Thursday, 19 January 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
110. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason the Department of Rural and Community Development was allocated voted capital and current expenditure of only €331 million or 0.45% of the overall voted allocation in 2022 at a time when regional and rural infrastructure is creaking at the seams and many rural services are subpar or non-existent when compared with urban areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2526/23]
Why was the Department of Rural and Community Development allocated voted capital and current expenditure funding of only €331 million, which is 0.45% of the overall voted allocation in 2022, at a time when regional and rural infrastructure is creaking at the seams and many rural services are non-existent by comparison with those in urban areas?
Supporting rural Ireland is a major cross-governmental policy objective and priority. However, the amounts allocated to the Department of Rural and Community Development are themselves but a fraction of what we invest in our regions and local communities. For example, the figures the Deputy referred to do not include how much we spend in schools located in rural communities, nor do they include rural bus networks, primary care centres or health facilities located outside our larger cities. I differ from the Deputy regarding the inference I think he is making, which is that the key way in which money is spent in rural communities is through the Department of Rural and Community Development. In reality, it is only a very small part of overall Government expenditure. It is the priority of every Department to focus on communities, both rural and urban.
According to the Minister's own estimates at the year's end, there was a surplus of €5 billion recorded in 2022. Tax revenue in 2022 stood at €83 billion, which was €15 billion, or 21.5%, ahead of the figure for the same period in the preceding year. This should have a good news story. Why does it not transfer to everyone? Where did the money go? Who has suffered? We have a strong income tax receipt, up to 40% over that of the previous year. Surely, delivering rural infrastructure and critical services across the region should be a priority. I am talking about sewerage and water facilities, which are being upgraded only, not added to. That means we cannot build houses in our rural towns and villages. That means people cannot locate in them or support business and the school and transport networks.
If the Deputy examines the expenditure of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, he will see it is over €2 billion. I believe it is €2.2 billion. It goes without saying that all of that supports our rural communities and agriculture sector. The amounts pertaining to the Department of Rural and Community Development, which is an important Department, add to the large amounts already spent by other Departments in supporting rural Ireland. That said, the amount of money allocated for rural development programmes under the Department of Rural and Community Development began at €80 million in 2017 and now stands at €202 million. Therefore, there has been a huge increase in the funding streams that go to that Department, but, as I said, it forms only a very small share of the overall expenditure on rural Ireland.
Why in a year of plenty have our rural towns and villages suffered at the Minister's hands? I have highlighted so many times that there is a need for investment in basic services, such as water and sewerage plants. Let our people have houses and progress the building plan in the areas affected. Builders cannot provide homes where there are no basic services. It is not that hard to understand. Askeaton has been waiting 33 years for a sewerage system to be upgraded. Foynes and Glin are in the same category. In Dromcollogher, there is sewage going into the river. This is not what I want. I want infrastructure. In Oola, houses cannot be built. Hospital got 26 houses but six have their own sewerage facilities on site because there was no capacity. This is what I am talking about. If we build sewerage and water infrastructure in these places, we can build houses, which in turn support all businesses and schools across the network. That is the investment I am talking about. Askeaton has been waiting for 33 years and there is sewage flowing straight into the Shannon. That is not the only place. The River Deel has also been polluted. That is where I want investment.
Now that I have been reunited with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, in another Department, I can say there is no greater champion of expenditure in rural Ireland, including the part of the Deputy, than him. I have no doubt that, in the time ahead, he will continue to make the case for the priorities the Deputy has referred to. I will certainly do my best to help. I am well aware of the difficulty of making a case for not spending money when there is so much within our society and rural Ireland that needs support and further progress. I understand that point entirely, but what we are doing is increasing, year by year, the amount the Government is spending. In doing so, we are making every effort to prioritise rural Ireland and respond to the needs of the citizens to which the Deputy is referring. Colleagues such as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and Deputy Ring are always making the case for that investment. We have made big differences and have made big increases in expenditure. I will do my bit to maintain that progress and continue to make progress on the priorities the Deputy has referred to.