Thursday, 15 September 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
79. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development when she will provide information on the next steps of the new LEADER programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44717/22]
I was delighted to welcome the recent announcement that the European Commission has confirmed its approval of Ireland's Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan for 2023 to 2027, which includes the LEADER programme. This approval is a key step in the delivery of the next LEADER programme.
A number of further steps will now be completed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in advance of bringing the CAP plan to Government for final approval in the coming weeks. My Department's focus now is to finalise the design of the new LEADER programme in conjunction with key stakeholders. There will be a two-stage process to select local action groups to implement the new programme. The first will be an expression of interest by eligible groups, followed by a more detailed stage which will see them develop their LEADER strategies. I hope to confirm full details of this process shortly. I am confident the programme will fully adhere to the seven core principles of LEADER and comply with all the EU regulations that govern the programme.
A budget of €180 million has been allocated for the LEADER programme for the period 2023 to 2027, and I am confident all of this funding will be allocated to the local action groups. It is now important the key public and private stakeholders in communities throughout Ireland come together in partnership to deliver a LEADER programme that will build on the fantastic success of the programme over the past 30 years and ensure LEADER continues to play a central role in supporting rural communities into the future.
I, too, compliment the LEADER programme's work down through the years in constituencies throughout the State. There is no doubt it has made a real difference in communities. The Minister cited the budget and the €180 million for the four-year period, which is approximately €36 million per year. We know in the previous period of 2017 to 2020, there was a budget of €250 million, which meant approximately €55 million for what ended up being almost a four-and-a-half-year period. The Minister will know that the Irish Local Development Network, ILDN, has raised concerns about the budget for this upcoming period. Is the Minister looking at that €180 million in this budget or is she leaving is at €180 million? She will be aware that the ILDN has asked for the maximum allowable Exchequer funding for this 2023 to 2027 period.
We will have the same amount in this LEADER programme as we had in the last, which is a total of €250 million. Some €70 million has already been provided to fund the transition programme from 2021 to 2022. A further €180 million has been committed to for 2023 to 2027. We will be funding that. On top of this core funding, additional administration Exchequer funding has been put in place for LEADER groups which have exhausted all such existing funding in 2022. I wanted to make sure there would be no stoppages and groups would be able to continue to pay staff, because we knew this programme was coming very soon. It gives local action groups certainty regarding their funding until the new programme is operational. As far as I concerned, they got €250 million of LEADER funding in the last programme and they will get €250 million in this programme.
However, I am sure the Minister is aware of concerns that have been raised by the likes of the ILDN with regard to that budget allocation. I also want to ask the Minister about the timing for the programme. I know she has gone through the stages, and stage 1 will be launched this month. That is what has been said. Regarding the start of the LEADER programme for 2023, does the Minister have any idea when that will be? I presume, with the process that has to be gone through for the selection process, it will not be ready for January. Perhaps the Minister could speak to that.
I note, and the Minister will be aware of this, and she said there was extensive engagement on the next LEADER programme, that consideration was given to the establishment of a stand-alone subregional area for the offshore islands. The Minister will be aware those representative bodies for the islands are disappointed that has not come to fruition and that they will not have their own stand-alone local action groups which they sought. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that also.
I will be addressing the issue of the islands local action group, LAG, because there is a full question tabled on it. I will be happy to give further details at that stage.
On the issue of steps, the first step is the expression of interest, which we hope to put out in the coming weeks. When expressions of interest come in, I want stakeholders to collaborate and put together their strategies, which will then be submitted to us. Partnership is the key message in LEADER. When the strategies come in, they will be evaluated. I was asking my officials how we would allocate the funding to each successful group. It will be similar to the last time in that it will be based on population and deprivation. The stakeholders have also been asked for their views. We have consulted all the way on this. An independent panel will assess the tenders when they come in. This is an important LEADER programme and I am delighted it is on its way now. We got confirmation from Europe sooner than we thought so we are ready to go.