Ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties tak­ing €100m hit on LEADER red tape: Ó Cuív

Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS -

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.

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