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Leader Programmes

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 806 No. 2

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Leader Programmes

Deputy Michael P. Kitt: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter and the Minister for coming to the House.

  There has been some confusion on the question of community project funds through the Leader programme. While this issue was raised briefly at Question Time, I seek further clarification. A headline in the Connacht Tribune three weeks ago read, "Galway takes an €18 million hit in community project funds", while it was stated in the article that "Leader groups face a race against time for sanction of schemes as EU deadline looms". There was great concern that, if this was to be the case, it could be another four years before projects could be considered for funding under a new Leader programme. There was also a feeling that not all of the European moneys would be drawn down. While that is one view, another from the people in the east Galway rural development office was that while they had a budget of €12 million which was agreed to by the Minister and while there was funding towards enterprise and community measures, there were 40 existing applications for projects which would cost close to €5 million, with only €1.5 million to allocate. Of course, there are many other community groups which wish to apply and cannot do so if that is the position.

  This has been a very successful scheme. I can point to a project in my own parish of Caltra where the community centre is almost complete and where there is a very successful relationship with the Leader company. The project has involved a lot of fundraising which is still ongoing and I hope we will be able not only to develop the community centre but also to have a sports field and other facilities when the centre is complete.

  The article in the Connacht Tribune went on to discuss not only the situation in east Galway but also that of Comhar na nOileán in the Connemara Gaeltacht area which only has €4 million to allocate by the end of the year. Forum Connemara has an allocation of €7.7 million, of which it has spent €1.9 million, leaving it with a balance of approximately €5 million to allocate. Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta which shut last year had only paid out €1.9 million of its €4 allocation. This raises many questions. The same newspaper contained another article in which it was stated, "Development groups claim centralisation of Leader programmes will put rural communities back 30 years".

  These concerns are coming to a head. I ask the Minister to clarify these issues and assure rural communities that the good work being done will be allowed to continue. I hope he will be able to sanction other projects and, most importantly, allow other groups to make applications where they believe funding will be made available for either enterprise or community measures.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The Leader elements of the rural development programme 2007-13 commenced in February 2009 after a delay of more than two years which reduced the time available to allocate funding to less than five years rather than the original seven. Two main issues have impacted on the revised allocations notified to local development companies last month. The first relates to overall programme performance. During 2010 and 2011 it became evident that a significant number of local development companies which had been contracted to deliver the programme were not committing funds at the level required to ensure all of the funding would be allocated by the December 2013 deadline. Any funding not committed by the end of this year will be lost to the programme. Similarly, it became clear that a number of local development companies were more than capable of allocating additional funding if it was made available.

In this regard, in January 2012 my Department notified all local development companies, including Galway local development company, that the original allocations awarded in 2009 were no longer valid and that the programme was being opened up on a first come, first served basis to all local development companies in order to ensure all the available funding would be allocated to eligible projects within the timeframe allowed. All local development companies were encouraged to maximise the opportunity this created for them. All local development companies had an equal opportunity to maximise funding in their respective areas and some companies were better than others at availing of this opportunity.

The second issue relates to the change in co-financing rates. During 2011 the European Commission approved a change in the maximum co-funding rate from 55% to 85% for the Leader elements of Ireland's rural development programme but only for expenditure incurred in 2012 and 2013. This had the effect of reducing the available funding under the programme from €427 million to an estimated €370 million, which is still a lot of money.

In January 2013, in the light of all the changes to the programme, it became necessary for me to carry out a comprehensive review of the level of commitments and expenditure across the various measures of the programme in order to apportion the remaining funds among the local development companies, taking into account the level of commitments already entered into. Using an estimated final programme allocation of €370 million, the total spend to date and outstanding contractual commitments under the programme were established and deducted from the €370 million. Some €6 million was provided for the former MFG legacy files, new Gaeltacht projects and associated administration costs. Funding was also provided for projects greater than €150,000 in value that had been submitted to my Department for assessment. The original percentage of the programme awarded to each local development company in 2009 was then applied to apportion the remaining funding. Where a local development company would receive less than 80% of its original allocation, bearing in mind that the overall programme value has been reduced by approximately 13%, an adjustment was made to bring the revised allocation up to 80% of the original.

For the Galway local development companies - Galway Rural Development, Forum Connemara and Comhar na nOileán - this represented a decrease from their original allocation. The redistribution of available funding was conducted in as fair and equitable a manner as possible, with many local development companies experiencing similar reductions. If my Department had not adjusted the allocations to ensure all local development companies received at least 80% of their original allocation, a number of companies, including Galway Rural Development and Forum Connemara, would have experienced even higher reductions and, in that context, the allocations were calculated in the fairest possible manner.

Deputy Michael P. Kitt: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I am glad to hear the Minister believes he is being fair in the allocations, but I make the point made in the Connacht Tribune headline that Galway was to take an €18 million hit on community projects.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I cannot be responsible for the Connacht Tribune.

Deputy Michael P. Kitt: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt It is fearless, like the Irish Farmers' Journal. I am glad that the Connacht Tribune is highlighting this issue as it is an important one. The Minister did not refer to the fact there were many people who wanted to make applications, as any representative from Galway would tell him. I would feel very sorry for them if they were unable get their applications in on time.

  A concern was raised by Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP, about a possible reduction in rural development funding if, for example, management of the Leader programmes was moved away from the local development companies. Again, I would like the Minister to deal with this point. If people are trying to provide community facilities or undertake enterprise projects and the Leader companies are not involved, where is the alternative source of employment in rural areas? There will be serious ramifications if rural development funding is reduced. I hope the Minister will keep his mind on this issue and perhaps even rethink the plans for the future of the Leader programme, if that were to be the case. My attitude has always been that the programme is working well, certainly in the case of the east Galway projects about which I know more than the west Galway projects. Is there a need, therefore, to change something that is working well? I would say no and if the Minister has other ideas, I would certainly like to hear from him. I hope he will give attention to the funding problems being encountered in the case of the east Galway projects.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The rationale behind the alignment of community projects and local government is to reduce administrative costs and provide more money for front-line services and projects for individuals and communities. I am sure the Deputy shares my objective in doing this. Some €32 million has been requested by local development companies out of a total of €90 million to be allocated this year and next year.


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