Seanad debates

Monday, 15 February 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

10:30 am

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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The next Commencement matter is from Senator Carrigy.

Micheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Acting Chairperson, Senator Warfield, and congratulate him on taking the Chair. I thank Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for taking on my Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. This matter is about the provision of funding under the rural regeneration and development fund for the Drumlish go green centre application in Longford.

First, I acknowledge that it was Fine Gael in government that introduced this fund during the last term to help stimulate rural economies. There have been three successful applications in County Longford over the last couple of years. Project Ireland 2040 aims to make cities, towns and villages more attractive and liveable and offer a quality of life, which more people will be willing to choose in the years ahead. It references reversing town-village and rural population decline by encouraging new roles and functions for buildings, streets and sites supporting the sustainable growth of rural economies and communities. This project aims to address these and numerous other objectives by ensuring the reimagining of the existing community centre to deliver an expanded role within the community of Drumlish, allowing the local people to live and work locally while encouraging climate adaption. The core objective of this is to create a flagship project by developing Drumlish into a competitive, low-carbon climate resilient and environmentally sustainable town through the redevelopment of the centre as a flagship green-energy building. The building will also be used to showcase low-energy technologies and act as a training centre, which will be open to communities throughout the midlands, on reducing energy consumption in association with Longford warmer homes, among others.

Significant consultation took place over the last number of years, which started with the establishment of the town team by my colleague, Councillor Paraic Brady, which led to the formation of the area development group. The redevelopment of the centre emerged as a key priority along with the need to create economic opportunities for the local community, such as providing a remote working space and opportunities for innovation and collaboration. The town has experienced significant population increases in recent years. There was a 58% increase between 2006 and 2016. However, the supporting infrastructure to facilitating the retention of employment in the area has not followed. This project is expected to bring five direct jobs in the development and management of the centre, as well as space for five dedicated remote working places, additional meeting and training facilities and increased usability for music, dance and art. The centre is located next door to the local national school, St. Mary's, which utilises its facilities. Mulleady's waste and recycling centre is located two miles from the town and will collaborate with promoters, which include Longford County Council, Drumlish Community Centre Group, the Drumlish-Ballinamuck Area Development Group, and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, to deliver greater sustainable community goals. This will be done by working together to develop school education programmes, information awareness, workshops and practical demonstrations.

This project plans to support the community's transition to a low-carbon society by creating a new vision for Drumlish. This application aligns with national, regional and local policy, and fully delivers on the policy priorities of the current funding call of economic development and addressing climate change. It will be transformational, not only for Drumlish, but for the wider county of Longford and, indeed, parts of Cavan and Leitrim. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that this project is made a priority for Government funding.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to the House.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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The rural regeneration and development fund was established under the National Development Plan 2018-2027 to provide investment for ambitious projects in towns and villages, and outlying areas, with a population of less than 10,000, which will deliver on the national strategic objective of strengthening rural economies and communities, and which achieve sustainable economic and social development in these areas. To date, the fund has provided €166 million for 139 projects across Ireland, worth a total of €237 million.Projects that have been allocated funding to date include town and village regeneration; enterprise and development; tourism and development; digital and co-working initiatives; libraries; and community facilities. Many projects are delivering across a number of sectors, for instance, providing libraries, co-working facilities or much-needed community facilities in repurposed town centre sites or previously unused heritage buildings. To date, over half of the projects supported have had a strong focus on regeneration, ensuring that our rural towns and villages, and the communities and businesses within them, will benefit from returning footfall.

In that regard, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I believe the projects completed with the assistance of the fund will deliver significant impacts across rural Ireland, supporting sustainable communities, economic development and job creation that will help to deliver on the long-standing goal of rebalancing growth throughout the regions. In addition, the investment provided will support rural Ireland in addressing the challenges arising from Covid-19. It will provide a much-needed stimulus for the economy in rural areas, while also putting in place the necessary facilities to ensure rural towns, villages and communities can have the opportunity to recover and prosper over the months and years ahead.

As Senators will be aware, the third call for category 1 applications to the fund closed on 1 December. Category 1 relates to large-scale ambitious capital projects with all necessary planning and other consents in place and ready to proceed. Considering the circumstances prevailing, this category 1 call had a strong economic focus, with one of the main goals being to ensure the investment provided can act as a key driver for economic recovery in the post Covid-19 environment. Another key focus was, once again, regeneration in towns and villages, with a view to driving greater economic activity and footfall, addressing dereliction and ensuring the reuse of buildings.

The response from rural Ireland was excellent. Some 66 applications were received in response to this call from communities throughout the country, including Drumlish, as Senator Carrigy noted. All the proposals have been planned and developed to meet the key needs, opportunities and expectations of their respective communities. As Senator Carrigy will also be aware, the application process for the fund is competitive in nature. The applications submitted in December are being assessed by the project advisory board, comprised of independent experts and representatives from key Departments. I understand that arising from this process, the Minister will be furnished with a report detailing the projects which are recommended for funding. She will make the final decisions in that regard at that juncture. The Minister hopes to make an announcement to this effect at the end of March or the beginning of April. I will convey the Senator's views on Drumlish to her. I know it is a good project and Councillor Paraic Brady and Senator Carrigy are doing huge work in articulating its merits for the community. As the Senator has pointed out, it knits into St. Mary's Mixed National School and the wider area. It will be a major driver in the area and I expect and hope for a positive outcome.

Micheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State is well aware of this issue. As he said, his colleague, Councillor Brady, started work on it a number of years ago. He has been driving a large number of projects in the area. As I said, I am aware that the process of assessing this project is ongoing. I point out, however, that it aligns with national, regional and local policy and fully delivers on the policy priorities of the current funding calls in terms of economic development and addressing climate change. That is what makes the project unique. It is also linked in to the local national school, St. Mary's Mixed National School, as the Minister of State mentioned, and Mulleady's recycling centre, one of the largest recycling facilities in the midlands. This centre will work to promote climate change action by bringing other schools in the midlands to the centre when it is fully operational and functioning as a complete green energy building.

I thank the Minister of State for his support. We are hopeful that this application will be successful. Longford County Council has been a proactive local authority and it is keen to deliver this project for the community.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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This Commencement matter highlights the merits of this project and how it will unlock the potential of Drumlish. I acknowledge the work of Senator Carrigy, Councillor Brady and the wider community. As the Senator pointed out, the members and executive of Longford County Council have a great relationship and the council has a strong track record of delivery for the county, which is very important. That is why projects such as this will stand up to scrutiny.I hope that we will be able to deliver it within a short time. As the Senator pointed out, this project in line with the investment plan for the area and the national planning framework, which ensures that rural areas are given a chance to realise their potential and we get key funding into them. I hope that we will have a positive outcome in due course.