Independent TD Mattie McGrath has called on Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to seriously reconsider his proposals to divert the financial resources of the hugely successful community development ‘LEADER’ programmes into local authority structures under the so called ‘alignment’ process.
Although Minister Hogan indicated last year in his policy document ‘Putting People First’, that putting local authorities in charge of LEADER’s administrative activities would be more cost-effective, Deputy McGrath said this is not the case. The maximum cost of LEADER’s operating budget is 28 per cent – approximately half the administrative cost of equivalent development bodies. Deputy McGrath said the LEADER initiatives act as vital, voluntary, non-profit making, private limited company with a mission to promote social inclusion, to promote economic development, increase employment and enterprise and promote wider participation in voluntary activity for the people of their areas. He noted that in South Tipperary alone the LEADER programme is a driving force for fostering community, sustainable and individual empowerment and social, economic and environmental development. In particular Deputy McGrath noted the excellent work of Niall Morrissey, Chief Executive Officer of the South Tipperary Development Company and all the staff for the wonderful work that they do.
“To see all of this undermined by a spurious reference to support for ‘alignment’ in Brussels is simply to dismiss the concerns of the many people in our local communities for whom the LEADER programme delivers essential services,” Deputy McGrath went on to say.
In fact it is the case that a key point in the auditor’s report that Minister Hogan claims gives support to his proposals flatly contradicts them. It states: “The potential added value of a [LEADER] partnership was not achieved … where the decision-making was dominated by local authorities.”
Deputy McGrath concluded by observing the Commission of the European Economic and Social Committee statement that LEADER funds cannot be used to make up the shortfall for “insufficient municipal revenues and financing public services at local level”.
Deputy McGrath said he shared Mr Niall Morrissey’s concern that if the ‘alignment’ proposal is implemented, LEADER funds could be used to fund other local authority activities to the detriment of community resources which are already under serious financial pressure. This would be a gross insult to an initiative “that in South Tipperary alone has supported 9,291 people into employment and 28,034 people into education or training,” Deputy McGrath said.