The LEADER programme, which is co-funded by the EU, is based on a local-led, bottom-up approach to rural development. The programme supports projects from local community groups and businesses which, amongst other objectives, promote economic development, social inclusion and the protection of the rural environment.
The programme is administered at local level by 29 Local Action Group across the country who are responsible for selecting and awarding LEADER funding to projects within their own geographical area.
Under Ireland's current LEADER progamme 2014-2020, €168.7 million was allocated to Local Action Groups (LAGs) for project approvals over the lifetime of the programme. In the twelve-month period to 31 January 2021, a total of 1,425 core projects, with a value of over €60 million, were approved for LEADER funding by the LAGs. The investment in these projects make a significant contribution to the development of rural communities across Ireland.
The current LEADER programme will come to an end on 31 March this year as far as new project approvals are concerned. Due to a delay in agreeing the post-2020 EU Budget, the next EU LEADER programme will not commence until 2023.
To bridge the gap to the start of the next programme, in December 2020 I announced details of a Transitional LEADER Programme which will come into effect from 1 April 2021, with an initial allocation of €20 million this year. One of the objectives on the Transitional Programme is to build capacity in communities, particularly those that have not yet availed of funding under LEADER or my Department's other rural development programmes.
My officials and I meet with stakeholders involved in the delivery of the LEADER programme on a regular basis, including Local Authorities, Local Development Companies and the Irish Local Development Network. This engagement will continue throughout the course of this year, particularly in the context of the design of the next EU LEADER programme from 2023.