I propose to take Questions Nos. 247 to 250, inclusive, and 254 together.
The LEADER element of the Rural Development Programme 2014–2020, will provide €250 million in financial resources to support the development of sustainable rural communities. Under stage one of the selection process for the new programme, any entity who wished to be considered as a Local Action Group was invited to submit an expression of interest. This included LCDCs, community groups and any other interested entity. 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 has been received in 17 of the 28 areas and at least 2 expressions of interest have been received in the remaining 9 areas.
I expect that all the expressions of interest will be presented to an Independent Evaluation Committee for assessment and decision shortly. I am in the process of establishing this Committee. On foot of this, preparatory support will be made available to all eligible Local Action Groups selected by the Committee. The Groups will then be provided with a minimum of 6 months to develop their strategies but I do expect some strategies to be submitted much earlier than this.
The Independent Evaluation Committee will also assess and make the final decisions with regard to the quality of the local development strategies. In areas where a single strategy is submitted, the Committee in question will review and evaluate these strategies with a view to ensuring that the strategies 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 a make a decision on which local development strategy best meets the needs of the community.
In relation to the Deputy’s specific query regarding stage two of the process, I envisage that this will commence in early July. All entities successful in stage one will be provided with a comprehensive template to assist in the process of developing their local development strategy. My Department are currently working with Pobal to finalise this template, which will include full details of the criteria and scoring framework. The system will be open and transparent and all information will be available to all entities successful in stage one of the selection process and will be published on my Department’s website once complete.
Technical support for the local development strategy process will be provided by Pobal and it is envisaged that Pobal will conduct the substantive evaluation of submissions and prepare detailed assessment reports for the consideration of the Evaluation Committee. Pobal have a significant track record with regard to the management and implementation of local and community development programmes for a number of Government Departments.
The Evaluation Committee will have the ultimate decision making role in the context of the awarding of contracts to support the delivery of the LEADER elements of the RDP 2014-2020 in any given sub-regional area. I am confident that Pobal’s support for the strategy selection process for LEADER 2014-2020 will provide the support necessary to the Evaluation Committee to allow them to facilitate the most effective robust strategies for all sub-regional areas. As Pobal do not have any direct input into the decision making I am confident that their role is transparent and will not in any way undermine the integrity of the local development strategy selection process.