The Government has had to introduce performance-related incentives to encourage idle community groups who “need to perform better” to spend 220 million euro in rural grants.
The 10 best performing local action groups across the country, which are responsible for allocating funds for community projects such as playgrounds, childcare and elderly support services, will receive an additional 500,000 euro each after “initial teething problems” saw poor take-up of the Leader scheme.
Rural and Community Development Minister Michael Ring said an additional 5 million euro was being made available to encourage groups to spend the 220 million euro in Leader funds already available.
The Mayo TD said he was delighted to be able to provide extra money to areas where there was a growing demand for Leader funding.
“Some Leader companies have been performing very well and others need to perform better,” he said.
“I am keen to reward the best performers and I know that this extra funding will greatly benefit communities in those areas.”
It is clear that the programme is now working very well - so much so that there is a demand for additional funding in some areasMichael Ring
The Leader programme is a key component of Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.
The grants are designed to support rural community groups in delivering projects that will encourage economic activity and improve the quality of life in rural areas.
Some 29 local action groups across the country are responsible for selecting and funding projects in their respective areas, but take-up has been slow.
Last year it emerged that less than 1% of Leader funds had been spent since the start of the programme.
Mr Ring confirmed in a parliamentary question in February 2018 that only 661,844 euro of the fund had been paid out.
Since then, however, allocation of the funds has increased.
According to the Department of Rural and Community Development more than 78 million euro has been allocated to more than 2,200 projects to date.
Mr Ring said: “This year alone we have already approved almost 600 projects. After some initial teething problems, it is clear that the programme is now working very well – so much so that there is a demand for additional funding in some areas”.
He added: “I had previously indicated that additional funding would be provided to well performing Local Action Groups and I am pleased that we are now able to deliver on this commitment. Furthermore, I will continue to monitor the performance of the groups before deciding if a reallocation of funding between LAGs is necessary.”
In the last few weeks alone Mr Ring said funding had been approved for projects such as Obair, a community group in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare which operates a community creche, afterschool programme, meals-on-wheels and community cafe. It has also funded a community playground in Rockchapel village in Co Cork.
The funding helps groups with a range of costs such as construction and fit-out; machinery and equipment; marketing and promotion; training; as well as analysis and development.
Local action groups have until September 20 to try to qualify for the additional funding.