1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his Department’s officials are involved in meetings to discuss sectoral plans or responses to Brexit. (Question 6904/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Brexit Issues)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The international, EU and Northern Ireland division of my Department covers work on all international, EU and British-Irish and Northern Ireland affairs within the Department, including issues relating to Brexit. This division is headed by a Second Secretary General, who also acts as the Irish sherpa for EU business, including Brexit. The total staffing resources of the division, which are kept under ongoing review, c...

2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if his Department has engaged in meetings regarding sectoral plans in response to Brexit. (Question 8337/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Brexit Issues)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The international, EU and Northern Ireland division of my Department covers work on all international, EU and British-Irish and Northern Ireland affairs within the Department, including issues relating to Brexit. This division is headed by a Second Secretary General, who also acts as the Irish sherpa for EU business, including Brexit. The total staffing resources of the division, which are kept under ongoing review, c...

3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of officials in his Department in preparing for Brexit; and the number and roles of those officials dedicated solely to Brexit planning. (Question 8575/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Brexit Issues)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The international, EU and Northern Ireland division of my Department covers work on all international, EU and British-Irish and Northern Ireland affairs within the Department, including issues relating to Brexit. This division is headed by a Second Secretary General, who also acts as the Irish sherpa for EU business, including Brexit. The total staffing resources of the division, which are kept under ongoing review, c...

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of Cabinet Committee meetings he attended in January 2018. (Question 6906/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Cabinet Committee Meetings)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.
I chaired meetings of Cabinet committees A and G in January, and to date in February I have chaired meetings of committees D, F and C. It is a short answer.
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5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the number of Cabinet Committee meetings he has attended in 2018. (Question 8336/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Cabinet Committee Meetings)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.
I chaired meetings of Cabinet committees A and G in January, and to date in February I have chaired meetings of committees D, F and C. It is a short answer.
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6. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the activities of the strategic communications unit and the number of staff now in place. (Question 7231/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Strategic Communications Unit)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.
The remit of the strategic communications unit is to bring consistency, clarity and professionalism to all Government communications. Its focus is to treat communications as a whole-of-Government activity and to speak to our citizens in a way that they understand and so they can be aware of the Government services available to them and the actions that Government is taking on their behalf.
The focus of the work of the...

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff in the Government Information Service. (Question 7444/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Strategic Communications Unit)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.
The remit of the strategic communications unit is to bring consistency, clarity and professionalism to all Government communications. Its focus is to treat communications as a whole-of-Government activity and to speak to our citizens in a way that they understand and so they can be aware of the Government services available to them and the actions that Government is taking on their behalf.
The focus of the work of the...

8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the partnership arrangements the strategic communications unit in his Department has with a newspaper (details supplied). (Question 8469/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Strategic Communications Unit)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.
The remit of the strategic communications unit is to bring consistency, clarity and professionalism to all Government communications. Its focus is to treat communications as a whole-of-Government activity and to speak to our citizens in a way that they understand and so they can be aware of the Government services available to them and the actions that Government is taking on their behalf.
The focus of the work of the...

9. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the strategic communications unit; the number of staff now employed by the unit; and the responsibilities and positions of each. (Question 8490/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Strategic Communications Unit)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.
The remit of the strategic communications unit is to bring consistency, clarity and professionalism to all Government communications. Its focus is to treat communications as a whole-of-Government activity and to speak to our citizens in a way that they understand and so they can be aware of the Government services available to them and the actions that Government is taking on their behalf.
The focus of the work of the...

10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the number of staff in his Department attached to the Government Information Service. (Question 8492/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Strategic Communications Unit)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.
The remit of the strategic communications unit is to bring consistency, clarity and professionalism to all Government communications. Its focus is to treat communications as a whole-of-Government activity and to speak to our citizens in a way that they understand and so they can be aware of the Government services available to them and the actions that Government is taking on their behalf.
The focus of the work of the...

11. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the outcome of the tender for market research by his Department; and when the research that was commissioned will be published. (Question 8574/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Strategic Communications Unit)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.
The remit of the strategic communications unit is to bring consistency, clarity and professionalism to all Government communications. Its focus is to treat communications as a whole-of-Government activity and to speak to our citizens in a way that they understand and so they can be aware of the Government services available to them and the actions that Government is taking on their behalf.
The focus of the work of the...

27. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his policy on the development of the RAPID programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8821/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - RAPID Programme)

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: The Minister will agree with me that we often hear about the challenges facing rural communities. However, they pale into utter insignificance when we compare them to the challenges faced by those living in urban disadvantaged areas. I received a call recently from a lady who spoke to me about a school the Taoiseach had visited. Down the street from it will be located a 100-bed rehabilitation unit and the first legal injecting room for illegal drugs in the country. She a...

28. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the value of payments to third party Leader project promoters since the launch of the implementation phase of the 2014 to 2020 programme to the end of December 2017; and the way in which this compares to payments made during the first 18 months of the 2007 to 2013 programme in terms of actual moneys paid out and as a percentage of the overall fund. (Question 8820/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Leader Programmes Expenditure)

Deputy Martin Kenny: As the Minister is aware the new Leader programme that began in 2014 and ends in 2020 had a long delay in getting off the ground. It came on stream in 2016 but it has been dogged with huge amounts of bureaucracy and problems for communities that are trying to apply for funding. It seems to be turning into a real mess. We only have two years of the programme left to run. How much money has been spent? It seems to be very low compared to what the commitment is.
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29. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the developments he is proposing for the CLÁR programme in 2018; and when new elements of this programme will be rolled out in 2018. (Question 8822/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - CLÁR Programme)

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Last year there was a massive underspend in the Minister’s Department. We seem to be heading the same way because unless the money is out on the ground early in the year it will not all be spent by the end of the year. What developments is the Minister proposing for the CLÁR programme for this year and when will we hear the announcements and calls going out so we actually get the money spent in a timely way?
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30. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he will review legislation relating to dog breeding establishments in view of recent cases of welfare issues in some large establishments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 7154/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Dog Breeding Industry)

Deputy Paul Murphy: To its shame, Ireland is the puppy farming capital of Europe. Some estimates put it at 100,000 puppies a year. The breeding conditions often operate on an industrial scale in battery conditions similar to battery pigs or battery chickens.
11 o’clockIt is really horrific. Huge profits are being made from horrific animal cruelty, which was exposed in a “Panorama” programme almost two years ago. What action will the Government take to clamp down on this cruelty and stop this...

31. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the measures being undertaken by his Department to address persistent depopulation in rural towns across County Donegal and the rest of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8823/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Rural Development Policy)

Deputy Thomas Pringle: I would like the Minister to outline what has been done for rural areas in terms of national development. Last week, GeoDirectory published statistics on commercial activity across the country. Ballybofey, County Donegal, had the highest rate of commercial inactivity, at 28.8%. Commercial vacancy has been a consistent feature in Donegal, primarily due to ongoing and persistent depopulation in rural towns. What is being done to tackle rural depopulation in the county an...

32. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to set out the financial allocations in 2016, 2017 and to date in 2018 for the seniors alert scheme; the take-up in respect of the scheme since 2016; the changes made to the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8504/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Seniors Alert Scheme)

Deputy Martin Heydon: My question has been grouped with a question tabled by Deputy Fitzpatrick. The seniors alert scheme is good and popular scheme, especially among those living in rural areas and people living alone or in isolation. Can the Minister outline the details of the new seniors alert scheme coming into play?
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33. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if the concept of the Atlantic economic corridor and its development is provided for in the Project Ireland 2040 plan which encompasses the national planning framework and the national development plan. (Question 8501/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Project Ireland 2040)

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): The overarching objective of the Atlantic Economic Corridor proposal is to maximise the assets along the western seaboard and connect the economic hubs, clusters and catchments of the region to attract investment, support job creation and contribute to an improved quality of life. 
Project Ireland 2040 fully supports the development of the AEC and specifically highlights the contribution that the AEC can make to achieving the re...

34. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if his Department has examined ways to address rural isolation and loneliness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8511/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Action Plan for Rural Development)

Deputy James Browne: I wish to ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if his Department has examined ways to address rural isolation and loneliness
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35. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to announce a new local improvement scheme in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8514/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Local Improvement Scheme Funding)

Deputy Pat Deering: When does the Minister intend to introduce a new local improvement scheme for this year? He knows that last year, up to €17 million was allocated for what is one of the most important schemes in rural Ireland. We regularly hear about the demise of rural Ireland but the local improvement scheme is one of the most important initiatives that have been resurrected in the past number of years.
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36. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the requests for submissions that have been sought from bodies in 2018 under the local improvement, village and town renewal, national rural development and CLÁR schemes; the projects approved to date under these schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8715/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Departmental Schemes)

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: The question is very straightforward and I hope I get a straightforward answer from the Minister. It concerns the requests for submissions sought from bodies in 2018 under the local improvement, village and town renewal, national rural development and CLÁR schemes. I also seek the number of projects approved under these schemes. Two months are gone in the year, ten months are left, the clock is ticking and nothing is happening.
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37. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to outline the new measures he plans to roll out under the Action Plan for Rural Development in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8718/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Action Plan for Rural Development)

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: I will ask the Minister the next question. The Minister need not go with all the rigmarole. Can he simply get the answer and cut out the crap?
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38. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to outline the details of the new version of the seniors alert scheme; the way in which it can be accessed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8739/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Seniors Alert Scheme)

Deputy Martin Heydon: My question has been grouped with a question tabled by Deputy Fitzpatrick. The seniors alert scheme is good and popular scheme, especially among those living in rural areas and people living alone or in isolation. Can the Minister outline the details of the new seniors alert scheme coming into play?
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39. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the steps he has taken to ensure a full spend of capital funds provided to his Department in the 2018 Estimates and from the carryover of €7.7 million from 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8716/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Departmental Expenditure)

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: I am sorry to have to criticise the Minister again but there was a massive underspend in his Department last year. A sum of €7 million that was not spent last year is being brought into this year and €19 million was given back to the Exchequer. Two months of this year have passed and no schemes have been announced. Nothing is happening. What plans does the Minister have to ensure he will spend the full capital allocation this year, rather than end up with the same situa...

40. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he will report on the progress of preparing a national strategy for volunteering; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 8517/18 asked on 21 Feb 2018 - Voluntary Sector)

Minister for Rural and Community Development (Deputy Michael Ring): Supporting the role of volunteers in our society is an important element of my Department’s work in developing vibrant, sustainable and inclusive communities. The Government recognises the importance and worth of every type of volunteering activity, irrespective of its scale or the sector involved. The ongoing and future development of volunteering is key to ensuring that the sector continues to thrive and that we all benefit f...