Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 25 September 2017

Minister pledges return to 'grassroots' approach on LEADER programme

Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys
Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys

Ken Whelan

A return to a grassroots approach to the €250m LEADER rural development programme is being considered by Minister Heather Humphreys after a "no holds barred" meeting between the Minister and LEADER company representatives last week.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was told that the level of bureaucracy in the programme was delaying the start-up of rural development projects and in some cases making it "impossible" to get schemes off the ground.

Instances where it was taking up to six months to get a €10 petty cash invoice signed off by local authority officials were outlined to the Minister.

Declan Rice of the Kilkenny LEADER company told the Farming Independent afterwards that the Minister's "positive attitude" was heartening and the LEADER companies were optimistic that she would address their concerns about "the slow hand of bureaucracy which is stifling the programme".

"We need to get the bureaucrats off the backs of the people if this programme is to work. We need to get back to the time when innovative rural investment projects were run directly by the proposers and not the civil servants," he said.

Mr Rice claimed that there had been a massive increase in paperwork since local authorities became involved following an overhaul of the LEADER programme structures in 2014 by the then Minister of the Environment Phil Hogan.

Under his measures, a committee was established in each local authority to take over management of LEADER funds.

'Nit-picking'

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Minister Hogan stated that this would lead to "enhanced alignment" between local authorities and local development companies, but delegates from the LEADER companies told the meeting that chronic delays to project start-ups were now commonplace because of "nit-picking" by civil servants over project approvals.

"In the previous programme which was supervised entirely by the European Commission, Ireland was praised as the best example in Europe of how to deliver rural development projects. Now people are wondering if the civil servants are there only to delay the implementation of rural development programme," said Mr Rice.

It was a view echoed by Maura Walsh of the Duhallow LEADER company on the Cork and Kerry border, who claimed bureaucracy "is strangling the whole programme".

Minister Humphreys has pledged to introduce proposals to streamline the administration of LEADER funding and she plans to have these proposals in place when the rural development programme's mid-term review takes place in the autumn.

Nearly 100 representatives of LEADER companies along with officials from local authorities and Pobal - the civil service body which monitors spending on State projects - attended last week's meeting.

 

Bureaucracy 'strangling' schemes, claim local companies


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