The Department of Community and Rural Development is 'positively disposed' to Mayo County Council accessing funding in 2022 once the audits being carried out are completed, according to the Cathaoirleach of the council, Cllr Michael Smyth.
Speaking at the start of the April monthly meeting of the local authority, which was the first full in-person meeting held by the council in the council chamber in Aras and Chontae since the Covid-19 Pandemic, Cllr Smyth said: "I myself and other members of the council have been engaging with the department, as well as the chief executive, to try and fill that void of information as soon as possible. There has been correspondence over and back between the chief executive and the department.
"We have had a positive response from the Minister in relation to the LIS Scheme in the context of the ongoing audits; there is an obligation on the local authority now to finalise its audits and in that context, the department is positively disposed to us accessing funding for 2022 in relation to the schemes that are there."
Cllr Smyth's assertion was backed up by the chief executive of the council, Kevin Kelly, who told the meeting that it was the council executive's expectation that when all the reports and audits were completed, they would be in a position to talk to the department about gaining access to the funding streams again.
There was a welcome from a number of the elected members of the council to the words from both the chief executive and the Cathaoirleach, with Fianna Fáil councillors Damien Ryan and Al McDonnell saying it was positive news. A number of members of the Fine Gael side of the house asked that the council expedite their work on these reports to have them done, possibly by the end of this month, as opposed to the timeframe which has them to be completed by the end of May. The chief executive said that if they could be completed earlier than planned, they would be.
Deputy Michael Ring was the former holder of the Ministerial office in the Department of Rural and Community Development, which has since withheld funding from the council. The withholding of funding arose after an audit saw the council have to hand back over €1 million for projects the council had drawn down funding for, despite projects not being completed, or in some occasions, not even begun.
Earlier this week, Deputy Ring said that he had been in contact with Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, in relation to the issue. He said in a statement, that the Minister informed him that the department had been engaging extensively with Mayo County Council in relation to the actions which the Local Authority are advancing, in order to address the serious issues arising from the audit and inspection findings.
The Minister told Deputy Ring in her correspondence with him: "I know that you will appreciate that the control and governance of publics monies, along with the delivery of quality projects for the citizens and communities in Mayo, has always been and remains my main priority.”
Deputy Ring added that Minister Humphreys requested the Secretary General of the Department, Mary Hurley, to meet with the chief executive of Mayo County Council, Kevin Kelly, last week, in relation to the roadmap and processes required to address the governance and funding issues which have arisen.
According to the TD in his statement, "Mr Kelly has outlined the reviews that are ongoing in relation to a range of schemes and projects administered by Mayo County Council and funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development. It is expected that these reviews by the Council will be submitted to the Department by the end of May.
"Minister Humphreys has stated to me that once the Department are satisfied with the level of assurance provided through the enhanced procedures and reviews that it receives from Mayo County Council, it is intended that access to the relevant funding schemes will again be available to communities in Mayo in 2022."