Cllr Seamus Browne says changes made by the government to how the Leader programme operates have not worked
THE changes made by the government to how the Leader programme operates have not worked, Sinn Fein’s Cllr Seamus Browne has claimed.
And he is now calling on the government to address “the excessive bureaucracy” imposed on Leader so that the funding can reach rural communities in a timely manner. “Only €8.25 million of a national budget of €250 million has been approved with even less paid out to projects,” he pointed out.
Figures released by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, show that nationally, just 355 projects have been approved so far, compared with 2,886 in the first two years of the previous Leader programme. In Limerick, according to the minister’s figures, just three projects have reached final approval stage with funding of just under €15,000.
This compares to 90 projects worth €1.5m at final approval stage in Kerry and 32 in Donegal worth €1m.
But the manager of Ballyhoura Padraig Casey stressed that these figures represent “a moment in time”. He also emphasised that the figures given by the Minister represented final approval stage and not finalised projects with written contracts.
This Leader programme is different from the previous one, he explained. One key difference is that projects have to be approved by a ‘local action group’ or LAG and then a local community development committee, LCDC has the final say. In Limerick, Mr Casey pointed out, the LCDC had decided to give people ample time to submit their expressions of interest. Other counties may have done this differently, possibly setting earlier deadlines, he speculated and this could have affected the figures at final approval stage.
But for him, the positive thing was the strong demand. There were 198 projects proposed to Ballyhoura under “expressions of interest” earlier this year, he explained, and 47 of these are moving through the different stages of the approval process.
“There are great projects coming down the line,” Mr Casey said. “What we are seeing is a really engaged community sector coming up with strong projects.”
Shay Riordan, the manager of West Limerick Resources, said, “We are aware some areas are moving faster,” but he also emphasised that reaching “final approval” was not the same as having final contracts signed.
“Some areas were out of the blocks very quickly and received approval for small amounts. We went for large calls with a larger volume of applicants and for larger projects and they have taken a longer time to move through.”
But he stressed: “We are moving projects through the system as we speak. There are 28 projects currently going through the system and the value of those will be well over €1m.”
Cllr Browne has expressed sympathy with those applying for the programme and those charged with administering it.
“Having once been a shining light for community leadership, changes brought about by (former minister) Phil Hogan in 2014 have resulted in a bureaucratic nightmare for local groups,” he charged.
“Citizens have been made jump through 18 bureaucratic hoops just to achieve funding before they even start the particular project that they are seeking to develop,” he pointed out.
The application form alone, the Limerick Leader has learned, is now over 30 pages rather than five in the past. In addition, the template for contracts has proven unwieldy. Administrators have also had to cope with ongoing adjustments.
“It is ironic that previously Ireland was held up as an example of best practice in the administration of Leader funding,” he added.
“Other European countries have now implemented systems based on the community led model previously in practice in Ireland.” The government should return to that model, he argued.