Offaly TD Carol Nolan has expressed her shock after Minister Michael Ring confirmed that only 0.3% of the LEADER Programme 2014 has been spent since the commencement of the Programme.
Speaking in the Dáil under Priority Questions on Rural and Community Affairs in response to a question submitted by Deputy Carol Nolan, spokesperson on Rural Development, the Minister was asked for an update on the status of the current LEADER Programme funding and to indicate how the programme was performing in comparison to the previous programme.
Minister Ring confirmed that the Programme has only paid out €661,844 or 0.3% of the €250 million European Fund, as compared with 4.4% of a €400m fund paid during the same 18-month period of the previous Programme.
"The current LEADER Programme is a seven year programme spanning 2014 to 2020 yet the programme did not in fact become operational until July 2016, which has reduced the delivery time to 4.5 years," Nolan said.
The question was submitted by Deputy Nolan amidst widespread anecdotes that the application process of this current programme is substantially more bureaucratic and cumbersome than before and has militated against project promoters applying for grants and project developers drawing down funds.
Minister Ring disclosed that upon investigating claims of unnecessary bureaucracy he had in fact, in association with the Local Action Groups (LAGS), made 31 changes to grant application procedures.
Speaking later after Dáil Questioning, Deputy Carol Nolan remarked that she was “shocked” at the Minister’s disclosure.
“I submitted the Parliamentary Question to the Minister because I knew anecdotally that there was a problem – I just had no idea it was this grave. During the bleakest financial crisis this country has witnessed in many decades, at a time when Exchequer receipts were at an all-time low, an unspent European fund of €250 million is a scandal. The LEADER Fund is in effect, a dormant account," she added.
Deputy Nolan stated that she is clearly not satisfied that the LEADER Programme can attain 100% spend by 2020 and has indicated that there are still many unanswered questions.
“I will be seeking further insight into the spatial distribution of payments throughout the country and will also seek an account of the performance of the Programme in the Border Counties.”
In conclusion Deputy Nolan stated, “In any case, I will be seeking an outline of the Department’s strategy to ensure that every cent of the €200m project fund is paid out to rural communities, and I will be asking what measures the Department is putting in place to ensure that none of this fund is de-committed and makes its way back to Europe.”
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