Wednesday, 17 January 2018
I welcome the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring. I especially wish to acknowledge that the Minister is responsible for CLÁR and that it was he who reopened the programme in 2016. While the Minister might be based in Dublin 4, he is certainly working hard for rural communities. It is interesting to note that the CLÁR covers a programme relating to various counties or parts of counties: Cavan, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Laois, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wicklow and all of County Leitrim, which is the only entire country within CLÁR. It is an important measure. It ties in with the Government's commitment to the Action Plan for Rural Development. I am very aware of all the objectives of that. It is important that we hear how the 2017 programme went, what are the Minister's intentions for funding the CLÁR programme and any plans for bringing it forward into 2018. It is an important programme in the context of rural development and it acknowledges that there is a need for investment in rural communities. I thank the Minister.
I thank the Senator Boyhan for raising this issue and for the other issues he has raised regarding rural Ireland. I am glad the Senator has a concern. I appreciate that and the support which he and the others gave me in the Seanad when we discussed rural issues before Christmas.
The CLÁR programme provides funding for small-scale infrastructural projects in disadvantaged rural areas that have experienced significant levels of depopulation. The aim of CLÁR is to support the sustainable development of identified CLÁR areas with the aim of attracting people to live and work there. The funding works in conjunction with local funding and on the basis of locally identified priorities.
The programme was originally launched in October 2001 to provide for targeted investment in disadvantaged rural areas. The areas originally selected for inclusion in the programme were those which suffered the greatest population decline from 1926 to 1996, with the exception of the Cooley Peninsula, which was included on the basis of the serious difficulties caused in that area by foot and mouth disease.The average population loss in the original CLÁR regions over the period 1926 to 1996 was 50%. In 2006, an analysis of the 2002 census data was carried out by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at Maynooth University and the programme was extended to include areas with an average population loss of 35% between 1926 and 2002. CLÁR was effectively closed to new applications from 2010 and all funding provided over the period 2010 to 2015 was in respect of prior commitments. However, the Government relaunched the CLÁR programme on 6 October 2016 based on the original areas outlined above, with a focus on three separate measures. The first measure concerned safety measures for schools and community or sports facilities, the second measure concerned playgrounds and multi-use games areas and the third measure concerned local access roads.
On 1 December 2016, the allocation of €8.293 million to 651 successful projects under the programme was announced. The 2017 CLÁR programme, with an indicative allocation of €5 million, was launched on 31 March 2017 with a closing date of 5 May 2017. Funding for the programme was available in 2017 under four separate measures. The first measure concerned support for school and community safety measures, the second measure concerned play areas, the third measure concerned targeted community infrastructure and the fourth measure concerned first responder supports. In total, more than 500 applications were received, to the value of €15 million, across the four measures. Applications under the first, second and third measures were submitted through the local authorities while applications under the fourth measure were submitted from voluntary organisations involved in community-based response to emergency situations. In total, just over €7 million was allocated to 231 successful projects, across the four measures, ranging from pedestrian crossings at rural schools to emergency response vehicles.
However, in order to ensure that the CLÁR programme continues to target the most appropriate rural areas, I am committed to carrying out a review of the areas covered under the CLÁR programme during 2018 in light of the most up-to-date population position as published by the Central Statistics Office in 2017. I have secured a budget of €5 million for CLÁR for 2018 and decisions regarding the measures that might be funded for 2018 will be made available shortly.
What the Minister has secured for CLÁR is really good news. Will the Minister release or publish the national map setting out the CLÁR areas? Some people are still in doubt about that. It is also important to keep local councils informed of what is going on. Departments tend to engage with local authority executives but not necessarily local elected members. The Minister will appreciate that his party has a large number of local members, both elected and non-elected, who are very active in rural communities throughout the country. Therefore, given that there have been some changes since the last one two years ago, could we get the map? I also ask that local authorities are kept informed about the work because it is really positive, and it is important that it is made known. I thank the Minister for attending and giving us his time.
I will get the Department to send the Senator the maps. Every local authority area has its map because they have to consider these maps when making their application under the CLÁR programme. The Senator made a valid point. In my area, there are towns and, in particular, villages that are in CLÁR and others that are not in it but should be. I have to be careful how I put it but there are villages where one would feel they have a better standard of living and more people are working and employed there than in other areas. I saw it myself. An area that made an application for a scheme did not qualify because it was not in the CLÁR programme. I would consider this area to suffer major disadvantage. Therefore, I intend to carry out a review of the scheme.
One of the best aspects of the scheme is the first responder supports. Last week, we provided funding of more than €500,000 to doctors who are on-call and make themselves available in a voluntary capacity. Renault sponsored a number of vehicles throughout the country and I helped to fit out the equipment. These first responders, as they are called when there is an accident, have saved many lives in rural parts of Ireland.There is the Order of Malta and there are many other voluntary organisations. They give of their time to provide a service to communities and they are expected to also collect money for vehicles that can cost anything up to €100,000, which does not make sense to me and that is why I brought in this scheme. Last year I asked the local authorities and the communities if they wanted to make an application for a miscellaneous scheme. I will do the same again this year. I did it on the basis that if there was something I felt several communities needed I could consider a scheme for the following year.
I would love to have more money for the CLÁR programme. It was one of the better schemes in respect of local authority expenditure and how it worked. I intend to open it again early in the new year along with the local improvement scheme, LIS. I will review the overall context of the CLÁR programme, who is in and who is out. We need to have guidelines because we want to identify and target the disadvantaged areas, particularly in CLÁR.