‘BUREAUCRATIC nonsense’ is killing rural communities when it comes to applying for Leader funding, with some groups going through 20 steps before they can even apply for the crucial funding.
That’s according to Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada who was commenting after she recently spoke in favour of a motion at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis which called for the Leader application process to be simplified.
She also called for the responsibility for the funding to be taken out of the hands of local authorities and returned to community-led organisations, saying the process was ‘being pushed from post to pillar.’
‘These new changes to the application process have hampered Leader funding all over the country. This is coming from a top-down measure and groups are finding that they are going back and forth when applying,’ said the Ireland South MEP.
‘It’s strangling communities here and it’s strictly down to the regime in Ireland. It’s not Europe at all that is responsible for this,’ she added.
Last month, Ms Ní Riada took a delegation of community groups to the European Parliament to meet directly with representatives of the European Court of Auditors and the European Commission to discuss their issues with Leader.
‘They were told plainly and clearly that Europe had not imposed these changes, and that their preference was for the process to be as simple and straightforward as possible. They were also told that almost €10bn has not been spent by member states, and cited Ireland as one of the worst,’ she claimed. ‘It has long been suspected by local councillors and community groups that the changes to the application process were put in place by the government to dissuade applications, allowing them to use the fund for other projects.
‘This suspicion was given more weight just a few weeks ago when it was revealed that the Government moved €10m out of the Leader budget to pay for measures under the Local Improvement Scheme.’
Ms Ní Riada also pointed out that over the last 18 months little or no money has come to community groups around the country, and she said this money is a ‘lifeline for rural areas.’
She highlighted the case of De Róiste Foods in Ballyvourney which was set to expand with nearly 50 jobs, but plans have stalled due to the ‘bureaucratic nonsense’ experienced by the firm when applying for funding.
‘It was designed to give rural communities the tools they needed to build the facilities and services they require and it gives them a real say over the projects being carried out and a sense of ownership over those projects when they are completed,’ said the MEP. ‘It is about self-respect, civic engagement and quality of life. It is not a slush fund to be used by the Government when they have failed to balance the books properly.’
Ms Ní Riada also described as ‘appalling’ what happened to the West Cork Development Partnership (WCDP), who had delivered the Leader programme for over 20 years in the region before losing it last year.
‘Ian Dempsey and his team at the WCDP worked really hard over the years with communities in delivering the programme,’ she said.