Thursday, 17 December 2020
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
4. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development her plans to put in place transitional funding to allow the LEADER programme to continue to support community projects and rural enterprise in 2021 and 2022 in the absence of a new programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43154/20]
My question is on the LEADER programme. Yesterday, the Minister announced some transitional funding for the programme, which I welcome, but I would like her to expand on what will happen in 2021 and 2022 before the new programme is in place, bearing in mind its importance and the work carried out by all the LEADER companies over the past five years, which the Minister will know about from her constituency.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It is a matter in which he has a genuine interest, as do many rural Deputies. The LEADER programme has contributed greatly to all our regions and communities.
As the Deputy knows, due to delays at EU level, there will be a delay between the end of the current LEADER programme, which was due to conclude at the end of this year, and the next EU programme, which will not now commence until 2023. The programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce a transitional LEADER programme to help to bridge that gap. My Department and I consulted key stakeholders over recent months to get their views on priorities for the programme. I am pleased to say that, yesterday, 16 December, I announced details of the transitional LEADER programme. I have provided for it an initial allocation of €20 million, which will fund both new project applications and the administration and project animation costs of the local action groups, LAGs, which deliver the programme. I have also undertaken to review funding when the issue of EU co-financing for the transitional period is clarified.
Project approvals under the transitional programme will commence from 1 April 2021 but LAGs can work on identifying potential projects from 1 January next. A key focus of the transitional programme will be building capacity within communities that have not received LEADER funding to date. The programme will also support job creation, foster and encourage entrepreneurship, and support projects that address the climate agenda, digital transformation and the smart villages approach to building on local strengths and assets.
Under the transitional programme, the grant rate for enterprises and commercially focused community projects will be increased from a maximum of 50% to a maximum of 75%. This will further help to support enterprise development and job creation in rural areas as we emerge from the Covid crisis.
I also announced some flexibilities in the current LEADER programme, including an extension of the deadline for commitments to the end of March 2021 to facilitate the full allocation of the funds available.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Separate administration funding will be provided to the LAGs for their work in managing projects that continue to be delivered under the current programme.
Full details of the transitional LEADER programme have been notified to the LAGs and are available on my Department's pages of the website www.gov.ie.
I thank the Minister for the update. I have a few questions on it. She announced €20 million nationally and she says this is an initial fund. Taking as an example Galway Rural Development, which is in my constituency, Galway East, the last programme would have given it an average budget of €1.15 million per annum.
The allocation announced by the Minister yesterday gives it €695,000. I know how the scheme works from my time in the Department and there is demand for it. The money is welcome as an initial allocation but it is important that we make sure that the funding is there for the throughput.
My other question is about projects that have applied for funding but did not make the cut because the money required to deal with them was not there. Do they have to reapply or will they carry on in transition?
An initial allocation of €20 million is being made available for the delivery of the programme and 75%, or €15 million, of the funding is being allocated to new project activity, with the remaining 25% or €5 million available for administration and project animation costs. The funding will be distributed between the local action groups, LAGs, on a pro ratabasis commensurate with the allocations made at the start of the 2014-2020 LEADER programme. It is important to recognise that LEADER is a multi-annual programme and that the payments in respect of projects which are approved in any given year are generally not drawn down until subsequent years, depending on the nature and scale of the projects concerned. In that context, costs related to projects under the transitional programme are likely to be relatively low in 2021, but the overall costs will be met from the provision in my Department's Vote in 2022 and 2023, as necessary.
I wanted to make sure there would be no gap between one programme and the next. We have the transition programme and it is important that the LEADER companies will be able to continue and finish off their projects.
I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment and thank the Minister for that. The importance of this scheme to rural Ireland is enormous. In Galway East, the budget for the past five years was €5,728,456, from which 170 community projects have benefited. By 31 December, the allocations will have been made to 170 projects. That is an enormous amount of money. Some 25 projects will have received €934,000 for enterprise development. Seventeen projects in rural tourism will have received €563,000, and so on. There is not a parish, boreen or village that has not benefited from the scheme. Of all the schemes I know, this is the one that I would like to see continued and built upon. We have the necessary expertise within the companies that are developing it and in the Department. I compliment the Department, the Minister and her predecessor, Deputy Ring, for all the work that went into this scheme and continues to be put into it.
A lot of work has been done by my officials in the Department, my predecessor, Deputy Ring, and Deputy Canney, as a former Minister of State. I met with representatives of the LEADER companies and heard their concerns. I have addressed those concerns in this transitional programme. The Deputy is right about Galway, which has an impressive record in this regard. As of 13 December, the LAG had approved a total of 149 projects, which equates to €5.3 million. A further 16 applications are at various stages of the approval process, seeking funding of over €500,000, over €2.3 million in payments and a further €3 million remains to be drawn down in Galway East. As the Deputy has said, the area will be allocated €695,986 under the transitional programme, of which €521,990 will be for new projects.
I have also committed to meeting representatives of the LEADER companies and the Irish Local Development Network on a three-monthly basis. I am going to keep in touch with them regularly and if any problems arise, I want to work with them. It is what they deliver on the ground that makes the difference.