Friday 21 July 2017

Fears Duhallow may lose millions in local funds


Some of the attendance at the public meeting in Millstreet on Monday. Picture John Tarrant
Some of the attendance at the public meeting in Millstreet on Monday. Picture John Tarrant


DUHALLOW is in danger of losing control over tens of millions of euro in EU funding if a plan by Minister Phil Hogan comes to fruition.

Minister Hogan want to subsume the functions, and funding, of all Leader groups into one county council-led 'socio-economic committee' for each county - in effect, relegating the much-praised rural development group IRD Duhallow to an 'advisory role'.

The plan has been met with major disquiet in Duhallow, where IRD

has helped create over 1,200 jobs, sustained enterprises providing 1,500 jobs, and levered over €50m into the local economy over the past 23 years.

With local Fine Gael representatives pointing out the merits of Minister Hogan's plan, a former chairman of IRD said this week: "The overall proposals are unacceptable ... the plan will be fought and we intend to do so".

Meanwhile, FF Deputy Michael Moynihan had a field day lambasting the plan, describing it as "a naked grab for funds for moneystrapped local authorities - indefensible, callous and cynical in the extreme". A BLANKET of uncertainty surrounds the future of IRD Duhallow and a public information night in Millstreet on Monday centred on Environment Minister's Phil Hogan plans to implement his Action Programme for Effective Local Government entitled 'Putting People First'.

The core of the controversary is the establishment of a 'socio-economic committee' (SEC) by each county council, which will have responsibility for planning and oversight of local and community development programmes. That would relegate existing groups to 'advisory roles', though the new plan acknowledges that companies such as IRD Duhallow have considerable expertise and a proven track record in delivery of services for their communities.

Deputy Aine Collins (FG) described the overall document ' Putting People First' as the most fundamental and radical reform of local government structures for more than 100 years.

However, Milllstreet voluntary groups questioned the planned changes after hearing IRD Duhallow Community Services team leader Helen O'Sullivan relate the company's impressive track record from its founding in 1989.

"Since its inception, IRD Duhallow has created over 1,200 jobs, sustained enterprises providing 1,500 jobs, levered over €50m into Duhallow. It has supported 130 community and voluntary groups, funding over 850 projects", she outlined.

Ms O'Sullivan added that LEADER funding improved the quality of life in Duhallow for towns and villages in addition to suppotrting numerous enterpriises and training schemes.

"Nationally, the current LEADER programme has a €427.6m fund, of which Duhallow received an allocation of €10m for 36 communities," she said.

The figures have yielded a positive dividend for Millstreet parish, for example, with Leader 2007-2014 securing €248,222 for voluntary groups with Enterprise Leader generating €606,443.

"The plan is to dismantle LEADER, establishing a 15 member SEC committee for each county, with the county councils administering funding, payments, auditing and performance monitoring. The decision on funding would no longer rest with locally elected board members of IRD Duhallow," she said.

Former IRD Duhallow chairman Jack Roche made a passionate argument for the existing concept to be maintained where the fruits of its success are seen in every village and town.

"The Irish model is so successful that the EU want to utilise it across 26 other countries. Lo and behold, the government want a say in handing it over to the county councils. The problem, I fear, is the outer parts of this county will suffer," he said.

That prompted representatives from local groups, Roger Cresswell (Millstreet Tidy Towns), Gillian McCarthy (Millstreet Pipe Band), Marie Murphy and Joan O'Connell from Rathcoole to voice their concerns on the possible demise of IRD Duhallow.

Fine Gael TD Aine Collins tried to allay their fears, saying local authorities have changed hugely and contributed enormously to Ireland's development yet the basic structures have changed little for over 100 years. She said if the new proposals were implemented, after a pilot scheme, it held the potential for a greater realignment of local government.

"Change keeps us focused, it's so important for us to work together. This is all about partnership and co-operation with the citizens of the community involved, advancing objectives and operating as efficiently as possible", she said

Cllr Noel Buckley, as chairman of Millstreet Community Council, applauded the efforts of IRD Duhallow down through the years, yet he believed local government can be positioned to work with local entities and communities to bring better governance to local development programmes and activities.

"Not all LEADER groups had been successful such as IRD Duhallow, nobody likes change yet we can all work together," he said.

However, Jack Roche warned of the consequences for IRD Duhallow if the funding and administration came from the SEC group.

"Our role in IRD Duhallow would change to that of an advisory capacity. That's won't be good enough, the overall proposals are unacceptable in rural Ireland. The plan will be fought and we intend to do so," he said.

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