Minister must explain LEADER changes - Ní Riada
Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has called on Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys to explain why the LEADER funding process has become needlessly complicated.
The Ireland South MEP said changes to the way the European rural development fund was delivered were making it harder for communities to get access to vital funding.
Ms Ní Riada made the comments after meeting with Padraig Casey and Shay Riordan of the Ballyhoura Development group in Limerick to discuss difficulties they were facing in drawing down funds.
“The LEADER Programme in Ireland has for 25 years been a crucial fund bringing vital investment to often neglected rural areas,” she said.
“However, recent changes to the fund have hugely impacted on its ability to directly impact communities.
“It was initially delivered by community led local development companies but last year the process was changed taking it out of the hands of local people, those who know where it can do the most good.
“The level of grant approvals has also fallen dramatically while the administrative workload in applying for the grant has trebled. In addition to it now being prohibitively costly in terms of time, an overzealous vetting procedure, which has found no major increase of ineligible applications over the previous vetting procedure, is making the scheme itself more costly to administrate.
“LEADER has the potential to help revive and reinvigorate rural communities but it is being hampered by a string of needless and ineffective changes. Minister Humphreys must take responsibility for allowing this debacle to develop. Her incompetent and ineffectual stewardship of the fund has come at the expense of struggling rural communities and I believe she owes them an explanation. The whole purpose of this fund should be about making it as simple as possible to get available funding to the communities that need it.
“I will be raising this issue in Europe with other Sinn Féin MEPs, along with my colleagues in Dáil Éireann to try and find out why these changes were implemented and how we can go about making it easier to get this money where it is most needed.”