Labour MEP for Ireland South and candidate in the forthcoming European elections, Phil Prendergast, says plans to effectively amalgamate LEADER groups with local authorities must be shelved as the new proposed authority fails to meet even the most basic European requirements of community ownership and democratic accountability.
Ms Prendergast, together with Marian Harkin MEP, led a delegation of LEADER groups from across the country to Brussels on April 9 to bring their deep concern about the content of the amalgamation to the attention of senior officials in charge of oversight of the program in the European Commission.
Speaking after a meeting convened by North Tipperary Leader Partnership in Nenagh, Ms Prendergast said: “This amalgamation which takes the LEADER programme away from communities and puts it in the hands of the county manager is fundamentally undemocratic, structurally flawed and wholly destructive to the overall aims of bottom-up, community-led local development.
“We built up a LEADER programme in this country that is the envy of Europe and that is held up by the European Court of Auditors as an example of best practice for newer Member States.
“The proposals as they currently stand will lead to the deconstruction of this enterprising community led local development system, replacing it with bureaucratic red tape and officialdom. I fundamentally reject the premise of this proposed amalgamation as it will be the end of LEADER as we know it.
“I am confident that if the Minister plows ahead with the new structure as outlined in the Draft Partnership Agreement, the Commission who ultimately fund the programme, will have no choice but to reject Ireland’s application which would be both embarrassing and costly. I am calling on the Minister to heed our warnings, to re-engage with communities and to re-examine this proposal.”