‘Brutal assault’ on rural life

Rural Ireland has suffered a “brutal assault” and seen savage budget cuts applied to services and job supports after radical reductions in the much-relied upon Leader programme.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny faced these claims yesterday as it emerged that more than 40% has been cut from community supports under many Leader schemes.

Co Cork has suffered the worst, with a 71% budget cut in the latest round of funds for areas.

Under the 2014 to 2020 Leader programme, up to €220m will be spread out over counties. This compares to €376m allocated to areas between 2007 and 2013. The new round of funds was announced earlier this week.

The rural development programme, part-funded from Europe, is now mainly being overseen by local authorities.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil there had been an average 43% cut in funds which would impact on towns and villages, and would affect childcare services, rural transport, and start-up businesses.

He said changes to the programme model and funding were “a scandal”. Control of the funds was being taken away from independent companies and given to local authorities.

“What is being done by the Government in this instance represents a brutal assault on rural Ireland,” he said.

Mr Martin said that other counties, including Kilkenny, Donegal, Meath, Kerry, and Tipperary, were facing 50% or more in cuts.

Mr Kenny responded that the programme was now reduced to €250m. This included small extra amounts for agriculture schemes.

He added: “The amount is not as large as previously. The Leader groups, in terms of their responsibilities, are still very important.”

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the cuts amounted to a “smash and grab” exercise. His county, Tipperary, will see funds reduced from €25m to €10m.

Mr Martin also claimed the former environment minister, Phil Hogan, now the EU agriculture commissioner for agriculture and rural development, had changed how funds were overseen for “political reasons”: “He wanted to gain control of the funds in order that he might divvy them up,” he said.

Mr Kenny indicated that one third of costs previously under the programmes had gone on administration.

“The OECD recommended a more integrated approach to dealing with these kinds of funds,” he added.

Leader schemes were previously funded by the government with the EU on a 50/50 basis but the Government side has been reduced to 37%, the Dáil heard.

While the Department of Environment could not answer questions yesterday about the new round of funding, Mr Martin’s office showed that his figures came from a parliamentary answer.

Leader cuts

Cork: €39.9m or 74%

Tipperary: €15.3m or 60%

Galway: €15.4m or 56%

Meath: €8.2m or 54%

Kerry: €9.4m or 48%

Clare: €7.3m or 45%

Mayo: €9.4m or 45.5%

Kilkenny: €5.79m or 42.7%

Waterford: €4m or 35%

Wicklow: €2.77m or 30%


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