Thursday, 26 May 2011
I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for facilitating my request to raise this matter. This is a matter I have submitted on a number of occasions with a view to bringing it to the floor of this House. It is an important issue for me but it is much more important to the people of Multyfarnham and Milltownpass. Both community groups are extremely hardworking and have put many hours of voluntary work into these projects. The projects have received the unanimous support of Westmeath Community Development, of which I was a board member. I had the pleasure of proposing one project and seconding the other. The projects received unanimous support at Westmeath County Development Board level in January 2011. We referred them to the Department and were advised it would take, at best, six months before we would have a response. Four months on the deliberations are still going on. That is unacceptable.
Perhaps I can give the background on both community projects. Planning permission was received for the Milltownpass project October 2010 and funding was sought from Westmeath Community Development. Millltownpass community group has worked for the past 20 years to bring about a communal facility for this much expanded village. There were various difficulties such as land disputes, a change in the village plan, and a zoning change. However, it now has a piece of land, a project for which planning permission has been received and 25% of its resources in place. Milltownpass needs this community building which will be used by the local schools, the young at heart, the ICA, keep fit, active retirement groups as well as many other community groups.
Multyfarnham is a village close to my home. Last week the President visited the village where she opened a new cancer care centre. In 2008 the village won a national pride of place award. In recent years this community group developed a park, a playground and a football pitch through voluntary work and communal effort.
The two projects will cost approximately €900,000, which in bad times is a good deal of money to have circulating in the local community. Apart from the social benefits they will deliver to the local area, the projects will generate economic benefits and employment, including during the construction phase of the two facilities.
We are not seeking fresh money to pay for the projects as money has been committed and Westmeath Community Development Limited has a budget of €7.5 million. The Government cannot blame the previous Government, as it has done in respect of every other issue, because funding has been allocated. I call on the Department to remove the red tape and complete its deliberations. Both of the community groups in question have responded to every request from the Department for information.
I know from first-hand experience that the community groups in question are dedicated and of a high calibre. They have proved that they are not fly-by-night groups, having worked on the relevant projects for many years. I ask the Minister of State to request that the relevant Minister intervene to determine what is delaying a decision. We were informed it would take four to six weeks to complete deliberations. We have now been waiting for almost five months. What is causing the delay?
As I stated, €7.5 million has been allocated and fresh money is not required. Let us spend this money and support community groups whose members are putting in long hours on a voluntary basis. The Government's jobs initiative was launched to great fanfare two weeks ago. The project in question would immediately create dozens of jobs in this rural community. I ask the Minister of State to contact the relevant Minister to ensure a decision is taken and communicated without further delay to the community groups in question.
I am responding on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. I thank Deputy Troy for raising the matter.
Axes 3 and 4 of the Rural Development Programme Ireland 2007 - 2013, which are known as the Leader axes, provide substantial support for the diversification of the rural economy and activities to enhance the quality of life in rural Ireland. The rural development programme is designed to address directly many of the challenges facing rural communities, including the need to increase economic activity and stimulate job creation, improve access to basic services for rural dwellers and encourage rural tourism based on sustainable development of natural resources. It is critical for all areas, both rural and urban, to ensure the maintenance of vibrant communities not only for the people living in such communities, but also to create attractive environments where people want to live and work and where enterprise initiatives can thrive.
The rural development programme will see the investment of €427 million in rural areas over its lifetime. In keeping with the bottom up philosophy of the Leader methodology, the local action groups delivering the programme on behalf of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government are the principal decision makers on the allocation of project funding. In general, an overall ceiling of €150,000 grant aid per project applies to projects under the Leader axes of the programme. In certain circumstances local action groups may award grant aid in excess of €150,000 where they secure the approval of the Department to do so. It is in this context that the Department is examining the projects to which the Deputy referred.
Given the level of funding involved and the need, in our current economic climate, to ensure value for money for every cent spent, I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that a full and detailed assessment of such projects is vital. It must also be remembered that the Leader activities are co-financed by the European Union at a rate of 55% and, accordingly, come within the remit of a strict regulatory regime which requires that each project must be compliant before any funding is awarded.
The assessment of projects usually involves detailed consultations with the relevant local action group. It frequently necessitates the provision of further documentation or clarifications and may in some instances result in modifications to the project proposed to ensure best value for money and compliance with all the necessary regulations, both national and European, governing the activities funded under the programme. These assessments also consider whether the project as proposed addresses the needs of the local community in the best possible way.
Regarding the projects referred to by the Deputy, a number of issues had to be considered internally by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and subsequently queries were raised with the local action group. I assure the Deputy that when all of the required information has been received, a decision will be made on the projects without delay.