Thursday, 11 July 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Community Enhancement Programme Funding
11. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the reason the allocation to the community enhancement programme is only a third of the allocation made in 2018 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30087/19]
In a previous reply, the Minister indicated that the community enhancement programme has been established since the RAPID programme was closed. He referred to the €13 million he made available last year and indicated that a budget of €4.5 million is available for the community enhancement programme this year and another €500,000 for men's sheds. A far smaller allocation has been made for 2019 than was the case in 2018. Does he plan to make additional funding available for the programme during 2019?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 13 together.
The community enhancement programme helps community groups to improve facilities in their area. The allocation of funding is weighted towards those communities in most need. It supports a range of investment in all areas of communities, including childcare facilities, playgrounds, recreational facilities, sports grounds, landscaping projects and supports for the elderly.
In 2018, I launched the programme with initial funding of €4.5 million allocated to it in the Vote. As there was significant interest in the programme, I was delighted to be in a position to allocate additional once-off funding to the programme later in the year, with the final amount allocated being €13 million. This included €500,000 that was ring-fenced for men's sheds and women's sheds. More than 3,000 projects across the country were funded, all of which were targeted at enhancing facilities in disadvantaged communities.
There is funding of €4.5 million for the 2019 programme, the same amount that was initially provided in 2018. If savings are identified elsewhere in the Department as the year progresses, then, as a result of its success of last year, I will consider additional funding for the community enhancement programme.
This issue follows on from my previous question. The funding this year is substantially less than it was last year. As the RAPID programme is no longer in operation, there is a particular need for the most disadvantaged communities to receive continuous long-term support. They need to know on a year-to-year basis that programmes will be supported. Although the allocation of €13 million last year was very welcome and I have looked at projects funded under it, the most disadvantaged areas are not receiving the required level of support. Will the Minister review the community enhancement programme in light of the fact that it has replaced the RAPID programme, which targeted funding at the most disadvantaged areas? I previously raised my concern that the most disadvantaged communities are not being engaged and receiving funding on the ground. I welcome the funding for men's sheds and other programmes but I am concerned that it is at the expense of the most disadvantaged communities. While I acknowledge that savings were made last year, the fund this year is substantially less than the outturn last year.
I know from where the Deputy is coming. We are speaking the same language and I would like to discuss the matter further with him. I am not having a go at him. In my view, I amalgamated the RAPID and community enhancement programmes. The Deputy will dispute that, which is fine. I accept that. The core budget line was €4.5 million. Thereafter, savings became available from elsewhere in the Department. I would be worried if that money was not being targeted at the intended areas. I acknowledge that the Deputy did not make that point. I want the money targeted at the people in the areas identified under the RAPID programme who need it most.
A review was carried out this year on the community enhancement programme because I do not want it to become a slush fund to be used by councils for other works they wish to undertake. The programme must target the most disadvantaged in society. That is why the LCDCs are of such importance. I expect them to take a bottom-up approach and to identify where the needs are, where the money should be spent and who should receive it. I am prepared to listen to the Deputy because he is saying the same things as I am. I want the money to be spent on the people who need it most.
I agree that the community enhancement programme must not become a slush fund. The Minister is well aware of the importance of investment in disadvantaged communities. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, alluded to it in a previous response regarding the north east inner city. We know the challenges in the most disadvantaged communities. As I referenced earlier, the Taoiseach is also of the view that our most disadvantaged communities need additional supports. I am not hanging all of this on the Minister's Department as other Departments have a role to play.
However, there has been very few advancements in DEIS schools or in funding drugs and alcohol task forces in our disadvantaged communities. Most of those programmes support very disadvantaged communities and the only such programme that relates to the Minister's Department is the community enhancement programme, which has replaced the RAPID programme. The Minister should go back to the drawing board with his colleagues at the Cabinet table, in addition to within his Department, to consider what the Government is doing to support these communities. The Taoiseach rightly said that we cannot afford to support all communities financially in the same way as has been done for the north east inner city, but we need to support them proactively and we are not doing that.
I do not disagree with anything the Deputy stated. We are speaking the same language. I want to learn from the programme in the north east inner city and see if there are measures we can bring to other areas, including towns and cities, that need support. The Deputy asked about the community enhancement programme. I will look at it again because I want that funding to go where it ought. That is what the programme is about.
A programme that the Deputy did not mention, but which I know he likes and which I think is a great scheme that does not get the credibility and support it deserves is SICAP. There is a lot of flexibility in it. Deputy Calleary earlier referred to making schemes difficult to access. Since I became Minister, I have tried to make schemes easier to access. Deputy Curran and I disagree in regard to the funding of men's sheds, women's sheds, the community enhancement programme and the relationship to the RAPID programme. I established the community enhancement programme to make it easier to target the groups that need it most. If, following the review, the Deputy and I are unhappy with the reforms that have been made, I will consider the matter further.