Negotiations are on-going at European level, under the current Irish presidency of the EU, to determine the final regulatory framework for the delivery of Rural Development Programmes for the next EU programming period 2014-2020. The finalisation of the regulation that deals both with Rural Development and the LEADER elements of Rural Development (European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, EAFRD) is dependent on both the finalisation of the Multi Annual Financial Framework (MFF)/overall EU budgetary framework and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) framework and in this context until these frameworks are finalised it is difficult to determine when the new Rural Development Programme (RDP ) will commence.
Under the current proposal, Ireland must undertake an ex-ante evaluation, a public consultation, and complete a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and a needs assessment. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), the managing authority for EU Rural Development has contracted an independent evaluator, following a public procurement process, to prepare the ex-ante evaluation report and to advise on the SWOT and drafting of the RDP for the next round. My Department is currently working with DAFM in the context of the LEADER elements of RDP 2014-2020. In addition, the initial consultation process has been completed with a further consultation to take place in mid-July on the SWOT and needs assessment.
At present it is intended to have a draft RDP submitted to the European Commission as early as possible in 2014. This process will be interlinked with the submission by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform of the overall Partnership Agreement which will form the framework document for EAFRD funding and the other structural funds. It is expected that a period of negotiation with the Commission will follow the submission of the RDP.
Until the frameworks are finalised and the budgetary detail for the next programming round is clarified I am unable to say when the next round of Rural Development funding will become available at a local level. I am acutely aware of the importance of this funding for rural Ireland and my Department is already working, and will continue to work, to ensure that the funding becomes available at the earliest possible opportunity.