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Fine Gael minister awards highest level of money from government rural funding scheme to own constituency

Mayo received over 10% of the total money awarded as part of the Clár funding scheme since 2016.

budget-day-2018 Minister for Rural & Community Development Michael Ring Source: RollingNews.ie

THE CONSTITUENCY OF Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring was awarded more than one-tenth of the entire pot of money from a national scheme designed by his department to fund rural projects and groups.

An analysis by TheJournal.ie of funding provided under the Clár programme from 2016 to 2019 found that Mayo received 11.2% of the total money awarded over three years, more than any other county.

Projects and groups in the county received €2.7 million out of a total of almost €24 million over the three-and-a-half-year period.

The county also received the highest amount of funding in each individual year during that time, with the exception of 2016, when its projects and groups received the second-highest amount of funding.

A spokesman for the department said that Mayo has the largest area in any county which is eligible for Clár funding, under boundaries set out by the department in 2006.

The boundaries were originally set in 2001, and were selected based on rural areas which suffered the greatest population decline between 1926 and 1996, before being updated in 2006.

TheJournal.ie was not given evidence to verify which counties and regions have experienced the greatest depopulation since 1926, despite a request to the department, which said it did not have such figures at hand.

Galway, where projects and groups received €1.82 million, received the second-highest level of funding over the three-year period, followed by Kerry (€1.6 million), Monaghan (€1.41 million) and Clare (€1.27 million).

In contrast, groups and projects based in Wicklow have been awarded the lowest amount of funding since 2016, receiving just €406,811. Meath (€434,070) received the second-lowest amount, with Offaly (€551,943) receiving the third-lowest total number of awards.

Clár Funding

The Clár (Ceantair Laga Árd-Riachtanais) programme, first introduced in 2001, targets investment in small-scale projects in rural areas that suffered the greatest levels of population decline from 1926 onwards.

Under the scheme, areas which lost 50% or more of their population between 1926 and 1996 were deemed eligble for funding. 

It was updated in 2006, when an analysis of Census data from 2002 was carried out by the NIRSA Institute (National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis) at Maynooth University, and areas with average population losses of 35% between 1926 and 2002 were included.

However, applications for the scheme were effectively suspended during the height of the economic downturn in 2010, before the programme was relaunched by Minister Ring during the second half of 2016, with applications fully opening again in 2017.

In a statement, the department said that counties in the south-west and the northwest have received the most Clár funding since, due to historical levels of depopulation there.

“The level of funding provided to a given county reflects the extent of Clár areas in that county rather than the overall area or population of the county,” the statement said.

The department also sought to explain why the Minister’s county received the highest level of funding since 2016, saying:

“It is important to note that Mayo has the largest area which is eligible for Clár funding of any county.”

Projects funded

The type of projects funded since 2016 include safety measures for schools and other community facilities, multi-use play areas, supports for voluntary first-responder emergency organisations and funding for vehicles to transport people to health centres.

Funding since 2017 has been released in four tranches: two tranches targeting school/community facilities; one targeting community infrastructure; and another targeting emergency and first response groups.

In December, the Minister replied to a Parliamentary Question outlining the importance of Clár funding to voluntary health services in particular.

“The one thing about Clár is it can identify programmes that help,” he said.

“Last year one of things that worked out very well was in regard to first responders, particularly in some rural areas where they do not have health board services.

“They depend on ambulances and voluntary organisations, like the Order of Malta, to bring people to hospital. That has worked our very well.”

According to TheJournal.ie’s analysis, Mayo received the highest total awards for emergency/first response groups, which were only available from 2017 onwards, as well as for outdoor play facilities in 2016, the only year when that type of funding was available.

However, funding awards for school/community facilities, local access roads and targeted community infrastructure varied across the three-and-a-half years.

Boundaries re-drawn

In its statement, the Department of Rural and Community Development told TheJournal.ie that while local authorities in eligible counties are invited to submit a maximum number of applications, not all avail of the full quota of funding available to them.

A spokesman pointed to two measures of funding under the programme in 2017, when two applications were submitted by Westmeath and Wicklow, but when 13 such applications also came from Mayo and 14 applications came from Leitrim.

All eligible applications from all local authorities under these measures were subsequently funded that year.

However, the department confirmed that it has initiated a review of the programme which will examine Clár areas by reference to data from the 2016 Census.

A spokesman said that as part of the review, the department will also consider whether there are other factors that should be taken into account in designating areas for eligibility under the programme in future.

Would you like to know more?

Through Noteworthy, we want to take a deeper look at how funding from government gets shared out.

We want to look at every government department in Ireland to see what discretionary funds are still available to ministers.

We will examine grants for sports clubs and community organisations to see where all of the money has been going over the past ten years.

You can help support this project by contributing to or sharing our proposal, which you’ll find here.

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