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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 51-75
 Header Item Public Participation Networks
 Header Item Disability Services Funding
 Header Item Town and Village Renewal Scheme
 Header Item Voluntary Sector
 Header Item Rural Transport Services
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Local Improvement Scheme
 Header Item Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme
 Header Item CLÁR Programme
 Header Item Community Enhancement Programme
 Header Item Flexible Work Practices
 Header Item Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme
 Header Item LEADER Programmes
 Header Item Island Communities
 Header Item Planning Issues
 Header Item Voluntary Sector
 Header Item Town and Village Renewal Scheme
 Header Item Rural Transport Services
 Header Item LEADER Programmes
 Header Item Flexible Work Practices
 Header Item Telecommunications Services

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1002 No. 7

First Page Previous Page Page of 109 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 51-75

Public Participation Networks

 51. Deputy Colm Burke Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her views on the operation of the public participation networks; her plans for further developing this structure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43688/20]

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 Public Participation Networks (PPNs) are the main link between local authorities and the community and voluntary, social inclusion and environmental sectors within their areas. PPNs play a critical role in increasing participation in policymaking at local and national level.

PPNs are now established in all 31 local authority areas, and over 17,500 volunteer-run groups nationwide are currently registered with their local PPN. The recently-published 2019 PPN Annual Report demonstrates their impact, showing that 928 PPN representatives sat on 424 Local Authority Boards and Committees in 2019, inputting on issues such as bye-laws on open spaces, transport routes and restructuring of the LEADER programme. Furthermore, PPNs continue to play a crucial role in the Community Call initiative.

My Department will continue to support PPNs financially and structurally so that local communities, including marginalised communities, can continue to input into policies which affect them. These supports include a bespoke training course for PPN stakeholders, which has recently commenced, and a communications campaign scheduled for 2021. Furthermore, the recently published PPN Handbook, developed in consultation with all stakeholders, provides extensive guidance on operational matters.

In addition, a root-and-branch review of the PPN structures is set to take place next year. Its purpose is to assess the operation of the network to date against the overall objectives and to make recommendations on how to build on existing strengths and support the future development of PPNs. A key element of this review will be consultation with all stakeholders. The review is expected to begin in early 2021 and conclude by the end of 2021.

Disability Services Funding

 52. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her views on adding a requirement that all funding from her Department includes provisions to meet and further rights of persons with disabilities. [43580/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Actions to meet and further the rights of persons with disabilities are delivered across a number of Government Departments and organisations, with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth having responsibility for the National Disability Inclusion Strategy which runs from 2017 to 2021. My Department has many funding programmes which groups can apply for, including those that work to meet and further rights of persons with disabilities. They include:

- Under the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP), funding is provided to Local Development Companies to complete work with marginalised individuals, including persons with disabilities and the groups that represent them.

- Between January 2018 and June 2020, over 300 community groups targeting people with a disability, and over 5,100 individuals who registered as having a disability, have been assisted through SICAP.

- This type of support will continue over the lifetime of the programme, which runs from 2018 to 2022.

- The Scheme to Support National Organisations (SSNO) provides multiannual core funding to national organisations that demonstrate good governance and deliver services and supports that have a focus on one or more of the following: addressing poverty, social exclusion, and promoting equality. The current scheme commenced in July 2019 and is due to close in 2022. €18.8 million was allocated to 74 organisations for the 36-month period of the scheme. There are three disability groups funded under the SSNO 2019-2022. They are the Disability Federation of Ireland, Disability Equality Specialist Support Agency Company Limited by Guarantee and Inclusion Ireland - National Association for People with an Intellectual Disability.

- Several other organisations funded under the scheme provide supports and programmes addressing a wide range of social inclusion issues, including disability supports.

- In 2020, my Department has approved €691,231 for the provision of sensory facilities and equipment in public libraries. This has supported the creation of sensory rooms, gardens and the provision of sensory equipment including comfort kits, Magic Tables and Hublets. These facilities will be used by individuals with Alzheimer’s, sensory impairments, special educational needs and other learning difficulties, and those on the Autism spectrum.

- In addition, since 2019 I have paid €1.3 million under the Dormant Accounts Fund for library supports to disadvantaged, socially excluded and marginalised communities, these projects included initiatives for those with profound physical and learning needs and also visual and hearing impairments. My Department’s Libraries Capital Programme also requires projects to comply with building regulations which legislate for the needs of people with disabilities.

- The Community Enhancement Programme provides small capital grants to enhance facilities in disadvantaged areas. Examples of such projects addressing the needs of persons with disabilities include the provision of wheel chair access ramps/lifts, retro-fitting premises to allow disabled access, and equipment/technology to assist those with disabilities.

- The Community Services Programme, or CSP, currently supports over 420 community organisations to provide services to disadvantages communities and target groups through a social enterprise model, while also creating employment opportunities for specific disadvantaged groups, including persons with disabilities. The CSP funding is provided as a fixed annual contribution to the cost of an agreed number of full-time equivalent (FTE) positions and a manager, where warranted.

- My Department also funds a Public Participation Network in every Local Authority area, with special representation for local social inclusion groups, including those advocating for people with disabilities.

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

 53. Deputy James O'Connor Information on James O'Connor Zoom on James O'Connor asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to bring forward an enhanced town and village renewal scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43975/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The regeneration and revitalisation of our rural towns and villages is a key priority for my Department. Since 2016, my Department has invested €78 million in approximately 1,200 projects under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

The Programme for Government includes a commitment to bring forward an expanded Town and Village Renewal Scheme to bring vacant and derelict buildings back into use and to promote residential occupancy. In this context, a budget of €20 million has been allocated for an expanded Town and Village Renewal Scheme next year - an increase of €5 million, or 33%, on 2020.

€15 million of this funding will be allocated to the standard Town and Village Renewal Scheme to support the economic and social development of our towns and villages, including through measures to encourage town centre living.

€5 million will be used to support the development of remote working facilities at digital hubs and Broadband Connection Points. These facilities can play an important role in supporting the revitalisation of town centres and stimulating local commerce.

In addition for next year, I have secured funding of €2 million to enable rural towns and villages to prepare masterplans as a basis for their strategic development. I believe the development of a shared vision and direction for any town is an essential ingredient for its successful long-term future.

Full details of these initiative will be announced when the Town and Village Renewal Scheme is launched in 2021.

Voluntary Sector

 54. Deputy Paul McAuliffe Information on Paul  McAuliffe Zoom on Paul  McAuliffe asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the funding opportunities available to a centre (details supplied) which is a non-profit organisation providing community, family and employment support in the Finglas, Dublin 11; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43931/20]

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 Community organisations such as the one referenced by the Deputy are funded from a range of different sources across different Government Departments and agencies.

For example, my Department funds the Community Enhancement Programme. The 2020    programme was launched in June with funding of €2m providing small capital grants to community organisations towards enhancing facilities.   Separately, under the July stimulus package my Department launched a €5m fund for repairs or upgrades to community centres and community buildings. While both these programmes have recently closed it is hoped to run the CEP programme again in 2021.

More recently my Department launched a €1.7m COVID-19 Emergency Fund  , which community and voluntary groups can apply for by contacting the Local Community Development Committee or Local Authority in their area. This follows on from a previous €2.5m round of this fund.

  More generally, depending on the activities carried out in the facility, there may be different types of funding available from a range of Government Departments and agencies. I recommend that the group in question engage with both the Local Community Development Committee and the Local Development Company in their area for any updates in this regard.

  Question No. 55 answered with Question No. 41.

Rural Transport Services

 56. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the engagement she has had with other Departments regarding issues relating to rural Ireland and specifically regarding public transport in rural areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43918/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The new Rural Development Policy, which is currently being finalised by my Department, will the Government’s blueprint for rural Ireland over the next five years. It will seek to address issues affecting rural areas through the implementation of measures designed to build and strengthen rural communities and rural economies. The new policy will reflect a strategic, whole-of-government approach and will complement other relevant Government initiatives.

As part of the development of the policy an extensive consultation process has been undertaken which helped to identify the issues that matter most to people living and working in rural Ireland. A wide range of stakeholders, including Government Departments and State agencies, were involved in these consultations. My Department also consulted with Departments on the rural policy through a Senior Officials Group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach.

The provision of reliable, integrated public transport services was identified as of key importance by many people who participated in the consultation process at workshops throughout the country in 2019. I anticipate that this will be reflected in the new rural policy and that the commitments in the Programme for Government around improved rural transport will be reinforced in the policy when it is published in the New Year.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 57. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the amount of the €45 million Covid-19 stability fund for community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises that has been paid out to date. [43933/20]

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 The Government is aware of the challenges facing community and voluntary organisations and is committed to working closely with the sector in managing through these, recognising that it will require a whole of Government approach.

  The Community and Voluntary Sector Covid-19 Stability Fund was intended to be a targeted once-off cash injection for organisations and groups currently delivering critical front-line services to the most at need in our society and in danger of imminent closure due to lost fund-raised or traded income as a direct result of restrictions to counter the spread of COVID-19. The criteria of the scheme stated that any grants awarded would be dependent on the need identified and organisations approved for funding were prioritised on that basis.

  This fund is providing up to €45million of funding through the Dormant Accounts Fund (DAF) and the criteria align with DAF objectives to support:

  1. The personal and social development of persons who are economically or socially disadvantaged; or

  2. The educational development of persons who are educationally disadvantaged; or

  3. Persons with a disability.

  My Department received 1,060 applications during the application periods. To date, funding of €31,370,238 has been allocated to 598 organisations. On 11 December I was pleased to announce a further €13,436,742 top-up has been allocated to 574 of those organisations as a result of the €10m announcement in Budget 2021. As of 14 December 2020, €29,268,399 has been paid out to qualifying organisations and I expect a significant increase on this amount as organisations draw down their additional allocations over the coming days.

  This funding is now supporting the delivery of many critical front line services in every part of the country. The fund is now closed to new applications, however a small number of appeals await final decision. Outcomes will be communicated to these organisations individually.

  Lists of successful applicants are available on my Department’s website at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/3957e-covid-19-stability-fund-successful-applicants/

Local Improvement Scheme

 58. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the local improvement scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43589/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Local Improvement Scheme, or LIS, is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas which are not under the normal maintenance of the Local Authorities. The scheme is funded by my Department and is administered through the relevant Local Authorities.

Since the LIS was re-launched in 2017, over €58 million has been allocated to Local Authorities for improvements to over 2,300 qualifying roads under the scheme. This funding has made a significant difference to the access provided by these roads for over 10,000 beneficiaries.

An allocation of €10 million was made available in 2020 for the Local Improvement Scheme, and works under the scheme are now complete with all funding drawn down.

Recognising the value of the scheme for people living in rural areas, I have secured an increase in the allocation for LIS in Budget 2021. Funding for the scheme next year will increase by 5% to €10.5 million. The distribution of this funding to each of the relevant Local Authorities will be announced early next year when I formally launch the scheme for 2021.

  Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 24.

Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme

 60. Deputy Alan Dillon Information on Alan  Dillon Zoom on Alan  Dillon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys when she expects to announce successful applications under the outdoor recreation scheme; her plans to operate the scheme in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44119/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme supports the development of new outdoor recreational infrastructure and the maintenance or enhancement of existing infrastructure. It provides vital funding for amenities such as walking trails, cycleways, blue ways and mountain access routes.

  Since the funding began in 2016, €52 million has been allocated to 747 projects countrywide. This year, projects applications were accepted under 3 Measures:

  Measure 1 for small scale projects requiring funding of up to €20,000,

  Measure 2 for medium scale projects with funding of up to €200,000, and

  Measure 3 for large scale projects seeking funding of up to €500,000.

This 2020 Scheme was launched on the 29th   May last in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland and with an indicative budget of €10 million from my Department's Vote.

The closing date for receipt of applications under Measure 1 was the 30th   September 2020. My Department has received 193 applications, seeking funding of €3.6 million, under this Measure. The assessment of these applications is nearly complete and I expect to make an announcement on the approved projects shortly.

The closing date for Measure 2 and Measure 3 projects was the 30th   November 2020. The review and assessment of these applications will be completed early in the New Year.

  It is my intention to run a new Call for Proposals under the Outdoor Recreation Scheme in 2021 and I was pleased to secure an additional €2 million in Exchequer funding for the scheme next year. This will bring my Department's budget for the scheme next year to €12 million, with additional funding being provided by Fáilte Ireland as partners in the scheme.

CLÁR Programme

 61. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan Information on Aindrias Moynihan Zoom on Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the reason larger counties with larger CLÁR areas are limited to making the same number of CLÁR applications as much smaller counties with smaller CLÁR areas; if an imbalance against CLÁR area residents in the larger counties is recognised; her plans to review the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43920/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The CLÁR programme provides funding for small scale projects in rural areas that have experienced significant levels of de-population. The Measures being funded through this year's programme are:

  Measure 1: Support for Schools/Community Safety Measures

  Measure 2: Community Recreation Areas (new for 2020)

  Measure 3: Community Wellbeing Support

  (a) Meals on Wheels and linked services (new in 2020)

  (b) Mobility and Cancer Care Transport,

  Under Measures 1 and 2, Local Authorities were permitted to submit up to 10 applications between both Measures. Under Measure 3a and 3b, community groups were invited to submit applications directly to the Department, and there was no limit placed on the number of these applications.

  While each Local Authority was permitted to submit the same number of applications under Measures 1 and 2, the number of projects approved in each county this year was decided by reference to the proportion of the CLÁR area within each county. This approach was taken to ensure that counties with a proportionally larger CLÁR area relative to the overall size of the county received greater assistance under the programme.

  The methodology this year is similar to the allocation model used under the scheme in 2019. Counties with eligible CLÁR areas were divided into 4 categories - small, medium, large and very large. These categories refer to the proportion of the designated CLÁR area within a county, rather than the overall size of the county. The number of applications approved was then decided based on this categorisation.

  I believe this is a balanced approach to the distribution of CLÁR funding; it prioritises those counties with proportionally the largest CLÁR areas, in line with the purpose of the scheme.

Community Enhancement Programme

 62. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the projects supported by her Department in counties Meath and Louth in 2020 under the community enhancement programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43610/20]

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 The Community Enhancement Programme provides small capital grants to enhance facilities in disadvantaged areas.

  I launched two rounds of the programme this year, the first in April with funding of €2m and the second in August with funding of €5m from the Government's July Stimulus Package.

  Under the programme, funding is allocated to each Local Authority area taking account of the deprivation level in each area. The Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) then administers the programme to ensure funding is provided locally to the groups and areas that need it most.   

  In 2020, under the Community Enhancement Programme, County Meath received €220,477 in total and County Louth received €234,613.

  The list of projects or groups that were approved in 2020 in Meath and Louth is being collected from the LCDCs and I will provide this to the Deputy separately. 59 groups or projects were approved for Louth and 60 were approved for Meath.

Flexible Work Practices

 63. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the interdepartmental group set up within her Department to examine the remote working hubs and co-working spaces; when the group is due to report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43917/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Remote working has the potential to transform rural Ireland, allowing people to build careers in good quality jobs while continuing to live closer to home. It also provides an opportunity for those that moved away to return to their roots to raise their families.

  My Department is collaborating with the Western Development Commission (WDC) to develop a national integrated network of remote working hubs, supported by shared back-office services. The national network will build upon the work of the WDC in developing a Hub Network along the Atlantic Economic Corridor, from Kerry to Donegal.

  The development of the national network is being overseen by an Interdepartmental Working Group chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. The Working Group is made up of representatives from:

  - Department of Rural and Community Development

  - Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

  - Department of Environment, Climate and Communications

  - Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

  - Enterprise Ireland

  - IDA

  - Údaras na Gaeltachta

  - The Western Development Commission

  The Working Group has met twice since its inception. As part of its work programme, it will, inter alia,:

  - Develop and map a national dataset of remote working hub infrastructure, facilities and services;

  - Identify appropriate development models for different remote working facilities in line with a classification model developed by the WDC; and

  - Raise awareness of hub facilities to support remote working across Ireland.

  The first deliverable from the Interdepartmental Group will be to publish a composite national map of remote working hubs across the country by the end of Q1 2021.

Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme

 64. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will consider expanding schemes such as the rural recreation scheme, the walks scheme, the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and other similar schemes in view of the vital services and benefits they provide to local economies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44159/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys COVID-19 has reminded us all of the importance of outdoor recreation amenities for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Since 2016, my Department has invested €52 million in 747 projects under the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme (ORIS) and its predecessor the Rural Recreation Scheme. ORIS provides funding for the development and/or enhancement of outdoor recreational infrastructure such as cycleways, walking trails, blueways and mountain access routes in rural areas.

The recreational amenities funded through ORIS not only provide an outlet for the communities in which they are situated, but also deliver added value from a tourism and economic perspective in these areas.

The 2020 scheme has an Exchequer budget of €10 million. I was pleased to secure a 20% increase in funding for ORIS in 2021, to expand the scheme to €12 million.

The Walks Scheme is currently made up of 39 trails. In December 2019, it was announced that 10 new trails would be added as part of a phased expansion of the scheme. Work Plans are currently being finalised with the landowners on these trails so that they can be formally included under the scheme. This process has been delayed somewhat by restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19.

The Programme for Government includes a commitment that the number of trails will increase to 80 under the Walks Scheme. I expect to announce the addition of further trails to the scheme next year in line with this commitment. The addition of these trails will be informed by the completion of an external review of the Walks Scheme which is currently in train and due to report in early 2021.

LEADER Programmes

 65. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the extent to which she expects the LEADER programme to address the multi-various issues affecting urban and rural communities throughout the country in the coming years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43201/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department’s mission is to promote rural and community development and support the creation of vibrant and sustainable communities across the country. This mission is delivered through a range of policies, programmes and initiatives, including the LEADER programme which focuses on rural areas.

  A feature of the LEADER programme is that it is based on a community-led, bottom-up approach to rural development.

  The LEADER Programme is administered nationwide by 29 Local Action Groups (LAGs) and supports projects under three themes:

  - economic development, enterprise development and job creation,

  - social inclusion, and

  - rural environment.

  As of 13 December 2020, 3,763 core projects with a value of over €149 million had been approved for LEADER funding by the LAGs since 2016.   The investment in these projects make a significant contribution to the development of communities across Ireland.

  Yesterday I announced the provision of €20 million in funding for a Transitional LEADER Programme to commence in 2021. This funding will bridge a gap between the end of the current LEADER programme this year, and the next EU LEADER programme which will not commence until 2023.   

  The Transitional Programme will ensure that LEADER will continue to support and revitalise our communities and make them sustainable and desirable places in which to live and work through co-ordinated approaches that build on the economic strengths and infrastructure of rural areas.

Island Communities

 66. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the islands’ action plan and her engagement with island communities in relation to the plan since taking office. [43576/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Prior to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic my officials had been engaged in a process of consultation with island communities in relation to the development of a new Islands Policy. This consultation was carried out through public meetings on the islands.

The consultation process had to be temporarily suspended due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and to avoid health risks for the island communities.

More recently, my officials have been liaising with the representatives of the island communities who had not had the opportunity to contribute directly to the consultation process, to enable them to make an input on behalf of their communities. In the current circumstances, this engagement is being done remotely.

These on-line engagements have commenced and three meetings have been held. My Department hope to consult the remaining islands and other stakeholders through the same mechanism.

In the New Year, mMy Department will also reconvene the Inter-Departmental Committee charged with overseeing the development of the policy, to reflect on the key issues which have emerged from the consultation process. Work will also commence on the drafting of the new policy, which will be supported by an Action Plan to implement the policy.

  Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 41.

Planning Issues

 68. Deputy Darren O'Rourke Information on Darren O'Rourke Zoom on Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has held discussions with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the topic of one-off housing planning; her views on whether banning one-off housing in rural Ireland will have a detrimental impact on rural community development; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43977/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department is currently finalising a new rural development policy for the coming five years. The new policy will be forward-looking and ambitious and will build on the progress achieved through the Action Plan for Rural Development which concluded in 2019.

The policy will seek to strengthen our rural economies and communities, and will include policy measures to achieve these objectives through a whole-of-Government approach.

The process of developing the policy has included a wide range of consultation events with key stakeholders, Government Departments including the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, State agencies, rural stakeholder groups, young people, and the wider public. Their insights and views have helped to identify the issues that matter to people living and working in rural Ireland and this input is being factored in to the drafting of the policy.

I have also discussed the development of the policy with some of my Cabinet colleagues, including the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

The National Planning Framework recognises the importance of planning for the growth and development of rural areas and there are guidelines on the building of one-off houses in rural areas. I discussed with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the need for these guidelines to be applied in a consistent manner across all Local Authority areas.

We should strive for an appropriate, responsible and sustainable balance to rural development in line with the National Planning Framework, while recognising the diversity of rural places.

Voluntary Sector

 69. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will report on the new volunteering strategy; her plans to implement same; the level of engagement with communities in its development; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43812/20]

 81. Deputy Alan Farrell Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the National Volunteering Strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43954/20]

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 I propose to take Questions Nos. 69 and 81 together.

  I am pleased to advise that the National Volunteering Strategy was launched on the 5th   December, which coincided with International Volunteering Day. The purpose of the National Volunteering Strategy is to recognise, support and promote the unique value and contribution of volunteers to Irish society. It also provides an opportunity for Government to acknowledge how important volunteering is to the well-being of the nation and to steer the delivery of an agreed and ambitious vision.

  Supporting the role of volunteers in our society is an important element of my Department’s work in developing vibrant, sustainable and inclusive communities. The development of the first National Volunteering Strategy (2021-2025) has been a key priority for my Department in 2020.

  The Strategy comprises five high level objectives, with 56 associated actions and it outlines a whole-of-government framework to support the volunteering environment.

  Public participation has been at the forefront in developing this Strategy. This has included a Call for Input launched in December 2018, the establishment of a National Advisory Group representative of all stakeholders and chaired by the Minister of State, the engagement of our young people through a consultation event with Foróige and a further public consultation process undertaken in December 2019.

  The next step for my Department is to form an Implementation Group drawn from various stakeholders across the sector. This group will assist my Department to implement the actions contained in the Strategy over the next five years and will monitor and evaluate progress on delivery.

  Ongoing monitoring and evaluation will allow us to determine the impact and also to review and refocus the Strategy over the five year period, where necessary. Appropriate mechanisms will be needed to monitor and evaluate progress and these will be developed as part of an implementation plan.

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

 70. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys further to Parliamentary Question No. 13 of 5 November 2020, the way in which the additional €2 million in funding for the development of master plans for up to 50 towns will be administered; the criteria for a town to be chosen as one of the 50 towns that will develop master plans; when the decision will be made as to the towns which are included on the list of 50 towns; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43331/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Programme for Government includes a commitment for an expanded Town and Village Renewal Scheme to bring vacant and derelict buildings back into use and promote residential occupancy.

This follows on from the pilot initiative developed by my Department to explore how to encourage increased residential occupancy in rural towns and villages. An independent report on the pilot initiative highlighted the value of developing a shared vision, or masterplan, for individual towns as part of the process to counteract vacancy and dereliction, and to make these town centres more attractive places in which to live.

I have secured an additional €2 million for 2021 as part of the expanded Town and Village Renewal Scheme next year. This funding will be used to support the preparation of masterplans to guide the strategic development of rural towns and villages.

I anticipate that individual masterplans will include actions tailored to address the vacancy and town centre living issues specific to the town in question. The initiative will be progressed in 2021 and further details, including the basis for the inclusion of towns in the process, will be announced at that time.

Rural Transport Services

 71. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh Information on Marc Ó Cathasaigh Zoom on Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the steps she is taking to highlight and prioritise rural transport needs to the Department of Transport including the integration of local link services and the subsidised hackney scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43327/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys My Department is currently finalising a new rural development policy for the period 2021–2025, which will reflect a whole-of-Government commitment to rural Ireland. The new policy will be forward looking and will reflect other relevant Government initiatives to support rural Ireland.

As part of the development of the policy an extensive consultation process has been undertaken which helped to identify the issues that matter most to people living and working in rural areas. A wide range of stakeholders, including Government Departments and State agencies, were involved in these consultations.

The provision of reliable, integrated public transport services was identified as of key importance by many people who participated in the consultation process at workshops throughout the country in 2019. My Department has highlighted this to the Department of Transport through Departmental consultations on the rural policy. My Department also has on-going engagements with the National Transport Authority which oversees the Local Link service.

I anticipate that the issue of rural transport will be reflected in the new rural policy when it is published in the New Year.

LEADER Programmes

 72. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the current EU MFF budgetary proposals for the period 2021 to 2027 allocated to Ireland under the LEADER heading of pillar II of the CAP notwithstanding the possibility of potential changes to the proposed EU and CAP budget. [43982/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The LEADER programme, is co-financed by the European Commission under Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), through the European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

  The budget for the CAP for the period 2021-2027 will form part of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), or the EU Budget for that period. The MFF has not yet been formally agreed at EU level.

  However, draft Regulations for the post-2020 CAP published by the European Commission propose that a minimum of 5% of EAFRD funding be allocated to LEADER. This is in line with the current Rural Development Regulations.   

  However, the level of funding available for LEADER will not be clear until the EU budget and Member States’ allocations under the CAP are agreed. This may not be finalised until early 2021.   

Flexible Work Practices

 73. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has considered working with local authorities to establish hubs for remote working in towns and cities to facilitate new ways of working into the future. [34915/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Remote working has the potential to transform rural Ireland, allowing people to build careers in good quality jobs while continuing to live closer to home. It also provides an opportunity for those that moved away from home to return to their roots to raise their families.

The increased shift to remote work in the last nine months as a result of COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to re-imagine 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.

This shift has been supported by the significant investment my Department has made, in partnership with Local Authorities in many cases, in developing remote working facilities across Ireland. My Department has provided €45.2 million to hub-related projects through the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, and €5.2 million through the Town and Village Renewal Scheme since 2016.

My Department is collaborating with the Western Development Commission (WDC) to develop a national integrated network of remote working hubs, supported by shared back-office services. The national network will build upon the work of the WDC in developing a Hub Network along the Atlantic Economic Corridor, from Kerry to Donegal.

The Atlantic Economic Corridor Officers, who are based in the 10 Local Authorities in the AEC region and co-funded by my Department, have supported the development of the AEC Hub Network.

The development of this model into a national hub network is being overseen by an Interdepartmental Working Group chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. A data-gathering project involving all Local Authorities and the Local Government Management Agency is currently underway, with the intention of developing a comprehensive centralised dataset of facilities across Ireland which can support remote working.

  Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 41.

Telecommunications Services

 75. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the date of the last meeting of the mobile phone and broadband taskforce; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42232/20]

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce was launched in July 2016 to be a driving force for improving access to telecommunications services throughout Ireland. The Secretariat to the Taskforce was provided jointly by my Department and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

Since its inception, the Taskforce has addressed more than 70 targeted actions to alleviate connectivity barriers and resolve issues that negatively impacted on the rollout of essential telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas.

The last meeting of the Taskforce took place on 20 November 2019 and marked the completion of the Taskforce’s 2019 Work Programme and the end of the Taskforce's remit as originally constituted. A Final Three-Year Review Report, detailing the progress made by the Taskforce between 2016 and 2019, has been finalised and is due for publication shortly.

Attention has now turned towards the future orientation of the Taskforce in line with the Programme for Government commitment to continue to support the work of the group.

Officials from my Department and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications have engaged extensively with members of the outgoing Taskforce and with the telecommunications industry on the future direction of the group.

I hope to be in a position to bring forward proposals in the near future, in collaboration with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, that will build on the success and positive engagement of the Taskforce to date.


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