Thursday, 15 July 2021
Department of Rural and Community Development
500. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the degree to which her Department continues to address the issue of rural isolation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38978/21]
501. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which she and her Department continue to address the issue of urban isolation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38979/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 500 and 501 together.
Addressing the issue of isolation, in both urban and rural communities, is relevant to the work of a number of Government Departments. This is reflected in ongoing Government work including that aimed at enhancing community policing, rural transport links and tackling social inclusion. Focus on actions to address the issue of isolation in communities has become more important than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of my Department's policies and funding programmes contribute to addressing isolation issues in communities.
Key interventions include fundingthe Seniors Alert Scheme, whichenables older people to live securely, with peace of mind, in their homes through the provision of personal monitored alarms, ensuring contact is maintained with those who are vulnerable. In addition, as part of the Department’s COVID-19 Action Plan, increased support was provided for older people through our funding partnership with ALONE for their crisis telephone support line.
The Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP)is Ireland’s primary social inclusion funding intervention, delivered locally by Local Development Companies (LDCs) to help those in the greatest need access supports to enable participation in communities. LDCs have put in place various measures to ensure supports continue to be delivered to vulnerable and isolated people throughout the COVID-19 crisis. These include increased online supports, a “friendly call” maintain regular contact with older, vulnerable isolated people during COVID, and an increase in Meals on Wheels services and supports for those not able to travel to shops and those experiencing food poverty.
The National Social Enterprise Policy aims to enable social enterprisesincrease their social, environmental and economic impact. Many social enterprises are based in rural or isolated areas and provide services to communities that may not otherwise be available.
The library serviceoperates a network of mobile libraries which provides an invaluable service for library users in rural communities, providing inclusion and connection to many remote areas. The vehicles offer books and other library items along with free Wi-Fi access. The library service also provides members with free online access to thousands of eBooks, eAudiobooks, magazines, newspapers and training courses.
The current LEADER Programmefunctions under EAFRD Priority 6 – promoting social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas. This provides the basis for LEADER to address challenges facing Irish society including social exclusion. The Social Inclusion Theme is composed of the sub-themes Provision of Basic Services Targeted at Hard to Reach Communities and Rural Youth.
The sub-themes focus on providing basic services to communities in remote areas which may be at risk of social exclusion and also promoting youth entrepreneurship and associated training in order to improve improved pathways for young people to access economic opportunities in rural areas.
Physical and social isolation can have a particularly significant impact on people living in remote rural areas.Earlier this year my Department published Our Rural Future, a rural development policy for the next five years. The policy seeks to strengthen and build resilience in our rural communities and deliver a range of policy measures in order to achieve these objectives.
I have also introduced a new CLÁR Innovation Measure targeted at piloting new ideas which address specific challenges faced by communities in CLÁR areas, including isolation, population change, social disadvantage and marginalisation. This Measure provides a great opportunity for communities to identify the specific challenges they face and to come up with innovative ways to address them.
The issue of isolation is one which concerns us all and I am committed to continuing my Department’s response to this issue through continued delivery of relevant programmes and policies.