Thursday 26 April 2018

We're being asked to hand your local funding to a new quango

THE board of IRD Duhallow, having carefully considered the proposal from cabinet to align LEADER groups like IRD Duhallow with the local authorities - which would result in LEADER funds moving out of the control of communities and their voluntary elected board - IRD Duhallow decided to embark on community consultations.

We are overwhelmed with the massive support for IRD Duhallow and its bottom-up community led model. There has been total rejection of the alignment proposal; indeed, communities are furious at the attempt to take away the LEADER funds from their control.

I want to thank the communities for coming out in such number so close to Christmas. We have also received support from our local council representatives, TD's, senators and MEP's

The proposed SEC or 'socioeconomic committee' which is to be established in each county by the new local authority chief executives, is the cabinet's preferred delivery model. However, local action groups like IRD Duhallow have been operating under a model designed at European Level; indeed, Europe has recognised the Irish LEADER method and IRD Duhallow as best practice.

I have travelled to most European countries at the invitation of the European Commission to outline how IRD Duhallow works. The Commission has gone as far as to decide that, in the next programme period 2014-2020, all European funds should have an element delivered by the LEADER groups - what they call 'community-led local development' (CLLD).

However, not all countries adopted the Irish LEADER model and some are under the stewardship of local authorities.

The European Commission Court of Auditors examined the LEADER Programme across Europe and issued a report which concluded that: (1) ' The potential value added of a partnership was not achieved in local action groups where the decision making was dominated by the local authorities'. (2) ' The court identified a number of cases of where the LEADER principles were not being followed … the groups largely composed of associates created by local authorities'. …(3) merely acting as an additional funding source for normal local government activities (4) The Court concluded that local action groups (like IRD Duhallow) go far beyond the scope of what regional or local authorities offer in their top down grant schemes.

This is ample proof that the community based Irish LEADER system is the preferred model of the European Court of Auditors and the European Commission.

Since its inception in 1989, IRD Duhallow has supported every community and eligible business in Duhallow. In the current programme, 2009 to date, 37 enterprises have received €1.4 million in funding while 25 communities share €1.5 million for basic services and our Village Renewal measure has granted €1.6 million to 40 community projects. We have funded 62 community heritage projects worth €1 million.

In the new proposals, much is being made of getting increased efficiency. In the most recent figures circulated by the Department Environment, Community and Local Government, IRD Duhallow is operating at just under 19% administration costs in 2012. The Minister will be hard pressed to find a public body more efficient than this.

IRD Duhallow has supported and funded local enterprises which have created over 1,200 jobs and sustained 500 existing jobs. We have trained 6,000 people, created 650 child care places, supported 130 community and voluntary groups to deliver over 850 projects to improve the quality of life in Duhallow, and our job centre has placed over 800 people in local jobs.

In the past year we have carried over 58,000 passengers, delivered over 23,000 meals to the elderly, insulated over 400 homes and 13 community centres, carried out 844 Care and Repair jobs, and made over 7,000 phone calls to those living alone.

We have placed 120 unemployed in community work through Tús and we have 58 small farmers on our Rural Social Scheme.

Our achievements are well recognised and result from huge community buy-in at local, subcommittee and board level.

Our volunteers do a tremendous job, at no cost to the State. We have served the communities of Duhallow to the very best of our ability. Our staff members are all from the wider Duhallow area, they are highly educated and totally committed to the Duhallow communities they serve.

We have had to deal with change on a constant basis and are not afraid of change. We have co-operated in every way with all public bodies that include us in their project plans. However, what we are now being asked to do is hand over local autonomy to a new quango with no track record, to hand the Duhallow LEADER funds to a wider county pot.

The members of the Duhallow community have conferred on us a local legitimacy that we cannot and will not walk away from. You have mandated us to fight these proposals to centralise LEADER funds - we will not let you down.