Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
12. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the degree to which her Department has continued to monitor and identify areas throughout the country deficient in adequate modernisation and development to meet modern-day challenges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27944/21]
This question relates to the tremendous work already undertaken by the Minister and to extending that further. In that regard, I am enquiring to what extent it is to be expected that areas will look well and be well in respect of having the ability to attract investment. In that context, to what degree will not only working from home be a desirable target but also the possibility of working from near home?
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. My Department provides a range of supports and programmes to address economic and social imbalances and bring positive impacts to people's lives in urban and rural areas. Our Rural Future, the Government's rural development policy for the period from 2021 to 2025, articulates an ambitious vision for rural areas, recognising their integral role in a thriving, modern Ireland. The policy outlines more than 150 commitments across Government aimed at strengthening the resilience of rural communities. The Government has committed to providing €1 billion for a rural regeneration and development fund from 2019 to 2027. Initial funding of €320 million for 2019 to 2022 has been allocated, and this represents an unprecedented commitment by the Government to strengthen our rural economies and communities. In addition to the rural regeneration and development fund, my Department also provides a variety of supports to communities across the country through programmes such as LEADER, the town and village renewal scheme and CLÁR funding.
The sustainable, inclusive and empowered communities strategy sets out Government policy for the community and local development and the community and voluntary sectors. Funding to communities provided by my Department, and local support structures which drive local engagement and decision-making, assist communities in identifying needs in their areas. My Department will continue to provide supports to communities throughout the country to meet existing and emerging challenges, enable economic development and support resilient communities. Indeed, there have been several investments in the Deputy's area already. The Royal Canal greenway was opened recently, and that passes through the Deputy's constituency. It is to be welcomed because all these investments add to the vibrancy and attractiveness of areas.
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. Furthermore, to what extent can modern facilities be made available in urban and rural areas throughout the country to reduce commuting times for many of the people working in bigger corporations who may sometimes be travelling as much as 100 miles or 150 miles each day to get to work? Is it also possible to relocate sufficient resources to communal facilities in towns and villages to enable people to go to an area near their homes and still be able to work from an official working environment? In a sense, those people could be at home and at work at the same time, and I ask about this point because of the necessity of encouraging the collegiality which goes with working in a workplace.
The Deputy's point is absolutely right. We are all social animals and we need to meet people. That is why investing in co-working spaces and remote working hubs is the way forward. There has been huge investment in towns and villages throughout the country to create these facilities. However, we have also managed to incorporate the revitalisation and regeneration of old and run-down buildings which have been out of use for many years. I cite the example, again, of Donegal, where the old cinema has now been converted, as has an old department store. Regarding the Deputy's own area, it is not that long ago that I was down in Naas, under the auspices of the rural enterprise development fund, to turn the sod with the Deputy in respect of the building of a new remote working space. Many people were then travelling to work in Dublin from Naas, and they do not have to do that anymore because of the changes I have detailed.
I thank the Minister again. We will welcome her whenever she wishes to return to my constituency. In a further enquiry on this issue, to what extent does the Minister and her Department liaise with the major corporations with many employees to seek the possible relocation of a portion of their staff to an area which may alleviate the need for long daily commutes?
As the Deputy is aware, the agency with responsibility for many of these companies is either IDA Ireland or Enterprise Ireland. IDA Ireland is engaging with companies that have already invested here, as well as with companies thinking of coming here, and it has certainly highlighted benefits of investing in the regions. In addition, we have always heard there is a need for a well-trained and highly skilled workforce, and we have such a workforce available. We can now allow people to work remotely in safe environments in the co-working spaces and remote working hubs. We have been investing in those endeavours over the years and we have identified almost 400 hub locations. We will be able to sell this development as a benefit to those companies coming to this country. We will be able to tell them this is the place where it is possible to locate and find a workforce with the requisite skill sets, and we will develop this aspect further with IDA Ireland.