Wednesday, 14 February 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
7. Mr. S. Brennan asked the Taoiseach if he will confirm media reports that one constituency has received over 50 per cent of the grants from the special local development scheme under the auspices of his Department. [2824/96]
Mr. J. Higgins: The total sum available for assistance under the special local development grant schemes is £1.24 million for 1995 and 1996. Applications were sought publicly and other applications were on hands from other schemes — in particular from the Urban Initiative.
A series of criteria were laid down which had to be met. These included: maximum grant of £100,000 to any one group or 75 per cent of reckonable costs; adequacy of material provided in support of application; the outcome of meetings/visits with the promoter; other sources of funds available to the applicant; whether project can/has received funds under the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development and/or the Urban Initiative; demonstration of ability of group to carry out work; level of disadvantage in areas; relevance to local development/Operational Programme in one or more of the following areas — enterprise, services to unemployed, community development, environmental improvements, targeting disadvantaged groups; demonstration of ability  to satisfy accounting and accountability requirements of Department.
The total number of applications received was 199. Following a critical examination based on these criteria, 84 applications were selected for funding. Of these, a total of 44 applications were processed and allocated funding to a total of £992,845 in 1995. This included seven island voluntary agencies. The remaining applicants will hopefully benefit from the remainder of the fund, subject of course to Department of Finance sanction.
I am aware of media reports which suggested that one constituency, Dublin South Central, received 50 per cent of the grants under the scheme. I can assure the Deputy that this is not the case. I have allocated funding to 12 local organisations located in that constituency to a total of £243,845. This represents less than 20 per cent of the total funds available. One further grant was given to a community based school project in Dublin's inner city which serves four schools in underprivileged areas of three constituencies, Dublin South-East, Dublin South-Central and Dublin Central. Considering that the bulk of the fund applied to the five main cities in the country and that Dublin South Central has not been selected to benefit under the Urban Initiative under which £16 million will be available for integrated urban regeneration projects in three areas, i.e. Finglas/Ballymun/ Darndale, West Tallaght/Clondalkin and north Cork City, I do not think it was unreasonable to assign this allocation.
It is also worth pointing out that financial assistance to a total of £287 million is available from a broad range of schemes to groups and agencies engaged in local development. These schemes which were drawn up under the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development, 1994-99 are operated under the aegis of my Department, the Department of Enterprise and Employment and the Department of the Environment.
Mr. B. Ahern: I thank the Minister for his detailed reply. Am I analysing the figures correctly if I say that about 2.5 per cent of the fund would be available to each constituency if it had been divided equally whereas, in fact, the constituency of Dublin South-Central received 20 per cent? Will the Minister of State confirm that the criterion for all the applications was whether they were from Dublin South-Central? Is that the critical analysis that was undertaken?
Mr. J. Higgins: I have nailed the lie that the amount is 50 per cent. I have a file of press cuttings from spokespersons of various parties alleging that 50 per cent had been given to the constituency of the Minister of State. Deputy Gay Mitchell.
Mr. J. Higgins: I have pointed out it is not 50 per cent but 20 per cent. Furthermore, the Minister of State's constituency did not benefit under a number of other schemes and projects. It is not fair to allege that an undue proportion was disbursed to the Minister of State's constituency.
Mr. B. Ahern: The Minister of State knows our job is to ask questions related to matters in the public domain and to elicit facts. This is an important fund and the Minister of State has confirmed that Dublin South Central has received ten times more than the average amount that would have been available if a pro rata calculation had been used. The constituency has received one fifth of the total and ten times more than one could reasonably expect. The fact that it did not receive other funds has nothing to do with the matter. One fifth of this national fund has gone to one constituency which happens to be the constituency of the Minister of State  responsible for its allocation. Is it not the case that the critical examination carried out in the section was the address of the applicant?
Mr. J. Higgins: My information is that each and every application submitted was evaluated on its merits in relation to the degree of social disadvantage, the preparedness of the project and its meeting the nine separate criteria required for qualification. In the constituency in question 12 projects qualified. Having examined the details of the file in relation to the merits of a particular application, nobody could quibble that there was anything of an undue political nature involved.
Mr. M. McDowell: The Minister of State may agree that the exaggeration in the media arises from the fact that some of the money was spent in my constituency. Will he agree that there is a sting in the tail because the portion of my constituency in which it was spent is to be transferred to Dublin South Central under the forthcoming legislation?
Does the Minister of State agree that in this matter the Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell, could learn a lot from the Minister of State, Deputy Allen, who has let down his own constituency so obviously?
Mr. J. Higgins: In relation to the disbursement of funds, Dublin city and Dublin constituencies have done particularly well. The purpose of the fund was to divide the available moneys among the five main urban centres. Allowing for the skill of my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Allen, I do not think anybody could teach the Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell, any lessons in political astuteness.
Mr. R. Burke: I suggest to the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, that he is being less than frank when he says the amount is 20 per cent. It is 20 per cent of the total fund for the year but of the part of the fund allocated so far Dublin South Central has got slightly less than 25 per cent. The 44 projects got £992,000; Dublin South Central got £243,845 which is nearer to 25 per cent than 20 per cent. One in four of the pounds spent have gone to one constituency.
Mr. J. Higgins: As I said, 12 projects in Dublin South Central have received funding to a total of £243,845. This was paid in 1995 and comes to approximately 24 per cent of the funding already allocated——
Mrs. O'Rourke: The Minister of State mentioned another project which served a number of schools. I would like to  know the costing on that project. Who had the final decision on where the money would be allocated?
Mr. J. Higgins: On that basis I am sure he would take into consideration the relative merits as presented in the projects and as laid before him. I do not have the figures for the community schools but I will communicate with the Deputy.
Mr. J. Higgins: He communicated with the sponsor of the question, Deputy Séamus Brennan, and sought to have the question postponed until such time as he could be before the House. Unfortunately, Deputy Séamus Brennan would not relent.
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