Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 October 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
Sustaining Viable Rural Communities: Discussion
Cuirim fáilte roimh gach éinne. The meeting is resumed and we are in public session. We will now discuss what it takes to sustain a viable rural community with representatives of Comhar na nOileán Teo., Roscommon Leader Partnership, South Kerry Development Partnership and West Cork Development Partnership.
I welcome the following witnesses to the meeting: Máire Uí Mhaoláin, príomhoifigeach feidhmiúcháin, and Mr. Simon Murray, comhordnóir tionscnaimh Chomhlacht Forbartha Inis Bó Finne, ar son Chomhar na nOileán; Ms Martina Earley, chief executive officer, and Mr. Tomás Beades, on behalf of Roscommon Leader Partnership; Mr. Noel Spillane, chief executive officer, Mr. Joseph McCrohan, rural social scheme/Tús programme manager, Mr. Seán de Buitléar, Leader programme officer and European Union projects manager, and Mr. Kevin Griffin, board member, on behalf of South Kerry Development Partnership Limited.; and Mr. John O’Brien, chairman, and Mr. Ian Dempsey, chief executive officer, on behalf of West Cork Development Partnership. Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leo as bheith anseo inniu.
I wish to draw attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009 witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary respect to the effect that where possible they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also wish to advise the witnesses that their opening statements and any other documents they have submitted to the committee may be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the longstanding parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Today's meeting is a first in a series of meetings this committee will hold to get to the heart of what makes a rural community sustainable and viable. During our deliberations we will examine all aspects of the requirements of rural communities in modern Ireland. We have divided it into six different streams: employment, emergency services, local services, quality of life, education and transport. We will gather evidence from witnesses from all four provinces, including the Gaeltacht, including representatives from Leader partnerships and Government agencies, local service and local interest groups, business, education, farming, financial and transport sectors, and health care, leisure, sport and charity organisations as well as the relevant Government Departments. It will be a wide-ranging and comprehensive study.
Today we are considering the employment stream which includes investment, development and employment in rural areas, doing business and locating workers in rural areas and incentives for rural enterprises, resource-based industries and creative and media industries.
Glaoim ar ionadaithe Comhar na nOileán Teoranta chun labhairt leis an gcoiste.
Ms Máire Uí Mhaoláin:
I will be speaking as Gaeilge, if anyone wishes to take the opportunity to put on their headphones.
Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an gcoiste as an gcuireadh a theacht ar an gcruinniú seo agus ár dtuairimí a thabhairt faoi céard a dteastaíonn muid maidir le forbairtí inmharthanactha a bhaint amach ar na hoileáin. Tá oileáin mhara na hÉireann an-chosúil lena chéile ar go leor bealaí ach an-éagsúil ag an am ceánna. Tá muid ag déileáil le hoileáin ó chósta Dhún na nGall síos go dtí chósta Chorcaí. Tá siad ar fad lonnaithe i gceantair atá iargúlta agus i réigiúin imeallacha oileánda. Tá dúshláin forbartha iomadúla ag muintir na n-oileán agus dúshlán níos géire fós acu i gcoinne na hiomaíochta domhanda agus an gá atá le féiniúlachtaí áitiúla a gcaomhnú ar na hoileáin.
Airíonn oileánaigh go minic go bhfuil siad uaireanta do-fheicthe ó thaobh dearadh agus seachadhadh pholasaithe Rialtais de. Is é taithí atá ag oileánaigh ná go bhfuil faillí á dhéanamh ar na beartais a gheall an Rialtas anuas na mblianta na polasaithe éagsúla a leagadh amach agus nár leanadh de réir mar a chuaigh blianta ar aghaidh. Tá sé sin léirithe sa ráiteas tosaigh a scaipeadh ar an gcoiste. Is léir é go mór mór sa bpróiseas ailínithe leis na gcomhairlí contae agus na comhlachtaí Leader faoi láthair agus na riachtanais go mbeadh na hoileáin faoi cheithre réigiún difriúil sa tír. Labróidh mé níos mó faoi sin ar ball ach is dúshlán mór millteanach é sin agus tá sé beagnach do-dhéanta a bheith freagrach do cheithre chomhairle contae agus muid an t-aon ghrúpa sa tír ina bhfuil sé seo ag baint leis.
Gabhfaidh mé tríd na rudaí éagsúla an-scioptha agus coinneoidh mé mo chuid cainte taobh istigh de na cúig nó sé nóiméad a dúradh liom a dhéanamh.
Maidir le cúrsaí rochtain agus taistil, cé go bhfuil feabhas suntasach ar an soláthar iompair chuig an mórthír le 20 bliain anuas, beidh iompar i gcónaí ar cheann de na saincheisteanna lárnacha ar a bhfuil éifeacht aige ar chaighdeán saoil na n-áitritheoirí sa bhfad téarma ar na hoileáin. Maidir leis na céibheanna, na báid, na heitleáin, ár mbóithre agus ár ndroichid, tá chuile sheirbhís eile ar na hoileáin ag brath ar an infreastruchtúr lárnach seo. Cuirim naisc dhigiteacha san áireamh anseo freisin. Is féidir a theacht aníos le cur chuige núálacha i réimsí eile forbairtí má bhíonn an infreastruchtúr ó thaobh leathanbhanda agus cumarsáide de ar an gcaighdeán ceart ag muintir na n-oileán.
I gcúrsaí oideachais, fáiltím roimh an bhfógra inné go mbeadh múinteoir breise ar fáil sna scoileanna aon-oide ar na hoileáin. Is iontach an rud é agus molaimid go mór é. Tá na hinstitiúidí oideachais ar na hoileáin mar cheann de na rudaí is tábhachtaí atá againn. Arís is arís eile, táimid ag rá nach bhfeileann rialacha an mhórphobail leis na mionphobail ar na hoileáin. Mar shampla, ní féidir le oileánach a chuid gasúr a chur chuig an gcéad oileán eile. Bhí an riail ann freisin nach bhfaigheadh siad múinteoir breise mar gheall go raibh siad faoi bhun 45 nóiméad go dtí an chéad scoil eile. An rud a bhí ann le sin ná go bhféadfadh sunda nó píosa mór fada chontúirteach bheith i gceist. Níor tógadh é sin ariamh san áireamh. Bhí sé sin an-amaideach. Baineann sé leis an gcaoi a n-oibríonn polasaí in áiteanna éagsúla. Tá constaicí speisialta go deimhin ag pobal na n-oileán. Ní mór iad sin a chosaint i reachtaíocht na tíre. An pointe tábhachtach atáimid ag iarraidh a dhéanamh ná nach dóigh linn gur féidir an slat tomhais céanna a úsáid i gcás oileáin agus a úsáidtear ar an mórthír. Ar ndóigh, tá cúrsaí taistil agus rochtana an-bhainteach le sin chomh maith. Tagann chuile shórt ar ais chuig an bpointe céanna. Tá cúrsaí taistil agus rochtana an-thábhachtach mar go minic táimid ag brath ar mhúinteoirí a theacht chugainn ón mórthír le cúrsaí breise ar chur ar fáil.
Ní féidir liom béim sách mór a chur ar chúrsaí sláinte na hoileán. Le cúpla bliain anuas, níl feicthe againn ach gearradh siar i ndiaidh gearradh siar. Má tá sé de ádh ar oileán anois banaltra a bheith ann, tá chuile sheans go bhfuileadar ag gearradh siar go dtí trí leath-lá sa tseachtain. Smaoinigh nach bhfuil aon dhochtúir ar an gcuid is mó de oileán na hÉireann. Is é sin an t-aon seirbhís sláinte atá acu, gan trácht ar an réimse leathan eile. Má bhíonn droch-aimsir i rith an trí lá sin, go bhfóire Dia ar aon duine a bhfuil ailse orthu, atá tinn, a bhfuil páiste acu nó a bhfuil rud eile orthu. Níl na seirbhísí ann dóibh. Tá banaltraí ar na hoileáin mar bhunsheirbhís thar a bheith tábhachtach.
Tá sé feicthe againn le go leor blianta anuas nach bhfuil na polasaí feirmeoireachta in oiriúnt do na hoileáin. Teastaíonn tuilleadh scéim áitiúil feirmeoireachta agus comhshaoil. Níl uimhreacha móra stoic nó táirgiúlachta ag na hoileáin. Go minic, tá costas agus deacrachtaí le hainmhithe a thabhairt go dtí an margadh, mar shampla. Is rud beag simplí é, ach níl tuairim ag an bhfeirmeoir ar an oileán cén meáchan atá ag an ainmhí a thógann sé amach chuig an mórthír go dtí go sroicheann sé an áit sin. Go minic, tá feirmeoirí na n-oileán ag brath ar chomhlachtaí ó laismuigh chun praghasanna agus rudaí a shocrú. Mar sin, níl an cothromaíocht acu a bheadh ag daoine eile. Chomh maith le sin, ba mhaith linn infheistíocht a fheiceáil i bhfeirmeoireacht órgánach ar na hoileáin.
Níl ach rud amháin le rá agam faoi chúrsaí iascaireachta agus d'aontódh oileánach ar bith ar fud na tíre nó duine ar bith atá ag maireachtáil ar an gcósta liom. Tá an t-iascaireacht ag dul i léig agus i mbaol agus níl uainn ach na moltaí a tháinig ón gcoiste idir-Rannach Rialtais ar chur chun cinn pobail chósta agus tuaithe a chur i bhfeidhm. Is é sin the Joint sub-Committee on Fisheries report. We are just asking that that be taken on board as it pertains to rural and coastal island communities.
I gcúrsaí turasóireachta, tá infheistíocht substaintiúil ag teastáil le cur ar fáil do thurasóireacht cultúrtha ar ard-chaighdeán. Is gá forbairt a dhéanamh ar thurasóireacht eachtraíochta nó mara chun a chinntiú gur turasóireacht ar ard-chaighdeán atá ag teacht chun na n-oileán agus nach bhfuilimid ag brath ar na comhlachtaí farraigeoireachta chun daoine a thabhairt isteach ar feadh dhá uair an chloig agus iad imithe arís ar nós na gaoithe gan búntáiste do éinne againn ann.
Tá na hoileáin in áit mhaith chun cúrsaí fuinnimhe agus an earnáil in-athnuaite a fhorbairt. Tá sé mar aidhm ag go leor de na hoileáin anois a bheith neamhspleách ó thaobh fuinnimhe de mar gheall ar an gcostas ard breosla atá i gceist agus, chomh maith le sin, toisc go bhfuil siad ag íoc cáin bhreisluacha, CBL, faoi dhó ar chúrsaí lastais agus mar sin de. Ar ndóigh, ní gá dom bainistíocht dramhaíle a lua. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tá timpeallacht an-speisialta againn ar na hoileáin.
Is acmhainn shaibhir í an Ghaeilge ar na hoileáin ar a bhfuil sé. Tá gá leis na tacaíochtaí chuí a chur in áit, luach a chur ar an acmhainn sin - rud nach bhfuil á dhéanamh - agus na tacaíochtaí chearta chultúrtha a chur in áit. Níl aon tacaíocht ar fáil don ghné seo de shaol na n-oileán Gaeltachta. Faoi láthair, an cloch is airde ar an bpaidrín ag an Roinn ná an pleanáil teanga agus an Ghaeilge a chaomhnú sna pobail Gaeltachta. Ach, in áit acmhainní a chur ina dtreo sin, is éard atá ag tarlú ná go bhfuil an obair sin ar fad á chur trasna go dtí na comharchumainn Gaeltachta. Is leo an obair sin a dhéanamh iad féin.
Is é an pleanáil teanga an beartas is tábhachtaí. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach. Aontaíonn muid ar fad leis mar go dtuigimid an saibhreas atá ag baint leis. Ba mhaith liom a rá nach bhfuil aon bheartas i dtaobh tacaíochtaí a thabhairt do na pobail Gaeltachta, go mórmhór i nGaillimh, faoi straitéis Leader atá roghnaithe le haghaidh Gaeltacht na Gaillimhe agus na hoileáin. Tá sé an-thábhachtach go mbeadh chuile infheistíocht Stáit, bíodh sé Leader, SICAP, an scéim sóisialta tuaithe nó aon cheann eile de na beartais sin a bhfógraíodh inné, ag tógáil san áireamh na tacaíochtaí speisialta atá ag teastáil uaidh na hoileáin agus Gaeltachtaí na tíre.
Is minic a thástáltar ceantar faoin gcóras GDP. Is fadhb é seo. Tástálann Ranna Rialtais, an Rialtas go ginearálta, an Eoraip agus grúpaí eile ná ceantair faoin gcóras GDP. Ní fheileann sé seo ar chor ar bith do na hoileáin. Mar shampla amháin, tá oileáin iarthar Chorcaí istigh le ceantair atá níos forbartha ar an mórthír, rud a chiallaíonn go mbíonn léamh difriúil agus ráta mhíbhuntáiste níos ísle ann ná mar atá ar na hoileáin. Níl sé sin feiliúnach in aon chor. Ba cheart a theacht aníos le bealach nua ina dtástaltar cúrsaí eacnamaíochta, míbhuntáistí agus na rudaí sin ar fad ar na hoileáin. Feicimid ar fad ó thaobh i gclár SICAP gurb iad na figiúirí náisiúnta a úsáidtear.
Beidh mé sciobtha ag críochnú. I gcúrsaí cánach, tá an costas maireachtála an-tábhachtach agus caithfidh mé é seo a lua. Tá sé idir 25% agus 30% níos airde ar na hoileáin. Muna bhfuilimid á íoc i mbealach amháin, táimid á íoc i gcostas lastais i mbealaí eile. Tá CBL ar an lastas. Is minic gurb an costas céanna é ar an Stát má tá, abair, 50 duine ar an oileán nó 250 duine. Dá mbeadh laghdú nó díolúine cánach ar fhiontar agus ealaín na n-oileán i bhfianaise go bhfuilimid ag íoc cáin níos airde ar bhealaí eile, mheallfadh sé i bhfad níos mó daoine le cónaí ann agus chuirfeadh sé leis an bpobal.
Tá mé beagnach críochnaithe anois. Mar a léirimid sa ráiteas tosaigh, is gá do pholasaí Rialtas na hÉireann leathnú a dhéanamh ar réimse leathan de pholasaithe sonracha oileán chun a chinntiú go mbeidh rath ar oileáin na hÉireann agus go mairfidh siad. Ní bheidh ann ach go mbeidh siad ag teacht leis an bpolasaí atá ag an Rialtas féin agus polasaí na hEorpa. Gabhaim buíochas le baill an choiste. Má tá aon cheist acu, tá mé féin agus Simon Murray anseo chun iad a fhreagairt.
Míle buíochas as sin. Bhí sé an-suimiúil, caithfidh mé a rá. Tá brón orm deifir a chur ar an bhfinné ach tá go leor daoine anseo. Beidh níos mó ama aici labhairt linne mar beidh ceisteanna go leor ag teacht i dtreo na bhfinnéithe. I call on the Roscommon Leader Partnership to address the committee.
Ms Martina Earley:
I would like to take the opportunity to give the committee a flavour of what we are at and to showcase a few initiatives that we are developing. I just want to make sure that the committee knows during this meeting that we are more than just a Leader company delivering the Leader programme. We are delivering the SICAP funding programme and are also involved in many other European projects. What we have been doing in the last number of years - we have been around since 1991 - has been about developing greater partnerships on the ground on an inter-agency basis with the communities to effect change and to realise projects which are in tandem with delivering on the objectives set out in the County Roscommon local economic community plan.
I will give the committee a flavour of a few of the initiatives in which we are involved. Under the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme 2015-2017, SICAP, which concentrates on the most socially disadvantaged in the county, we have the rural men's initiative, which has been active since 2004. It is a good example of how the men in question have grown in confidence and taken on their own actions. By giving them proper resources, they devise their own plans. They recently wrote a book, a biography of their lives and their heritage, particularly in terms of the small farming community. It is an asset for preserving that heritage. We are also involved in delivering the Roscommon age-friendly strategy, the care and repair scheme and the trusted tradesmen initiative. In this way, we are delivering many actions for the older population. County Roscommon has a large population in that regard.
We have piloted and completed a training programme for the farming community. We have five rural locations throughout the county and, from our work on the ground, are finding out the community's needs. For example, there is a significant need for the farming community to be upskilled in order to ensure that people avail of all subsidies and farm properly. Many people in County Roscommon are happy farming, but they want to ensure that they are doing it in the most efficient way possible. We have set up an interagency group with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Teagasc, Bank of Ireland, the IFA, the Irish Countrywomen's Association, ICA, and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA. The pilot programme was a success. It was based on broadband provision. Broadband provision in all rural areas is a priority and is our recommendation for this committee.
County Roscommon has vibrant communities and great local leadership through local development companies and the county council. All that we need now is resources so that the communities can, linked with State agencies, solve their own problems. From our work on the ground, we have found ourselves to be the link between various agencies and supports at a local level. Without this vital link, many people in rural areas do not know how to access the right support schemes. There are many support schemes and Government initiatives, but without a local enabler, rural areas will not benefit from them.
Another example of an initiative in which we are involved is the Frenchpark integrated youth and community space. It is a youth space and one-stop-shop, with all services being delivered in the community centre and responding to young people's needs. Services are centrally located in a rural community. The community resource centre in Ballaghaderreen is a one-stop-shop for the jobs club, Leader, mental health associations, the lakes and legends tourism initiative and older people's services. It is centrally located and embedded in the community, with resources targeted on local needs. We have a third level participation graduate retention programme. Under the local economic community plan for Roscommon, the Roscommon Leader partnership is charged with finding a local solution for graduate retention. It is a major issue in the county. We have the second highest number of graduates, but they are not returning to the county. By linking with third level institutes and employers and providing an IT solution for graduates in terms of a skills register and dedicated training, we are making headway in this area. We have become successful enough in another European project to bring it to the next level.
We are involved in the EU's ERASMUS+ programme, which helps communities to achieve their objectives. Under this, we are involved in the Creative Communities Igniting Change project, of which I have an example with me; the Food Incubators Transforming Regions project, which is to build a food centre of excellence in Castlerea, County Roscommon; and Youth Enterprise through the Arts, which is to upskill youth workers so that they can support entrepreneurship and creativity in their youth and early intervention activities. The solution for rural employment issues is not just multinational companies. Self-employment opportunities are key. The sooner one builds and fosters that environment in a county, the better. We also have a young community mediators project and a mainstreaming student entrepreneurship project, which takes the third level retention project to the next step.
I will cite a practical example of how these projects are effecting change. Ballaghaderreen has been designated the town team, with local activists deciding to concentrate on building creative industries, showing the creative sector free work space and asking it to relocate to that area. In conjunction with this, we have developed specialised training through our European project partners to support the sector in taking up that work space. We have also linked up with GMIT, which provides the sector with progression to education, and the local enterprise office supports it with mentoring. In short, a disused work space in Ballaghaderreen is free to entrepreneurs to take up for a year and, hopefully, they will set up businesses in the town. It is a proactive attempt by a community to invite enterprises to the area and to tell them that it is open for business, has disused space and wants to meet them half way.
These are just some examples of our projects. It is important to have strategic investments in our region. Specific regional infrastructure is needed. We have a great resource on our boundaries in the third level institutes. They possess considerable knowledge and research, but there needs to be a connection with rural areas in order that the institutes' research and development, learning and innovation can be brought out of urban areas and linked with employers in our county so that there can be new enterprise in rural areas.
Decentralisation has been great for our area. The decentralisation of public services should be a priority. The Leader budget has been cut. We will recommend that, as was previously the case, the CLÁR programme should match Leader funding and increase the budget for our area, which successfully built community-based key infrastructural projects previously. The €200,000 cap on de minimisaid under the Leader programme will prove a barrier to key strategic investment.
Mr. Noel Spillane:
I will begin by thanking the committee for its invitation. We appreciate it.
I will provide some information on South Kerry Development Partnership. We are a community-led local development company. Founded in 1991, we were one of the first area-based partnership companies to be established by the Government under the auspices of the then Programme for Economic and Social Progress, PESP. Our strength is that we work with local communities - we are out on the ground. Our strategies and related actions are developed locally with local ownership and in response to local needs. This bottom-up approach to rural development is a core ethos of the SKDP and guides and informs the development and implementation of all of our actions. We work to promote and assist the development of sustainable and vibrant communities and to improve the quality of life of people living in south Kerry through the provision of social and economic opportunities.
I will give a snapshot of our activity in 2015. We provided advice, guidance and mentoring to more than 300 unemployed individuals interested in self-employment and supported 150 of them in establishing their own enterprises. Through our local employment service, we assisted almost 1,400 unemployed individuals with a range of labour market activation supports and progressed 883 individuals into employment, CE schemes, Tús and further education and training. We supported 857 individuals in accessing the range of services provided by our jobs club service and progressed 106 directly into employment.
We provided enterprise-led training to over 100 enterprises across south Kerry through our Skillnets training network, and we providing well over 3,000 training days and funded almost 700 trainees.
Working through the rural social scheme and Tús, we supported over 250 community projects with valuable labour resources. Utilising community development approaches, targeted supports and interagency collaboration, we have worked with over 400 individuals and 30 community groups from marginalised target groups or disadvantaged areas on a one-to-one basis to promote social inclusion and equality and improve the life chances of those who are marginalised, living in poverty or unemployed. We supported the development and maintenance of important recreational infrastructure through the administration of the walks scheme on the national waymarked ways, the Kerry Way, the Kerry sections of the Beara Way and a number of community looped walks.
In my submission to the committee, I inserted a number of maps to highlight some of the challenges facing south Kerry. The maps cover the percentage change in population, elderly dependency, population density and average farm standard output. The challenges facing south Kerry can be summarised by saying it is a rural peripheral area with a declining population due to outward migration and emigration. It has a weak demographic structure and an older age profile, there is a low population density, economic opportunities are very much confined to tourism and farming, low input and output farming predominates, and there are a number of infrastructural deficits, including in respect of broadband and mobile phone coverage. The area has also seen the loss of a significant number of public services.
In 2013, we teamed up with Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, through Dr. Brendan O'Keeffe, to undertake comprehensive research on rural vibrancy. Why? Writing in the Irish Examineron 13 August 2015, Professor Cathal O'Donoghue, then head of Teagasc's rural economy and development programme noted that vibrant communities can, with local leadership, do a lot for themselves to make their areas better places to live in. He stated that this vibrancy is a critical building block of rural economic development and that, without it, it will be hard to attract businesses and visitors. In the research, we were very interested to ascertain the views of those at the coalface, the community leaders, the community and voluntary sector and individuals. We examined public service provision. Much of the international literature on rural vibrancy points to a strong link with services. It is necessary to be able to access services.
The findings are interesting and provide a signpost to us all on how we can sustain viable rural communities. The research findings show civil society is increasingly active in the provision of local services, particularly social services. Community and voluntary groups are generally well organised and have increasing levels of skills and the proven ability to deliver projects efficiently and effectively. Investment in community development delivers public goods and needs to be prioritised. The animation, capacity-building and funding provided by South Kerry Development Partnership have been, and are integral to, the development of communities and the promotion of rural vibrancy.
Community groups are under increased pressures as they endeavour to fill gaps caused by centralisation. Such pressures are increasingly unsustainable and have been exacerbated by funding cutbacks, not least the cuts that led to the loss of key personnel from South Kerry Development Partnership. These cuts need to be reversed and the surrounding supports need to be reinstated and strengthened.
The increased bureaucratisation of the way in which publicly funded programmes, including Leader and the social inclusion and community activation programme, operate is perceived by the community and voluntary sector as a barrier to innovation and the attainment of vibrant community development. Programmes need to be administered in a more common-sense manner, with an appropriate balance between the need for public accountability and efficient delivery.
In order to maintain and increase their levels of dynamism and their capacity to "do development and democracy", community and voluntary groups need to become more inclusive and representative of younger people and those who have moved to south Kerry, especially those who have come from Poland, Lithuania and central Europe generally. Public service provision in most of south Kerry falls below the 2002 target levels specified in the national spatial strategy and it is essential that rural service provision be underpinned by specific measures in the forthcoming national planning framework. Areas with the weakest levels of public service provision, most notably Iveragh, need to be prioritised in the safeguarding of existing services and in the rolling out of new services, particularly broadband.
While levels of social capital and socio-cultural vibrancy are high in most communities, voluntary groups and the delivery of local services are under pressure from the contraction of the local economy, particularly outside of Killarney. Thus, there is a need for renewed and ongoing investment in economic diversification, the provision of more public service jobs and the development of the SME sector. Rural communities are the main economic base of the towns, and the development of these towns is best achieved and sustained by rural-urban collaboration and the building up of vibrant rural communities.
How can rural vibrancy and sustainable development be enhanced and better promoted? From our experience and what the research is telling us, we make a number of recommendations. First, there needs to be greater acknowledgment of volunteerism and promotion of community development and active citizenship. Volunteers are the backbone of many communities and perform important service-provision functions and are significant generators of local economic development. That said, they face challenges in filling gaps, particularly as State services are scaled back and reorganised. Meanwhile, the wider economic restructuring of rural territories is limiting their ability to meet some new and emerging challenges. These observations on civil society, as supported by data presented in Dr. Brendan O'Keeffe's report, can also be made in respect of many communes and municipalities in other regions throughout north-western Europe. Community-led development works and local leadership and citizen participation need to be supported and facilitated.
In continental north west Europe, local level bodies, such as French communes, with an average population of 1,700, enjoy constitutional protection and legal guarantees. In Ireland, by contrast, the work of civil society often goes under the radar of the public consciousness and the national media, and policy-makers can be inclined to take volunteers for granted. This needs to change.
We need tailored approaches to local conditions, needs and potential. The Report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas notes that rural areas are increasingly diverse, and that there are distinct spatial patterns and different capacities evident throughout. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach should not be the way public policy goes. It needs to be tailored for specific geographies. The delineation of municipal districts at sub-county level represents a positive element of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 as it brings local government closer to the citizen, thereby opening the potential for greater transparency and subsidiarity. In the case of south Kerry, however, the south and west municipal district is one of the largest and most diverse in Ireland. It has limited internal public transport services and its boundaries were drawn without due consultation with local citizens.
Rural development is a public good. Several OECD studies and the Report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas itself present considerable evidence in favour of strategic investments in rural areas. Such investments need to be targeted towards the most vulnerable areas to redress the growing gap between core and peripheral regions and territories. Dr. Brendan O'Keeffe notes the following in his study:
Experiences from Germany, Scandinavia, and indeed the CLÁR initiative in Ireland, point to the merits that can arise from prioritising key strategic investments in peripheral locations, rather than 'waiting' for a trickle-down' effect from urban centres. Specifically, within South Kerry, towns demonstrate a reliance on the purchasing power of those who live in the surrounding rural communities and on the environmental goods, services and economic activities associated with South Kerry's outstanding landscape. Thus, instead of expecting rural South Kerry to benefit from some kind of urban spill-over, it is recommended instead, that initiatives such as REDZ (Rural Economic Development Zones) take a holistic approach that enables parallel investments in both town and countryside.
On promoting public service provision, the international literature on the issue of rural vibrancy demonstrates the link between vibrancy and public service provision. In south Kerry as a whole, the towns and villages offer 75% of the recommended range of services for settlements of their size and this is much lower for more rural parts. While the centralisation and cutback of public services may save the Government in the short term, considerable damage done as a result of inter-regional imbalances, growing income inequality, increased levels of isolation and mental ill health will prove costly in the medium to long term. The vibrancy report outlines the clear message that "now that the economy is beginning to show signs of recovery at national level, service provision must be restored to pre-recession levels, and investment needs to be accelerated so that all communities in South Kerry attain the service provision targets specified for them in the National Spatial Strategy".
With regard to reducing bureaucratic burdens, the report reveals strong support by local communities for South Kerry Development Partnership and the Leader and partnership approaches to development. Given the important role local development companies play in stimulating local economic development and leading community development, these companies should allocated increased funding and given greater autonomy to make decisions about the allocation and distribution of rural and local development funds. Recent local government reforms have limited the autonomy of local development companies and in some instances have resulted in their removal from the delivery of Leader in their areas completely. These decisions need to be reversed.Cuts to Leader and to community development are having a disabling effect on the capacity of the community and voluntary sector and are exacerbating the gap between the core and a growing rural periphery, while also compounding social exclusion.
As an example, in the previous round of Leader funding between 2007 and 2013, during the worst economic crisis in the history of the State, the final spend on the programme was approximately €370 million nationally. The budget allocation in the current round of Leader funding is between €220 million and €250 million, a reduction of 40%. In County Kerry the budget reduction is greater than 50%.
The rural social scheme which has done much to support service delivery in rural communities has not seen an increase in the national allocation of 2,600 places in the past ten years. We are delighted, therefore, that 500 new places were announced in the Budget Statement yesterday.
The south Kerry rural vibrancy report stated:
The work of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, CEDRA, and many of the experts cited in literature reviews demonstrates that the current recession and austerity agenda have had a more adverse effect on rural communities than on most urban areas. The data presented show that rural economic development is integral to the ability of civil society organisations to grow their membership and foster social, knowledge and cultural capital. Therefore, there is a symbiotic relationship between the economic and the social. Investment in the rural economy is necessary for community development, while communities that are socially vibrant and have a high-quality natural environment are more likely to attract and sustain investment and generate prosperity. Therefore, it is recommended that the upcoming Leader programme be delivered in concert with all area-based initiatives, including SICAP, the social inclusion and community activation programme, Tús, the rural social scheme, the national walks scheme, EU LIFE, INTERREG projects and all social inclusion programmes, using community-led approaches, so as to enable south Kerry to capitalise on the complementarity between the dimensions of sustainable development - economic, socio-cultural and environmental.
Mr. Ian Dempsey:
We welcome the opportunity to inform the work of the joint committee. Mr. O'Brien and I have worked in local development in west Cork for the past 25 years. It initially started out with the introduction of the Leader programme. We have been around since the early days and know the particular visioning for the Leader programme which arose from the MacSharry CAP reforms. We are likely to take a different approach from our colleagues because our perspective is somewhat different.
Our written statement aims to offer some reflections on what the past 25 years tell us about rural development. It is a policy in which many of these issues need to be addressed. There is a need for strong institutional capacity for organisations. It is important to consider which are the local development companies on the ground, what they represent, what their capability is, their visioning, track record and accountability for public funds, etc. We need to look at the skills and competences of everyone working at local level within companies and the broader stakeholders with whom they engage. Having the necessary skills means that they are multifaceted in their ability to leverage economic opportunities to achieve community development and deliver exceptional outcomes with limited public funds in the overall context of local development.
Every rural area will make an argument for meeting its economic development needs. One matter which needs to be considered is that the opportunity in leveraging optimum economic advantage in any rural area differs. When we talk about supports and strategies to do this, they are not uniform. The solution we seek in west Cork, as distinct from County Donegal or County Offaly, needs to accommodate that thinking. We need place-based transformation agendas. Every rural area is working from a different set of opportunities and there is no one single solution. We waste our time and money in chasing that issue.
In our work in the past 25 years we have worked strongly internationally. One of the reasons for this is the work on which we have delivered, particularly in economic development, has been recognised and lauded internationally in the United States and across Europe. We have worked extensively in that space and there has been much interest in our work in that time. On smart specialisation principles, people will be aware of them in the context of Europe 2020, in terms of exemplary work on place-based branding such as the Fuchsia brand and in the use of technology. We have been working in these spaces for a long time with considerable success. We now find, based on our experience, that our role in rural development will come to an end at the end of this month. We will be working abroad. That tells us a lot about policy in Ireland. We are in a really interesting transition in rural areas. If we look at the policy which informs it, there has not been a White Paper on rural development since 1993. Accordingly, we are without a roadmap in what we are all, collectively and individually, trying to achieve. A White Paper should offer a framework and a coherent policy context for what we are all, collectively, trying to achieve. We look at a policy, under the guise of community-led local development, whereby the Leader programme in rural Dublin, important though it might be, has a budget that is one third higher than it is in somewhere like west Cork. Somebody hides behind a policy context and claims the social, economic and community development needs of Kilternan or St. Margaret's are far in excess of those in a peripheral area such as west Cork which is 200 miles from the capital. Members will be familiar with Brian Ó Nualláin-Flann O'Brien who was an exceptional chronicler of many of the absurdities of Irish life. If he were to look at rural development policy today, he would say, as he did many times before, that it was a fierce pancake.
Some might choose to disagree, but many of the achievements of the past 25 years in the country were achieved in spite of policy and on the backs of people, particularly those working voluntarily, both in community and economic work, at local level. They have been delivered in spite of the absence of a coherent policy. The greater thinking on rural development in Ireland comes from the European Union and its vision of rural development and the Leader programme. Rural development is a far bigger issue than the Leader programme. However, we are entering choppy waters without a map.
It is incredibly timely that the committee has chosen to focus on this issue. Those of us living in rural areas, in particular, will understand the importance of these issues and why we need to do much better than we have before. Rural areas are dynamic and characterised by constant change. All of us, collectively, as practitioners, policymakers, public representatives and agency workers, have to adapt to change and help to shape it.
Mr. John O'Brien:
I have been involved in various guises in the West Cork Development Partnership since 1991. I joined as a young farmer representative, but, as committee members can see, I am no longer a young farmer. I have seen the growth and change in the dynamic of rural development in the past 25 years. It is a multiagency approach, involving the SICAP, the rural social scheme, Tús, the national walks scheme and others. It is about many organisations, supports, sources of help and handholding based around rural development. The Leader programme was integral to all of this. It grew out of the bottom-up approach, as outlined in Ray MacSharry's report in 1991 on CAP reform. The approach was that communities would feed into the dynamic and it grew from there. We have had many successes during the years. We have been lauded throughout Europe and worldwide as a successful deliverer of the Leader programme.
Can I say with bitter experience that we will now be delivering a Leader programme in Georgia and Russia, but we are no longer doing so in west Cork? The tremendous staff in west Cork have 130 years of collective experience. They have sweated blood over many years, but in the past week they have been thrown under the bus.
The non-adherence to corporate governance and employment law we have witnessed is a sight to behold. I warn everybody who is involved in rural development to be careful because it is a horrible place for us to be at the moment. As chairman of a board, I am dealing with staff who have been given three weeks to leave their offices. They are not even being given the courtesy of eight weeks. We will not be paid our final instalment of funding if we do not fill the boxes. No one can deny that the tremendous rural development experience in west Cork is ending awfully. There is an unfortunate dynamic as a result of a change in policy on the part of the past Government.
I would like to talk about the losses that will be suffered in the west Cork area from a rural development perspective. Of course we will continue the rural social scheme, the Tús scheme and the other schemes. All of those schemes grew out of the dynamic that was in play with Leader and the other rural development programmes. Leader was the mothership and the mothership is dead. I accept that there will be a mothership delivered from somewhere else. From what I can gather, it will be delivered from Mitchelstown, Midleton and Bere Island. The dynamic that has been in evidence at the offices in Bantry and Clonakilty, which have been delivering for the west Cork area, is dead and buried, unfortunately.
I will say one more thing about Leader. We are now in our fourth Leader programme. The stop-start approach to Leader is most unhelpful. When one finishes a Leader programme, one has to gasp for air for a year, a year and a half or two years while a new programme is initiated. Communities can lose the will to live during the lead-in period for funding projects and getting them up and running. They have to be fed their life energy again so they can get going. All sorts of projects come at them as they trundle along. Funding is withdrawn from some projects and given to other people who do not spend it. We have spent 100% of our funding through the years, but we have got little thanks.
I am sorry if I sound emotional about this issue, but I am emotional about it. There is a case study in west Cork in how to destroy a community and how to destroy rural development. Of course we will be told that rural development is going to be delivered by the local community development committees and everything will be hunky-dory and whoopadee-doodah. I wonder about that. I think there is a major lesson to be learned by Ireland Inc. in this regard. We are going to tell the story. Members are probably aware that the EU is investigating parts of what has happened. We will see.
There is a lot of food for thought in Mr. O'Brien's presentation. We may get to tease out some of the issues - the whys and wherefores - in the discussion we are about to have. A number of rural partnerships, including those in Meath, Monaghan, Kildare and Fingal, were invited to attend this meeting but they were unable to do so. That is a pity for all of us. We have asked all of them to suggest dates that might be suitable for them to attend. I will open the floor to questions. Tá deich nóiméad ag an Teachta Ó Cuív le haghaidh a chuid ceisteanna agus na freagraí ar na ceisteanna sin.
Tógfaidh mé cúig nóiméad le haghaidh ceisteanna. It seems to me that we are looking at two major issues here today. One specific issue relates to Leader companies and the new construct whereby one company in one area is delivering all the programmes, including the Tús scheme, the rural social scheme and the social inclusion and community activation programme, as it was previously designed. Rather than the companies being stand-alone entities, the local community development committees are involved in many counties.
I will ask a number of questions about Leader. Would the witnesses have preferred if the previous arrangement had continued in this Leader programme? In other words, is it better if one company in any given area delivers all the programmes, including the social inclusion and community activation programme, the Leader programme, the Tús programme and the rural social scheme? That is a very clear and specific question. My second question relates to whether the boundaries should have been left as they were before, unless there was a request from a local community to change a boundary.
I would also like to ask about the role of the Leader programme in industrial and business development. Do all the companies have a view on whether the maximum grant of €200,000 is sufficient to create significant employment in an area? Having worked in industrial development in rural areas for many years, I am aware that €200,000 would not wet one's tongue if one was setting up a serious business. What is the view of the witnesses about the Department's decision to limit the grant aid for community non-profit projects to €200,000, rather than €500,000 as was the case previously? The de minimisEuropean ruling is a problem in the case of industrial projects. Maybe the witnesses could address those specific questions on the Leader programme.
Ba mhaith liom ceist nó dhó a chur maidir leis na hoileáin. Tuigeann na finnéithe go mbaineann ceist an chláir Leader leis na hoileáin freisin. Aontaím go hiomlán leis an méid a bhí le rá ar cheist na rochtana. B'fhéidir go mbeadh ár gcuairteoirí in ann focal nó dhó a rá faoi minicíocht agus praghas. Cé chomh tábhachtach atá sé go mbeadh an rochtain ar fáil ar ardmhinicíocht agus go mbeadh an praghas iomaíoch? Nuair a bhí mise mar Aire, bhí socrú in áit nach bhféadfaí níos mó na €10 a ghearradh ar oileánach ag dul isteach is amach as oileán. An bhfuil gá le polasaí oideachais faoi leith do bhunscolaíocht agus meánscolaíocht ar na hoileáin a chlúdódh na pointí a d'ardaigh Máire Uí Mhaoláin agus pointí eile nach raibh am aici a ardú maidir le meánscoileanna agus an cóimheas idir múinteoirí agus daltaí, srl.?
Ba mhaith liom bheith dearfach sa chomhthéacs seo. Céard iad na deiseanna fostaíochta a bhféadfaí a chruthú ar na hoileáin? Tá mé ag smaoineamh ar oibriú ón mbaile, aistriúcháin agus go leor rudaí eile. Céard iad na baic is mó ar fhostaíocht a chruthú ar na hoileáin? Ar ndóigh, baineann an cheist sin leis na hoileáin Galltachta freisin. Mr. Murray is based on a non-Irish language island. Where are the employment opportunities on such islands? What are the barriers to employment on them? Mar shampla, is the lack of a broadband service with a minimum speed of 100 Mbps a particular problem?
B'fhéidir go bhféadfadh na finnéithe focal a rá maidir le cúrsaí feilméireachta. Fágfaidh mé é sin ar leataobh ar feadh soicind. Tá níos mó spéise agam i gceist na hiascaireachta. An ceart go mbeadh cuótaí faoi leith curtha ar fáil do na hoileáin nach raibh céanna feiliúnacha orthu 40 nó 50 bliain ó shin le go mbeadh fáil acu ar na héisc timpeall orthu? An bhfuil sé sin ag coinneáil siar oileánaigh? Is deas gur mhol na finnéithe an obair a rinne muid sa choiste faoi na pobail cois cósta. Tá mé sásta gur luaigh siad é sin. Bhí spéis agam sa mhéid a bhí le rá ag na finnéithe faoin chostas maireachtála. Mar is eol dóibh, tá liúntas oileánda sa chóras leasa shóisialta do phinsinéirí agus do dhaoine ar íocaíochtaí áirithe.
Maidir le cúrsaí cánach, an ndéanfaidh na finnéithe soiléiriú ar an liúntas oileánda don cháiníocóir pearsanta atá i gceist acu?
On the big issues, that is, the national issues, not Leader company issues, how much are current spatial planning attitudes and planning rules inhibitors for individuals and business in industrial development in rural Ireland? Do we need a planning process that is friendlier to the development of industries and those living in rural areas, particularly those outside towns and villages? In the provision of infrastructure such as broadband, roads, water services, sewerage and so on, what are the top three priorities? Is a speed of 30 Mbps sufficient or should we be aiming to provide for fibre connection, that is, a speed of 1 Gbps, in every house and home in the country?
Has any of the groups carried out a study of the impact of decentralisation on their region? For example, there is a decentralised departmental office in County Kerry dealing with the arts and sport. Do the delegates know what the impact has been on the distance travelled by people to their jobs? In other words, what has been the impact on the region as opposed to the town of Killarney? That question is important because, unfairly, decentralisation got a bad press. It was one of the best things we ever did and should do more of it, but I am interested in hearing the delegates views on it.
How great is the added burden of bureaucracy not only in the delegates' businesses as Leader companies but also generally in every scheme that is meant to be helping development? How much has it become a barrier? In other words, I giveth with one hand and taketh with the other. Are the delegates of the view that that is how it is working?
What needs to be done to reach the full potential of rural recreational and tourism facilities and the activity suite we were trying to develop in rural areas as a possible good employer?
Do the delegates see a role for major companies and employers in rural areas? I am thinking of FEXCO in Cork and McHale in Ballinrobe. There are fantastic employers. Should the approach to development in rural Ireland just involve micro-industries or is there a role for large, resource-based industries? Should we be going for big as well as small companies?
Ms Máire Uí Mhaoláin:
Tosnóidh mise. An bhfuil aon duine ag iarraidh cluasán a chur air nó uirthi?
Aontaím go hiomlán leis an méid a dúirt na hionadaithe eile anseo. Tá praiseach iomlán déanta don chlár Leader agus tá sé seo uilig bunaithe ar doiciméad ar a dtugtar Putting People First air. Tá go leor againn titithe amach lena chéile. Labhraítear go minic ar subsidiarity ach an dearcadh atá ann ná go bhfuilimid uilig i gcochall a chéile agus ní dhéanann sé sin ciall ar bith. Beidh an tionchar sin fad-téarmach sna pobail tuaithe.
Maidir le cúrsaí rochtana, taistil, minicíochta agus praghais, nuair a bhí an Teachta Ó Cuív ina Aire, socraíodh an praghas ar €10. Chomh fada is atá a fhios agam, sin an praghas atá ar ghnáth-mhuintir na n-oileán taisteal go dtí an mhórthír ar fud na tíre. Is rud thar a bheith go maith é sin mar roimhe sin bhí muid ar thoil na comhlachtaí príobháideacha. D'fhéadfadh sé a bheith €15 i rith an gheimhridh agus €25 i lár an tsamhraidh, so bhí sé sin an-tábhachtach agus seasann sé. Tá muid i gcónaí ag rá go bhfuil minicíocht thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tugann sé deiseanna do dhaoine atá ar na hoileáin, b'fhéidir, post a thógáil ar an mórthír agus seirbhísí ar nós banaltraí, dochtúir, speech therapists agus iad sin ar fad a thabhairt isteach. Tá rudaí le plé maidir le minicíocht. Ba cheart é a chur ar an gclár an chéad uair eile a bheidh conradh á phlé leis na comhlachtaí farantóireachta ar a bhfuil muid ag brath orthu.
An bhfuil gá le polasaí áirithe oideachais ar leith do na hoileáin? Tá mé ag ceapadh go bhfuil. Mar a dúirt mé, ba chéim mhór inné é go bhfuil múinteoir breise ann anois. Sin céim mhór chun cinn do na bunscoileanna. Ach ceann de na hinstitiúidí is tábhachtaí atá ann ná na meánscoileanna ar na hoileáin Ghaeltachta. Ní hamháin go bhfuil siad tábhachtach do na hoiléanaigh féin ach tá an t-uafás do mhuintir na mórthíre a thagann isteach ann. Bíonn siad báite sa teanga sna scoileanna sin. Ciallaíonn sé sin go mbíonn muid in ann níos mó múinteoirí a chur ar fáil agus mar sin de. Tá polasaí ag teastáil agus tá mé ag ceapadh go bhfuil na meánmhúinteoirí agus na múinteoirí ar na hoileáin i gcónaí á rá.
Ó thaobh deiseanna fostaíochta de, is é an turasóireacht ceann de na rudaí is tábhachtaí ar na hoileáin ach tá muid den bharúil ar go leor oileán nach ceart dúinn a bheith ag brath ar thionchar ón taobh amuigh. Tá gá do straitéisí láidre turasóireachta ina mbeidh pobal lárnaithe ar na hoileáin go hardcaighdeán, ag tógáil an teanga agus an timpeallacht, rud atá an-tábhachtach, san áireamh.
Ó thaobh iascaireachta de, the question was about having a zone around the islands. Perhaps Mr. Murray might say a few words about that matter.
Mr. Simon Murray:
The quota issue is far more complicated than that because we have the tonnage and kilowatt system. If we were to try to create the worst system ever and multiply it by ten, that is the one we would create. It is the most complex anyone has ever touched or tried to sort out. There are people the length and breadth of the country whose heads are wrecked by it. It is not user-friendly and is for larger boats. Whether the Department with responsibility for the marine wants to hear it, the country is built on small boats engaged in inshore fishing. There is no point talking about it here because it would take an entire debate to sort it out, but the kilowatt and tonnage system and the quota system need to be far more user-friendly to enable traditional inshore craft which operate up to ten, 15 or 20 miles out to be given the tonnage required under Irish law to operate. Currently, huge boats from other countries - we all know where - are fishing inside our limits. If I have my train of pots 15 miles out, they plough straight through it, clip the two ends of the buoys and €5,000 worth of fishing gear disappears overnight. There is no control over the system which is certainly not helping the Irish citizen. I would describe it is a fiasco.
I thank the groups for coming and their presentations. Everyone knows that the Leader groups have delivered greatly for people in their areas during the years. There is no doubt about this. As the gentleman from County Kerry was saying, there will be an extra 500 rural social scheme workers following yesterday's announcement in the budget, which is good news. It might only mean a small number in each area, but it is a move in the right direction.
I will put a few questions to which the delegates might reply. Unfortunately, some schools on the islands are closing due to falling population.
The islanders have been strong, especially the ones I represent in west Cork, about getting a chaperone or somebody else on board the ferry to take the children from the island to the school and back. They have been in contact with the Department. Perhaps it is not fair to put that to Mr. Dempsey because the Minister should probably answer the question. Has that been acceded to? It has been advanced frequently.
Many people had an input into what they are doing but the most astonishing news for me as a public representative of Cork South-West is that West Cork Development Partnership, WCDP, will cease over the next few weeks. Both Mr. Dempsey and Mr. O'Brien were passionate in their presentation. It leaves a large number of questions for my constituency, which has been savaged by cuts in the past few years, including the loss of Garda stations, post offices and banks. However, we thought there was a recovery and now WCDP is being taken from us, which is the probably the biggest blow to west Cork for as long as I have been around. I cannot find answers to the many questions this leaves. The committee will have to find them going forward because someone has made decisions and we have not been informed over the past number of months why they were made.
The first kick that west Cork took was the cut of €2.4 million in the partnership's budget three years ago. What was the reason for that? Where did the money go? The latest kick is to take it out of business altogether. The partnership was looked on as one of the best groups to roll out the previous programme but this time it and Comhairle na nOileán are the only groups that are not allowed the new programme. Who was involved in making the decision? The European Commission is now questioning the decision. I am passionate about this and if the Commission is questioning this, the committee should be looking for answers. If we do not get them, the committee will not function at all. Somebody has made a decision along the line and we need answers.The Commission commended WCDP and other groups and they have been asked to look at the roll-out of a similar programme in Georgia but the State does not see fit to ask them to roll out anything, even though they were voted the No. 1 group for the roll-out of the previous programme. Something has gone wrong and we need to get to the bottom of it. This involves European money. The Irish Timesand The Southern Starhave reported that the Commission is launching an investigation into a decision made two weeks ago to take WCDP out of business. We need to know what is going on. Can Mr. Dempsey or Mr. O'Brien shed any light on this?
Mr. Ian Dempsey:
I have to be careful what I say in respect of some of these issues. Mr. Collins mentioned the islands as having lost out. That is not quite the case. It is even more absurd than that, if members could imagine such a scenario. The islands are involved in delivering some of the Leader programme in west Cork but not on home territory. George Orwell at his finest could not do this but that is what policy is giving us. The Deputy is correct. I have to be careful what I say because our experience in terms of the selection process for Leader has been deeply troubling and that brought us to make a specific complaint about one element of that to the Commission. That has been reported in the media and, therefore, members can go and look at what that was. However, the issue does not rest there. I might just leave it at that.
The specific nature of the inquiry has been reported in the media and it is not an inquiry into us but into what has brought us to the position that we are in. Dare I say that that is policy. That will follow its own course. I do not know when it will happen, how long it will take or even what it will say but it will go to the heart of many of the issues that have been touched on today. The challenge for everybody in this process, whether they are practitioners, policy makers or public representatives, is to achieve the best outcome with the public moneys available to them and to be accountable for them. That is all I will say on that.
The Deputy referred specifically to a budget cut of €2.4 million and I understand other groups who are present were subject to cuts at that time. That arose in 2014 following an embargo placed on Leader funding for five months. I am at a loss to understand why the Department needed to place an embargo on the funding but that is what happened. That has an effect on the beneficiaries who are looking for support, whether they are engaged in enterprise or community development. When the embargo was lifted on 20 May 2013, we got an e-mail saying we were getting a budget cut of €2.4 million with no basis for that at a time we had €8 million worth of projects from potential applicants in the system. I say "at that time" because that was our fourth Leader programme and we had never failed to deliver them in full, based on the strategic thinking that was important at that time. It was never explained to us but that money went elsewhere around the country.
I would be loth to mention the areas but that money, in some cases, was never spent. Deputy Collins knows many of the individuals and communities who lost out in west Cork at the time. This is giving a sense of what happened in the previous programme. If we cannot get the Leader programme right, which is a key instrument in delivering development at local level, we have fundamental issues. I concede and recognise that the problems in rural areas cannot be addressed by Leader alone but if the primary tool for doing it is so deeply flawed and dysfunctional, we have a problem. I could talk about this all day but the committee would probably welcome that I did not.
Mr. Ian Dempsey:
It was not technically a tender process in the sense of public procurement and so on. The Commission required what it called a fully open, fair and transparent process in LAG selection and, technically, that was open to anybody who could demonstrate interest, competence or local support for that. Ireland had a preferred outcome in that process. That had to be balanced and I will leave it to others to determine whether balance was achieved in that regard.
A decision was made by the Department two weeks ago but we were never informed about it. According to The Irish Timesand The Southern Star, the European Commission is conducting an investigation into this. Who made the decision in the Department? Who is carrying out all these hugely important decisions, which are frustrating the powers that be in Europe? If they are frustrated, goddamnit, we need to know and we need to be equally frustrated. We need to find answers.
I agree but the Leader groups should also be present to put their case. These committees give people ample opportunity to put their case. I presume The Irish Timesand The Southern Starare writing factual reports. If they are investigating this, we need to get to the bottom of it.
Mr. Ian Dempsey:
Is the Deputy asking about four companies that did not get reappointed? My understanding, as things stand, is the only companies that engaged in the process which did not come through and whose role in Leader is uncertain are Galway Rural Development Company and the West Cork Development Partnership. The island situation, as far as I am aware, is there is a role in west Cork but not on the Aran Islands.
Ms Máire Uí Mhaoláin:
That is a very important point. Comhar na nOileán Teo was set up to deliver programmes to the Irish islands. We really have no other interests than the Irish islands. That is our main priority. The system, as it was written and designed, has put us in a very different position. It has been decided by an independent evaluation committee of this Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs that we are not suitable to deliver this where we have the biggest population in the country, the Galway islands. We are the only Gaeltacht-based and island-based company in the country. We are okay for west Cork, Mayo and Donegal. Does that make any rational sense to anyone? All the companies are all very angry about this position.
I am not a permanent member of this committee but when I heard Leader companies were coming here this morning, I was particularly interested. I have worked for 13 years in community development and I am very familiar with the Leader programme. I will set out my comments in terms of what I think of the major mistakes that have been made, whether they were made by design or by accident in how the Leader programme was rolled out. I will not speak about the money for a moment. This committee should play a role in a proper evaluation on how things are being done under the local authorities. I am talking about the mistake of bringing all of them into the scope of local authorities under the all-powerful might of the chief executive officers.
The Leader model in Ireland was one of best practice, recognised throughout Europe because it fulfilled the subsidiarity role that runs through all the European projects and the way it built capacity in communities. It built capacity in individuals, families and whole communities for a number of years, until it started to be interfered with. I will refer to the work that has been done throughout the country with the Leader projects and the national Rural Development Programme. I do not know who saw it fit to change the model so that it would come under the structure of the local authorities. Hundreds of people gathered around the country and packed out halls because of this. I attended several of those meetings. The ordinary people on the ground - the volunteers and those who had worked for years - pleaded with the Department and specifically those who were making the decisions not to go down their intended route under the local community development committees, LCDCs.
We have succeeded in creating a bureaucratic nightmare in the delivery of Leader when we had an excellent programme. It will not build capacity in people and it will add extra burdens to volunteers. It is wrong that it creates a dependency culture. The purpose of Leader was about building capacity and independent and single-minded communities. It is designed now to bring it in under the political system, create a dependency and have political interference in the decisions being made, and that is grossly wrong. It is something that this committee needs to keep a very close watch on in the duration of what is being done.
There are other issues. Have we been given the criteria for how the Leader programme is going to work with the CLÁR programme? Will I go through all the questions?
I apologise as I missed a section of contributions because I had to speak in the Seanad. What is the delegation's experience of democracy that it faces in terms of the LCDCs and where the decisions are made between advisory boards? They had been made by people within the communities. Does the delegation find it more or less effective now?
I was particularly interested about the comments concerning strategic projects and the €200,000 cap. That is causing real problems for us as well in the likes of Mayo. I work within these communities and they have spent several years putting together all these strategically important projects. They have waited for Leader and some of the projects cost between €500,000 and €1 million. Having a cap of €200,000 and then saying it cannot be matched with sports partnership, for example, causes a nightmare for people. I can foresee cases where money will not be spent because of these blockages. Do the witnesses have any solutions as to how that can be addressed? It is cited in the way budgets have been cut. Between 2007 and 2013, during the worst economic crisis, we had way more money in Leader programmes than we do now. Mayo has been trying to operate with €9 million less than it had in the previous programme, with fewer staff on the ground to work with the communities that need extra help. That is where the focus should be and the areas that should be targeted. They are not able to do their jobs. Yesterday's announcement in the budget for extra Leader funding runs hollow for me. I hope that whatever little money there is would be used to reconsider the cap of €200,000.
I want the Leader groups to continue talking to us, telling us about the challenges and successes they have. I thank the witnesses for outlining some of them today. There was a real and important role for local authorities in this new Leader programme. We had transnational projects in which they could have played a role, ensuring that models of best practice in projects were duplicated and we were not reinventing the wheel all the time. It would have ensured that the best practice could have been transferred throughout the country and Europe. There was also the potential for an advisory role. There was not a role for having control over how Leader programmes are run. I will certainly watch this very closely and I hope that even with the restrictions in the Leader programmes there can be some really good work. I hope people will not have to try doing it with their hands tied behind their back. The questions concern specific bureaucracy and how the witnesses think we can address issues like the cap on Leader funding.
I cannot leave without saying the following. We are in an area in Erris in Mayo that was left without a Leader programme for many years. We are one of the most deprived areas in the country and we were left without that because of a decision made by the Government before the last one. It decided to amalgamate all the companies within the Gaeltacht under Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta Teo. We suffered because of those governance mistakes and were left without any Leader funding. That is unforgivable and must not be let happen again. We cannot catch up.
It is no longer acceptable for rural Ireland to be left with the crumbs from the table. We want what we deserve. We do not want EU funding targeted to areas where there is not deprivation and need - as has happened in respect of some of these projects - but rather to the areas that have been neglected and left behind. I will work with the committee and all stakeholders to ensure that this happens. We will not be fobbed off.
Mr. Noel Spillane:
I will respond to the question on bureaucracy by way of an example. As a local action group, we work with the local community development committee. The current structure of Leader is such that, from the point of expression of interest to the issuing of a contract for funding, it can take between six to eight months for a project to be approved. In my view, it is ridiculous that a small community group or a small enterprise in a rural area looking for funding has to wait between six and eight months for a decision in that regard. One of the contributing factors in this regard is the manner in which Article 48 checks, which are an EU requirement, are carried out. It has been decided to centralise this process, which involves three checks, to Pobal. This mean staff in my office will have to scan files and send them to Pobal for checking, which strikes me as very inefficient. This could be rectified and the timeframe reduced by allowing the Leader groups to carry out the checks. If there are problems within certain companies in terms of doing those checks they should be addressed individually with those companies. The answer is not to implement a system across the board which imposes a high level of bureaucracy on everyone. What I have proposed is a simple solution to the issue of bureaucracy.
Ms Martina Earley:
I would like to comment on the de minimisrule. This was an important provision of the previous Leader programme that allowed for co-financing by CLÁR and Leader. Many of our strategic investments were co-financed through the Leader-CLÁR vehicle. The €200,000 mentioned is not sufficient to support the level of investment required in identified areas. The de minimis rule is being misinterpreted and it needs to be broadened out. Previously a derogation was available in the agriculture area such that if the area identified was food-related de minimisdid not apply. It is about affecting trade. In other words, if it can be proven that a project will not affect trade within a locality, then it should be supported. The Leader programme needs additional funding. The CLÁR programme, with Leader, should be targeted at the most deprived rural areas.
On the local economic community plan, LECP, and the local community development plan, LCDC, in Roscommon we are working well with the LCDC and the LECP but we do not see that as being mutually exclusive. We would still support the autonomy of the Leader company but we see merit in joined-up thinking and everybody working together under a local economic community plan.
Decentralisation in terms of Roscommon has been very effective. The Department of Social Protection now has offices in Carrick-on-Shannon, as does the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Land Registry. This is affecting business in small towns positively. A study in this regard would be welcome. The benefits of this decentralisation are very evident to the people living in the county.
In terms of the planning rules, we believe there is a need for farm families to be prioritised in terms of locating on the family farm because that second generation has to look after older members of the family. There is a need for the preservation of the rural farm family. The policy of the local county councillors appears to be to direct people to locate in towns but this is not meeting the needs of the farming community.
According to the community enterprise review this year, very few regional rural projects in terms of community enterprise centres were funded this year, with most projects being located in larger urban areas. Again, the policy appears to be to direct projects to where there is a critical mass. What is being done by the Departments and the agencies to address the rural imbalance to ensure that a higher level of investment and support in rural areas? We were very disappointed with the number of enterprise supported projects in our area.
On bureaucracy, if I am required to do more administrative work, then I have less time for development work and less time to go after European funding or to progress delivery of actions on the local economic plan. On recreational tourism, there were greater co-operation in this area under the last Leader programme. We visited the West Cork Partnership because it is a model in terms of Leader. We learned a great deal from the partnership in regard to recreation and food which we brought back to our area. I would like to see co-operation in this area prioritised. We need to learn from the good areas in terms of commercialisation and to then replicate that in other counties. This should be a focus of the new programme.
In regard to macro-companies, we have a lot of good companies in our area. They are happy to be in the area because they have a loyal workforce and very good support from the local authority. What they want is a vibrant community. Quality of life and local services are priority issues. Companies are happy to locate in rural areas where there are local services and vibrant communities because they know they will have access to a loyal workforce. Some of our companies have been around for over 25 years. I agree that what micro-companies as well as macro-companies are important. We have to be ambitious for rural Ireland and to acknowledge that rural areas can be equal to urban areas.
The committee will produce a report based on the evidence it has heard from all of the delegates who have travelled great distances from around the country to engage with it. In that regard, it is important that delegates rather than members are allowed to speak for the majority of the time allocated. I ask that members confine their questions to three minutes, with witnesses then having seven minutes to reply.
I propose that we take a ten minute break at this point to allow people to use the facilities, etc.. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Joseph McCrohan:
I have worked with South Kerry Development Partnership for 18 years and would like to respond to the question on rural recreation, although I realise Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív is not present. The roll-out of the walks scheme has been a great success. A farming organisation representative has put it to me that it is the only scheme he has seen rolled out to farmers that has been a great success. Only now are we seeing it getting back on track and it needs to get back on track fast.
Reference was made to greenways. As part of the greenway initiative in south Kerry farmers receive a maintenance payment. It is the same when it comes to working on rivers in south Kerry. We will be travelling to Athlone on Friday to look at locally-led environmental schemes. We see this as something on which the partnership should be leading. The issue is how we manage rivers from a recreational and a farming point of view. Eight catchments have been selected, three of which happen to be in south Kerry. We will be looking for partners from west Galway and Mayo to join us and hope to make some contacts today.
We intend to make a bid to operate the new programmes. As soon as the bad weather arrives, sheep always move off the hill. If organisations take programmes from us, we need to move on to the next. Ideally, the locally-led environmental schemes should be run by the local partnerships. The KerryLIFE project being rolled out in south Kerry demonstrates how this can be done. Although there are some issues on the project, we still believe local people are the best to deliver river catchment management plans for anglers, farmers and recreational users.
There are similarities in all of the programmes. We brought forward a proposal on the walks scheme. We are keen to see the issues of indemnity and insurance being brought to a head, finalised and agreed.
I manage the rural social scheme in south Kerry where a total of 500 places were allocated. We have that many places available on the farm assist scheme. Why has it taken 12 years to provide the extra places? Having 500 places available is welcome. I have no wish to be negative today, but the money involved was saved and taken from people's wages. The funding is in place to fund the 500 places. Surely there can be 500 places available again next year and 500 the year after that to put people to work in communities to replace the services that have been taken away. Examples include bus drivers heading towards the Black Valley, staff in child care services, people working in community crèches or to develop new walkways. We are keen to link the Kerry Way and the Dingle Way and many more walking routes in south Kerry, but to do this we need to see a further roll-out of the rural social scheme. Why was farm assist payment the only payment to be cut in recent budgets? Why have the farmers who were removed from the social inclusion and community activation programme been brought back in by way of low-income family payments? Why did it take so long for these changes to materialise? The rural social scheme and the walks scheme are successful. They did not fall into disuse under previous Governments. Why has it taken ten or 12 years to see any movement in the numbers of places available?
There is room for small enterprises in rural Ireland, but there must be room for big enterprises in rural Ireland also. FEXCO is based in Killorglin in south Kerry, but the company decentralised to Cahersiveen which provided an extraordinary boost for that town because of the availability of office space and workers there. Wood chip boilers have been installed in Astellas. Meanwhile, up the road the Department of Education and Skills built has two new schools, but locally produced wood chip cannot be burned in the school in Miltown. There is a facility in Beaufort. We put a plan together for the St. Mary of the Angels campus which could have saved €800,000 if a wood chip boiler had been installed, but those involved were unable to do so and now the facility is threatened with closure because it is not economic. An important hospital was built in Kenmare. Again, it could be burning locally produced wood chip. We would like to see big industries such as Liebherr flourishing in south Kerry. There are other examples such as Dairymaster in north Kerry. There is plenty of room for large-scale employers in rural Ireland. If we are to keep our population, we need a spread of work opportunities. It cannot be a matter of providing jobs in tourism or farming only. Some people will still want to work in industry, commercial services and banking. South Kerry cannot rely on tourism alone. As I grew up in a bed and breakfast house, I know what it is like.
It is the icing on the cake, not the full cake. There is a long winter there and we need our universities to be linked into rural Ireland. We need an opportunity where one can leave school in rural Ireland, get a degree in rural development and return to work in rural Ireland. Why was the degree in rural development operated by UCD and UCC cut out of the Leader programme? How can companies survive and get staff if people do not have the qualifications in rural development? These young people need to be able to leave school in rural Ireland, obtain further education in how to set up a business in rural Ireland and develop the tools to return to rural Ireland. That needs to happen and this committee would be well advised to look into that field.
The Tús initiative has been very important to us and we would like to see it continued. We would like to see people with disabilities being allowed to join the Tús initiative. We will be going to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine later this evening to sign a contract on social farming and would like to see our own partnership companies nationally operating social farming everywhere whereby they would give opportunities to people with special needs to come out and work on farms. A neighbour of Deputy Danny Healy-Rae was covered in the Irish Farmers' Journallast week. He gives an opportunity to a young man to come and work on his farm one day a week. We have 27 people like that out working on farms and want every partnership in the country to do the same.
As the weather gets bad and sheep move away on the hill, we need to do the same. If people want to take programmes off us and think they are better than us at doing it, we know they will probably be coming back in time and knocking on the door. We will leave the door open, but the important thing here is the need for us to be innovative and to look for new opportunities at all times. It is very important that partnerships co-operate with each other. We should defend each other at all times. What has gone on has been very disappointing but we need to rise above it and move on.
Mr. Seán de Buitléar:
In relation to innovation, South Kerry Development Partnership has been to the fore in the last number of years in targeting other sources of funding for rural regions, in particular through the EU-funded INTERREG programmes. Under the current round of funding alone, approximately €650 million is available in just three schemes. One is talking about the INTERREG 5B programme, Atlantic areas and the peripheral regions programmes. There is substantial funding out there but we are being hampered. It is an accident in a way because we were always creative in how we came up with the matched-funding element. We have a very experienced CEO here who was always to the fore in coming up with creative ways to match funding. However, part of the funding we used to use will be under the local community development programme and that funding is now under SICAP and there is a European element gone into it. As such, we cannot use that funding in any shape or form as a source of matched funding for any of the transnational programmes. Therefore, we are left in a little bit of a limbo. There is a solution, however. It is a solution that many other countries in the programmes have put in place. It involves the creation of a matched-funding programme for such initiatives. It is something that could be funding either through ring-fencing lottery funding or through the dormant accounts scheme. One is not talking about substantial amounts of funding, but if the country is to achieve its maximum input in terms of access to European projects, one is talking potentially about €2 million per year from Irish matched-funding sources to access €10 million, plus, in EU-funded projects. The other advantage, which is significant at the moment given the Brexit situation, is that the programmes allow us to establish contact with partners in similar regions in other European countries. That enables small companies, farmers and tourism sources to build contacts and look at new markets and opportunities and new ways of doing things. As such, there are substantial benefits to be got from taking part in these programmes.
A very simple move in terms of creating some sort of matched-funding opportunity for the likes of the partnerships to be able to go out there and access that funding would be very welcome and would greatly benefit rural communities. In terms of management, it is simply managed. There is no need for additional bureaucracy. One has the Southern Regional Assembly which is the auditor of the vast majority of these programmes in Ireland and it is already doing the paperwork. The assembly would be fully supportive of the putting in place of such a programme. It is something that could be made available relatively quickly.
The other point is around policy. It was mentioned earlier that policy tends to limit opportunities in rural regions. There is nowhere that comes to the fore more than in the area of energy. It is not all about rural areas looking for handouts or supports from Government, it is about enabling rural communities to derive sources of income for themselves and develop social enterprises. One area that could be tapped into is one we have seen in rural communities throughout Europe and that is renewable and sustainable energy. Many of those resources exist in rural areas but because of the particular issue in Ireland of access to the grid, there is no way in the world that communities that want to start energy co-operatives to put in, for example, a 2.5 MW wind turbine can proceed. They are simply not in a position to compete with commercial interests in terms of accessing grid connection. Therefore, substantial objections are made in many instances to private companies coming to rural areas to put up renewable energy assets where the income goes straight out of those communities.
There is no reason communities cannot be enabled to set up properly governed and structured energy co-operatives to allow them to exploit energy resources for themselves while keeping the income in rural areas. That would provide those communities with the opportunity to undertake proper forward planning in circumstances where they would know they had an income stream coming down the line. However, that takes a decision at policy level to say that a particular portion of the available grid connectivity will be ring-fenced and made available for genuine community projects. I am involved in an EU initiative which is at stage 2 in terms of an INTERREG project which is looking at providing the resources to put those co-operatives in place, structure them and develop a community-owned energy co-operative in the south Kerry region. That model could be replicated nationally. We are basing it on the learnings we have seen from other European countries and the opportunities available there. There are a number of opportunities which could assist us.
That is very interesting. It strikes me that over the last six months, Britain has produced more solar electricity than coal electricity for the first time ever while we do not even have a solar power sector in the State yet. The opportunity for rural areas to tap into that is massive. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice is next and has ten minutes. I ask that he allow the majority of that time for the answers.
I will be brief. I welcome the witnesses. I have known Mr. Beades and Ms Earley for a while. RSS, which all of the witnesses have spoken about, is one of the most successful schemes in the country. It is welcome that 500 places have been announced, but we need to move on and up the ante in terms of the number of places. I am a firm believer that is no good to pay someone at home if he or she can be doing some good out in the community. That is the way forward.
In the Tús and community employment schemes, it has got to the point that one does not know where to ring. One does not know who is handling things. There could be two or three bodies handling the matter about which one is calling. We need to do some tying up in that respect because it is all over the shop. Any Deputy might ring one place and be told to ring another. It is different in every county as Deputies who cover more than one will have found.
Some counties have towns teams and then we have the rural regeneration. Some local authorities have opted to pick five or six particular towns. This is not to begrudge any of them, but I have a feeling that the money is being sent to those towns while forgetting about other areas in a county. Where a Leader group has money for a playground for children, that can also be done under regeneration. Where is the joined-up thinking? Is there any or are the witnesses being given a certain group of things to deal with? I welcome the witnesses from Galway and ask them the following.
Am I correct in stating that there have been problems in the past year and that there will be a court case? Would it be fair to say that Galway will probably not have Leader funding for 18 months to two years? Would it be fair to say that with all the rigmarole that has gone on about Leader in the past two years in County Roscommon, it will be May before the people who have their tongues out for trying to get things off the ground can draw down money? For two and a half years they have been going around the world and back again. Rural communities need to go forward and create employment and that is not happening.
Mr. Noel Spillane mentioned the duplication of paperwork. What percentage of the total funding for the programme is spent on each group or individual doing their bit to make it foolproof? He said that one would swear it was forensic accounting.
I know the Burren in County Clare worked on a locally led scheme. I think the Department still handles that. But there may be an opportunity for different groups to use this model. Deputy Ó Cuív made the point earlier what it takes for business to get off the ground and he mentioned the McHales of Mayo. They set up this iconic business in a small shed years ago. There is a great deal of manufacturing in the west. I am aware of the serious problems that must be overcome to get planning permission in Galway as 80% of the land west of the Corrib is designated lands. Is this stalling enterprises from getting projects off the ground on that side of Galway? Do all the small and medium sized businesses availing of Leader funding meet up as a group, or meet the representatives of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to see what they are doing or is everybody at present heading off in their own direction?
On tourism - and this is my final question-----
-----there is significant potential for tourism in the west but we need people with new ideas on the ground. I know it will not solve everything. If one has ten different things going on and one is getting a stream of income from each, one will survive. However, a person will not survive with the income from one enterprise. Is there thinking outside the box to drive enterprise into areas where there are no jobs? This is the other side of Ireland that has not been looked after in my opinion. Do the witnesses see the potential in these areas?
Mr. Ian Dempsey:
Deputies Fitzmaurice and Ó Cuív touched on fundamentally the same issue, which goes to the heart of the deliberations of the committee, the interaction alignment between local authorities and local development companies. That is the alignment process, but what we should be looking to achieve is that all stakeholders work together towards a common end, using the resources - money and everything - else in the most effective and optimal way possible. That does not happen in my view. I can only offer a personal view - based on 25 years experience - that alignment is badly needed at policy level in Government and in the Departments. The Departments do not talk to each other. The problem is seen at implementation level, where groups are seen as duplicating supports and are tripping over themselves trying to address issues to which Deputy Fitzmaurice has referred to a degree. The alignment at policy and Department level does not work. I have seen very little evidence of it working over the years. All the things that are fundamental to rural Ireland - agriculture, enterprise, community development, energy, communications, etc. - are not aligned. That goes to the heart of many of the issues.
Rural recreation has been mentioned a number of times. Deputy Ó Cuív is due great credit for his work over many years in ministerial office and is a really good example of what happens when one looks at working with all stakeholders in a space. The then Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív recognised the landowner as the key stakeholder in rural recreation and with Comhairle na Tuaithe was able to bring them into the process. A hell of a lot has been achieved off quite minimal amounts of public money to do that and the benefits throughout the country are evident for all to see. Let that be an example of you have to do in order to achieve. Let us see the same thing happen in respect of economic development.
Deputy Fitzmaurice referred to Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. We worked with them and I am sure others have, but one does it because of personal relationships, one can access them or they recognise that your group is valid in that space. That does not happen half enough. So much gets lost for that reason alone.
I will now revert to the questions Deputy Ó Cuív asked at the outset. He asked whether the previous arrangements should be continued? The answer is yes and no. The arrangements should be put in place now for Leader and other schemes to deliver the best possible outcome for the areas in question. If that is the case with what was the previous arrangement, let it be evidence-based, if there is a better way of doing it, let it be evidenced as well. If collaboration is need, let that be the case.
With the permission of the Chair, I will refine the question. Obviously, relationships with other bodies can be improved all the time. However, the architecture was put in place such that, in any one area, all the programmes that the State might devolve to a community organisation to develop, that is Tús, RSS, rural transport, the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, Leader and so on could be delivered by a single company. This means that the company could take a holistic view on a wide range of actions required on behalf of the community. What is actually happening is that two companies in the same geographic area are delivering different programmes. Which is the better, the initial arrangement or the current one?
Mr. Ian Dempsey:
If we take Leader as an example - because there is a process there to judge it - it did not achieve the required outcome. If one has a competitive process that only operates in four of the 28 areas, that is a point worth reflecting on. What happened in that process - and perhaps it is unique to our own area - is that it pitted local authorities against local development companies in some way. That may not be the experience everywhere, but I can say that it leads to poor outcomes. The local authority and local development companies should be in lockstep and in partnership to deliver in respect of the issues. There are parts of rural development that local development companies cannot reach in because of their limited remit. On issues of planning, and spatial development one needs the interface between local development companies and local authorities.
I am asking a simple question and I hope our guests can provide a "Yes" or "No" answer in respect of it . Is it the case that all the community programmes for any one given area, Tús, SICAP, Leader, RSS and so on, can be delivered by one freestanding community company or should they-----
Mr. Noel Spillane:
I agree that it should be the one company because one has the potential to avoid duplication, where that is the case. I will provide an example. The town and village renewal scheme is delivered by local authorities but under the Leader programme, there is also a rural towns scheme.
There is potential duplication. We welcome the introduction of CLÁR. One of the measures under CLÁR will be playgrounds. We are getting expressions of interest under Leader for playgrounds but the CLÁR programme is coming through the local authorities. If it were coming through the local development companies, one would work with them both hand in hand to ensure there is no duplication. We are taking a silo approach.
Mr. Noel Spillane:
Absolutely. In terms of our in-house resources, with these additional requirements over and above what was in the previous round of Leader, we reckon it takes at least one full-time equivalent staff member just to deal with the extra administration. This is one full-time person dealing with bureaucracy who could otherwise be working on the ground.
Mr. Tomás Beades:
On the issue with the town teams and where everything sits, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív's suggestion, a structure as to who is funding what, is what we need. Everybody is living in a vacuum. May was mentioned regarding the timeline as to when people will be able to draw down funding. This is how it looks. It is crazy that the first project approved under the Leader programme 2014 to 2020 is in 2017. While good joined-up thinking and good strategies are happening in some counties, it is not enough. An overarching structure must be put in place whereby everybody is talking to everybody and everything is moving forward. Playgrounds can be funded under five different funds. Who funds playgrounds and where should people go? These are major issues.
In Roscommon, six town teams have been established. Is it for Roscommon County Council or for Leader to fund projects under the town teams? We are working to this. We want Leader to be the bottom-up village programme and to have a bottom-up approach.
Mr. Tomás Beades:
That is what one would be afraid of. We are working with them on the ground. Our development workers are getting out into the villages and we will start doing road shows. However, as Mr. Spillane and Mr. Dempsey said, the problem is that bureaucracy has gone mad. The amount of extra paperwork involved in doing a return is madness.
Mr. Simon Murray:
On Leader, we are all saying the combination of everything under one company would be great. In the last round it was not even calculated or weighted in the scoring. It did not matter if one was running the Central Bank. What one had achieved in one's company history was not included or weighted. What happened in Galway is very complex, and, I presume, the same happened in Cork, given that we are in the same situation, to a certain degree. We never sought hinterland in Cork, Mayo or anywhere. We wanted the islands, like we had before and the time before that. However, the system was enforced on us, and the only way to get the Cork islands was to get the hinterland with it. It was the same in Mayo and Donegal. In Galway, it was the whole county and we went in under the local community development committee, bells and all. The award was given to a company that operates only in Connemara. Now, the rest of Galway has to go back out there again. It is ridiculous. It is crucial to what has been mentioned already regarding the Leader process. I would like to hear, as Deputy Michael Collins said earlier, the answers to how these decisions were arrived at and what backs them up. In our experience, it is very shaky ground.
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh na bhfinnéithe. Tá brón orm go raibh mé ag teacht is ag imeacht ansin, ach bhí gnóthaí Seanaid againn.
I have an interest in the area. I worked as a manager of a partnership company in Connemara, and the Connemara examples typify what has been wrong with the development of the sector during the past ten years. From day one, it has been a smash and grab by the county managers on the Leader funds. For years, they have been eyeing up the Leader money and politicians have rowed in behind them through the alignment and cohesion processes to bring us to where we are. It has been a disaster. It is ironic that the policy is called "putting people first", given that it has done the opposite. It has put it upside-down. The idea of the bottom-up mentality has been lost. Although the local authorities hide behind a committee, they are in control of the funding and dictate where money will be spent. It saves the local authorities money on projects they should have been spending money on but which they cut back on.
It is also very anti-democratic. Some of the decisions mentioned today were not taken by the full committees but by four people who were part of a committee. The irony is that the people who have expertise in rural development were excluded from the decision-making process on the committees given that they had a conflict of interest. It is bonkers. The people who knew most about where the money should be spent, the companies that were best to do it, how many lots there should be in a county, where the funding needed to go and where resources should be doubled up were excluded from the decision making. It is nuts. The people left in the room, in one case in Galway, were four people making a decision that affected everybody in the county. In the case of the islands and the Galway scenario, the Department laid down one set of rules whereby there would be only one lot, and it was the whole county. The companies that played to this agenda and applied under it were penalised for doing what they were asked to do. The Department changed the goalposts in the middle of the evaluation process to exclude a company such as Comhar na nOileán. It is bonkers. It is a disgrace and should be investigated. I have said the islands should be a separate lot from the beginning. It makes complete sense and the committee should recommend it.
Looking at the process over ten years, and taking the example of Rosmuc, where there was Cumas Teo and Pléaráca Teo, which was a community development programme, CDP, we were forced into cohesion with Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta, MFG. MFG was a disgrace. I calculated that €9 million was lost to Gaeltacht communities as a result of the demise and mismanagement of MFG. We are talking about the checks and balances. Where was the Department during the MFG debacle? Where were the checks and balances in that company and in other situations around the country? Other companies have been penalised due to the bad management in some companies. Extra administrative burdens have been imposed on the entire sector rather than working with those which are doing it right and sorting out the basket cases.
I welcome the comments on privatisation of some of the services, which has recently arisen as an issue with us. It is very difficult to get people on community employment, CE, schemes given that under social welfare schemes, a private company is going around snapping up people and taking them away from what would have been CE schemes. This is just the tip of the iceberg, I imagine.
I do not buy into the idea of central oversight with Pobal overseeing it. It does not make sense. One has to devolve and allow local communities to decide what projects they want to bring forward. The system should support them in doing what they want to do. As Senator Rose Conway-Walsh said earlier, our Leader model was lauded as the best in Europe, but we have turned it upside down and probably turned it into one of the worst.
Recently, somebody came to me and said he wanted to establish a packaging company in Connemara. He said he did not want to go to Údarás na Gaeltachta given that there was too much red tape and hassle and it would take too long, as he needed to make a decision quickly. I did a trawl to see if there was any commercial space available outside Údarás na Gaeltachta, and I found one unit which was a garage. Is a lack of commercial space for people who have suitable projects an issue across the rural areas? The elephant in the room in many projects is designations, SSEs and development. How significant an impact do the designations in different areas have on projects the witnesses are trying to help people to promote?
There has always been an element of co-funding of projects. Are there any other thoughts on how we will co-fund? When policy is implemented from the top down, there is no buy-in in the local area. The development of initiatives such as greenways is being stifled because there is no local stakeholder buy-in.
Now that we have a local community development committee-led model, where we do not really have this stakeholder buy-in, how will we overcome this issue? If we have a lovely lake in an area and we want to develop a walkway around it, we need all of the landowners in the area to buy into it. How will we get it if they are not really involved in the process of making decisions?
With regard to energy projects, in Canada they had the type of model discussed, where community co-operatives were allowed to develop. They were given a preferential tariff on the electricity they fed into the grid system. They also got a very cheap connection to the grid when doing community projects. They used tidal, wave and small wind energy projects. Are there any other models out there that we know of like this which could be examined? The Aran Islands would be very successful in the development of alternative energy.
Ba mhaith liom mo thacaíocht iomlán a thabhairt don chás atá Comhar na nOileán ag déanamh gur chóir go mbeadh na hoileáin ar fad faoi Chomhar na nOileán agus faoi chúrsaí Leader. Ní dhéanann an rud atá déanta ciall ar bith.
With regard to the national guidelines, it is crazy that the guideline given for Galway was that there would be one company for the entire county, whereas the similar county of Cork was told it would have three companies. How were these decisions made at national level, that there would be one company in one county and three in another? There does not seem to be any rationale coming forward to explain it.
Mr. Simon Murray:
Regarding what Deputy Fitzmaurice said, planning is an issue. Senator Ó Clochartaigh covered the problems with Leader, of which there are many at present. It is a huge issue. I live on Inishbofin Island, which is an SPA and an SAC, and is designated category five. We practically needed to give a kidney to get planning, that is basically the long and short of it. I was waiting 20 years to get planning on a house across the road that I own myself, and I live on the island. It was a house to do up for my son and it was an existing dwelling. At the same time, the council built two houses on brand-new sites. It could do what it wanted, but I could not do anything. There is a huge discrepancy in how the planning law is actually put into practice in areas with a high designation. This has consequences for the people who live there. We build for the future and what we hope for, but if this is militated against by the actual planning authority itself it has serious consequences.
Mr. Joseph McCrohan:
My experience from operating the ruling social scheme and the Tús initiative is that while we need to bring along all of the community services that we operate, we also need to move to community enterprise. A good example is Valentia Island Lighthouse, which was opened by the community and had 15,000 visitors this summer. This is a community project staffed by Tús and the rural social scheme working hand in hand.
What is dangerous and very confusing for everybody is to have the Gateway scheme, the rural social scheme and Tús schemes run by different organisations. There are also projects run by the Department of Social Protection itself. Let us hope the 500 new Tús and rural social scheme places are run by parish companies and not by another body coming in, as happened to the local employment service when JobPath came in. JobPath is a very cruel instrument. It tells unemployed people it will get them a job, but people are being sucked out of rural Ireland. They are told they must move on Monday morning. I have an example of a farmer's son who was unemployed and moved from Kerry to Cork Airport because there was a job there. He was probably happy he got a job and we can all see the benefit of this, but this is a commercial company being paid a commercial rate to do this work. We can see unemployed people being sucked out of rural areas rather than jobs being generated in rural areas which unemployed people could take up. I have nothing in the wide earthly world against an unemployed person getting a job, and that is what they should do, but it is a dangerous tool.
With regard to joined up thinking, Mr. Dempsey spoke earlier about Departments needing to join up. The budget is a dangerous instrument in the sense that every Minister looks for a pot of money and everybody works independently. We now have a partnership Government. It is ironic it wants to get rid of some of the partnerships when it is a partnership Government itself. It is important there is joined up thinking. We have a problem in Kerry at present where in one project in Waterville landowners and rural social scheme participants are clearing out the rivers to make fishing beds better for salmon, but across the hill in Glencar and Blackwater the farmers are told by the Department not to clear out the rivers and they are to be left alone. Recently a track machine which was cleaning the drains was asked to leave the side of the road. We know there is a way of doing it, but the officials need to write down the one, two, three, four or five steps that need to be taken when we are looking after river catchments in these designated areas.
Definitely when people's land becomes designated they get a whole lot of problems with it and a whole lot of headaches. There is no other way of saying this. A lady started an enterprise and she had to jump a lot of hoops to put in a proper sewage system for two or three employees in a unit at the back of the house. All of her children, who have gone off to college, had been living in the house, but because there were workers this had to go in. In fairness to the woman, she went through the process and it took a long time, but the people have their jobs now in a veterinary company working in a remote part of south Kerry. It took a great individual to go through the red tape. It was mentioned in the report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, CEDRA, that it will take a lot of strong people to revive rural Ireland. The policies, Government and all of the agencies, including ourselves, must nurture these people, because we are being left with very few people to work with as people emigrate and depopulate and family sizes get smaller, and the ripple effect is serious for rural Ireland.
Ms Martina Earley:
The privatisation of the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, is very bad use of taxpayers' money. We deliver SICAP in County Roscommon. We are asked to take on new services and new tasks as we go along, and we are happy to do this, but would a private company do so? It is a bad return on investment for the taxpayer. The composition of the board and staff is voluntary, and they are people who love doing what they do. They give a lot of time and effort. Putting it into private hands will kill the very heart of rural Ireland.
Mr. Seán de Buitléar:
I wish to pick up on the point on other energy co-operative models. They do exist and this is quite well developed in countries such as the Netherlands and Germany, in particular, and France. Earlier I mentioned we are involved in a project through to the stage two process under INTERREG IVB and we have partners in all of these countries. This is exactly the benefit of having projects such as these. We can learn directly from the experiences of those areas. They are similar in nature to regions such as ours. They suffer from depopulation and have many similar problems. It is hard to believe the Netherlands has issues with depopulation in rural areas, but it does, and it is similar in Germany and France. We can learn and benefit from their knowledge in establishing these co-operatives and seeing how they work and integrate. They do not only get a feed-in tariff in the Netherlands, they are also in a position to be able to sell energy to their members, so they get two bites of the cherry. This means there is a very good economic benefit for the community involved in the energy co-operative.
Mr. Joseph McCrohan:
It is a major problem. The availability of commercial property must be looked at. It must be done through communities. If a commercial individual has a property through family circumstances anything can happen the property. If IDA Ireland or other organisations have it, they might not have the same commitment or focus on the rural area. In a project we are developing in Sneem at present, in conjunction with the local authority, the community is developing an enterprise space. I hope it will attract enterprise. If that enterprise decides to move on, the community will still own the space and can do the next thing with it. If communities can own so many GAA pitches throughout the country, why can they not own enterprise units for their GAA players or other people in the community to work in? Communities need to move away from purely community services. They must move into community enterprises and creating jobs for their people. The co-operative movement has been hugely beneficial to rural Ireland but it probably stopped approximately 25 years ago. Perhaps Deputy Ó Cuív will tell me exactly when. There have not been many new co-operatives formed. We formed the Ring of Kerry Quality Lamb Society Limited co-operative in recent years, where 23 sheep farmers directly sell their lamb. It is very successful and has created seven jobs. There could be many more of these in the country.
Farmers need assistance. They need a target group to inform them of the various programmes that we are delivering. They need an enterprise officer or an officer to meet them, to attend meetings at night, to work with them and to cajole them because they do not have a lot of money to invest and every step one takes needs to be done well and carefully. We have an enterprise co-op and a transnational beef co-op. We have a south Kerry beef replacement heifer co-op that is connected to the beef data and genomics programme. It is amazing that the greatest take up of the beef data and genomics programme was in Caherciveen, which is the furthest away from Leinster House. That was due to a group in that location that worked as a co-operative.
I call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae who has ten minutes in total for questions and answers. I suggest the Deputy uses five minutes for his own preamble and questions and gives five minutes to our guests to answer.
I will do my best. I apologise for missing part of the presentation because I had to participate in Leaders’ Questions.
I welcome the delegations here today. I thank the witnesses for their excellent presentations, particularly for outlining the work that they have done for the past years. It is a pity that the Ministers who have the funding and make the decisions are not here to hear from the witnesses in order to understand what they have done, their abilities and capabilities and ability to continues to do things if they were left to do so.
I am disappointed that the Kerry Leader budget has been cut by 55%, which is a massive reduction. It is very unfair that a bottom-up approach that successively operated for years has now been changed. I am worried that the more urban places will benefit rather than rural areas. The local authorities have plenty to do if they were given funding and allowed to do what they are supposed to be doing without becoming involved in the operation of the Leader project.
The witnesses have outlined the many different schemes they have been involved in. I thank the South Kerry Development Partnership in particular. It would be remiss of me if I did not mention the North East Kerry Development and IRD Duhallow that have represented the people of Kerry and done wonderful work on their behalf for the past 25 years. It would be criminal if anything happened to these organisations. I am sad to hear that the organisations have lost some of their key personnel. It is very unfortunate to lose people who have done so well and accumulated such knowledge over the years. They can never be replaced. It would be criminal to lose any of the current people in the organisations as they have so much knowledge.
The biggest problem at the minute is that the rivers are all blocked. It was interesting to hear that work has been begun by the rural social scheme in south Kerry. The witnesses have outlined how the clean up could and should be done. The organisation is successfully carrying out such work even though it has been prevented from doing this work on the Glencar side. I am amazed at such a development because I was involved in the building of roads there. We worked practically along the Blackwater River yet we did not cause any damage. There are ways of ensuring one does not damage anything. It is about time that the people who are stopping it realise that methods can be used to successfully do what is needed - to unblock the rivers and let the water flow. In Glenfask, 22 houses have been flooded and the national primary road has been flooded. What has the NRA proposed to solve the matter? It wants to raise the road. The road and the houses did not sink. Instead, the river rose higher and caused flooding. I am interested in the scheme. Can it be expanded into the eastern side of south Kerry?
I very much appreciate all of the schemes that are being operated by the organisations, especially the social farming scheme where people with disabilities are catered for. I have seen how this scheme works at first hand when I visited Kilgarvan.
Ms Earley mentioned planning. Sure, planning is a problem. Four families located on the side of the national secondary road into Killarney have been refused planning permission. There are 200 m of site distance but because of something that was inserted in legislation back in 2012 and signed into law by the then Minister, these people have been refused permission to come out on the national secondary road. It is criminal that people willing to pay to put a roof over their heads have not been granted permission. Kerry County Council gave approval but the Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, lodged an appeal with An Bord Pleanála that subsequently refused permission. The idea is that people buy a house in town but there are no houses to buy in Killarney and we know there is a housing crisis. Let me give one example. Liebherr first came to Killarney in 1958 and the great businessman Mackey O'Shea showed the company a site and put them into the field where they are today. If Liebherr arrived today the company would be laughed out of the place as the site would be classified as a secondary amenity area. Liebherr employs 1,000 people today. Even if it were a new company that offered to employ 1,000 people the proposal would not be considered. That is why the people who make the laws and ensure they are implemented should consider what they are doing because people and jobs come first. If Killarney did not have those 1,000 jobs one could erect a gate at the county bounds and say Kerry is closed for business.
Agreement from landowners is important. I am interested in the proposal that farmers should be allowed to clean up the rivers but be given a grant to do so. For the past 20 years it has been deemed a criminal offence to touch the river and all of the landowners stayed away because they would lose their farm payments. These are more regulations that have caused serious problems for us in Kerry. The farmers have no problem with allowing rivers to be cleaned but it would be preferable if they were allowed do it themselves.
Agreement from landowners comes into play in another matter. We have been told that Kerry County Council and the Department have insisted on using a compulsory purchase order to get around securing agreement by landowners for the siting of the greenway from Glenbeigh to Caherciveen. The landowners have been given no consideration in this matter. It is the first space in the country whereby a compulsory purchase order will be used to secure the land for the project. That is the wrong way of doing things. If Kerry County Council had interacted more and communities were given a chance to interact with the landowners we could have got full agreement and the greenway would be under way. Now the courts are involved and I do not know where the matter will finish up. I hope that it will finish and that we will have agreement because the greenway is important to the people of Caherciveen and the people of all of south Kerry. I am very worried that this process may finish up in a negative way.
I thank the witnesses very much and I am sorry Chairman for going on. I am delighted that this committee has got the chance to hear the knowledge that these witnesses have and the positive effects they have had on Kerry and other counties over the past 20 years.
Mr. Seán de Buitléar:
I want to make a quick point about Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's proposal for the clean-up of rivers. If there is joined-up thinking to solve the issue there would be substantial benefits from the point of view of tourism angling. By cleaning up the spawning streams and creating suitable conditions for fish spawning one immediately increases fish stocks in rivers and, therefore, rivers become more attractive to anglers. There are multiple benefits to be gained from undertaking such work apart from the fact that it alleviates flooding.
It is a matter of joining up the thinking and working with the likes of Inland Fisheries Ireland and the other bodies. The farmers can absolutely do it. There is a perfect example in Devon Cornwall, under the West Country Rivers Trust, which has opened up substantial rivers to angling because they have worked with the farmers. They are part and parcel of the project. They have created much new angling space on rivers that were heretofore covered in briars and branches and whatever else. They have worked with the farmers and the farmers are getting a payment through the anglers coming onto their lands. It is working very well. There are opportunities to expand the tourism angling initiative by undertaking work like that.
Mr. Joseph McCrohan:
It is very important to tie farmers into rural development projects. The rural social scheme was probably the brainchild of that. We have now tied them into maintaining walkways very successfully. We hope to tie them into maintaining the greenway in Cahirciveen. The council has put forward a proposal on that. It will be the first in the country where farmers will be meeting the cyclists and cleaning the greenways and keeping it in order. The same needs to continue with all rural development projects where farmers have an input into the projects from the get go. That is very important.
If we continually lose people from the farming community, if they move away from the deeply rural areas those areas will be taken over by noxious weeds and forestry and various other things and will be denuded of people. Once we lose people, once the lights go out in valleys it is very hard to switch them on again. The rural development companies need to work more intensively with farmers and with Teagasc. Teagasc staff numbers have been on hold for the past few years and the deeply rural areas do not have the level of service provided by Teagasc staff going to the houses to meet the farm families. That is a role the rural development countries need to move in on, in conjunction with Teagasc and other State agencies, to keep as many families thriving and vibrant in those rural communities as possible. Without those families the rural schools will suffer. There will be no need for the post office because there will no one there to post a letter. Everything dwindles once the cohort of people that has always been in the rural areas is lost.
Visitors who come to stay in rural areas want to meet the rural people, the people who grew up in the area and who lived there, whether the huntsmen or the farmers or whoever. There will be no beef industry in Ireland if the calves are not born. They are born on the western seaboard. One can talk about Brexit or beef barons but unless the man gets up in the morning to calve the cow there will be no beef industry. There will be no beef industry on the east coast. The resources are not being put into those farmers, those who have to get up in the middle of the night to calve the cows or to put the cow back in calf. That has to be done too and she has to be checked to see is she ready to back in calf. A lot of work needs to be done. It is grand to say the farmer must have an off-farm job and I understand that but as Deputy Fitzmaurice said, a farmer needs to have three or four irons in the fire. He cannot just be beef farming or suckling because he cannot depend on the Irish meat factories to make a living. He will have to have the rural social scheme again. He will have to have jobs at Enterprise, Fexco, Liebherr or wherever.
Has anybody spoken to the witnesses about the broadband roll-out in the new national broadband plan? Has there been any engagement with the State or the local authorities? What role have the witnesses played?
Mr. Simon Murray:
It is groundhog day. It is the same story ten or 15 years later. What is going on is nonsense. I live on Inishbofin and we gave up on the State ten or 12 years ago and built our own broadband network, through a community scheme, and involved two other islands. It was a community-led company, which became a private company and which now delivers broadband all over Connemara and into Loughrea, east Galway. If we were to wait for this famous roll out we would still be waiting. It makes a huge difference to the island to have that broadband connectivity, through tourism and personal usage and business. The answer to the question is "No". It is a bit all over the place.
Mr. Ian Dempsey:
Approximately 18 years ago we looked at the opportunities for technologies to fundamentally shift some of the employment opportunities in West Cork. There are 1,000 people working in the West Cork technology park which evolved from the Leader programme. Two years ago representatives from the then Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in West Cork to talk about the national broadband plan. They were laughed out of it when they told the people attending that it was five years behind. It was 21 or 22 at that time. Somebody asked how we feel about the 30 megabytes. There is nobody in my area, and I am sure it is the same in other rural areas, who thinks they will get that and that there will be universal service provision. In any event, if it takes another six, seven or eight years the game has moved on. We will have the same digital divide. We are playing catch up all the time. I know in isolated areas and in some urban areas fundamentally some very good things are happening. It is a significant inhibitor and limiting factor to optimising economic development in many areas.
I want to return to a question Deputy Fitzmaurice raised about bureaucracy and whether anyone can quantify that. I can do so. In March of last year the Department invited me to go to Brussels to present on what it takes to achieve 100% compliance in programme delivery and accountability for public funds. I did that and as part of the presentation we were asked to quantify what it takes in man or woman hours to deliver a project. Irrespective of that project's scale, just working through the requirements to comply with the regulations, it takes 60 hours. Whether the project was worth €5,000 or €500,000 the process in respect of checks and balances are fundamentally the same. That is a working week and a half. That is what it takes to do it right.
While we are on that point, we are all on the ground and can see what is happening around us and what good work is being done. What kind of key performance indicators are used within the sector to measure success or not?
Mr. John O'Brien:
It is a question of people participation, buy in and people attending public fora and meetings and their engagement with the programme. We filled 12 halls last autumn because people believed in and loved what we were doing. There was nobody at the local community development committee, LCDC, meetings yet it had "putting the people first" and have, mar dhea, met the people. It is a question of the people and the farming communities. I liken it to the food pyramid. Leader was at the top of the food pyramid and everything else permeated down below it. Now Leader is in the middle of the food pyramid, it is mortally wounded. I hate to predict it but Leader is dying. Leader is down and the council is now on top of the food pyramid for the photo opportunities, to roll out the councillor for the photo opportunity and the good news story. The council could not wait to get its hand on it, and throw us under the bus and here we are. Anyone here today will face that, and will do the night jobs, the dirty stuff but the photo opportunities will be at county hall or whatever.
When Enterprise Ireland or the IDA are here we ask them how many jobs there are per euro and what kind of ratios they have for exports per euro or new businesses per euro. Are those types of performance indicators used in the sector, if so how do they compare? What kind of figures do the witnesses have?
Mr. Ian Dempsey:
If we take employment, and that cuts to the heart of what we are talking about in terms of sustaining rural areas, on the figures we have the biggest bang per buck in terms of value achieved in employment creation is in the food and related sector. In the last programme food fell out half way through because somebody had not expressly included it in the Leader programme. There were many lost opportunities and most areas around the country did not fund food projects because it was no longer a part of the core programme. In quite a modest way we created 51 new jobs in the food sector in the last programme. I am not interested in making any extravagant claims about job creation, there are plenty of others who do that. I am talking about actual jobs, not ones expected in two and three years but ones that are there, that are developing and have gone further than that. Tourism is very important in every rural area but it does not deliver a lot in terms of direct job creation because the quality of the employment created tends not to be full-time equivalent year round.
It is seasonal, part-time and other things as well.
The services and technology area, which is not particularly pronounced in terms of something like the rural development and Leader programmes, is where we all need to be but, of course, we are back to broadband provision and connectivity. Significant opportunities exist at local level and if the infrastructure is provided, that employment is created. There is plenty of evidence from a number of places throughout the country of where that can be done. That is exactly where rural areas need to be.
I know the issue of spatial planning was touched on previously. Have any of the State agencies discussed the development of the next spatial plan with the West Cork Development Partnership? The answer to that is "No". The Western Development Commission is another layer of development and based on my understanding, is quite a successful one. It is only in one section of the country. Could the witnesses tell us about how Leader partnerships interact with the Western Development Commission? Would it be logical to have a south-western development commission or a Border development commission? Alternatively, if we go down that road, would we just be replicating what is already there?
Ms Martina Earley:
The Western Development Commission is really important in terms of the macro information. The commission has produced a lot of reports on the growth potential in the creative industries sector. The job of Roscommon Leader Partnership is to take those opportunities and bring them down to a practical local level and implement all of that research. We are the enablers in respect of the community. Our job would be more difficult without that information from the Western Development Commission. The commission also has a wonderful investment fund for the creative sector, which is very important in terms of co-financing with Leader. It is a hugely important organisation in our region. It works jointly with us on projects so it works with us on the ground.
Ms Máire Uí Mhaoláin:
It is important to have this in the report. The biggest threat to sustainable rural regional development is the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. There has been much talk about joined-up thinking but there is no joined-up thinking here. There is a Leader section, a Gaeltacht section and various other sections and they are not talking to each other. We find that civil servants do not know each other and do not know what are each other's aims. That is the biggest threat to all this. If the committee waits a few weeks to do anything about the issues relating to Leader, it will be too late. We will have lost many of our staff, the committee will probably have lost many of its staff and nothing will be resolved. We need to get this Department right. My final remark is that we need to join up the thinking.
Tá mé cinnte go dtacódh an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh liom dá scríobhfadh an coiste chuig an Aire ag moladh go mbeadh Comhar na nOileán ag breathnú amach do na hoileáin Árann agus d'Inis Bó Finne faoin gclár Leader. Ní dhéanfadh sé aon athrú substaintiúil don rud atá gruaite ag FORUM ach réiteodh sé fadhb ollmhór atá in iarthar na tíre.
A fleeting comment made here underlined a point that was key to all of my thinking when I was involved on the ground as a co-operative manager, namely, that it is often possible to create a family income from two or three sources. The idea behind the rural social scheme was exactly the same. When I was around 20 years of age, my father-in-law explained to me how a scheme had been introduced by the Government to create work by opening bog roads and all sorts of things to supplement farm incomes. It was the first big breakthrough for them and it stayed in my mind. This is what inspired the rural social scheme. The means-testing rules introduced for the rural social scheme work against couples. Married couples only get €20 more than the means-tested amount they would get through farm assist. This is hugely regressive. Why should anybody work 19 hours per week for €20?
My final point highlights the challenges for islanders. There are two islanders here today. To get here in the morning, they had to leave the island last night. That was one overnight stay. We have kept them here so long today that I doubt whether Mr. Murray will reach Inishbofin before the last boat or whether Ms Uí Mhaoláin will even make it to the boat at Ros a' Mhíl. They will both, therefore, have a second overnight stay. It must be recognised that if we want populations on the islands, we need to realise just how successful they are in overcoming incredible barriers of distance that are not so much physical in nature but which relate to services and that we cannot spare the effort to compensate for that. I live in a very rural area but I can leave here at 10 p.m. and still get home. I have often do so. I have left here at 11 p.m. and gone home to Corr na Móna. It is three hours hard driving but I can do it and arrive at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. If someone does not get off the mainland in the winter time at 5.30 p.m., that is it. They are there until the next day. I would like to nail it on the record. It really highlights the challenges islanders face when I say that it takes two overnight stays to attend one Oireachtas committee.
Gabhaim mo mhíle buíochas leis na finnéithe as teacht anseo inniu. Tá a fhios agam gur tháinig siad ó gach cearn den tír.
It is very clear that there are massive passions among the witnesses with regard to their presentations. There are also massive passions on this side of the table with regard to those. It is also very clear that great work has been done by different groups in the past, that there is great dysfunction in the process and that the latter is leading to the lack of necessary services. One of the main points I have taken from today's meeting is that there is an over-dependence in rural areas on a small number of sectors such as tourism and farming and that if there is a shock in those sectors, it means that those areas are over-exposed to those shocks and will be massively damaged by them in the future.
It is also very clear that there are a rake of opportunities that are not being harvested by the State in rural areas, for example, the fishing and renewable energy sectors or even place name branding. The likes of the Aran Islands and all of those different locations are nearly brand names in their own right and these brand names could travel internationally as far as products are concerned. There is also a shocking lack of connectivity among the Departments as they approach all of these issues. This leads to disconnection in the delivery of services on a local level and a scatter gun effect. Red tape and entrepreneurship in local areas are like oil and water. The two of them do not mix. If you want to scare off an entrepreneur, just bring red tape to them and they will quickly back off and not engage anymore.
It is clear that this debate between the committee and the witnesses is not over and we hope to continue it in the future. Some of the witnesses have very short futures if things do not change radically, so we will do our best to see whether we can contact the Department, ask the questions and push to see whether matters can be resolved. I thank all of the witnesses for attending. Their information will form part of our report. We will send an interim report to the Department in the next ten days, so this information will, hopefully, seep through into its thinking. We have a few small issues to discuss as our witnesses leave so we will suspend the meeting for three minutes.