Thursday, 5 November 2020
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
4. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the development of a State-led rural development programme to bridge the gap between the winding up of the existing LEADER programme and the implementation of the new programme; when she expects that the interim programme will be finalised and operational; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34137/20]
I know there is no provision for the grouping of questions but this is the exact same question. I ask the Minister about the development of a State-led rural development programme to bridge the gap. To save time, she might depart from her script because she has read it. I have three specific questions on that. Funding has not been provided for new LEADER projects in 2021. Funding has not been identified for the delivery and administration of the LEADER programme for 2021. There is no interim national rural development plan although I hear the Minister intends to publish it. Would she please address those three questions?
To clarify for the Deputy, funding is provided for 2021. That assumption is incorrect. There is €44 million in the budget for 2021. That €44 million will be used to fund existing LEADER commitments and provide for a transitional programme. The current LEADER programme comes to an end in December this year, but due to delays in agreeing the Common Agricultural Policy and the budget at EU level, the programme will not commence until 2022 at the earliest.
The Government has committed to prioritising a transitional programme to bridge the gap between the current programme and the next one. The duration of the transitional period at EU level has not been agreed so we are therefore planning that Ireland's transitional programme will run for an initial period of 12 months but with the scope to extend, if necessary, to align with the outcome of the discussions at EU level between the Commission and the Parliament. As EU co-funding may become available for the transitional programme, our intention is that the programme will be subject to the current operating rules for LEADER and the existing LEADER structures will be used for the delivery of the programme. This will involve the continuing role of the current local action groups, LAGs, and the implementing partners in each LEADER area. The transitional programme will provide funding for new projects and for the administration of the programme. The cost of the transitional programme will be managed within the Department's budget. As I said, we have €44 million.
LEADER is a multi-annual programme and payments in respect of projects which are approved in any given year are not generally drawn down until subsequent years. Costs related to projects under the transitional programme in 2021 are therefore likely to be relatively low, but the overall project costs will be met from the provision in my Department's Vote in 2022 and 2023, as required, as well as in 2021.
I thank the Minister. I understand that there is a delay because of the CAP negotiations, but if we look back to questions asked by Deputies previously, culminating in Deputy Martin Browne's yesterday, going back to December 2019 when the Minister was on notice that there would be a transitional phase, almost a full year has passed and a transition plan has not been published. That is the first point.
The Minister says there is no particular panic on the ground but 35 rural local development companies are asking all of us Deputies for certainty in respect of what the €44 million applies to. Does it apply to new projects? How much will be used up on the projects that were already committed to by the end of this year? The Minister has confirmed it will apply to administration costs. That is welcome. We are getting some certainty now and I welcome that.
I draw the Acting Chairman's attention to the time. He is giving me extra time by mistake. As I am always giving out about time, I had better stick to it myself. I do not know how much time I have left now.
The Minister's choice of words were unfortunate when she said there was no particular panic at the moment. There may well be no panic but there is a lot of uncertainty that needs clarification-----
There is no uncertainty. First, they do not stop announcing projects until the end of this year so they can continue to announce projects. As I said, there are approximately 3,000 projects and they have plenty of work to do for the next year and a half. Some 3,500 core projects are approved to the value of €139 million. A further 341 projects requesting €21 million in funding are at various stages of the approval process. They have not been completed yet. On the payment side, 1,800 project promoters have now received a final payment. There are 3,841 projects. Only 1,800 of them have been finished. There is a lot of work to do for the next year in terms of just over half of them. They will have plenty to do. There will be a transition programme which I will announce in a number of weeks. I can assure the Deputy there will be sufficient funding to allow them continue to operate. I have been in this space before. In 2016, it was the same story and there was a big furore which was sorted out amicably in the end. I want to work with these LEADER companies. I want them to engage with my Department and I will be doing likewise.
I am delighted but perhaps the communication should have happened beforehand. I am delighted the Minister is now offering certainty and that the plan will be published in the next few weeks. We can hold the Minister to that before Christmas.
The Irish Local Development Network is pointing out the uncertainty on the ground, as is Forum Connemara. We all recognise the work being done on the ground. I was sparing the Minister from having to read out the information in this regard because I have read all the detailed replies. We know the wonderful work the staff are doing. In fact, it should be reinforced and resourced with extra money. There is uncertainty over the €44 million. How much of it was available for new projects or to keep the scheme going for the year? How much was available for the plan itself? We need certainty and communication. We need positive communication and interaction with the groups on the ground. Tá obair na gcapall á dhéanamh acu lá i ndiaidh lae.
For the third time, €44 million has been made available for next year to pay for existing projects and for a new transitional programme. In a number of weeks, I will be issuing a new transitional programme, following consultation with the stakeholders. The local development companies do really good work on the ground. I engage with them in my other Department, the Department of Social Protection. They roll out a number of projects on its behalf.
I am going to carry out a full review of the success of the current LEADER programme. LEADER staff are not the only people delivering on the ground because we are delivering through the local authorities, CLÁR, the town and village renewal scheme, the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and the rural regeneration scheme. Therefore, there are a number of players. I accept that they do great work and I want to engage with them but I want to review the scheme. It is timely that we look at what they achieved in the last programme and determine how we can improve on it in the next one.