Rural communities taking €100m hit on LEADER red tape: Ó Cuív
COMMUNITY development projects and rural business initiatives have been starved of €100m in funding because of red tape around the LEADER programme.
Fianna Fáil has claimed that the scheme is in crisis, with just 0.6pc of its budget allocated so far.
The party’s spokesman on rural affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív, said the current LEADER programme had failed to get off the ground “in any meaningful way”.
“A total budget of €250m was allocated to this programme — around €50m was earmarked for administration, with the remaining €200m earmarked to be spent on projects,” explained Mr Ó Cuív.
“Despite the fact that we are now half-way through the timeline for the programme, the total expenditure to date amounts to only €100,000 — or 0.6pc [when by this stage, €1m should have been spent].
“This is a frighteningly low level of spending, more than three years into the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.”
Fianna Fáil claim that projects to a value of just €6.4m have been approved to date. “It is becoming clear that there will be another substantial underspend in this programme for this year — with estimates putting the underspend at around €25m,” Mr Ó Cuív said.
However, Minister Heather Humphreys stated she was confident progress was now being made which would re- sult in a significant increase in project approvals.
The minister confirmed at the end of July that 270 projects valued at over €6.4m have been approved for funding, with more offers expected to be issued over the coming weeks.
The responsibility for the programme will now fall to Rural Minister Michael Ring.
Maura Walsh of IRD Duhallow in Co Cork blamed delays in the current LEADER programme on what she described as the “heavy hand of the State”.
As a result of changes introduced by the former environment minister Phil Hogan, county councils now have direct input into the delivery of LEADER, she pointed out, while the Departments of the Environment, as well as Rural and Community Affairs — and the State agency Pobal — have an oversight function.
“In the last programme it took three months to evaluate a project, now it takes at least 12 months,” said Ms Walsh.