Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Community Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, has reiterated his call on Minister Phil Hogan to ensure there is a 100% drawdown of funding under the LEADER programme.
Deputy Ó Cuív commented: “I believe that up to €60 million of EU and Irish funds will be lost to crucial rural, economic and community projects because of the ham-fisted way Minister Phil Hogan is handling the LEADER programme.
“The final date for approving projects under the programme is approaching and no projects, including replacement projects, can be sanctioned after that date. All expenditure under the programme has to be paid out by the LEADER groups by March 2015.
“There is approximately €300 million available for projects under the programme and to date only about half of this amount has been spent. Clearly there are projects long approved that will never be completed and the Minister should allow a contingency for this by facilitating companies to approve substitute projects.
“It has never happened in schemes like this that all projects get completed within the strict timeline laid down and therefore the Minister should allow leeway for this. The worst case scenario that could arise by adopting the approach is that a small number of the projects approved would not attract European co-funding.
“As all of these projects are good projects, and would create jobs. Why should EU funding be put at risk just because the Minister will not take a pragmatic and positive view of investing in rural Ireland?
“A further issue that has arisen has been the extraordinary delay by the Minister in dealing with project applications .By mid-July there were 42 projects of over €10 million in his Department awaiting approval, having already gone through the thorough process of approval carried out by the LEADER companies. One of these was submitted for approval in 2011. A further six projects were submitted to the Minister for approval in 2012. It is essential that the turnaround for these projects be expedited and that final decisions would be made on them all by the end of this month.
“LEADER is very important to rural communities and the delays introduced by the Minister into this very good scheme are a disgrace. He has four months now to redeem himself in relation to the scheme and I am calling on him to set about this immediately.”