All smiles at Adaire Springs and Tackle Shop in sunny South-East

A former dairy farmer and agricultural contractor, Ned Maher was hooked on the idea of setting up an angling centre on his family farm close to the Kilkenny/Waterford border from the moment he visited a similar enterprise in Mullingar almost 20 years ago.
All smiles at Adaire Springs and Tackle Shop in sunny South-East

And when Kilkenny Leader Partnership (KLP) reviewed his business plans for Adaire Springs and Tackle Shop in Mooncoin, they too went for it — hook, line, and sinker.

Today, angling enthusiasts, school groups, and corporate and leisure travellers from as far away as Cork, Dublin, and Belfast are revelling in the 2.5-acre lake attraction, brimming with rainbow and brown trout.

Ned said he gave up dairying 10-12 years ago. Up to that time, he needed every single acre of grass for milking.

He was also doing a bit of contracting.

“I’d seen the place in Mullingar and it was still very much in my mind to set up something like it here. It really stuck in my head for some reason,” he said.

“I approached Leader and they couldn’t have been more helpful.

"They helped me every single step of the way from funding to marketing, researching and with lots of other supports.”

Ned said the angling centre has lifted the entire community, with visitors staying in local B&B’s, eating out in pubs and restaurants and spending money in the region.

“The Leader team here in Kilkenny is fantastic and I dread the thought of the programme changing hands,” he said.

Structural changes are being introduced, however, for the delivery of the €250m Leader programme countrywide.

The move involves new Local Community Development Committees (LCDC) being established in all local authority areas as part of the government reforms.

These are comprised of public and private sector members but the majority must be from the non-statutory category.

Each is mandated with bringing a more joined-up, coherent approach to the local management of public-funded programmes in the areas of economic, social, and community development.

Rural Affairs Minister Ann Phelan told MacGill Summer School last July that the formation of autonomous LCDCs at a local level is a key element of local government reform.

“I believe this drive towards a more co-ordinated approach is critical to ensure that all resources available at a local and regional level are maximised and targeted where they are needed most,” she said.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly noted last year that Leader has supported many successful businesses that are at the forefront of rural innovation countrywide.

“However in the past, too much of this funding was used for local historical books or to develop rural tourism brochures. This time it has to be spent on projects that will sustain employment in a community,” he said.

In Kilkenny, the new structural approach has led to a competitive process to deliver the Leader (€7.8m) programme over the next six years.

Both the KLP and the new LCDC have applied to the Department of the Environment to be the Local Action Group (LAG) — in essence the contract holder for the programme. A decision is expected next month.

Kilkenny County Council chief executive Colette Byrne told a Council meeting last September it was unfortunate that KLP and the LCDC could not reach agreement.

She said that the council’s main objective should be to ensure that the money ring fenced for the county under the next Leader programme is invested in the most effective and the most efficient manner for the benefit of the local people and communities.

The council was informed the Government’s preferred approach is that the LCDC should be the LAG and that KLP should be the main implementing partner.

However, KLP said it won’t be disbanding or walking away from the communities it has sustained and supported over the past 25 years and is bidding to continue its role and administer the next tranche of funding.

It has called on the Government to override its own “preferred option of local authority control of Leader” and extend the independent group’s role in regenerating the regional economy.

KLP chairman Denis Drennan said other independent Leader companies standing firm include West Cork Leader, Clare Leader, and Forum Connemara in the western part of Galway.

“Most other existing Leader companies in the State, have forfeited their right under EU regulation and policy to independent application and have agreed to work on Leader under their respective LCDC control,” he said.

Mr Drennan said in the face of severe pressure from various political and statutory sources, KLP has declined to withdraw its own independent Leader application to leave the field open to the LCDC alone.

It distributed over €13m in grant aid between 2009 and 2015. Over the past sx years it helped create 150 sustainable jobs, supported 73 communities, and assisted 61 tourism and trail projects as well as 57 youth projects.

KLP also supported 16 heritage programmes, 10 renewable energy initiatives, 2,872 individuals and 686 enterprises and says it has had a massive impact on rural life across Kilkenny.

“We know what works and what doesn’t and we feel we are ideally positioned as a non-profit, independent, community-led, local organisation, with representation from 200 plus communities, groups and clubs, to continue this invaluable, grassroots work,” he said.

Mr Drennan stressed in the group’s end of programme report, which broadcaster Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh launched last week, that KLP has had an excellent relationship over the years with all its stakeholders, including statutory bodies.

“It proposes to maintain that relationship as an independent local action group. While Leader is active in driving co-operation with statutory and Government bodies and respects their remit, its essence is that it should not be tied to agendas of other bodies,” he said.

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