Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Ceisteanna (16)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

16. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the level of funding committed to date under the 2014 to 2020 LEADER programme in County Meath; and the drawdown of funding to date by project in County Meath. [2998/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Rural)

My question seeks to ascertain from the Minister the level of funding committed to date to County Meath under the most recent LEADER programme and the drawdown of funding to date in the county.

The LEADER programme is administered in County Meath by the Meath local community development committee, LCDC, which acts as the local action group for the subregion in partnership with Meath County Council and Meath Partnership.

The total amount of funding allocated to the county for the duration of the 2014-2020 LEADER programme is in excess of €6.9 million, which includes administration and project funding. To date, 24 projects with a combined value of €966,042 have been approved by the local action group. This amounts to approximately 19% of its project budget. In addition, a further five projects seeking total funding of €247,846 are at various stages of the approvals process. The local action group in Meath has indicated that it will have allocated approximately 50% of its project budget by May of this year.

Project payments are drawn down as approved works are completed and claims for payment are submitted by the project promoters. To date, claims totalling €37,301 have been approved and paid in respect of projects in County Meath.

I will be closely monitoring progress across all LEADER areas in the coming months to ensure that the budget available to Ireland under the 2014-2020 programme is fully utilised. I am confident, however, that the overall progress being made by the LAGs in approving projects, along with the administrative improvements introduced by my Department during the past year, will result in a full utilisation of the budget.

It does not look like there will be a full utilisation of the budget or anywhere near it in County Meath. In a previous response the Minister said that 80% of the budget will be dealt with this year nationally, but only 50% of budget for County Meath will be dealt with by May 2019. Therefore, we are significantly behind. The Minister said projects to the value of approximately €966,000 have been approved and funding of €6.9 million has been allocated. That is very weak. County Meath, which has very few of the official urban areas and almost the entire county qualifying under rural development, badly needs this money. We cannot stand by while there are major delays with this funding because our expanding communities, which effectively were former villages and rural areas, badly need the types of projects that LEADER funds. It is shocking to see the amount of money that has been spent under the LEADER programme in County Meath in recent years. It is appalling. Much more needs to be done to ensure that money is allocated, drawn down, spent and the facilities and community development provided for.

As I said in a previous response, I want to see that money spent. The Deputy is correct in what he said. Projects valuing €966,000 have been approved but only €37,301 has been drawn down. I will have to get my Department to check this to see what is going on. If we consider Donegal, it has 104 projects to the value of €4,382,830 approved and €1,728,000 has been drawn down. Kerry has 169 projects to the value of €3,241,571 approved and €800,000 has been drawn down. Kilkenny has 56 projects to the value of €1,520,928 approved and €565,000 has been drawn down.

Will the Minister repeat the value of the approvals and the amount drawn down for County Meath?

Meath has 24 projects approved to the value of €966,042 and only €37,301 has been drawn down. I cannot do any more, I have made all the changes I outlined. The scheme is working in many counties. Many places are doing very well with the LEADER programme. I have been advised that 80% of the funding will be spent and the group in Meath has indicated that 50% of its budget will be spent. I will get my officials to examine that particular programme to ascertain what is happening.

There was a collective gasping of breath on the Fianna Fáil benches when they discovered the figure for Meath. I am glad the Minister clarified it and that he is as angry it seems as my colleagues and I are and as the people of Meath will be when they discover this. No better man than the Minister to thump the table when it is required. This needs to happen in respect of County Meath because we need this funding more than anyone. The drawdown of a little more than €37,000 is outrageous, disgraceful and needs an explanation. The county has a population of 196,000 people in what is a rural LEADER area and we badly need these projects. We need much more than €37,000. The Minister would allocate €37,000 for breakfast for the CLÁR programme etc. This is not what we need. We need substantially more. We are entitled to more and also to greater efficiency. Clubs seeking this money have asked me what the story is with the LEADER funding. The story is that vast improvement is needed in respect of this funding for County Meath. It needs vast improvement. I urge all those responsible, including the Minister and the local companies, to get their act together as quickly as possible to ensure we can benefit from this funding to which we are entitled.

The county has got its allocation of €6.9 million but it has not delivered on the programme. I will get my officials to examine it. I would point to the Deputy's neighbouring county, County Louth, and what it can deliver. It has drawn down €604,897 while the group in the Deputy's county has drawn down only a little more than €37,000. There is something wrong. I will get my officials to have a look at it. I have made the changes in the scheme. I cannot do any more. We have given the group options as to how to spend that money. The money is there and it is a matter of the way in which it administers the programme. I will get my officials to see what is going wrong in Meath.