Government €1 billion rural action plan hitting delays
Administration of Leader programme cost €4.4m for first half of 2018, while just €2.7m was paid out
Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring is to undertake a review of the rural action plan. File Photograph: Eric Luke
The rollout of key sections of the Government’s €1 billion action plan for rural Ireland is being hampered by extra layers of administration which is stalling expenditure.
Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring is to undertake a review of the programme, and his department has acknowledged significant underspending on several other key funding schemes.
The Leader programme, which was designed by the EU to support community initiatives as part of the Common Agricultural Policy, now has two extra layers of bureaucracy since it was reformed by former environment minister Phil Hogan.
As a result, only one sixth of the €200 million budget for 2014-2020 has been paid out over halfway through the programme, according to figures supplied to former Fianna Fáil rural affairs minister Eamon Ó Cuív.
The figures show the administration of Leader cost €4.4 million for the first half of this year, while just €2.7 million was paid out to projects.
Six Leader companies which had projects approved in counties Cork, Galway, Kildare, Limerick and Wicklow have “not been paid a single cent” over the past four years, despite having been approved, Mr Ó Cuív says.
Mr Ó Cuív has said there is a “crisis” in spending in Mr Ring’s department, with only €7 million of an allocated budget of €88 million spent this year, and a total of €26.7 million “underspent” last year.
Mr Ring’s department has acknowledged that there were “particular shortfalls” in 2017, but says these related to the Leader and Town and Village programmes.
“In both cases the underspend can be attributed to delays arising from planning and consultation necessary before expenditure could commence,”it said.
A review of the Clár programme for small scale infrastructural works will start before next year’s allocation.
The Clár programme is worth almost €9 million this year to county councils and schools, communities and first responder groups, and covers safety packages for schools and community facilities, outdoor play areas and local access roads in all counties except for Dublin, Kildare and Wexford.
The programme, which was suspended after the economic downturn and revived in 2016, was formerly a multi-annual initiative to allow for forward planning, Mr Ó Cuív has pointed out.
“Clár schemes are being sanctioned too late for outdoor works to be carried out in the same calendar year, “Mr Ó Cuív said.
Mr Ring’s department says that of €6.9 million approved under Clár in 2017, over €5 million was spent by the end of the year, while some €8.7 million worth of Clár projects was announced this summer.
The department acknowledges there has been a significant “built up demand” for funding, and says it will review it before the 2019 programme and will “engage with stakeholders”.