There will be more losers than winners in the new LEADER rural development programme, warned IRD Duhallow CEO Maura Walsh, as the new funding scheme got under way.
“Despite the huge cut to our funding, 79%, we will give it our best shot and make as much of it for communities and businesses as we can.
“My fear is that the scarcity of funding coupled with the new competitive aspect of the fund, which has replaced the developmental nature of previous programmes, will lead to communities being pitched against each other, where winner takes all.”
She said implementation of LEADER in Ireland has undergone a radical change in the last two years, and warned that changes in the scheme could undo decades of hard work to foster co-operation and integration in communities through LEADER.
With the county councils as financial partners, Local Community Development Committees (LCDCs) are the new Local Action Groups and decision makers for LEADER 2014-2020, the fifth version of the EU-aided scheme.
In her manager’s report in the IRD Duhallow Progress Report 2015-16, Ms Walsh said: “To compound matters even further, the department is insisting that the €2.6m be stretched over five years. This is despite the strongly expressed wishes of the new LAG, which decided unanimously that the programme should be condensed to two years.
"What this means in real terms is relatively small amounts of funding per annum under each heading, for which communities must compete.
The value of the previous IRD Duhallow LEADER Programme 2007-13 was €12,747,863, this has been cut 79% to €2,619,768 for 2014-20.
IRD Duhallow will work as an Implementing Partner across three LCDC areas — North Cork LCDC for the majority of the Cork part of Duhallow, Kerry LCDC for the Kerry region of Duhallow, and South Cork LCDC for Donoughmore and the expanded Macroom area.
The Duhallow portion of funding is €2,036,768 in the North Cork LCDC, which is 40% of the LCDC’s total budget of €5,091,845.
The Duhallow portion of funding is €183,000 in the South Cork LCDC, which is 5% of the LCDC’s total budget of €3,831,303.
The Duhallow portion of funding is €400,000 in the Kerry LCDC, which is 4% of the LCDC’s total budget of €10,219,868. Nationally, LEADER has taken a 50% cut, however the western seaboard counties, including Cork and Kerry, were hit with a 70% cut.
Promoters must complete an expression of interest form before applying for grant aid; these will enter a selection process by the LCDC.
Once the LCDC chooses a project to go forward for full application, all paper work including planning permissions, ownership, evidence of matching funding etc must be in place before lodging a full application.
At least 40% of the funding will be allocated using a call for proposals system.
This is something never done in the past, as it can hinder the bottom-up approach, and favour those communities that are ready to move, while disadvantaging communities that need extra support to develop their projects, said Ms Walsh.
“The LCDC will decide what project receives funding. With a much reduced pot, we expect demand to be greater, resulting in fierce competition and many communities will be disappointed, given the huge lack of resources and the bureaucratic application system, which will no doubt favour the progressed projects.
“However, despite these drawbacks, IRD Duhallow is committed to supporting all of our communities in a developmental way, and to try to promote the enhancement and betterment of Duhallow for all of its people through bottom up approach, and by supporting communities to access the LEADER fund.”
IRD will be in a position to accept expressions of interest in late autumn, and therefore applications by January 2017.
At the AGM of IRD Duhallow, the first woman chair was elected by the community-based integrated rural development company. She is Anne Maria Bourke, who has served the company on several working groups and was elected a community representative in the late 1990s.
Ms Bourke said: “The IRD Duhallow region has been expanded to incorporate the greater Macroom, Clondrohid and Ballinagree area. We would like to assure these communities that they are not an add on but rather an inclusive part of what we are about. We will work with these communities to build bonds with our existing networks and this, I am confident, will be mutually beneficial.”
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