Saturday 24 February 2018

Bureaucracy 'gone mad' is crippling

IRD Duhallow AGM hears how massive 'form-filling' and a drop in funding is hindering rural development

Maria Herlihy

IRD Duhallow have been "handed a rule book of biblical proportions that has choked the system" when it comes to Leader funding. That was the view point of its chairperson, Anna Maria Bourke, at their recently held AGM. 

She pointed out in her speech that it is over a year since the Leader contracts were signed, yet no implementing partner in Cork has been able to bring a single project for approval, "such is the quagmire of rules that have been devised." 

"To further look at Leader in context, IRD Duhallow has successfully implemented four Leader programmes. One year into the last programme we had €2,150,767 committed and €779,879 paid out. So it would be remiss of me to ignore the absolute frustration of communities, businesses, elected representatives, board members and staff in trying to get badly needed funds to economic, community and environment projects," she said. 

Moreover, she sounded a warning bell by saying there are huge challenges in ensuring a better Leader programme the next round. 

"As we approach what should be the mid-way point of the current programme, its progress has been totally hampered by red tape and regulation. We need to guard against any reputation al damage that a toxic Leader regime could inflict on a bottom up community based group like IRD Duhallow," she said. 

She also said they welcome Minister Humphrey's commitment to review the programme.  She said she is calling on her to reinstate IRD Duhallow's LAG (Local Action Leader Group) status at the mid-term review.  She said while it is important to be mindful of European funding and how it influences the company, they mustn't be side-tracked from the bigger picture on home ground. 

"The census results show that Duhallow has returned to a situation of out migration and population decrease, which is a cause of great concern. There needs to be a review of this worrying trend off allocating funding to a region based on per head capita instead of giving supports to the areas that need it most. The Board is troubled that if this were to continue, we will be set up to expect even less support going forward in the future," she said. 

She also pointed to CREXIT - the extending of the Cork city boundaries, which will have a significant negative impact on them while rural Cork adjusts to its new reality of a low rates base. 

"Although the proposed extended super rich county of Cork city and environs has taken on a 10 year commitment to transfer funds, a reducing Council budget for rural Cork is of great worry to all our communities and the Board, especially as our Council headquarters will now be in another county," she said. She said that agriculture is the biggest industry, but yet with the delay in Glas payments and the rising cost of inputs, the farming community is finding itself under increasing pressure. 

"The Board was disappointed to note that the long awaited locally led Hen Harrier scheme only engaged with two farmers in Duhallow this year and only two nationally," she said. While she said it has been challenging to remain some way positive and adjust their sails against hostile winds to move forward. 

"However, we as a board have been entrusted with the responsibility to point out what is going right and put measures in place to help out when something is going wrong," she said. 

Moreover, she pointed out that much too was achieved over the past year and there is much to celebrate.  She said she was delighted to welcome Minister Michael Creed to their business awards and during the year certificates were presented to the various charity  of their working groups.  

The Sisters of St Joseph held a wonderful day at IRD Duhallow where the book,  'Letters Under My Pillow' was launched by the guest speaker Mary Kennedy of RTE.  

Maura Walsh marked 25 years with the company and the pitch and putt course, agri vintage machinery display and the courtyard grew and developed in the best practice of conservation and regard for the environment.


Challenges have ‘utterly changed’ for IRD

At the recently held, IRD Duhallow AGM, its CEO, Maura Walsh, said in reviewing the operations of the company over the past year that the challenges have "utterly changed" in the context in which they operate.

"But we can record performances in other programmes in the past year, " she said. She said their Life Raptor programe, under the expert project management of Eileen Linehan, has seen over 20 farmes sign up to conservation measures which are designed to enhance the habitat of the rare hen harrier, merlin, salmon and lamprey, while enabling agriculture to continue.

They have joined with the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Services) to tag young birds so their progress can be tracked.

However, she pointed out that the threat of "yet another huge wind farm" looms over the community as well as the birds. She was referring to the Silverbirch Renewables Ltd application to erect 14 wind turbines across 15 individual holdings in the Ballydesmond and Gneeveguilla region.

This is now with An Bord Pleanala for a decision.

She outlined how their Life Raptor team has fenced 19 kilometres of river bank, removed 80 kilometres of Himalayan Balsam and treated 25 kilometres of the dreaded Japanese Knotweed.

The Skillnets programme has gone from "strength to strength" with the number trained in the past year almost trebling to 685 trainees and 245 rural business have now joined their network.

IRD Duhallow's Warmer Homes Programme now has the tender for an extended area of North Cork and all of County Kerry.

"Our teams also carry out insulation work to community buildings with 32 community halls completed in the last five years," she said.

She said IRD Duhallow believes that community enterprises, through the development and support of a vibrant social economy is the way forward for rural areas.

"Essential services that are not economically viable due to sparse populations and economies of scale, while meeting international standards and regulations can best be delivered through community organisations that have the capacity to meet these standards and regulations," she said.

By way of example, she pointed to the eight community creches in Duhallow and the sheltered housing projects.

"More centralised responses are sometimes appropriate and projects like the warmer homes, furniture revamp, rural meals service are best operated at a central specialised centre but made accessible to all rural dwellers in the wider Duhallow region," she said.

She thanked all of her staff for their Trojan work over the past year with so many who went above the call of duty to deliver excellent outcomes.


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