I thank the Deputy for raising the question as it allows me to set out that we are making progress in this area. The Leader element of the Rural Development Programme 2014–20 will provide €250 million in financial resources to support the development of rural communities. Under stage one of the selection process for the new programme, any entity wishing to be considered as a local action group was invited to submit an expression of interest. For the purposes of the new programme, there are 28 sub-regional areas in Ireland and 45 separate expressions of interest were received. A single expression of interest was received in 19 of the 28 areas and at least two expressions of interest were received in the remaining nine areas.
As the Deputy will be aware, I established an independent evaluation committee to evaluate the expressions of interest received. The evaluation committee recently met and the following is the current position. Of the 45 expressions of interest received, one was formally withdrawn before assessment. Of the remaining 44, 42 met the minimum criteria and the evaluation committee decided that these should proceed to the next stage of the process, which is the preparation of local development strategies for their areas. Those who were successful in this process have been notified and invited to attend workshops and presentations in Tullamore, County Offaly, this morning. The purpose of the event is to set out in detail what is expected in terms of the content and quality of local development strategies. A minimum of six months will be allowed for the preparation of local development strategies, but I expect that not all areas will require the full six months to prepare them. As such, I am hopeful that many areas will have their strategies approved and be in a position to begin delivery on the ground by autumn 2015.
In areas where a single strategy is submitted, the evaluation committee will review and evaluate these strategies with a view to ensuring that they meet the required standard. In areas where entities do not come to an agreement and multiple strategies are submitted, it will be a matter for the evaluation committee to make a decision on which local development strategy best meets the needs of a particular community. In this situation, the evaluation committee will not make a decision on the successful strategy until all strategies for that sub-regional area have been submitted for assessment.