Funding cut may be least of problems in new LEADER

Perhaps it’s just as well that changes at EU level have caused a cut in EU funding of more than 30% for rural development in Ireland.
Funding cut may be least of problems in new LEADER

The budget from the EU was reduced about 6%, and Irish Government co-funding was reduced 40% compared to the the 2007-2013 period, understandably in view of the disastrous state of national finances after the bail-out.

But, if the more generous funding of the noughties era was still available, the outcry over the LEADER rural development scheme would be even more strident now.

Since 2009, LEADER companies helped to create over 4,000 jobs, during an unprecedented economic downturn.

But people working in rural development now warn that LEADER is dying, strangled by bureaucracy.

When they got a chance to speak out in a recent Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht debate on Sustaining Viable Rural Communities, none of them had a good word to say about LEADER 2014-20.

And the scheme’s problems are plain to see, two years after it was supposed to get under way.

It will be 2017 before any money from the 2014-20 scheme is paid out in several regions.

People working in rural development say the new structure of LEADER is such that the small community groups or small enterprises in rural areas which look for LEADER funding have to wait between six and eight months for a decision, from the point of expression of interest to the issuing of a contract for funding.

The EU LEADER (Liaisons Entre Actions de Developpement de l’Economie Rurale) programme was established by the European Commission in 1991 to bridge the gap between local community initiatives and central EU rural development funds.

Modelled on a bottom-up approach, it sought to strengthen independent and communities.

However, as Environment Minister Phil Hogan built greater alignment between local government and local development into the Local Government Reform Act 2014, saying it was critical that greater efficiencies and operational savings are achieved in delivering the new LEADER, to minimise administration costs and maximise funding for projects and local communities.

Now, rural development workers say the resulting increased political control of LEADER by Local Authorities has moved rural communities back towards greater dependency. Up to 2,500 people from across the State protested at Leinster House in 2014 at the plans to change LEADER. They believe their worst fears have now materialised.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys will have a tough battle to prove them wrong.

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