Farm Ireland

Thursday 13 December 2018

Rural Ireland feeling burden of wait for Leader review

The Future Growth Loan Scheme which it hopes will be in operation in early 2019 makes up to €300m of loans available with a term of 8-10 years. (stock photo)
The Future Growth Loan Scheme which it hopes will be in operation in early 2019 makes up to €300m of loans available with a term of 8-10 years. (stock photo)

Clarie Fox

A SIX-YEAR wait for the “bureaucratic” Leader programme to be reviewed is far too long, members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture have said.

Speaking at a recent special hearing with the European Court of Auditors, members of the committee called for the  issue of delayed Leader funds to be investigated by the EU auditors.

Green Party senator Grace O’Sullivan said that those in charge of development programmes in rural Ireland would only feel the burden of further delayed payments and unnecessary bureaucracy if the Leader programme wasn’t examined soon.

“People in rural Ireland are feeling the burden. When will it be reviewed so we can take action here in Ireland? If you’re telling me we’ve to wait six years, that’s too much time and there is a burden of bureaucracy in the system,” she said.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carty added that the “entire brand and philosophy” of the Rural Development Programme will be in “jeopardy” if the issues of delayed payments aren’t reviewed.

A spokesperson for the Department of  Rural and Community Development said: “The Department’s focus has been on getting projects by community groups and businesses approved, and then providing them with the time and space to deliver these projects.

“The spend will follow as those projects are delivered. In January, almost €4m has been approved and that figure will rise again before the end of the month.

“It is the nature of the Leader programme that direct spend on projects is always low in the initial period of the programme.

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“Many of these are significant projects that have only been approved since the latter half of 2017 and which will take time to deliver. Therefore, we would not expect to have seen much spend on them yet. This will occur as the projects are rolled out.”

Red tape

Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue added that red tape is impacting the effectiveness of the Rural Development Programme and efforts should be made to make the process of issuing payments more flexible.

However, court of auditor member and former secretary general at the Department of Finance, Kevin Cardiff, pointed out that the court’s funding structure means it rarely has the ability to examine an individual programme more than once in a 10-year period.

“We are supposed to audit about €140bn of funding each year. Each audit takes 13 months. There’s  so many different spending programmes and coming back to them more than twice in 10 years is difficult,” he said.

The auditors added they would recommend to the  Commission that the process of ­applying for funds be simplified.

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