By Kieran O’Mahony
LOCAL councillors have claimed that the changes to the Leader programme have made it harder for communities to get money for their projects.
The claims were made following a meeting in Bandon last week between Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada and local councillors SF Paul Hayes and Rachel McCarthy.
‘The concerns raised in Bandon were the same I have heard from numerous councillors right across the Ireland South constituency,’ said the MEP.
‘Just last week I met with councillors and community groups in Limerick who are having the exact same problems when it comes to drawing down funding from the new Leader programme,’ the Ireland South MEP said.
‘The consensus, no matter where I am, seems to be that recent changes to the programme have made the process longer, more complicated, and more expensive to deliver. Rural Affairs Minister Humphreys can no longer continue to ignore the concerns of councils right across rural Ireland on this issue. The Leader programme has brought crucial funding to rural communities for 25 years, and her failure to maintain the scheme properly is impacting directly on them.’
Cllr Paul Hayes said a number of key projects across the county were being held up by the changes to the programme.
‘We have a whole programme of festivals and events right across the county that are being affected. In Clonakilty, there is a youth centre that badly needs funding, as well as plans for a skate park for young people. Every town and village could name something they were counting on this funding to bring,’ said Cllr Hayes. His SF colleague Cllr Rachel McCarthy said the whole process had become so convoluted, it almost seemed deliberate.
‘There is a feeling out there that the process has been made deliberately complicated and long-winded by central government, so that councils can retain the money and use if for basic services that the government has failed to provide funding for,’ she claimed.
‘This is not the purpose of the Leader programme and local communities should not have to pay for the incompetence of the government,’ said Cllr McCarthy.
Following their meeting, MEP Ní Riada said she would be raising the issue in the European Parliament to see if they are aware that this money is not finding its way into the hands of local communities, and if anything can be done about it.