgriFish Council meeting on 26-27 May.  However, following lengthy  and challenging discussions, diverging views remain on key aspects of the CAP, including the green architecture.  Trilogue discussions will continue with the expectation of reaching a final agreement on the CAP at the next AgriFish Council in June.

Ultimately, I want the ECO Schemes to be as farmer-friendly as possible so payments can be maximised.

Agriculture Industry

Ceisteanna (540)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

540. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he will take to phase out of long-term leasing of entitlements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29448/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The new CAP regulations are still at negotiation stage and, therefore, it is not possible at this time to give a definitive answer regarding the potential conditions relating to long-term payment entitlement and land lease agreements.  The position regarding payment entitlements in the next programming period cannot be confirmed until such time as the regulatory provisions are agreed and in place. The proposed new CAP Regulation may affect various aspects of payment entitlements such as the value of payment entitlements which could change due to allocations of funding within the ceiling.  

The Department has consulted with relevant stakeholders and will continue to do so. I will continue to negotiate on the proposals for the new CAP at European level to obtain the best possible outcomes for Irish farmers.

Agriculture Industry

Ceisteanna (541)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

541. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide significant funding to assist the revival of Ireland's sugar beet industry; his plan for the restarting of a traditionally very important industry here; the actions he has already taken to facilitate the return of sugar production to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29449/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In 2006, the EU introduced a restructuring mechanism intended to reduce overall production of sugar, acknowledging the then global over supply and resultant low prices being achieved. Ireland secured €353 million as part of the reform package with some €220 million being distributed to beet growers and a further €6 million to machinery contractors in the sector.

As part of the reform of the CAP, agreement was secured on the abolition of sugar quotas from 30th September 2017. From that date, investors in the European Union, including Ireland, are free to invest in sugar producing capacity if they wish.  

Since 2006, a number of groups have expressed an interest in the redevelopment of the sugar sector, two of whom prepared desktop feasibility studies between 2010 and 2011.  In their findings, both proposals sought to develop a new sugar and bioethanol production facility with capital costs, estimated at the time, of between €250 and €400 million.

In 2018, Beet Ireland sought to engage with interested growers in an equity partnership proposal to develop a sugar processing facility in the southeast. However the group announced in June 2019 that it was postponing its plans.

The Department continues to monitor market trends in the sector but it must be noted that the landscape has completely changed since Ireland exited sugar production and EU sugar quotas were abolished. Sugar prices remain depressed due to an oversupply in the world market.

The Deputy will appreciate that any proposals to re-establish sugar production must be industry-led and would need to be supported by a robust business case, having regard to low price being achieved globally for sugar and associated market issues, to attract the substantial level of funding required to support and underpin a new start-up of the scale required to re-establish the sector in Ireland.  

Forestry Sector

Ceisteanna (542)

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

542. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position with regard to correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29474/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The person named applied under the Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (Ash dieback) because of the impact of ash dieback on their plantation.  A reply from National Parks and Wildlife Service, (NPWS) was awaited and this has now been received.  The Forestry District Inspector is completing their final review of the application.  They will make their recommendations, which will form part of the decision on the application.  I expect the decision will issue to the applicant in the coming days.

Harbours and Piers

Ceisteanna (543)

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

543. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the capital works in Howth Harbour are currently fully or partially funded by his Department; the estimated cost of each capital works project; and when each project will be completed in tabular form [29489/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Howth Fishery Harbour Centre (FHC) is one of the six designated Fishery Harbour Centres which are owned, managed and maintained by my Department under Statute.

Funding for capital works is made available on an annual basis by the Department to the Fishery Harbour Centres, via the Fishery Harbour and Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme.  These capital works are fully funded by the Department.  Since 2010, €14.68 million has been invested in Howth FHC.

I recently announced a capital investment package of €38.3 million in the 2021 Fishery Harbour and Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme, and I am pleased to advise the Deputy that €8.295 million has been allocated to works at Howth FHC.  Details of the projects included in, and funding allocated to Howth FHC under the Fishery Harbour & Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme 2021 are in the following link.

COVID-19 restrictions have meant the necessary closure of construction sites and related delays for projects at Howth Fishery Harbour Centre.

With the exception of the Middle Pier Berthing Project, the Harbour Dredging Design & Permitting Stage project and the Fisherman’s toilet & shower facility, all projects at the construction stage are due to be completed by December 2021.  

Howth Fishery Harbour

Animal Breeding

Ceisteanna (544)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

544. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will clarify the reply to Parliamentary Question No. 65 of 20 May 2021 (details supplied); the way in which the average figure of six pups per litter has been arrived at in the absence of an exact figure for the number of pups born; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29490/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Irish Coursing Club (ICC) is the organisation charged with the role of Keeper of the Irish Stud Book since 1923.  The stud book records pedigrees, ownerships, breeding data and transfers of ownership primarily of all greyhounds. Greyhounds are required to be named with the Club. The ICC is subject to the general control and direction of Rásaíocht Con Éireann.

The ICC has informed the Department that the data requested by the Deputy in PQ No. 65 of 20th May 2021 is not available for the years 2009 to 2020 as their system could report the total number of litters born but not the individual number of pups per litter. 

The ICC has informed the Department that the average litter size cited previously is the industry norm across greyhound jurisdictions, approximately six or seven pups per litter. It is an indicative figure only and does not purport to be an exact statistic. The number of greyhounds named each year is an exact number of pups from the previous 12-month period in the main (named between 12-15 months approx) and is representative of the number of greyhounds available for competition.

The ICC registration software system has been subject to recent updates and the information on individual numbers of pups will be available from 2021.

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (545)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

545. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the issues raised by the fishers as part of their protest in Cork on 26 May 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29585/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The impact of Brexit on Ireland's seafood sector, and the coastal communities dependent on it, is understandably a major concern for the sector.  However, this impact would have been far greater had the Barnier Task Force agreed to UK demands, or had we been in a no-deal scenario which would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and subsequent displacement into Ireland's fishing zone.

I can assure the Deputy that this Government intends to continue to keep the focus on the disproportionate quota reductions for Ireland and to use any opportunity available to seek constructive solutions that would help to alleviate this unacceptable position.

I have raised the matter of inequitable burden sharing at EU level - most recently at the May Agriculture and Fisheries Council - and in bilateral exchanges with other EU Member States, whenever suitable opportunties arise, and I will continue to do so.

I am pursuing every opportunity at EU level to increase the available quotas for our fishing fleet.  I have previously stated that I am committed to doing all possible through the review of the CFP to secure additional quota where possible for Irish fishers.  I will consider how Ireland will prepare for and participate actively and effectively in the review, including the interaction with stakeholders to prepare Ireland's case and identify priorities.  

The impact of Brexit has been a major blow for the Irish fishing industry but I am convinced that this is a sustainable sector with a strong future.  There are opportunties for growth if we invest in and add value to our seafood sector - and there is a strong commitment from the Government to do this.  My objective is to work with the industry to grow the sector in the years ahead.  Through the Seafood Sector Taskforce, I've brought all voices in the sector together to advise on how we can invest in the sector and I anticipate receiving the interim report from the Taskforce shortly. 

Fishers also raised the issue of fisheries control.  The monitoring and control of fishing vessels within Ireland’s Exclusive Fisheries Zone are matters for the Irish control authorities.  Under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006, all operational issues of this nature are exclusively for the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) and the Naval Service.  As Minister, I am expressly precluded from getting involved in operational matters such as this.   

I wish to assure the Deputy that this Government is committed to work with the seafood sector to adjust to the impact of Brexit and ensure a clear path for the growth of the sector in the years ahead. 

Protected Disclosures

Ceisteanna (546)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

546. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of protected disclosures made to his Department in each of the past five years and to date in 2021. [29628/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The number of Protected Disclosures received in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the past five years and to date in 2021 is as follows:

Year

Number

2016

3

2017

2

2018

1

2019

2

2020

4

2021

1

Agriculture Schemes

Ceisteanna (547)

Matt Carthy

Ceist:

547. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 1043 of 17 February 2021, if the requested information has been compiled and is available. [29684/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

This information requested has now been compiled and is provided below. It is important to note some conditions on which the data is based:

- The total value amount is based on Payment Entitlement values only – it does not include greening.

- It takes the value of the entitlement at the time of leasing – so there is no account taken here of convergence, linear adjustments or any other changes to these entitlements.

- The cases here include those made in 2019 for three years, which will revert to the owner in 2022 before the new CAP programme is applied.

- The figures are comprised of all current active leases – for example, five year leases which began in 2017 are included in these figures.

- It should be noted that the figures include leases from an individual to their own company in addition to those between separate farmers. 

Lease Years

Number   Entitlements

Lease Value

3

5,278.03

€1,008,525.99

4

4,436.30

€944,199.34

5

45,986.00

€9,365,811.52

>6

114,938.69

24,194,959

Totals

170,639.02

€35,513,496.27

Livestock Issues

Ceisteanna (548)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

548. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason journeys to continental Europe involving unweaned calves are being authorised by his Department given the calves cannot be fed during transit which is in direct contravention of point 1.4(a) Chapter V of EU Regulation 1/2005 that states unweaned calves must be fed after a maximum of 19 hours; the steps he will take to bring the live export sector in line with legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29752/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine takes its responsibilities in the matter of animal welfare very seriously and exercises close oversight, and deploys considerable resources to the area of animal welfare in general, including in respect of animals being transported. The legal interpretation you have quoted is not one which is shared by the Department.

Notwithstanding, continuing additional measures are regularly taken to further enhance and safeguard animal welfare during transport. In 2020, this included prohibiting transport in temperatures of 30°C or greater, increased space in lorries for young calves, and a requirement on drivers to retrain every three years instead of 10 years. These measures were further enhanced in 2021 with a minimum of 40kg bodyweight set for calves to be exported, and a ban introduced on animal transport to certain countries in July and August, and December/January to avoid extreme temperatures.

Furthermore, Teagasc has begun an intensive research project aiming to help establish ways to further improve welfare during transport, including feeding a high-energy, slow-release meal before transport. In early May, Teagasc scientists accompanied a consignment of calves to Cherbourg to carry out a preliminary study of the scientific indicators of welfare before, during and after their ferry voyage with a view to  starting to amass a body of evidence on what further interventions would best enhance their welfare and comfort en route.

This trade is important to Irish farming and is highly valued by the farming community as it provides an outlet for dairy calves, which have a limited market in Ireland. These calves are highly valued by European farmers and arrive in good health and welfare conditions relative to calves from other countries: a Dutch peer-reviewed scientific study has shown that farms in the Netherlands which raise mostly Irish-origin calves require significantly less antibiotic usage than those from other countries, indicating more robust health and welfare.

Finally, the Programme for Government contains an undertaking to provide additional funding to support animal welfare in the coming years to which I am fully committed. In this regard, in December 2020, I announced record funding of €3.2 million to 101 animal welfare organisations throughout the country.

Agriculture Schemes

Ceisteanna (549)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

549. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address a matter regarding the case of a person (details supplied). [29813/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I wish to inform the Deputy that the Agriculture Appeals Office operates independently of my Department.

I have been informed, however, that an appeal was received by the Agriculture Appeals Office on 6th April 2021.  

The Appeals Office operates in accordance with the Agriculture Appeals Regulations 2002 which require an appeal to be made within three months of the date of the decision letter from the Department.  The decision letter from the Department to the person named is dated 21st November 2020 and, therefore, an appeal should have been submitted to the Appeals Office by 21st February 2021. 

I am informed that as the appeal from the person named was received in the Appeals Office on 6th April 2021, it was outside of the three month timeframe.  I am further informed that the person named was notified that they could request that the Director consider accepting a late appeal where they believe exceptional circumstances exist that caused the delay in lodging the appeal. 

The person named was requested to outline the circumstances of such a late appeal by 6th May 2021.  However, no such request has been received in the Appeals Office. I am advised that the Director will consider evidence concerning exceptional circumstances should the person named wish to submit details as soon as possible.

Flood Risk Management

Ceisteanna (550)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

550. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if funding is being made available for a project (details supplied) that is urgently required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29835/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My Department owns, operates and maintains six designated State-owned Fishery Harbour Centres, located at Castletownbere, Dingle, Dunmore East, Howth, Killybegs and Ros An Mhíl under statute. In addition, the Department also has responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of North Harbour at Cape Clear, as well as the maintenance of a small number of specific piers, lights and beacons throughout Ireland, in accordance with the Marine Works (Ireland) Act 1902, and piers, lights and beacons constructed under the auspices of the Congested Districts Board. 

Coastal defences in general fall under the remit of the Office of Public Works. 

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (551)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Ceist:

551. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider and advise on a regular payment scheme to support the whitefish and shellfish sectors in order to counteract the huge loss of revenue brought about by a significant drop in market value of their catch due to 15 months of Covid-19 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29851/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Department's European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Programme is the funding programme for the development of our fisheries sector.  The Programme supports a wide range of initiatives, including capital investment on board and ashore, advisory services, innovation, training and marketing. 

The European Union amended its European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Regulation in 2020 to facilitate aid payments to the fisheries sector in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The amended Regulation allowed aid for either storage aid market supports or for temporary fleet tie-up.  In June to August 2020, the Department implemented a temporary fleet tie-up scheme through BIM. The Regulation provided that these COVID-related initiatives were only allowed up to 31st December 2020. 

Departmental Funding

Ceisteanna (552)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

552. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if a request for CSP funding in the name of a group (details supplied) will be reviewed as a matter of urgency; and if the funding requested will be approved given the significance of the project to the local community and the enormous contribution being made by volunteers. [29127/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

My Department's Community Services Programme (CSP) supports over 420 community organisations to provide local services through a social enterprise model. The CSP provides an annual co-funding contribution of €19,033 for each fulltime equivalent (FTE) position being supported, and, where warranted, provides €32,000 towards the cost of employing a manager. Qualifying organisations must be social enterprises capable of generating income from their activities in order to meet the full salary costs of the supported posts, for example, from income received from the public use of facilities and services. The scheme is managed by Pobal, on behalf of my Department.  

I understand that Pobal is providing ongoing support to the organisation in question and is continuing to engage with their Board in progressing their business planning in connection with their application for acceptance under this programme. Pobal have advised that they have offered the organisation the use of an external business coach to assist them to complete their revised business plan submission. In addition, Pobal’s Development Coordinator is in regular contact with their Chair and Treasurer, most recently on 28 May by email.

At this stage, it is not possible to confirm what level of funding, if any, may ultimately be provided to the organisation until a final business plan is submitted and is appraised for funding. However, Pobal will continue to work with the organisation with a view to finalising their business plan in connection with their application under this programme.

Data Protection

Ceisteanna (553)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

553. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the nature of the data breaches experienced by her Department since 2018. [29314/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

I can confirm that my Department has identified 3 data breaches since 2018 - 1 in 2018 and 2 in 2020. No data breaches were identified in 2019, or to date in 2021. The nature of breaches which occurred was due to information disclosed in error. In the case of each incident immediate remedial action was undertaken, and the Data Protection Commission was notified in line with Data Protection regulations.

Library Services

Ceisteanna (554)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

554. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if there is an application for a library (details supplied) with her Department. [29541/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The delivery of public library services, including the provision of library premises, is a matter for each local authority in accordance with the Local Government Act, 2001. Accordingly, the delivery of library services in Mahon/Blackrock and the surrounding areas is primarily a matter for Cork City Council.

My Department has had discussions with Cork City Council regarding a new library for Blackrock-Mahon, but no request for funding has been received to date. However, as my Department's Libraries Capital Programme is currently fully committed, should Cork City Council submit an application for funding, it will be considered for support if additional capital funding becomes available. Consequently, my Department has advised the City Council to consider submitting an application for funding for this library to the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF), which is administered by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. 

In the event that the City Council submits an application for funding under the URDF, they have also been informed of the requirement to simultaneously submit their application to my Department for technical assessment of the proposed new library, where it will be progressed through the Four Stage Capital Management Process. This is to ensure that the Standards and Benchmarks for public libraries are being adhered to and is the practice for all new public library projects, including those being funded by URDF. I am aware that Cork City Council are currently working towards submitting a Stage 1 application and my Department will support the City Council and work with them to progress this project.

Island Communities

Ceisteanna (555)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

555. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the progress that has been made on the proposal in the 1996 Strategic Framework for Offshore Islands to establish an island product marketing group. [29543/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

I am working to ensure that sustainable vibrant communities continue to live on the islands, and I have made this one of the key elements of Our Rural Future, the Government’s new Rural Development Policy.  Furthermore, my Department is currently developing a new National Islands Policy, a central objective of which is to ensure that sustainable vibrant communities continue to live on the offshore islands.

The Interdepartmental Committee referred to by the Deputy was established in June 1993, and went on to publish its report “A strategic framework for developing the offshore islands” in 1996.

Whilst a specific island product marketing group was not established, the intervening years did see the establishment of a number of support initiatives to assist island producers including schemes such as the Areas of Natural Constraints scheme which provides payments to people farming land on offshore islands. It aims to support the continuation of farming in these area by compensating farmers for the additional costs involved in farming such land. 

Support for enterprise, cultural and social development has been provided through grants to development companies on the non-Gaeltacht islands and cooperatives on the Gaeltacht islands who provide support services and advice to island communities. These bodies have also played a role to advance LEADER, EU and local LEO projects.

Fáilte Ireland has also developed a range of promotional campaigns, recognising the value of islands as cultural destinations.

The development of a new Islands Policy is an objective within the Programme for Government, and will build on what has been achieved to date. A series of bilateral meetings with various Government Departments are now underway, to apprise the Departments of the findings of the consultations and to explore how Departments might address the issues raised by island communities.

These discussions will contribute to the preparation by my Department of a new 10-year policy for the development of the islands, with associated three-year Action Plans, which will underpin island development for the next decade.

Island Communities

Ceisteanna (556)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

556. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the work that has been done on an all-Ireland basis to ensure the reliance of County Donegal offshore island communities on their nearest city of Derry to meet their economic and social needs is addressed through regional cross-Border planning; if she or her predecessors raised this issue at the North-South Ministerial Council; and if research has been conducted on the negative impact of partition on the economic life and provision of services to offshore island communities and the way this can be addressed. [29546/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

My Department recognises that economic sustainability and ready access to services are key to  retaining the next generation of islanders and to overcoming the many issues for island communities which arise from their separation from the mainland.  As the Deputy will be aware, my Department is currently in the process of drafting a new  National Islands Policy. A central objective of the policy is to ensure that sustainable vibrant communities continue to live on the offshore islands, a process which will draw on input from many Departments and national bodies.

Our Rural Future, the new National Rural Development policy covering the period 2021 - 2025 which contains a specific chapter on the islands, also contains a commitment to enhanced cooperation with our counterparts in Northern Ireland on issues related to the economic and social development of rural areas, including the islands.

Last month saw the first meeting of the new North-South Rural Policy Forum at which there was recognition of the many shared challenges and opportunities faced by rural communities in both jurisdictions.

I have also met with Minister Edwin Poots, both bilaterally and at the North-South Ministerial Council in October and November last year. Unfortunately our recent NSMC Sectoral meeting could not take place as scheduled but my hope is that this meeting can be rescheduled as I recognise the importance of these meaningful engagements.

Protected Disclosures

Ceisteanna (557)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

557. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number of protected disclosures made to her Department in each of the past five years and to date in 2021. [29640/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

I can confirm that my Department has not received any protected disclosures since its establishment in 2017. A Protected Disclosures policy is in place and available to all staff in the Department and its agencies. 

Departmental Programmes

Ceisteanna (558)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

558. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the legal basis and advice available to her Department detailing the requirement to make the awarding of the contract for the social inclusion community activation programme subject to a public competitive tendering process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29646/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The Social Inclusion Community Activation Programme (SICAP) 2018-2022 is the government’s primary social inclusion intervention.

The current programme commenced on 1st January 2018 and is due to run to 31st December 2022.  In advance of the commencement of the programme, legal advice in relation to procurement was sought by my Department.  Based on the advice received, it was decided that the programme would be subject to a tender process. 

My Department is currently working on the design of the follow on programme to SICAP. This will be a collaborative process involving wide stakeholder consultation. As part of this, the legal requirements and available options for the awarding of contracts for the next programme will be examined and a decision will be taken based on the Public Spending Code, legal advice, good practice internationally and the need to ensure the optimum delivery of services to clients. 

Digital Hubs

Ceisteanna (559)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

559. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development her plans to support private property owners to convert vacant properties to digital hubs to facilitate remote and blended working; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29209/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The increased shift to remote working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity for a greater regional distribution of jobs and to support a better quality of life for many people who previously spent many hours in long commutes. This is a key focus of the Government's new rural development policy Our Rural Future.

Remote working, supported by appropriate infrastructure and facilities, has the potential to encourage more people to live in rural areas while working in good quality jobs, no matter where their employer is based. It can also help revitalise our rural town if remote working hubs are developed in their centres.

My Department continues to invest significantly in the development of new Hub facilities across the country. Since 2015, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme has provided €7.8m in funding to hubs and hub-related projects. Many of the successful projects involve the regeneration of historic town centre buildings as Enterprise and Co-Working Hubs. 

I recently announced funding of €15 million that is available under the 2021 Town & Village Renewal Scheme (TVRS). In line with Our Rural Future, a key focus of this year’s scheme is to renovate derelict and vacant buildings in our town centres, and specifically supports bringing vacant properties in town centres back into use or repurpose existing community or publicly owned buildings as remote working hubs.

I have increased the maximum grant available under this Scheme to €500,000 to permit projects of significant scale to be funded. The TVRS It is administered by Local Authorities, who are currently seeking expressions of interest for suitable projects from local groups in towns and villages within their respective counties. The closing date set for receipt of completed applications by my Department is 16 July.

I should stress that the purchase of a building in isolation, without clearly defined proposals to bring it back into use, is unlikely to be successful.

In addition to funding through the Town and Village Scheme, €65m has also been invested in hub projects through the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund since 2018. A further call for projects under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund will issue later this year

There are a range of other initiatives outlined in Our Rural Future which will contribute to addressing vacancy in our towns and villages. In particular, an Inter-departmental Group has been established to develop a Town Centre First Approach, with a focus on vacancy and dereliction, and to bring forward recommendations to Government.

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