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Leader + lessons vital for rural development

8 November, 2004

Sinn Féin's spokesperson on rural regeneration, Newry Armagh MLA Cllr Pat O Rawe MLA has welcomed the prospect that up to 800 jobs may be created within the LEADER + rural development programme and said that the lessons learned from the success of the Leader + programme should be the foundation for the model for rural development.

Ms O'Rawe said:

"Sinn Féin has for many years said that the LEADER approach to rural development has given local people the opportunity to set out plans for their local rural area, while providing local information in the assessment of projects.

"All 12 of the LEADER Local Action Groups have demonstrated their hard work and dedication in rolling out a programme, which is time bound and has within it quite a large amount of administration.

"All of these LEADER+ groups are made up of volunteers who give of their time freely both to attended many board meetings, but also to sit through lengthy assessment panels. Without doubt if the voluntary contribution was not available this programme would not be so successful. Indeed if government was to cost the amount of time which the LEADER groups give freely, it would certainly take many millions to foot this bill.

"In response to a letter from Sinn Fein direct rule Agriculture minister Ian Pearson has indicated that the LEADER+ programme has met its spend target for the end of this year which amount to some £3.4 million. The LEADER groups will have committed to projects by the end of this year some £8.8 million. While we have often seen in the media European money not being able to be spent and millions endangered through the lack of spend again the commitment of what is largely a voluntary group has to be commended.

"During the next number of weeks the expected report into the Rural Development Programme being conducted by PriceWaterHouse Coopers should be published. While not wishing to pre-empt its findings we as a party are fully committed to an enhance role in using the LEADER approach for the regeneration of rural areas. The partnership, local design and involvement of local people who all have different skills and experiences is essential for the future development of rural areas.

"We look forward to the publication of this report and hope that all interested stakeholders in rural society will both take the time to examine the findings and be allowed an appropriate amount of time to discuss how rural development should be taken forward in the future." ENDS

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