Six-week ‘mission impossible’ grant deadline criticised

EARMARKED recipients for €1.75 million in capital grants for seafood processing and aquaculture projects have said that being given six weeks in which to order, purchase and install new equipment is too tight a timeframe.

The intended grantees have welcomed the allocation of funds. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food yesterday announced the €1.13m in grant aid for capital projects by Irish seafood processing companies (covering 25% of total capital cost) and €623,620 for aquaculture companies (covering 40%) under the two funds. The project must be completed by the end of October, ready for auditing and inspection by November 1.

The money will part-fund the purchase of new equipment, raising production standards and volumes, and in some cases opening up new export markets.

However, the deadline for project completion is needlessly akin to “mission impossible,” argues grant nominee John Murphy, managing director and founder of Fastnet Mussels Ltd and Murphy’s Irish Seafood, which was last week named Organic Exporter of the Year by An Bord Bia.

“In one way, the grant is a bit of a joke,” said Mr Murphy, who has plans for a forming and packing machine. “That means that within six weeks we must order the equipment, pay for it, put it in place and get it operational.

“I have to get it all in place by the end of October. Then they don’t pay out anything until it’s approved. All that for 25% of the value. Don’t get me wrong, it is a welcome support, but it is coming very late in the year. Given the timeframe, it’s like mission impossible.”

Sean Connick TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, said the delay in unlocking the funds was unavoidable and was caused by discussions leading to the exclusion from the schemes of both the Natura 2000 protected sites and farmed salmon companies.

The €1.75m in grants are earmarked to fund 15 seafood processing and aquaculture projects.

Both schemes form part of the Seafood National Programme 2007-2013.

“This is a good news story which should lead to the creation of new jobs,” said Mr Connick. “We’ve just released this news today, and while I can’t commit to extending the deadline, I hope that any of the 15 companies involved will contact me if they are having difficulty meeting the time constraints.

“Every company I met has been asking me to open up the scheme this year. The issue I have had is to get it open during the present year, and to get the projects up and running within that timeframe. These funds have been locked up for a number of years. Now we’ve finally got it opened up in a bid to create much-needed jobs. Some companies already have their projects under way.”

One of those is Mags Kirwan of Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.

She believes that her company’s aquaculture plant will be completed before the deadline. That is largely because they have driven ahead with their new factory project in any case, due to increased demand for its products.

“We are going to build the new plant regardless,” said Ms Kirwan. “In all, it may cost us €590,000. If we get the grant, at least we’ll get 40% of that cost back. The time-frame is difficult. We are in the middle of the factory build right now, and we’re working hard to finish on time. Things are going well, but these things take weeks and months to complete.

“I had to go to Bank of Ireland to pay for this, so we have a loan and a bridging loan because we had to tell them that we might not get the funding. Credit where it’s due, the banks were fantastic to deal with. So were BIM in helping us apply for this grant, and soon we’ll be working with Bord Bia to help us promote our products.”

Other intended seafood processing grant recipients include Chillchiaran Éisc Teo, Connemara Seafood Frozen Ltd, De Brun Iasc Teo, Earagail Éisc Teo, Keohane Seafood Ltd, O Catháin Iasc Teo, Sean Ward (Fish Exports) Ltd and Sofrimar Ltd.

Others approved under the aquaculture scheme include Sliogéisc na Rossan Teo, Feirm Mara Oileán Acla Teo, IDAS Ltd and Curraun Blue Ltd.


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