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Priority Questions. - Rural Development.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 74. Mr. Crawford Information on Seymour Crawford Zoom on Seymour Crawford  asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  if he will have sufficient funds in his community and rural affairs sections to maximise the cross-Border and other benefits from the EU, INTERREG and PEACE programme funds; if, under the CLÁR programme, he will have enough funds to bring in any new areas under investigation at the moment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24354/02]

Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív The rural affairs allocation for 2003 is over €38 million. This includes Leader, the rural development measures in PEACE II and INTERREG III and the national development plan – rural development subhead, encompassing the Leader area based initiative, the farm relief services and the rural development fund. While the budgetary provision for Leader and the rural development measures in PEACE and INTERREG is lower by 4% from that of the 2002 rural development subhead, it is not anticipated that the programme cuts will have any significant negative impact over the lifetime of these programmes. These programmes are co-funded with the EU and will run to 2006, with the bulk of expenditure expected in the second half of the programmes, that is, 2004-06. I am satisfied that the 2003 allocations will be sufficient to meet the commitments under the cross-Border and the other rural development programmes.

Although the provision for the CLÁR programme is reduced from the 2002 allocation, I expect to complete a comprehensive work programme in 2003. CLÁR funds act as a lever to elicit funds from other sources. The 2003 CLÁR allocation will be sufficient to continue this leverage to sustain an effective programme. The national institute for regional and spatial analysis at NUI, Maynooth, has recently completed its [882] analysis of the 2002 population census and my Department is considering the remits in the context of the review of CLÁR areas.

The review of the Western Development Commission is ongoing and the reduction in the western development fund reflects projected actual expenditure this year. The decrease in the 2003 allocation will not in any way detract from either this Government's commitment or my own in ensuring that the problem of depopulation, decline and lack of services in rural areas is tackled.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford Zoom on Seymour Crawford I welcome the Minister's commitment that there will be sufficient funds for INTERREG and the PEACE programme in the future. In the past, however, programmes such as INTERREG and the PEACE programme have often been used as replacement funds for Government commitments rather than as additional funding, although it is additional funding under EU law. Will the Minister admit that a minus percentage, at a time when INTERREG is just being introduced, is a bad message to send?

I welcomed the CLÁR programme when the Minister visited my parish of Aghabog. The Minister said previously and earlier today that the study being carried out at present will allow him to decide if there will be an increased number of areas in the programme. If that decision is made in January 2003, will the Minister have sufficient funds to make it a realistic programme for the additional areas as well as the existing areas?

Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív With regard to the European Union funds, I am happy that I will be able to complete a full programme with the funds I have for next year. We happen to be in that stage of the cycle so I do not anticipate any difficulties in that regard.

Obviously I would like to have more money for CLÁR but in the current circumstances we have to be prudent with public finances. However, I am happy that, due to a number of factors, I will be able to complete a full programme in 2003. The main change of circumstances that has occurred since the summer has not been the reduction in the amount of money for CLÁR for 2003, but that the commitment to CLÁR will continue until 2006 during the lifetime of the Government. Until then, CLÁR was only a two year programme. Not only will I be able to expend money next year, some of which will be for programmes started this year, but I will be able to initiate programmes in 2003 that will continue through 2004 and 2005. As a result of the undertaking given in the programme for Government, it will be a multi-year strategy.

I am also in negotiation with other Departments to ensure that the European Union money we spend under CLÁR is additional and that it continues to contribute its share of the money to these programmes. CLÁR was never meant to supplant existing funding; it was always meant to be additional and to lever out other funding from [883] other Departments. I am consulting the Departments in that regard at present.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford Zoom on Seymour Crawford Does the Minister accept that Border areas, in spite of the funding that has gone to them in recent years, have experienced the lowest increase in population according to the last census and that it is essential that the funding guaranteed from Brussels is drawn down? Can the Minister give an assurance that where funds are necessary, they will be provided as additional rather than replacement funds? It must be additional funding. I am not blaming this Minister because successive Governments did not ensure that this funding was additional. This is possibly the last tranche of EU funding and it is vital that it is delivered.

Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I could not agree more. My experience in the past, whether it involved money for the Gaeltacht or for Border areas, was that there was a tendency in some of the agencies to pull back mainframe funding in those areas where money came out of a special fund. In fact, one of my main worries, and I have tried to build in guarantees, is to ensure that the funding in these programmes is additional. It was a particular concern when I was constructing CLÁR.

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