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 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Rural Development Programme Funding

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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Topical Issue Debate

Rural Development Programme Funding

Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter, which is particularly topical as community and rural groups nationally await with interest announcements on the approval of funding for projects they have submitted through their local development partnerships, which are very important for jobs and stimulus in rural areas. Rural development groups have contributed enormously to rural development and job creation since the 1990s, as the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, is well aware. Thousands of communities of all sizes have benefited in many ways. There have been local heritage, cultural and tourism projects, while small rural businesses have created employment at the heart of communities. Voluntary and community groups have benefited from the provision of community halls, playgrounds, scouting facilities and support for festivals which stimulate local economies every year by attracting business and visitors to rural areas. We must not forget training and development, a process of capacity-building for citizens residing in rural communities.

In my county, more than 100 projects of substantial size have been approved through the Waterford Leader partnership in the last seven years. It is important to acknowledge the voluntary efforts of rural community groups and the time they devote to improving their local areas. Last year alone, funding was granted to the Ardmore Pattern Festival, the Lismore Music Festival, the Kilmacthomas river walk, the Portlaw footbridge, the Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing, the Waterford Festival of Food and the Cheekpoint and Faithlegg playground, among many others. It is important to continue to support rural development groups in every possible way.

There has been a substantial increase in the number of proposals submitted to the Department this year. I understand the Minister has requested an evaluation of the entire programme, which is reasonable given the limited resources available. It is important that groups can access funding through their partnerships as soon as possible. They contribute very valuably to job creation and economic stimulus in areas that would never be reached without the existence of the rural development programme and the partnerships. I ask the Minister to tell the House if the evaluation has been completed. We are coming to the end of April and projects await approval to get up and running and so that money can be spent proactively within communities. I am interested to hear the Minister's response as I am hopeful he can approve the projects to release the stimulus funding into rural areas as soon as possible.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Ann Phelan. It is appropriate that she is in the Chair for this matter. Many Members from all parties have asked about this issue recently. I thank Deputy Coffey for using the time available to discuss topical issues to give me the opportunity to clarify matters.

The Leader elements of the Rural Development Programme 2007-13, which my Department delivers, are designed to address many of the challenges facing rural communities, including the need to increase economic activity and stimulate job creation. Expenditure under the programme has been progressing steadily and, to date, my Department has paid out over €176 million, of which €123 million was in direct project payments. This support has the capacity not only to facilitate access to sustainable employment opportunities in rural areas but also to help support sustainable rural communities and maintain healthy rural economies for business creation and development into the future.

I am pleased to announce that, following a thorough examination of project activity in local development companies, I will release a further €90 million in funding for the Leader elements of the rural development programme. As a first step, I am authorising the issuing of contracts for approximately €42 million worth of projects. I have given local development companies two weeks to notify my Department whether all of the relevant projects have the necessary approvals in place to proceed. Based on companies' responses and the remaining allocation under the programme, my Department will then notify each company of its revised allocation.

My Department had to pause project approvals in February 2013 as the value of the programme had decreased arising from the increase in the European Commission's co-funding rate from 55% to 85%. The Department had to determine the level of project commitments across all local development companies in order to rebalance the programme in as equitable a way as possible. Local development companies have continued to issue payments on all existing contractual commitments and, to date in 2013, my Department has paid out more than €14 million under the programme.

As to Deputy Coffey's question on the future of local development companies, I am keen that their expertise and experience will be harnessed as part of new structures I outlined in Putting People First: Action Programme for Effective Local Government. We need the best possible collaboration between the various programmes and entities that deliver public funding into our communities. Projects and front-line services must be put before administrative structures. The significant reform we are undertaking in our local government system will place local government in a stronger position to co-ordinate and oversee the community-focused funding delivered on an area basis. It is in keeping with the way in which we are enhancing local government's role in locally focused enterprise support. Local development companies and other local bodies will continue to play important roles in delivering services to communities and citizens in the context of the enhanced alignment between local government and local development.

The alignment of the community sector with local government will not affect funding for local community development companies, Tús and the rural social scheme, as that funding comes from the Exchequer. Rural development programme funding will come into the frame as it comes under the Common Agricultural Policy budget. Rural development funding will be finalised later this year with reference to available moneys determined by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and me in the context of the CAP budget. This arises on foot of the completion of the multi-annual financial framework by the European Commission and Heads of State in February. I want to deliver more projects as quickly as possible while ensuring good value for money in their administration between now and the end of the programme.

Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I thank the Minister for his very positive response. I welcome that he has kick-started the release of funding into communities. It does not go unnoticed that a further €19 million in funding for the Leader elements of the rural development programme will be approved along with contracts for approximately €42 million worth of projects. The funding will undoubtedly kick-start many projects nationally. In 2013 alone, Waterford will see the building of a scout centre in Dungarvan, the Tallow Futures project, the Stradbally playground park and machinery for small and medium-sized enterprises to help create employment.

I welcome the Minister's assurances on the continuing involvement of Leader groups under the proposed local government reforms. It is by combining the best attributes of the experience of Leader groups with the reach, expertise and accountability of local authorities and their elected members that we can deliver what is best for rural communities. Leader groups have met the Minister and many Deputies to discuss concerns about what the future holds. They sought the Minister's assurance on their involvement and his plans for local government reform and the continued flourishing of rural development projects in rural communities. It is what we are about. I welcome the positive news.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The Acting Chairman, Deputy Ann Phelan, will agree that Deputy Coffey needs all the money that is to be spent in Carlow-Kilkenny and elsewhere, so carried away did he get with all the projects he had in Waterford. I clarify for Deputy Coffey that we have €90 million available to spend, of which €42 million will be released immediately for projects that have been in the system for some time.

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