Senator Rose Conway-Walsh Requests Minister Michael Ring to Debate LEADER Delays in Seanad
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh today has requested the new Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring to urgently tackle the very serious issues that are delaying the processing and paying out of funding available under the LEADER Programme.
Speaking during the debate with Minister Ring Senator Conway-Walsh said;
“I congratulate Minister Ring on his new post and thank him for accepting my request for you to come to the Seanad to discuss this very important issue. The current LEADER programme which was launched on 31st July 2016 allocated €220 million to address poverty reduction, social inclusion and the economy of rural areas.
“A decision was made by the government that the LEADER Programme would be delivered under Local Authorities. This was in spite of thousands of people gathering in community halls and hotels all over this country to tell them this was a wrong decision.
“It is completely unacceptable that grants which are vitally needed to generate employment and economic activities as well as community infrastructure are taking the best part of a year to get through all the stages.
“There is no need whatsoever to have up to eighteen stages from ‘expression of interest’ to pay out. It makes no sense to have files going from desk to desk while promoters wait to get on with their business.
“Of course checks and balances are needed to meet auditing requirements, but the last programme had an extremely low level of ineligibility at just 0.5% with no additional cost and none of this nonsense.
“We need to take out the ‘Expression of Interest’ phase which can take up to three months to be completed. We need to reduce the administration layers and get payments to projects that meet the criteria.
“The ‘additional’ public procurement requirements must be streamlined and must be appropriate to the fund size and small items should be approved within the Local Development Companies who are more than competent to conduct Article 48 checks in accordance with EU regulations.
“I am urging Minister Ring as Minister for Rural Affairs to urgently address these issues and to remove the ‘Closed Call’ requirement allowing the programme to operate on a rolling call basis. I welcome his commitment to address these and other issues raised during the course of our exchange.
"The Western seaboard counties and larger counties lost out badly in this programme. Mayo was cut by €9 million and the Cork budget was cut from €49 million to €13 million.
"This has now been compounded by ridiculous efforts to fix something that was never broken in the first place. It now needs to be put right immediately.”