County Galway should be split into two administrative regions for distribution of the Leader and SICAP programmes, given the differences between west and the east of the county, with Forum Connemara Ltd reinstated as the body through which the programmes will be delivered in Connemara.
This is the view of Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish, who is calling on all Galway Oireachtas members to support a campaign that will allow Letterfrack based Forum Connemara Ltd continue to oversee the rollout of the new Leader and Social Inclusion programmes, which help disadvantaged individuals and communities in the region.
Forum implemented the 2007 - 2013 Leader plan in Connemara. However, the Department of the Environment has reconfigured the delivery of Leader and SICAP programmes nationally, resulting in Galway Rural Development, which previously acted as the agent for the east of the county, being offered the overseeing of services in the whole of the county.
According to Dep Grealish, fears are being expressed in Connemara that the area “will be squeezed out and left out in the cold in the allocation of funding for projects under the new Leader programme,”, with decisions no longer being made in Connemara. “Forum has a strong tradition in community activation, with a wealth of experience among Board members and hugely experienced personnel working with community groups on the ground,” he said. “It has an exceptional track record over 25 years and it would be a shame to dismantle what they have built up.”
Dep Grealish said the arrangement for the delivery of Leader programmes currently favoured by the Government was ironic, given that the European Commission has said Leader should be a “bottoms up approach” with a “community led development approach”. European regulation require that a Local Action Group deliver to a population of between 10,000 and 150,000. However, Galway, with a population of 175,000, is being forced to work with one LAG. MEP Marian Harkin confirmed to Dep Grealish that in view of its population size, a derogation has been sought from the EU for Galway County to operate as one LAG. “This would have been unnecessary if Forum were allocated the Connemara area,” the Carnmore based TD said.
MEP Harkin is also of the view that County Galway should have been split into Local Action Groups in view of the size of Galway and the distinct differences between the east and west of the county. Dep Grealish agrees, adding it makes “perfect sense to split the county for the purpose of these programmes” and to ring fence specific money for Connemara “without affecting money allocated to the rest of the county”.
“This way it won’t make any difference to communities on the east, who would continue under Galway Rural Development as before,” he said. “I am calling on all the Oireachtas members in Galway West and particularly the ones with Connemara connections to stand solid behind Forum so as to guarantee the professional delivery that the people of Connemara have become used to and deserve.”