Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
13. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development when her Department will publish its islands policy and strategy to support island and coastal communities; the areas of focus that are being prioritised within the strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27972/21]
43. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the new policy for the islands; when she expects it to be finalised; the number of occasions the interdepartmental committee for the development of the islands has met to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27957/21]
This question is to ask the Minister when she will publish the new islands policy, which will be the future strategy for our islands. I also ask her to give some detail on the consultation process and the areas on which this forthcoming policy will focus.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 43 together.
Question No. 43 is from the Leas-Cheann Comhairle herself, and I am taking it along with this question from Deputy Kerrane because I know she has a particular interest in the islands as well. The development of a new islands policy is one of the key elements of Our Rural Future, the Government's new rural development policy. The central objective of the islands policy will be to ensure sustainable, vibrant communities continue to live on the offshore islands. A consultation process was undertaken by my Department last year to inform this process and ensure the island communities were and are central to this process.
The consultation process assisted in identifying the main challenges faced by communities on the offshore islands. Issues which were highlighted by the island communities included education, health, housing, energy, employment, broadband and access to services. My officials are now engaging bilaterally with relevant Departments and agencies to discuss the outcome of the consultation, and I expect those Departments and agencies will be providing input regarding and expertise on elements of the policy as it is developed. The interdepartmental committee convened in January this year and it will meet again in June to review progress. I hope to have a draft policy document by the end of this year. Once agreed, the policy will be supported by a series of action plans across the Government to support, promote and empower our island communities.
Regarding the policy document itself, will the Minister be seeking to include timeframes and specific costs for the commitments in it? In addition, was the policy on the islands due sooner than the end of this year? I appreciate it may have been delayed with the consultation, but I thought it was closer to being completed than perhaps it is. Turning to the consultation process itself, I take it from the Minister's response that it is now fully complete. Equally, regarding engagement with other Ministers and Departments, I take it the policy will go through proposals and commitments in a wide range of areas, from housing to health.
Perhaps the Minister could provide more detail on that.
The process was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions. Topics proper to a wide range of Departments have been raised. Officials are now discussing these with the relevant parties. This will inform the policy and the action plans.
As the Deputy is aware, an extensive consultation process was undertaken and there was a high level of engagement by the communities. When completed, the plan will set out the high-level strategic ambition for the islands. It will be supported by dynamic action plans delivering both short- and long-term actions to support island communities. It is important that we support our communities. Indeed, I must say that when I became Minster for Social Protection, one of the first things I did was to increase the island allowance. I was the first Minister in 20 years to do so. That is an indication of my personal commitment to supporting the islands.
I ask the Minister to provide some detail on the implementation of the plan and how she plans to implement the policy in the years ahead, following its publication. Is it a five-year strategy, for example?
I welcome the Minister's engagement and the extensive consultation with people who live on the islands. Of course, they are best placed to tell the Minister how their islands need to be developed and what supports they need. That is most important.
I ask the Minister to provide further detail on the implementation of the plan, following its publication. I also ask the Minister to provide further information in relation to the costings in the budgetary implications. I assume, from the Minister's response, that the policy paper will not be published ahead of the budget this year.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I acknowledge that the Minister did visit Arranmore Island. There is no better consultation than coming onto the island. The community are very grateful for that.
I would like to raise two points. The Minister stated that cross-departmental communication is happening currently. On the issue of planning for island communities, it is most important to emphasise that there are difficulties around planning for those seeking to return to the islands. I know the Minister is aware of that. I ask the Minister to look into it.
There was a recent announcement of funding for the Islands. On the chance that there is extra money or room in the budget towards the back end of the year, it would be imperative that the budget for island roads is looked at again for Donegal. I know that the Minister is aware of the situation with the Lighthouse Road on Arranmore Island.
The draft plan will be drawn up. We have done extensive consultation as part of the work. I have not seen the findings yet. A lot of work has been put into it. We have consulted with many Departments. I look forward to seeing the policy document as soon as possible.
On the issues raised by Deputy McHugh, I take on board his point. I have been to two islands. I have visited Clare Island and Arranmore. It was a real pleasure to visit them. I am hoping to visit Inis Oirr. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will understand because she has spoken to me about the island. We are working on that.
In terms of the planning and getting planning permission, the issue has been raised with me. Deputy McHugh has also raised it with me. If people are willing to move back to the island that they were originally from, we should be looking at it. I have raised the issue with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien.
If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would indulge me, she met with me to discuss the issue of the Inis Oírr pier. I wish to state that the business case has been approved and Galway County Council has permission to put the project out for tender.