The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring TD has urged Deputy Eamon O’Cuív to stop playing politics with the issue of Government financial supports for rural development.
Minister Ring said: “I was surprised and disappointed to see that Deputy Eamon O’Cuív has criticised the allocation of funds in my Department, especially given Deputy O’Cuív’s ministerial record of not spending money that had been allocated to rural communities. It has come to my attention that when Deputy O’Cuív was Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, he handed back €35 million from his Department to the Exchequer in 2008. In 2010, his final year in the job, another €38 million was handed back to the Exchequer.
“This is money that should have been benefitting rural communities that badly needed it in the midst of the recession. I would be interested to know how he allowed for this situation to occur on his watch.
“Having been assigned to this newly created Government Department last June, halfway through the financial year, I have done my utmost to ensure that as much of our 2017 budget as possible was allocated. Eamon O’Cuív knows this as well as anyone but for some reason he has decided to play politics with the issue of funding for rural development.
“This involved the introduction of new measures such as the provision of €17 million under the LIS scheme for the repair of private lanes and boreens in rural areas. Over €1.35 million of this money was allocated to County Galway where it has been used to repair access roads to people’s farms and homes. I also provided extra funding for Tidy Towns groups and agricultural shows. These initiatives have been universally welcomed throughout rural Ireland, including by Éamon O’Cuív.
“During a wonderful day in Connemara last Friday, I got to see the impact of this funding as well as visiting communities such as Tullycross where turned the sod on a new footpath which I allocated money for under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme. I was delighted to be joined by Deputy O’Cuív for part of the visit and I hope he got a good sense of how support from my Department is benefitting local communities in Connemara.
“I am determined to ensure that all of the money allocated to my Department is put to good use in communities around the country. A significant issue I have faced is the delay in local authorities spending money allocated to them by my Department for local projects. In order to address this issue, I met with the County and City Management Association (CCMA) last week and very clearly conveyed to them the need to deliver local projects without undue delay.
“In saying that, I am aware, as is Deputy O’Cuív, that some of the projects we support such as greenways and cycleways can take 12-24 months to complete. This can lead to money on certain projects being spent beyond the financial year in which the money was allocated.
“With regard to the LEADER Programme, measures which were introduced last year to improve the application process are starting to take effect and I believe there will be a significant improvement in the level of approvals and spend in LEADER in 2018.
“During last week’s visit, I met with Forum Connemara which is one of the LEADER Local Action Groups (LAGs) in Galway. I informed them that the rate of project approval has fallen behind LEADER LAGs elsewhere and that I expect a significant increase in approvals by the end of 2018. The money has been made available for the benefit of local communities and needs to be spent.
“I am determined that in 2018, my first full year in the Department, there will be no underspend. Politicians from all backgrounds need to get behind the wheel when it comes to supporting rural communities. I would urge Deputy O’Cuív to bring his significant experience to bear in supporting rural communities rather than making hypocritical and politically motivated attacks.”