Dáil debates

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Adjournment Debate

Community Development.

6:00 pm

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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The area of Mountwood and Fitzgerald Park is one of the areas of disadvantage in my constituency. It is an area which contains old local authority flats and maisonettes which are now undergoing redevelopment. For many years there has been a community development project based in the area, which has done excellent work in the local community in providing educational supports, community activities and general support in the community. The project is housed in a number of disused flats in one of the blocks which is due for demolition.

The members of the project have had the ambition over the years to include a purpose-built community centre as part of the redevelopment. Following much negotiation with the local authority, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and other State agencies, they eventually got to the point where a community centre was agreed and designed, and the intention was to progress it as part of the redevelopment. A financing package was put together to provide for the building of the community centre, which involved the provision of funding through the local authority, with some funding coming from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government through the dormant accounts fund, the young persons' facilities fund and the equal opportunities fund, which is operated by Pobal for child care facilities.

The issue arising is that one part of that funding, namely, the equal opportunities funding for child care purposes, which was made available directly to the community development project, is in danger of being lost. The project understands that those moneys, which make up one quarter of the amount required to develop the community centre, are due for what is called decommittal at the end of this year. The difficulty is that it appears documentation and paperwork which was required from the different agencies has not been completed. The community development project appears to be somewhat out of the loop as much of this work is being carried out by the different statutory agencies involved.

I very much commend the work of the officials of both the local authority and the statutory agencies in their efforts to get this community centre up and running. However, I am concerned about the bottom line in this regard, which is that if this part of the funding is lost, all the pieces will fall apart and the community centre may not be built or, at best, it would be delayed for years.

This is a facility the local community has sought for many years. The community development project has pushed ahead with it and has worked patiently with the statutory agencies involved. Those involved thought they had got to the point where everything was running smoothly. They thought all the funding was in place and that the scheme was agreed and would go ahead in due course. The risk that is now presented puts it in jeopardy.

What I seek from the Minister is a reassurance for the community and the community development project in this disadvantaged area that this money will not be lost and the community will not be put at risk. If there must be an extension on the time limit that appears to attach to this element of the funding, I ask that the extension be granted to allow for whatever paperwork must be completed so that this community centre can be proceeded with at the earliest possible opportunity.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Gilmore for raising this matter and for giving me the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. To respond, it is necessary to give a brief explanation of the equal opportunities child care programme, for which my colleague, Deputy Brian Lenihan, Minister of State with special responsibility for children, is responsible.

The programme for Government and the progress of the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006 are confirmation of the Government's commitment to developing child care services to support the child care needs of parents, with a particular emphasis on those who may be in employment, education or training to prepare for employment. To build on the success of the programme, the Government announced a new national child care investment programme in the last budget to cover the period 2006 to 2010. This new programme will build on the success of the existing programme and will incorporate a number of key objectives. It will increase the supply and quality of early childhood care and education services across the board, support families in breaking the cycle of disadvantage and provide a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of child care that is centred on the needs of the child.

The National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 has a funding allocation of €575 million and aims to create an additional 50,000 child care places. It is expected that approximately 22,000 of these places will be in the private sector and 28,000 in the community and not-for-profit sector. Some 20% of the overall places will be for children in the three to four years age group and will provide an early childhood care and education focus. When taken into account with the other child care centred announcements in the last budget, such as the increases in paid and unpaid maternity leave and the introduction of a new early childhood supplement, worth €1,000 per year per child under six, no one can doubt the commitment of the Government or that it is giving this issue the priority it deserves.

I turn now to the project in question, the child care element of which is part of a larger development which has been commissioned by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Other sources of funding have been sourced from other programmes and Departments. Deputy Gilmore will be aware that Mountwood-Fitzgerald Park community development project was provisionally approved €691,691 in capital grant assistance under the programme in March 2002 as a contribution to the overall capital costs of the project. The group sought additional funding and a further €308,309 was provided in September 2004, bringing the total approved under the programme to €1 million. This approval is subject to the group concluding a contractual agreement with Pobal, formerly known as ADM Limited, which administers the grants on behalf of the Department of Health and Children. This contractual agreement must be concluded by 31 December 2006 and spending must be completed by 31 December 2007 for European Commission reporting requirements to be met. I can appreciate the urgency of this, as there is a limited number of working days between now and the end of the year.

I understand from the Department of Health and Children that Pobal is awaiting outstanding information from the group and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to progress to the next stage in the process. This information will need to include written confirmation that the appropriate planning permission has been obtained. If the group is unable to progress to the signed contract stage by 31 December next, it will be able to reapply for funding under the child care investment programme. As the group will not have to start from a green field situation — all the information needed is available — any application it makes can be dealt with expeditiously. I hope that will not come to pass, however, and that the current application will be dealt with before the end of the year.

I emphasise that the programme has been central to the recent development of child care in Ireland, which will continue to flourish under the careful stewardship of this Government. I will indicate clearly to the Minister for Health and Children the issues raised by Deputy Gilmore. I appreciate that the group in question is fighting against the clock.