I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It is a matter in which he has a genuine interest, as do many rural Deputies. The LEADER programme has contributed greatly to all our regions and communities.
As the Deputy knows, due to delays at EU level, there will be a delay between the end of the current LEADER programme, which was due to conclude at the end of this year, and the next EU programme, which will not now commence until 2023. The programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce a transitional LEADER programme to help to bridge that gap. My Department and I consulted key stakeholders over recent months to get their views on priorities for the programme. I am pleased to say that, yesterday, 16 December, I announced details of the transitional LEADER programme. I have provided for it an initial allocation of €20 million, which will fund both new project applications and the administration and project animation costs of the local action groups, LAGs, which deliver the programme. I have also undertaken to review funding when the issue of EU co-financing for the transitional period is clarified.
Project approvals under the transitional programme will commence from 1 April 2021 but LAGs can work on identifying potential projects from 1 January next. A key focus of the transitional programme will be building capacity within communities that have not received LEADER funding to date. The programme will also support job creation, foster and encourage entrepreneurship, and support projects that address the climate agenda, digital transformation and the smart villages approach to building on local strengths and assets.
Under the transitional programme, the grant rate for enterprises and commercially focused community projects will be increased from a maximum of 50% to a maximum of 75%. This will further help to support enterprise development and job creation in rural areas as we emerge from the Covid crisis.
I also announced some flexibilities in the current LEADER programme, including an extension of the deadline for commitments to the end of March 2021 to facilitate the full allocation of the funds available.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Separate administration funding will be provided to the LAGs for their work in managing projects that continue to be delivered under the current programme.
Full details of the transitional LEADER programme have been notified to the LAGs and are available on my Department's pages of the website www.gov.ie.