While there has a been a general welcome from farming groups and politicians to Phil Hogan’s appointment as EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, the chair of North Tipperary LEADER Partnership has criticised the former Minister for the Environment’s approach to rural development.
Mr Hogan, as Minister for the Environment, had abolished the way LEADER funding was handled in Ireland, taking authority away from community groups and centralising it with county councils under the LCDC.
“The way I look at it is there has been a balancing act here. The Kilkenny man has gone and we are very fortunate the new Minister for the Environment is our own Alan Kelly. In a way that negates probably a lot of the negativity I could talk about as far as Phil Hogan is concerned,” Jim Finn told the Tipperary Star.
However, Mr Finn said that since Mr Hogan had left Irish politics there had been a “softening” of the approach to rural development.
“I think rural development companies, having seen the latest document coming out from the Department, are much happier than they had been,” said the NTLP chairman.
However, while there had been a “softening”, there had been no row back on the new system, a move that Mr Finn did not expect.
“There is nothing we can do about the fundamentals. The Phil Hogan plan, as we will call that plan, there was an Act passed to have it enacted. That is not going to be rowed back on. That says local authorities will hold the contract. It won’t be NTLP or South Tipperary Development Company,” he said.
But the latest document from the Department reveals up to 95 per cent of the LEADER programme can be devolved to companies such as NTLP.
“It’s going back into the local development company. I’m not saying that they will, but they can. That is what the document says. When the LCDC sit down they will be able to devolve up to 95 per cent.
“The final 5 per cent will be left in the council because they are the people who are going to finally approve anybody’s project, and, secondly, they have to pay out the money,” said Mr Finn.
He said that the chief executives of Tipperary’s rural development companies, Michael Murray and Niall Morrissey, were talking to Sinead Carr, director of enterprise and community, about devolving more autonomy back to them. He expected that they will devolve as much of the programme as they possibly can to the local development company, given that most of the current county councillors were supporting the two development companies, some privately, some publicly.
They will also be pushing the local councillors to make sure the programme is devolved, he said.
“Local development companies have delivered. In the North Tipperary area, the work that done by North Tipperary LEADER Partnership was outstanding. The number of people that have been fortunate to have been funded under the programme will go out there and sing its praises. These are little businesses that have started up all over Tipperary or businesses that were able to keep trading because of LEADER help, and, in the main, it was just a little help.
“If you go to communities, you have communities like Littleton or Killoscully where their local halls have been renovated, or in the case of Littleton, completely built from the ground up. These communities are going to benefit from what NTLP has done over the last five years for the next 20 or 30 years,” said Mr Finn.
With regard to Mr Hogan’s agriculture brief, he said: “I believe he has a very difficult job. I suppose his results will depend, as far as the Irish farmer is concerned anyway, on how he delivers for Irish agriculture over the next five years. I am a retired farmer. I have an abiding interest in Irish agriculture and I will be definitely watching very closely what Phil Hogan will do for Irish agriculture and to improve the income of Irish farmers.”