The LEADER programme has made a huge contribution to supporting rural areas and rural communities for many years. As is the case with many EU-funded programmes, certain procedures must be followed to ensure transparency and accountability. However, I am committed to making the application process for LEADER in Ireland as efficient as possible for community groups.
My Department engages regularly with the Local Action Groups (LAGs) that deliver LEADER to identify potential areas for programme improvement.
Following a Forum held with the LAGs in May of last year, I have implemented 31 improvements to streamline the LEADER programme.
The impact of these improvements is clear to be seen in the level of applications and funding being approved under the LEADER programme this year.
Overall, since the programme commenced, a total of 1,525 projects have now been approved for funding of over €50 million under LEADER. This compares with 592 projects approved at the end of 2017. A further 370 project applications, requesting an additional €23.4 million, are at various stages in the approval process.
Project payments have also increased significantly in recent months as approved works are completed and claims are submitted. Over €10 million of project expenditure has been incurred in 2018, compared to just under €700,000 in 2017.
I expect that the progress now being made on the LEADER programme will continue as further projects are approved and payment claims are made. However, I will continue to examine ways to further improve the application and delivery process under LEADER, in consultation with stakeholders.