Speaking after his meeting with Minister for Environment, Phil Hogan, Jim Higgins MEP described himself as “disappointed that the Minister seems determined to implement the ‘alignment’ report by Christmas.” Higgins went on to say: “I am still convinced that the proposed changes to the Leader programme are unnecessary and counterproductive but I take solace in certain compromises reached with the Minister. Crucially Minister Hogan has guaranteed that Leader funds will be ring-fenced, so we will not see a situation where Leader funds will be at the disposal of the County Managers or redirected into other areas.”
The Fine Gael MEP continued: “The Irish leader model is the European poster child. As this is a programme that originated at European level I was very concerned that the changes proposed by the report would violate the core principles of the project - namely its 'bottom up' approach, which allows volunteers and champions of local communities to implement local development programmes that work. The Minister personally assured me that the volunteering element of the Leader programme will be absolutely guaranteed through their participation in the socio-economic committees.
“A large part of Leader’s success is due to the dedication and interest of the volunteers, this isn't just a job for them. Leader volunteers are completely invested in the implementation of their projects, because they are projects which they believe in. I am very strongly of the view that the final composition of the membership of the SECs should be put before a full meeting of the Council, which would go some way towards ensuring that there is not a democratic deficit.”