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 Header Item Post Office Closures (Continued)
 Header Item Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 976 No. 4

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring] Additionally, funding delivered through the community services programme, LEADER and SICAP provides supports tailored to the specific needs of individual areas.

The Government is continuing to explore ways to sustain the viability of the post office network into the future. In October last, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment launched a new Digital Assist pilot initiative with An Post. Ten locations across the country will act as pilots for the provision of new services and I am delighted that my Department has been able to provide funding of €80,000 for this programme.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward The dismantling of the rural post office network continues across the country. We lost two important post offices in south Kilkenny at Mullinavat and Glenmore, and another is to close within the next two months at Kilmoganny. This follows the retirement of two long-serving postmasters who gave many years of dedicated service to their respective communities. Despite significant community activism in Mullinavat and the hundreds of submissions made to An Post, the independent assessor's decision stood and the doors shut.

The closure of post offices in Mullinavat and Glenmore and hundreds of similar closures in towns and villages around the country reflect a further denigration of services in rural Ireland under this Government. The Government claims it has no operational responsibility for An Post but, as far as I am concerned, the buck stops with it. If it had the foresight to implement the recommendations contained in the Kerr report when it was furnished in 2016 regarding the need for additional services to be made available to post offices, places like Mullinavat and Glenmore would have had the chance to increase their footfall and maximise their commercial viability. Many of the rural post offices now under threat of closure could have been saved if immediate action had been taken at ministerial level, and that point is directed at the Minister.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I am sorry I have only a minute to reply. I wish I had more time because I have a list of all the post offices that Fianna Fáil closed.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward I knew he would come back with that.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I would be here for 25 minutes-----

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward That is not an answer. The Minister's job is to rule on what is being done now.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Minister without interruption.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring It is a pity-----

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward He is closing more post offices than ever. He must be happy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Aylward, please.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I did not interrupt the Deputy. I let him talk. If his Government had been as concerned about post offices when this country was awash with money, and if it had given them the services they needed, we would not have any closure of post offices.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward The Minister must agree the Government is closing post offices.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The Government did not close any post offices in the past few months.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward I have proof of it.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The Deputy should listen. People took the packages. They were given the opportunity.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward He is dressing it up.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring They got the packages. Let us be honest about what is happening and stop the nonsense about post offices.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward Then be honest about it.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I will give an example. There was a post office in my own county where 500 people turned up at a public meeting. I am going to tell the Deputy how many of them bought television licences. There were 352 families and just 52 television licences were bought in that post office for that year. Either one of two things happened. They either had no licences, which I do not believe-----

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív They would never do that.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring -----or they went elsewhere to get their licences. If they want to keep rural post offices open, they will have to start using them, and not go to public meetings.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The time is up. I call Deputy Aylward.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring In fairness, a post office was advertised twice and they could not get anyone to take it.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward The Minister is just getting angry and it is obvious he is getting angry because I am getting under his skin. He knows I am talking fact. To talk about what Fianna Fáil did years ago is not the Minister's job; his job is to rule as Minister now and to make decisions now.

Why would old postmasters and postmistresses who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s not take the package? Of course, they would - I would too. However, that is no reason for the post office to be closed. There was a meeting in Mullinavat, like the meeting in the Minister's area, with 400 or 500 people in attendance. There was a laughable appeals system which made a decision about the local post offices being so many kilometres away and about the size of the population, but it did not stop them being closed down. What about the people who wanted a post office? It is more than a business where people get stamps and pension payments; it is also a social outlet, but that is not taken into consideration. People want to keep rural areas alive but closing post offices is not going to keep them alive. The Minister is making people travel to neighbouring villages when they do not have the transport to do it. The appeals system is a laugh. It is closing post offices in an underhand way, and that is all it is.

Where people want to keep their post office open and where there is a local supermarket or other business willing to take it on, that should be allowed, once it is viable. I heard the Minister say in the House three or four times that he would come forward with proposals to make them sustainable but I never heard one thing back about that until we got the word that all these post offices would be closed. Let him stand up now and say why he did not make them sustainable and why he did not come back with the money to keep these post offices sustainable, instead of going on with this craic.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The hypocrisy sickens me. Fianna Fáil closed many post offices and we closed very few.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward He keeps going back to the one thing.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The Deputy asked what I did. I provided €80,000 last year to examine where we can get more services for post offices. Let us take the example of motor tax. Nearly 88% of people now tax their cars online. We need to give post offices more services that people will use. People are living in the modern age. They have their computers and the Internet.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward Where is the report on sustainability?

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring They want to do business in a different way. I want to keep as many post offices open as possible. However, I would say to the general public that if they want their post office and their small local shop open, and if they want services in rural Ireland, they have to start using them and they cannot pass the door every day. When that lady called the public meeting in Mayo, 300 or 400 people turned up and they all signed up to what they were going to do to keep the post office open. However, when she was on local radio, she quenched one of the Deputy's colleagues awful quick when she said, "I did not see many of you since then." She said she was closing the post office and that she was only sorry for the elderly people who depend on it, not for anybody else.

Deputy Bobby Aylward: Information on Bobby Aylward Zoom on Bobby Aylward Where is the report on sustainability?

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

 42. Deputy Martin Kenny Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring the status of the rural regeneration and development fund. [51872/18]

 45. Deputy Martin Heydon Information on Martin Heydon Zoom on Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring the status of the rural regeneration and development fund; when he expects to make further allocations for 2019 from the fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51842/18]

 51. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring the funding approved to date for projects under the rural regeneration and development fund; when further tranches of approvals will issue; his plans to seek further applications under this process in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51847/18]

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny An announcement was made in recent weeks that there were almost 300 applications for category 1 of the rural regeneration and development fund and that there were some 18 approvals of projects throughout the country. I would like to have more information on where matters stand in regard to the other categories and when more announcements will be made.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I propose to take Questions Nos. 42, 45 and 51 together.

The first call for applications for the rural regeneration and development fund closed at the end of September. Some €1 billion is committed to the fund over a ten-year period to support rural economic development and help build strong communities, with €55 million allocated to the fund in budget 2019.

There was an excellent response to the first call, with nearly 300 applications received. Applications for the fund are currently being examined by the project advisory board, comprising representatives from key Departments and external experts, which was established to oversee the assessment process. Category 1 shovel-ready projects were prioritised in the assessment process and category 2 projects, that is, those which need development funding to become potential category 1 applications in future calls for applications, are now being considered.

I announced the first 18 successful projects under the fund on 23 November. These projects will receive a total of €24.4 million from the fund while unlocking a further €11 million in other funding, and all are ready to commence in 2019. The announcement on 23 November was just the beginning of the process and further announcements of successful category 1 and category 2 projects will take place early in the new year, with a further call for the fund taking place later next year.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny The announcement of funding for 18 projects is welcome. However, there were 125 shovel-ready projects in category 1 and, therefore, many disappointed communities did not get funding. With regard to category 2, the Minister might give more detail on when he expects to put butter on that sandwich. We need something to happen quickly because people have to get moving on this. At the moment there is lack of capacity to get them to a position where they can get into category 1 and draw down funding.

I have looked through the list of projects, all of which are worthy and deserving of the funding they have received. However, in many cases, they are projects for which funding from other Departments, for example, the Departments responsible for tourism, housing or roads, would be expected.


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