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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 1-22
 Header Item Vacant Properties
 Header Item Remote Working
 Header Item Town and Village Renewal Scheme
 Header Item National Broadband Plan
 Header Item National Broadband Plan
 Header Item Rural Development Plan
 Header Item Voluntary Sector

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 997 No. 5
Unrevised

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Written Answers Nos. 1-22

  The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

  Note: Ministerial and Departmental titles have been updated in the Question text in anticipation of the relevant Government orders to give legal effect to the Taoiseach's announcement in Dáil Éireann on 27 June 2020.

  Questions Nos. 1-15 answered orally.

Vacant Properties

 16. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if specific measures will be introduced to assist in the upgrading of vacant premises to provide living accommodation in smaller towns and villages in rural communities in view of the fact such investment could contribute substantially to the regeneration of these communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24334/20]

Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Programme for Government contains a number of commitments to develop a Town Centre First policy, including a commitment for an expanded Town and Village Renewal Scheme to bring vacant and derelict buildings back into use and promote residential occupancy.

  In October 2018, my Department launched a Town Centre Living Initiative to explore in a holistic way how to encourage increased residential occupancy in rural towns and villages.  The pilot focused on 6 towns with different characteristics in different parts of the country. 

  An independent report on the pilot Town Centre Living Initiative was published on 22nd June 2020.  The report outlines the approach taken by each town under the pilot and sets out the key issues identified to encourage increased town centre living and the repurposing of vacant properties for residential purposes. 

  It highlights the importance of Local Authorities consulting with local communities and property owners on town centre development proposals, and the value of developing a shared vision or master plan for the town. 

  The report, which is available on the Gov.ie website, highlights the multiplicity of factors that need to be addressed which cut across a number of Government Departments and agencies. 

  An interdepartmental Steering Group is now being established to examine the suggestions in the report in further detail with a view to bringing forward a set of proposals to Government for consideration.

Remote Working

 17. Deputy Matt Shanahan Information on Matt Shanahan Zoom on Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the steps being taken by her Department to provide additional funding to both enhance existing hubs in view of the fact that remote working is now becoming the new normal for persons both in the public and private sectors, and that this is likely to be the norm for some time; if funding for additional hubs across rural Ireland will be provided; if this will be a vital step; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24435/20]

Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Government is committed to supporting remote working, not least in the context of retaining skilled young people in rural communities.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the value of remote working in maintaining economic activity and in the provision of many public services has been clearly demonstrated.  The increased shift to remote work in the last six months has given us the opportunity to reimagine the possibilities 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.

Remote working has the potential to transform rural Ireland, allowing people to build careers in good quality jobs while continuing to live in their home place.  It also provides an opportunity for those that moved away from home for work reasons to return to their roots to raise their families.

Since 2019, my Department has been working with the Western Development Commission to build an integrated network of remote working hubs along the Atlantic Economic Corridor, from Kerry to Donegal.  The WDC has identified and mapped more than 120 remote working hubs which serve that region.  The approach to building this network and shared backoffice services will serve as a model which can be replicated in other parts of the country.

My Department has allocated €1 million to this project, including the provision of €280,000 to assist the hubs in adapting to the challenges of COVID-19.

In addition, my Department has been working to connect approximately 300 Broadband Connection Points in remote and rural areas across the country. These BCPs will be among the first premises connected under the National Broadband Plan and many of them have the potential to provide remote working facilities.

My Department has also funded a number of hubs under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund and the Town and Village Renewal Scheme in the last two years and will continue to explore the options for investment which will support remote working.

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

 18. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the projects in receipt of funding through the town and village renewal scheme 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24396/20]

Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys This year’s Town and Village Renewal Scheme has been tailored to focus on interventions that can assist our rural towns and villages to respond to the challenges presented by COVID-19.  

  The scheme includes an Accelerated Measure which will enable towns and villages to introduce initiatives immediately to support increased footfall and enable people to shop and socialise safely in accordance with public health guidelines.

  The scheme also includes a second Measure which places a focus on the recovery of towns and villages from the impact of COVID-19 in the medium-term.

  Funding of €10 million has been provided for the Accelerated Measure which will be allocated under three funding rounds.

  I have already announced the successful projects under Rounds 1 and 2, with a total of €6.1 million being approved for 226 projects across the country.

  Applications under Round 3 of the Accelerated Measure are currently being assessed by my officials and further funding announcements will be made when that process is complete.

  Details of all projects that were approved under Rounds 1 and 2 of the Accelerated Measure can be found on my Department’s pages on the Gov.ie website.

  The closing date for applications under the COVID-19 medium-term response measure under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme is 30th September and it is envisaged that successful projects under that strand of the scheme will be announced later in the year. 

National Broadband Plan

 19. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to improve connectivity and infrastructure for rural areas in County Cork, particularly those that recently moved into the city boundary under the boundary changes. [24332/20]

Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The provision of telecommunications services is a matter for commercial providers operating in a liberalised market.  Nonetheless, under the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the Government will fund the provision of a high-speed broadband network in areas where it is not commercially viable for service providers to do so. 

  The NBP network, which comes under the remit of Minister Eamon Ryan’s Department, will be rolled out to almost 540,000 premises across the country. 

  In parallel, my Department has been working closely with Local Authorities to identify Broadband Connection Points which will make free on-site connectivity available to communities in remote rural areas, including in County Cork.  The BCPs will be situated in publicly accessible buildings such as sports clubs and community centres and will be amongst the first premises to be connected under the National Broadband Plan. 

  Over the coming months, approximately 300 Broadband Connection Points will be provided with a high speed connection.  The locations of the BCPs are available on the website of National Broadband Ireland, at www.nbi.ie

  Many of the BCPs will facilitate remote working which I believe has the potential to transform rural Ireland, allowing people to build careers in good quality jobs while continuing to live in their home place.  

National Broadband Plan

 20. Deputy Joe Flaherty Information on Joe  Flaherty Zoom on Joe  Flaherty asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the roll out of broadband connection points in counties Longford and Westmeath. [16074/20]

 34. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when the 300 high-speed Internet hubs announced under the National Broadband Plan on 19 November 2019 will be delivered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24192/20]

 36. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the roll out of broadband connection points in counties Carlow and Kilkenny. [16079/20]

 39. Deputy Cathal Crowe Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The status of the roll out of broadband connection points in County Clare. [16083/20]

Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 20, 34, 36 and 39 together.

  The Broadband Connection Points, or BCPs, are a collaborative initiative involving my Department, the Department of Communications, the Local Authorities, National Broadband Ireland, Vodafone Ireland and hundreds of volunteers and site owners across the State.

  BCPs will make free on-site connectivity available to communities in remote rural areas that currently do not have access to reliable high-speed broadband services.  They will be situated in publicly accessible buildings such as sports clubs and community centres and will be among the first premises to be connected under the National Broadband Plan. 

  Approximately 300 BCPs will be connected across the State, including on many of our off-shore islands. These sites have been identified by Local Authority Broadband Officers and have proceeded with the permission of the site owners and the committees and volunteers that run them.

  The location of the BCPs are available on the website of National Broadband Ireland, www.nbi.ie, although it should be noted that sites can be subject to change due to circumstances such as the provision of a commercial high speed broadband connection to an area. 

  To date National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the company contracted to deliver the National Broadband Plan, has provided initial wireless high-speed broadband connections to 130 sites.

  Vodafone Ireland, which was awarded the contract to provide and manage end-user services at these sites, has commenced the installation of its equipment at BCP sites and the first cohort of sites will become fully operational in the coming weeks.

  By the end of 2020, approximately 200 BCP sites will be live, with the remaining 100 sites operational in early 2021.

Rural Development Plan

 21. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the new rural development policy; when it will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24324/20]

Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department is currently finalising a new rural development policy for the period 2020-2025.  The new policy will be forward-looking and will build on the progress achieved through the Action Plan for Rural Development 2017-2019. 

The new policy will seek to strengthen and build resilience in our rural communities and economies, particularly in response to COVID-19, and it will identify policy measures that need to be put in place to achieve that objective. 

The process of developing the policy has included a wide range of consultation events with key stakeholders, including Government Departments, State agencies, rural organisations, young people and the wider public.  The insights and views captured through this extensive consultation process have helped to identify the issues that matter to people living and working in rural Ireland.

Over the past number of months, my Department has held a series of further consultations with key stakeholders to explore the short and longer-term implications of COVID-19 for rural communities and rural economies and to identify actions required to assist rural areas to recover from the impact of the virus.

The inputs from all of these consultations are now being factored in to the drafting of the policy and I expect that the final policy will be published in the last quarter of the year. 

Voluntary Sector

 22. Deputy Patrick Costello Information on Patrick Costello Zoom on Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Community and Rural Development and the Islands Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the steps being taken in relation to the commitment in the Programme for Partnership Government to ensure that organisations (details supplied) are properly resourced especially in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. [24318/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development (Deputy Joe O'Brien): Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien Men’s and Women’s Sheds make an invaluable contribution to community life in Ireland.

  My Department is providing a range of supports in 2020 which Men's and Women's Sheds can avail of, depending on the works being completed.  This can include work relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  In June, I launched the 2020 Community Enhancement Programme with funding of €2m.  In August, the Department launched a separate €5m fund under the same Programme. These provide capital grants to community groups and details are available on Gov.ie.

  Men's and Women's Shed Groups could also potentially be eligible for funding under the LEADER Programme. Relevant details are available on the National Rural Network website.

  My Department also has responsibility for the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme.  This programme has provided support to a total of 2,120 local community groups to date in 2020.  This includes 121 Men’s Sheds and 10 Women’s Sheds. This support will continue to be available throughout the current iteration of SICAP which runs until 2022.   

  The Scheme to Support National Organisations (SSNO) provides multiannual core funding to national organisations in the Community and Voluntary sector.  The Irish Men’s Sheds Association has been allocated €270,000 over the 36 month period of the scheme, which commenced in July 2019 and which will run to July 2022.


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