Thursday, 11 July 2019
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Rural Regeneration and Development Fund
5. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the number and value of payments made to date for approved project funding under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30893/19]
We spoke briefly about the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, RRDF, which seems to be another of the Minister's specialties, but there have been lots of announcements, with nothing practical happening on the ground. Will he, please, flesh out the details?
The RRDF seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects that have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over ten years to the fund, with €315 million allocated to it for the period 2019 to 2022, inclusive. Following the conclusion of the first call to the fund in February 2019, a total of 84 successful projects had been announced, with funding of €86 million provided. This funding supported a total investment of €117 million by the projects in rural areas.
Following the announcement of the successful projects, my Department engaged with each lead party to complete due diligence requirements. Contractual arrangements were also drawn up, with the release of funding based on the achievement of key milestones in the projects. In that regard, significant progress is being made in the implementation of successful projects, a number of which have met their first milestone and had funding released. To date, €1.722 million has been drawn down from the fund by seven separate projects. I expect payments to accelerate significantly in the coming weeks and months as further milestones are achieved across all 84 projects.
The figures for 2019 are 84 projects and funding of €86 million. To date, approximately €1.7 million has been spent. Even with a significant acceleration, it is difficult to see €86 million being spent by the end of the year. Will the Minister confirm whether the allocation for the budget has been reduced by €3 million because of the national children's hospital fiasco? Rural communities will be made to pay for the incompetence of the Minister for Health.
The Minister interacted with Deputy Martin Kenny earlier. We all know rural towns and villages where there are loads of empty spaces, units and, more importantly, accommodation. What specifically will the plan do to encourage people and local authorities? The Minister was right, in that local authorities should be leading developments in towns. What is there within the fund or the milestones he mentioned that will inject people back into small towns to live and be part of their communities on a day-to-day basis?
My Department has been in constant contact with all State agencies, local authorities and anyone who has received funding under the RRDF. I will answer the Deputy's other question shortly, but, regarding milestones, we have set targets. I am obliged by law - there is also an evaluation committee - to ensure we do not hand out funding until bodies reach milestones in procurement and being shovel ready. There must also be a certain level of spending before they can draw down from the fund. I expect the figures to improve. Some of the projects in question are major. They told us that, although they were shovel ready, they still had to undertake procurement. That they would not attempt procurement until they were allocated the money was understandable. Some of the projects are fantastic and will create very badly wanted jobs and infrastructure in many towns, villages and other areas throughout the country. Consider the project proposed for Bekan in the Deputy's own area. It can be used for shows and markets and will be open to the general public. It will give a lift to Claremorris, Ballyhaunis and many other towns. Many other projects throughout the country will do the same.
This is a game-changer for rural Ireland. When I started in this job, one of the issues constantly raised with me was in respect of promoters with ideas and projects. There was not enough grant aid or State funding to bring these projects over the line. This scheme will work well.
Can the Minister confirm the €3 million reduction in the budget? The project in Bekan is really interesting and has massive potential for east Mayo. What is being done was in the Minister's Department to ensure that potential is reached? That project will not happen on its own. Knock, Ballyhaunis and Claremorris need to get the kind of wins they need out of it and there must be a plan in place for those towns. For instance, there needs to be a plan in place for accommodation for people who are going to use that facility. Is somebody driving the local authority, which in this case is Mayo County Council, to come up with a plan that knits that huge development with the towns around it, so that they get the win we want them to get rather than us hoping, or assuming, they will get a win? At the moment people are being bussed in and out. Somebody has to drive it in order to get the impact. That is where this fund should come in. Fund the project but in order for it to deliver its full capacity and full benefit, somebody must also drive it on.
The local authorities are one of the drivers. I will tell the Deputy about the real drivers behind any project, and we talked about that project in east Mayo. I refer to the town and village scheme. The plaza in Knock has given a lift to the town. The streetscaping in Ballyhaunis has given a lift to that town. Claremorris is a town that has seen much development over last number of years. What is happening in all these towns is that jobs are being created and there is a little bit of confidence in the towns. Communities and community spirit lead these projects.
I refer to the LEADER programme and the amount of grant aid allocated to very good projects in east Mayo. It takes time to develop them and for these schemes to be up and running. I am pleased my Department has played a major part in rural development with all the different schemes. The local authorities have a job to do to drive this on. They need to be doing more of that and encouraging more towns. I have asked them not to concentrate on the Ballinas, the Castlebars or the Westports but to look at the smaller towns and give them an opportunity as well.