Offaly Leader scheme played ‘crucial’ role in the community

Two-year funding hiatus set to affect Offaly and 29 other Leader groups across the State

Henry Healy, manager of Supermac’s, Moneygall, says without the facilities funded by the Leader scheme,  the community would be ‘disadvantaged’.   Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Henry Healy, manager of Supermac’s, Moneygall, says without the facilities funded by the Leader scheme, the community would be ‘disadvantaged’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

“To get it integrated in your head is the hardest thing of all,” says Brendan O’Loughlin, chief executive of Offaly Local Development Company. He is speaking of the myriad of different supports available to communities, from grants for job creation to paint for community halls.

In general, each support mechanism is covered by a different government department or EU scheme. It is Offaly Local Development Company’s job to co-ordinate, organise, inform and, crucially, integrate it all for the county.

One of the biggest things Offaly Community Development does is to administer the Offaly Leader scheme.

Leader is a rural development programme with a budget of €250 million over the period 2014-2020. As a local action group, Offaly Local Development Company “delivers” Leader, approving projects at local level for grants. Its share of the 2014-2020 Leader budget was €8.5 million.

“But the role of Leader is massive,” O’Loughlin says. He mentions the Banagher-based Mid-Ireland Adventure, a start-up company founded by Jonathan O’Meara that utilises the natural amenities of the Shannon and the Slieve Bloom mountains – and a 50 per cent equipment grant from Leader.

O’Meara says: “Availing of the Leader grant was a huge help in the early stages; it allowed the business some breathing space in the first couple of years of operation.”

More recently O’Meara has opened a second base at Kinnitty in the Slieve Blooms for bike tours and says business, particularly among the corporate team-builders, is booming. It is the kind of grass-roots business the EU likes to see and O’Meara was nominated – along with 19 other start-ups across Europe – for an EU tourism award.

Community benefits

On the community side, O’Loughlin mentions the Leader fund helps to develop facilities such as a gym in Tullamore town park, the Tullamore Outdoor Fitness Zone and similar facilities in Birr; a community hall upgrade in Aghancon; the Edenderry Community Cabin; Kinnitty Playground; and a tourism training programme.

At Moneygall, Henry Healy, cousin of former US president Barack Obama and manager of Supermac’s, says Leader has played a “crucial” role in the community. He cites playgrounds, local walking trails with solar-powered lighting and a remote working hub in the local community centre. He says without these facilities, the community would be “disadvantaged”.

The Offaly Leader programme is one of 29 Leader groups across the State, all supporting similar activities.

But the money runs out this month and because of delays with the EU budget, particularly the Common Agricultural Policy which is the parent of Leader, there will not be a new round of funding until 2023.

O’Loughlin is concerned about the future. Everybody wants to know what a transitional fund would look like – particularly as some people are on contracts that run out this month. “There are a lot of people in rural Ireland depending on Leader,” he says.