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Local authority pays back €80,000 after funding ‘overlap’

Mayo’s proposed velorail will create a circuit for pedal-powered carriages on disused railway lines


A velorail in operation in France

A velorail in operation in France

A velorail in operation in France

Mayo County Council has returned an €80,000 State grant for a local tourism project, after government officials questioned an “overlap” in funding.

The discrepancy emerged after the Department of Rural and Community Development raised questions about a “potential overlap” in public funding of the project — a velorail in Kiltimagh, where pedal-powered carriages run on a railway line.

The department noted that the joint promoters of the scheme, Mayo County Council and a local development company, IRD Kiltimagh, received public funds from “two different sources” totalling €500,000 for elements of the same project.

The department asked Mayo County Council to clarify that there was no overlap in funding.

The local authority found that there was an “overlap”, as both organisations had included the cost of carriages for the velorail in their applications for public funding.

Mayo County Council had received a total of €298,000 from the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme in 2016 and 2017.

IRD Kiltimagh received €198,000 in 2019 under the LEADER local funding scheme which was to include the cost of 16 carriages and three turntables.

Mayo County Council calculated the cost of the overlap at €80,000.

The department said the local authority has “recently” repaid the €80,000 while its inspectors launched an “onsite audit” of the funding for the project.

“The findings in respect of this audit were provided to Mayo County Council on July 1.

"A meeting to discuss these findings is currently being arranged between the department and Mayo County Council,” a spokesman for the department said.

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The proposed velorail will create a circuit for pedal powered carriages on disused railway lines. 

The project, which is under construction, received a bigger funding allocation than any other local authority project in 2017, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2017 a senior civil servant noted that the project had the “least compelling case” for additional support. However the funding was approved by then minster and Mayo TD Michael Ring.

EU rules limit the amount of public funding to a company or group promoting a project to €200,000 over three years — the so-called de minimis rule.

However, minutes of the LEADER local action group that approved a grant of €198,000 for the velorail project in 2019 stated that the de minimis rule did not apply because IRD Kiltimagh had previously applied for public funding for the velorail.

In a statement this weekend, IRD Kiltimagh said it had recently received LEADER funding for elements of the velorail project, and that it had not previously received any other public funds for these or any other elements of the velorail project before making the application. It said it remains committed to the completion and operation of the velorail project.

Mayo County Council did not respond to specific questions from this newspaper.

They instead issued a general statement, saying it remains “fully committed to bringing this project to fruition in 2022, subject to adherence to Covid restrictions and public health guidelines.”

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