Michael Ring warns Ministers not to treat his department as a ‘soft touch’
Minister says other departments are foisting issues onto Department of Rural Development
Michael Ring: ‘We cannot allow other departments to throw everything over to my department.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring has warned his Cabinet colleagues not to treat his department as a “soft touch” for projects that come under their responsibility.
In an outburst during question time on rural and community affairs in the Dáil, Mr Ring said other departments had their own “programmes and schemes and they have their own money. I have to make them accountable as well.”
The Minister came under pressure from Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary about the need to use regional funding for infrastructural projects and long-term developments.
Mr Ring said the Ceantair Laga Árd-Riachtanais (Clár) funding for small-scale projects in rural areas that have experienced significant levels of population loss could be used for this as well as for the short-term projects the Minister had introduced.
He said “I wish I had more funding” and that was why he had initiated a review of the programme and this would inform future developments in the fund.
He said he hoped Mr Calleary and other rural colleagues “will support me in what I have to say next”.
“We cannot allow other departments to throw everything over to my department. There is a bit of that happening at the moment and I want to be careful about it.”
Mr Ring added: “Other departments have an obligation to rural-proof projects but I have to ensure that Ministers do not see my department as a soft touch that has to do everything. They have responsibilities too.
“They have their own programmes and schemes and they have their own money. I have to make them accountable as well.”
Mr Calleary said he agreed with the Minister that Mr Ring’s department “cannot be just a clearing house”.
But he pointed out that a quarter of the 2018 Clár budget is still unspent. “We keep coming back to this in respect of all the schemes we discuss.”
But the Minister insisted that he had spent all the 2018 funding, and the problem was with the local authorities who had not spent the money they received.
“All the money for schools and community safety, play areas, including the multi-use games areas, community wellbeing and support, first responders and the mobility and cancer care transport scheme was spent last year.”
Mr Ring said politicians should be “up on their feet at every council meeting asking why money on approved projects is not being spent”. He added: “I can only do so much.”
He said “pressure is coming on me from the department not to spend more, because councils have not yet spent what they have got”.