Written Answers. - Leader Programmes.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

87 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if his attention has been drawn to the concern and uncertainty among Leader groups and their staff regarding the start up date for Leader+; the start up date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5062/00]

I expect the European Commission to finalise the guidelines for the new rural development initiative, Leader+, shortly following on the recent receipt of the observations of the European Parliament. Further consultation is taking place this week with member states and this should open the way to early approval of the guidelines.

Based on these guidelines, member states will draw up operational programmes for Leader+ for forwarding to the Commission for approval with a view to commencement of the Leader+ programme as soon as possible.

In addition, a Leader mainstream programme is being funded under the national development plan. As with other measures provided for in the national development plan, approval by the European Commission is necessary to enable commencement of arrangements for the establishment of Leader mainstream activity.

Pending EU clearance for Leader+ activity and Leader mainstream activity under the NDP, it is not possible to define the precise arrangements for delivery. It is clear, however, that the Commission's intention is that funding will be confined to a limited number of rural areas and that the essential aim of the Leader+ measure will be to encourage the emergence and testing of new approaches to integrated and sustainable development.

The report of the task force on the integration of local government and local development systems requires that attention be given to the avoidance of overlap between agencies including Leader groups, and to explore mechanisms capable of combining rural development and rural partnership activities in rural disadvantaged areas specifically.

I recognise the importance of continuity in the delivery of Leader+ and Leader-type rural development programmes. In this context, every effort will be made to establish the earliest implementation of the two new Leader measures.