Monday 19 August 2019

Explainer: Why local authority chiefs face grilling by minister

Community and Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring
Community and Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring Newsdesk Newsdesk

So the Government is unhappy with the local authorities. Why?

Millions of euro of taxpayers' money is not being spent on rural projects - in the face of a clear direction issued by the Department of Community and Rural Affairs. Of the €28.5m disbursed under four schemes since 2016, almost 40pc of it is still sitting in the bank accounts of local authorities.

What sort of schemes are we talking about?

All four schemes are designed to make communities across the country more attractive, enterprise-friendly, secure and vibrant.

The RedZ scheme provides financial support for projects that will boost the local economy.

The Town and Village Renewal Scheme provides funding for a range of projects, such as improving playgrounds and footpaths, tourism amenities, and the installation of public art pieces. The Rural Recreation Scheme is aimed at outdoor tourism initiatives, such as walkways, nature trails, cycleways and blueways.

The Clár programme provides funding for small-scale projects in areas that have suffered depopulation. Examples include first-response measures, play areas and support for schools.

If the money has been handed over by the Government, why hasn't it been spent?

That's the million dollar question. The Government isn't sure of the answer and that's why Minister Michael Ring is to haul the chief executives of the local authorities before him. Some are likely to say that they do intend to spend the money eventually, while others will cite the delay in getting the grants paid out.

So that's the end of it then?

Not quite. Mr Ring is considering the "nuclear option" of taking the money back off the councils and redirecting it to communities through other agencies, such as Leader companies and Údarás na Gaeltachta. The message coming from Government is 'use it or lose it'.

Will he follow through on the threat?

That remains to be seen. A lot will hinge on the sort of reception he receives from council bosses when they appear before him in the coming weeks.

Irish Independent

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