BY HELEN RIDDELL
A MEETING held on Bere Island last Friday September 2nd, by the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development has recommended changes to the funding framework of the voluntary and charitable sector, additional supports for communities and community organisations, improved transport links to the offshore islands.
The group made history by meeting on Bere Island, the first time the committee has met outside of Dáil Éireann, with permission approved at a special Dáil debate.
The 14 member Oireachtas committee, also met with representatives of Bere Island Projects Group and island voluntary groups to discuss a number of issues facing the island community.
Recommendations made following the committee’s meeting included the immediate establishment of a new Leader programme for rural enterprises and community organisations, increase in the Community Enhancement Fund by €20m, funding for Age Action groups and Men’s and Women’s Sheds should increase by €5m and adequate and sustainable support for the charitable and voluntary sector.
Cathaoirleach of the committee, Deputy Dennis Naughten said: ‘These groups are the backbone of life in Ireland, providing jobs, tourism, care and health supports and housing to a significant part of our population. It is essential they are supported. Similarly, there are several schemes and initiatives in rural Ireland that must be protected.’
He added that that the committee has made specific recommendations on supports for island communities including a €10m fund for major and minor capital development works on the islands, current funding for the Islands air and ferry services to increase by €1.5m, a new air service to Inisbofin, and Leader grant aid on the islands to increase to 85%.
The committee also made a number of recommendations with regard to transport infrastructure which included using the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund as a vehicle to develop rail projects in rural areas, increased funding for the Local Improvement Scheme, the Walks Scheme, the Mountain Access Scheme, and an expansion of the Elder Home Share.
Deputy Naughten added: ‘The pandemic has had a significant impact on all community, voluntary and charitable organisations across the country and the Committee believes that it is imperative that the State provides them with direct support as they begin to recover particularly now with rising running costs. The Joint Committee will continue to engage with both the Minister and the Department of Rural and Community Development and seek regular updates on the implementation of the recommendations set out in this report.’