Mr Ring has revealed that at least four schemes have yet to start despite Government promises to prioritise rural Ireland. A fifth scheme, Rapid, which targets urban disadvantaged areas and comes under Mr Ring’s remit, is also under review.
Separately, Mr Ring’s department has confirmed to the Irish Examiner that a grant to help first-time buyers renovate vacant properties in rural villages and towns has yet to be set up despite being announced more than 12 months ago.
This funding, which was originally announced by the previous minister, Heather Humphreys, was due to be rolled out to a number of pilot towns and villages before being expanded. However, the steering group set up to oversee the programme has yet to meet and no pilot areas have been identified.
Fianna Fáil spokesman for rural affairs Éamon Ó Cuív dubbed Mr Ring “the minister for reviews”, claiming that his department is “full of broken promises” when it comes to rural Ireland.
“The problem is that everything is being reviewed and nothing is happening,” Mr Ó Cuív told the Irish Examiner.
While funding has been announced for a number of projects, in many cases finance for schemes has not been allocated and supports have yet to be rolled out, among these are:
- The Local Improvement Scheme (LIS);
- The Clár programme;
- The Town and Village Renewal Scheme;
- The Rural Recreation Scheme.
Pressed for an answer in the Dáil, Mr Ring could not say exactly when the schemes would start, indicating that it may be the summer before funding is made available.
He said the LIS scheme, which provides funding for repairs and upgrades to smaller roads, will be announced “shortly”.
“Not alone will I be announcing the scheme but I will announce the funding as well,” said Mr Ring.
“The LIS provided much-needed support in rural areas in 2017 and I have allocated a further €10m for the scheme this year.
“I intend to announce details of the scheme, including the allocations for each county, later this month.”
A similar answer was given in relation to the Clár programme, which Mr Ring has opened since becoming head of the department in June. Clár is designed to provide funding for small scale capital projects in rural areas that have experienced significant depopulation.
On the other schemes, Mr Ring said: “The rural and recreation scheme and the town and village scheme will open at the end of May. I intend to have projects in for July, probably, and I will make the allocation later in the year.”
However, Mr Ó Cuív accused the Government of dragging its feet and simply making false promises to those living in rural Ireland.
“Why are we getting this big word ‘review’ again?” said Mr Ó Cuív. “Why did the minister not simply stand up and say that nothing has been sorted yet and no projects have been approved?
“Is that the situation after that long rigmarole of an answer? Is this exactly what the minister told me at the end: Nothing has been sorted and nothing approved?”