Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary Jackie Cahill has accused Fine Gael of failing to prioritise rural issues after new figures revealed a huge underspend in LEADER funding.

The stats, which were release to Fianna Fáil in a Parliamentary Reply, show that nationally only €17m out of a budget of €250m budget has been spent since 2014.

Deputy Cahill explained, “This current LEADER programme runs from 2014-2020, and despite the programme finishing up next year, there is a massive underspend within the Department of Rural & Community Affairs. Unfortunately, Fine Gael has set a precedent in the area – when the fund was under the remit of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the then Minister also presided over a huge underspend.

“Here in Tipperary a mere 18% of allocated funding has been spent on projects. That equates to €1.8m out of a total allocation of more than €10m. The figures are even worse if the administration costs are factored out – the figures reveal that less than €650,000 has been spent on the projects themselves. After almost 5 years, that’s a shocking indictment of Fine Gael’s commitment to rural Ireland.

“Historically LEADER has been extremely successful in revitalising rural areas but the roll-out of funding under the current programme is hampering communities. LEADER companies in Tipperary, and the people who work for them, provide vital services for their communities and go above and beyond their duty in ensuring that these essential services are rolled out.

“However, the government has undermined the programme with huge bureaucracy and unnecessary red tape and as usual it is the communities which suffer.

“My Party colleague Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has asked Minister Ring to request from the Minister for Public Expenditure that the threshold for the requirement for e-tenders be increased in order to cut the level of bureaucracy that is hindering community groups from bringing smaller projects forward. This should be acted on immediately”, concluded Deputy Cahill.