My Department is committed to the further development of rural tourism in the context of overall national tourism policy so as to maximise its contribution to the economic and social development of rural areas. It is intended that rural and agri-tourism schemes in the period 2000-06 will be administered by Leader groups through the national rural development programme which has an overall budget of £58 million.
My Department is currently preparing the operational programmes for the implementation of Leader programmes for submission to the European Commission with a view to obtaining clearance and prompt establishment of Leader funding activity to 2006. The final shape of proposals for the sector including the operating rules cannot be settled until the Commission approves the Leader programmes.
In the meantime, my Department is consulting with the various bodies involved in the tourism sector including the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation regarding the future needs of rural tourism with a view to ensuring a consistent approach to the development of rural tourism product by agencies operating at local and regional level.