IFA rural development chairman Tom Turley has said that an increase in grant aid for Leader projects must be improved to stimulate an increased uptake of funding, which to date is falling far short of what is available in the Rural Development Plan up to 2013.
“At recent meetings with the Department of Community, Equality, and the Gaeltacht, IFA pressed for increased grant aid for farm diversification and other projects,” Mr Turley said. “The Department has confirmed to IFA that they now plan to increase grant aid from 50 per cent to 70 per cent for individual projects. In the case of community projects they propose to increase the grant aid from 75 per cent to 90 per cent. These proposed increases will improve the uptake of Leader funding, which to date has fallen way short of expectation. In the first three years of the seven-year programme, Leader has only spent about 6.5 per cent of its allocation. The main expenditure to date has been on administration which is not delivering economic activity and job creation in rural areas,” he said.
The IFA rural development chairman said under the diversification into non-agricultural activities, very little of the €16m allocated has been spent. While this is somewhat related to the low income position of farmers and difficulties in securing credit, nevertheless the level of grant aid will always be a deciding factor in investment. Increasing the grant aid will help in improving the uptake. Mr Turley said that the proposal to increase grant aid must now be formally proposed to the EU Commission for approval as amendments to the Rural Development Plan and he called on Minister Pat Carey to pursue this with urgency. In addition, he must tackle the red tape and bureaucracy which is killing many Leader initiatives.