Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada with councillors Mellisa Mullane, Johnny Mythen, Michael O' Connor and Sean Tyrell
A local councillor has accused the Government of making a mess out of the LEADER programme, and says it must now be fixed if is to survive.
Sinn Fein councillor Sean Tyrrell was speaking in Brussels where he was part of a delegation of community and local development groups organised by Ireland South MEP Liadh Ní Riada. The group met with representatives of the European Court of Auditors and the European Commission to discuss issues with LEADER.
Cllr Tyrrell thanked Ms Ní Riada for helping community groups highlight problems with LEADER funding in Kilkenny since being elected to the European Parliament.
"Much needed community projects in Kilkenny are being seriously hampered if not stopped outright by the changes to the LEADER the application process," he said.
"The process is so long, complicated and convoluted that groups are either finding it impossible to access funding or being put off even applying. This is an unacceptable state of affairs. LEADER funding has be central to community development in Kilkenny and other often ignored rural areas for 25 years and changes to the application process are now making that funding impossible to access."
The Kilkenny City West councillor says the problem is having a huge knock-on effect in terms of employment, the local economy and young people leaving for larger towns and cities for work and education.
“The government must sort out the mess they have made of the LEADER Programme as a matter of urgency. The groups from other area's in the delegation were just as adamant that if LEADER continues in its current vein then the entire programme will be completely inviable in the near future," he said.
“LEADER is crucial to these communities and for the Government to simply stand on the sidelines and claim it's not their job while the programme falls apart illustrates their contempt for rural Ireland."
Meanwhile, Ms Ní Riada said the Government could no longer hide their 'disastrous handling' of LEADER behind claims of European bureaucracy.
“One of the primary excuses groups were given when they questioned why the process had become so long was that the European Court of Auditors demanded these multiple checks and layers of bureaucracy be put in," she said.
“Well, yesterday the delegation met with representatives from the European Court of Auditors who were categorically clear that they did not require and had not asked the Irish Government to introduce any of these new checks. In fact they called for quite the opposite; that the process be as simple and straightforward as possible.
“In fact both the representatives from the Court of Auditors and the European Commission seemed surprised at the difficulty groups were having in accessing funding, with some areas represented in the delegation not having seen a cent from LEADER since 2013."