LEADER funding imbalance must be rectified – Liadh Ní Riada MEP
Speaking from Brussels, Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada called on the Government to roll-back on its 'premature and unprecedented' allocation of LEADER funds. Ní Riada called on Ministers Alan Kelly and Ann Phelan to wait until local development strategies had been drawn up before allocating funds, and to ensure that no county is disproportionately affected by the 40% cut to LEADER funding.
Ní Riada said;
“Yesterday, Ministers Kelly and Phelan announced the launch of the application process for local area groups, which they hope will result in local development strategies being produced early next year. The allocation of monies, a fortnight ago, before this process had even begun is premature and unprecedented. It is an attempt to straightjacket the local groups that are best placed to develop local development strategies, to undermine their autonomy and to influence their results. This goes against the bottom-up and community-led ethos that is central to the LEADER programme.
“I am calling for the county-by-county allocations made earlier this month to be scrapped pending the completion of the application process. Local action groups need to be given the freedom and space to design strategies that work for their areas. They do not need dictated to be to by the Alan Kelly.
“As it stands Ireland's total LEADER fund has been cut to the tune of 40%, yet under the allocations some areas are facing disproportionate cuts of up to 70%. Neither Kelly nor Phelan explained the methodology used to arrive at these county-by-county figures.
“I am calling for a clear and transparent methodology to be employed in re-allocating LEADER funds following the completion of the local development strategy application process. No county should suffer a disproportionate cut.
“Three weeks ago I announced EIB was making €200 million available in low-interest loans for the agricultural and sector. Yesterday Phil Hogan stated that this finance could aid rural development efforts, and in recent correspondence he confirmed that Ireland could, if it wished, add to its total LEADER fund unilaterally. I am calling for the Government to use this EIB finance to shore up the total package and ensure that local development strategies can be adequately resourced.
“LEADER is a tremendous programme that encourages and supports economic development and growth in our small towns and in our rural communities. It is a proven success, and investing in rural Ireland will pay huge dividends that will be felt throughout the real economy."