Third tranche of ‘stability funding’ announced: Where does this leave communities?

Many of the communities that were affected the most by the pandemic both financially and socially were ones that were already experiencing decline, often in rural areas.

Because of this, the Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys has announced the third tranche of the Covid-19 Stability Fund, aimed at providing immediate assistance to community and voluntary groups, charities and social enterprises.

These cash injections are for organisations that provide “critical services” to those most vulnerable in society.

The support package of €11 million, consisting of once-off payments of between €2,000 and €200,000, will go to 209 organisations in a range of areas including: disability services; health and well-being services; community supports; active retirement; and elder care services.

The aim of the fund is to help with short-term cash-flow issues caused by the pandemic.

Commenting today (Friday, September 4), Minister Humphreys said that the funding, which is from the Dormant Accounts Fund, is in recognition of “the valuable contribution of the community and voluntary sector”.

“This is particularly the case as Ireland navigates its way through this pandemic,” she said.

“I look forward to the day when I can thank you in person.”

Additional tranches will be announced shortly.

Where does this leave communities around Ireland now?

The previous tranches of this fund were announced in June and July of this year, amounting to €14.1 million in funding, which benefitted 276 organisations.

During the summer, Minister Humphreys allocated funding for regeneration projects, under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund. There were two rounds of funding under this, with projects including the regeneration of town centres in several counties, along with bringing derelict properties back into use.

There was also funding allocated for communities under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme as part of the July Jobs Stimulus. €2.8 million was made available for 106 towns and villages throughout the country in a bid to help communities to “shop, socialise and work safely” in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The July Stimulus Package included an additional €10 million for towns and villages; €5 million for upgrading and improving community centres; and €2 million extra to support the islands.

Also part of the July Stimulus Package was the announcement of €15 million in funding being made available this year to commence a multi-year programme to rehabilitate 33,000ha of Bord na Móna peatlands.

The additional funding is intended to support a “just transition by maintaining jobs in the midlands as well as laying the foundation for more substantial and sustainable job creation into the future”.

Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan announced funding of €4.5 million for 26 greenways to be developed throughout the country.

The minister stated that greenway proposals will be funded for a number of areas that have been impacted by the suspension of peat harvesting and are being supported by the Just Transition fund, including counties Longford, Roscommon and Offaly.

The government also announced in the last week that pubs, bars and nightclubs remaining closed and planning their reopening can now receive a minimum of €5,600 and a maximum of €35,000 under the Restart Grant Plus.

What concerns remain for communities?

Despite funding being allocated numerous times for various causes, concerns about the fate of many rural areas still remain.

Covid-19 brought to light many disadvantages in society. The lack of access to adequate broadband services in rural areas has been a significant tale of woe.

The government’s response to rural broadband issues has been “unsatisfactory” as farms, households and businesses continue to suffer, according to TD Holly Cairns.

According to deputy Cairns, people experienced profound isolation and the inability to work or study at home due to broadband issues during the pandemic and she feels that, if this continues, it will be the end of rural Ireland.

Families can’t video-call their loved ones, students are unable to participate in school and college and people working from home are working in church car-parks.

Several TDs have raised issues over pubs remaining closed.

The Rural Independent Group has criticised the government for “trying to rush through” sweeping new Covid-19 enforcement powers for An Garda Síochána.

The proposed measures are contained in the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill 2020, which the rural group members fear will lead to the closure of even more pubs and restaurants, while also giving new powers to the Minister for Health, to introduce controls over the number of guests in a private home.

“The impact of this policy has meant that many viable pubs will never re-open, jobs will be lost, family pubs destroyed forever and the negative impact on daily life and mental health, especially in rural areas, is being ripped apart by this government’s policies,” deputy Mattie McGrath claimed.