I propose to take Questions Nos. 251 to 253, inclusive, 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. 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 11 areas.
It is intended to select robust and implementable strategies in each sub-regional area, this may result in a single strategy or a number of non-geographically overlapping strategies in any given area. Where more than one group qualifies through stage one of the process the groups involved will be asked and facilitated to come together in partnership to jointly prepare and agree a single strategy in order to ensure that the most comprehensive and coherent strategies come forward for consideration and approval.
In such areas, my Department has given an undertaking to facilitate discussions between the relevant entities with a view to engaging all parties and if possible to reach an agreement to develop one coherent local development strategy for their area. In this context, my Department commenced meetings recently with a range of entities and these will continue over the coming period.
Any agreement on submission of a single strategy must be reached at a local level and cannot be prescribed by either DECLG or the LDS evaluation committee. In the event that such a local agreement cannot be reached and more than one strategy is ultimately submitted for a given area it will be a matter for the Evaluation Committee to make a decision regarding the most appropriate strategy for that area. In this situation only the strategy approved by the evaluation committee will be contracted to deliver the LEADER elements of the RDP in that particular area.
There will be a minimum of 6 months allowed to competing entities for the preparation of Local Development Strategies. In a situation where there is more than one strategy submitted in a given area the evaluation committee will not make a decision on the successful strategy until all Strategies for that area have been submitted for assessment.