Minister goes to war on claims of €60m rural underspend
Rural Ireland is fast becoming a central battleground for the local elections as Minister Michael Ring goes to war with Fianna Fáil.
The Opposition party has claimed "a massive" €60m assigned to projects in rural Ireland has gone unspent in the past two years.
But Mr Ring has totally rebuffed the accusation, saying his constituency rival Dara Calleary was "never any good with figures".
"When he was minister for enterprise, we were losing 1,000 jobs a week," the Mayo TD said.
It comes after a weekend where the Rural Affairs Minister was engaged in another war of words with former Kerry footballer Pat Spillane.
The 'Sunday Game' pundit used a 'Late Late Show' appearance to lambast the Department of Rural Affairs, which he previously represented as an ambassador for rural Ireland.
He said the minister was getting "bad advice" from his officials and described a recent scheme to tackle rural isolation as "gobbledegook and horse s**t".
But Mr Ring subsequently released private text messaging in which Mr Spillane was complimentary of his work.
He also revealed that Mr Spillane received €30,000 in fees for the two years he worked as rural Ireland ambassador and was paid an additional €14,381 for expenses.
With the minister in the spotlight, Fianna Fáil published a list of schemes it says have not been delivering.
These include the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme, town and village renewal scheme, the CLÁR programme and the local improvement scheme (LIS).
Mr Calleary said the "much-vaunted town and village renewal scheme has still nearly a third of its funds from 2017 unspent (€6.8m)".
"Despite €21.3m being allocated to the scheme for 2018, only €50,000 has issued in actual payments to projects seven months on from its launch," the Fianna Fáil deputy leader said.
"The Government, led by the Taoiseach, takes more pride in making announcements than actually delivering for people in rural parishes nationwide.
"With the local elections approaching, people in rural Ireland will adjudicate on the Government's abject record that prioritises spin over substance at every opportunity."
But Mr Ring instantly hit back, telling the Irish Independent that all the money has been allocated.
He said his department spent 99.9pc of its available funds last year.
"I know he's not good at figures. He should take that up with local authorities as to why money isn't spent," Mr Ring said.
In relation to the town and village renewal scheme, a parliamentary reply issued by the minister noted that some projects "can typically take 12 to 18 months to complete".
"The allocations under the 2018 scheme were announced on October 5, 2018 and are expected to draw down funding up to March 2020.
"Payments are only made when local authorities meet a certain threshold of expenditure on projects.
"Final payments are made on full completion of the project," he said.