‘Smash and grab’ hits Leader for €2m

Sinéad Hogan

Individual entrepreneurs and community groups who thought they had secured Leader funding are now left hanging as a decision by Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, has resulted in the amount of funding going to Leader projects in Cavan and Monaghan being slashed by €2,111,252.

Cavan Monaghan Leader suffered the 18% cut from its initial fund of €12,035,118 amidst a ‘smash and grab’ situation that saw some other Leader companies get boosts of up to €6.8 million (in Ballyhoura).

Calling for a reversal of the decision, Fianna Fáil councillor John Paul Feeley, told members at Monday’s meeting that €1.7 million worth of applications to Cavan Monaghan Leader were ready for a ‘letter of offer’ but cannot now proceed.

'It is a scandalous situation for people to have to work through the process to now be left with bills (arising from the application process) when they should have received much-needed funds for projects to continue,' said Cllr. Feeley.

'Across the county, community groups have planned to improve their community facilities, redevelop community halls, provide outdoor play areas, carry out improvement to streetscapes in villages. All these plans have fallen flat.'

Cavan Monaghan Leader was one of 35 ‘local development companies’ (LDCs) started in 2009 after a two-year delay that left them with five years rather than seven to use up the EU funding as part of the Rural Development Programme.

First come

His doubt about whether all funds nationally would be allocated by the December 2013 deadline, led Minister Hogan to notify LDCs in January 2012 that the original allocations awarded in 2009 were no longer valid and that the programme was being opened up on a ‘first come first served’ basis to all LDCs to ensure all available funding would be used.

'All LDCs were encouraged to maximise the opportunity this created for them. Some companies availed of this more than others,' according to Minister Hogan.

However, according to Cllr. Feeley, a ‘smash and grab’ situation ensued.

'It seems the Department of the Environment are willing to bail out and accommodate groups that spend like drunken sailors,' commented Cllr. Feeley.

'In Cavan Monaghan Leader the officials worked with applicants to ensure that fully completed applications were made to the board, applicants that complied with the Leader requirements, these were properly and fully considered by an evaluation committee before being finalised by the board.

Proper procedures, proper oversight, proper implementation.

Now this group, and more importantly the community groups, small businesses and farmers seeking to complete developments have been left high and dry.'


Biggest cuts

The maximum reduction as a result of the changes was 20%, putting Cavan Monaghan amongst the biggest cuts in the country.

Cllr Dessie Brady (FG), who is on the board for Cavan Monaghan Leader, told members that there is talk of extra money being made available in August and explained how the ‘smash and grab’ situation arose. He supported Cllr. Feeley’s call.

Cllr Seán McKiernan (FG) said he supported Minister Hogan’s efforts to streamline the programme, noting that 15 of the LDCs had CEOs drawing a salary of €90,000 or more.

Chairperson Paddy O’Reilly (FG) agreed with earlier speakers that giving projects approval now and expecting them to be completed by December isn’t realistic and needs to be addressed.

He said he spoke privately last week to Minister Hogan about the situation and was told ‘it will be looked at again in September’.