Leader Programme jobs funded only until December 31st

Local development sector calls for clarity on proposed Government ‘transitional fund’

Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys confirmed a ‘transitional Leader programme’ would be announced soon. Photograph:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys confirmed a ‘transitional Leader programme’ would be announced soon. Photograph:Gareth Chaney/Collins

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Politicians and those involved in rural development have called for clarification after the Government confirmed there would be a two-year gap after the current Leader Programme runs out on December 31st.

Staff at the State’s 29 EU-funded Leader groups have been told in advance of Christmas that their jobs have been funded only up to December 31st.

Projects approved for grant aid from the Leader Programme 2014-2020 will continue to run until completion, but there is uncertainty over the level of funding that might be provided under a transitional programme proposed by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys.

From 2014 to 2020 the Leader Programme was worth €250 million to Ireland – most of it shared out among small communities in rural areas, helping to address issues such as employment and quality of life.

It has funded start-up businesses, rural digital hubs, provided money for restoring old buildings as community halls and funded the development of rural trails and tourist attractions across the State from rural Dublin to rural Kerry.

But delays with the EU budget and particularly with agreement on the Common Agricultural Policy mean the multi-annual pot of Leader funding will not begin again until January 2023.

In response to Dáil questions from Laois-Offaly TD Carol Nolan the Minister said the programme for government included a commitment to “a State-led programme” to bridge the gap between the current and next Leader programme and the next EU programme. Ms Humphreys said the objective was to set up a transitional programme until the new EU programme commences.

New applications

In recent days Ms Humphreys confirmed a “transitional Leader programme” would be announced soon.

She said it would “allow for the approval of new project applications and will support the administration costs of local action groups” in closing out the existing programme and delivering the transitional programme.

Departmental officials have also met representatives of local authorities, who are key stakeholders in delivering the Leader Programme.

The transitional programme is currently being finalised on foot of these engagements, and the Minister will make an announcement in relation to the programme shortly.

Séamus Boland, chief executive of the rural support organisation Irish Rural Link said he was looking forward to some clarity from the Minister, on the details of what the transitional programme would encompass. He sounded a note of optimism, saying he did not think staff would be left without wages in the new year, as many local development agencies would be able to transfer them from Leader programmes to other funding channels.

However, Ms Nolan said she had already tabled further questions in the Dáil for Ms Humphreys seeking details of what would be the value of the transitional programme and what would happen to Leader programmes in the interim.