Fine Gael TD for Mayo and Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, has called on Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil to stop talking down the LEADER Programme which is a vital source of support for rural communities and businesses.
“It is disappointing to see Deputy Martin using the platform of Leader’s Questions to talk down rural Ireland and the LEADER Programme. His misplaced criticism fails to recognise the massive increase in LEADER approvals to rural communities and businesses which have increased more than 25-fold in the last year.
“As Deputy Martin well knows, it is the nature of the LEADER Programme that project approval is always low in the initial period of the Programme. This is because much more engagement is required with communities and local businesses in order to identify opportunities and develop project applications than in other programmes.
“We are now seeing the benefit of that approach and the rate of project approval has increased exponentially in the last 12 months. This reflects the natural cycle of the LEADER Programme.
· In the first half of 2017 there was an average approval rate of about €150,000 per month
· In the second half of 2017 the average approval rate increased to about €2.5 million per month
· Last month (January) more than €4 million was approved on 125 projects
“Another reason for this increase in approvals is that we have made it much more straightforward for applicants to apply for LEADER funding.
“Last year 31 measures were introduced to make the application process more efficient. This has resulted in a standardised application form and the number of online checks on project applications being reduced from 77 to 30.
“There has also been a 55% reduction in the amount of paperwork to be provided by LEADER Local Action Groups each month in respect of their own costs, which frees up more time for them to assist potential applicants.
“Ultimately it has made the process of getting LEADER funding more user friendly and accessible.”
Minister Ring concluded: “Last year, 592 LEADER were approved across the country for funding of €16.4 million. The LEADER programme is well and truly up and running and I expect that it will grow rapidly in 2018. This is very welcome news for rural businesses and communities that are seeking investment.
“Rural Ireland is finally starting to recover from the economic disaster visited upon it by the economic mismanagement of a Government of which Deputy Martin was a mainstay.
“This Government is now in a position to really invest in rural Ireland in order to support communities, help generate economic activity and improve people’s quality of life.
“As well as LEADER, my Department is overseeing vital investment programmes for rural communities including the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, the Rural Recreation Scheme and the Local Improvement Scheme.
“The targeted supports which I approved late last year for the Tidy Towns Groups and the agricultural shows have been received extremely positively. In 2018, I will continue to prioritise sensible and effective investments in rural communities.”