Over 1,500 projects have now been approved under the new LEADER Programme, according to Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring.

In total, over €50 million has now been awarded to LEADER projects over the past year and a half.

The amount of funding allocated to date in 2018, at €34 million, is more than double the amount allocated in 2017, according to the Department of Rural and Community Development.

The LEADER projects are supporting about 1,100 community organisations and 400 rural businesses.

Over 1,000 of the projects involve investment in areas such as construction and renovation costs, or the purchase of equipment.

The remainder involve training courses, marketing supports and funding for the analysis and development work that underpins new products, services and community supports.

Commenting on the funding, Minister Ring said: “The 1,500th project involves LEADER funding of almost €12,000 for Christmas festival lights in Baltinglass in west Wicklow.

“This will help generate a buzz around the town in the approach to Christmas. It gives everyone a lift and will help attract people into the town which is beneficial for local businesses.

“Behind each of these 1,500 projects is a community group or a small rural business committed to their local community and their local economy.

For example, Bo Rua Farm in Ballynoe, Co. Cork, was allocated €150,000 under the LEADER programme to fund the construction of a farmhouse cheese dairy. This will allow the owners to scale up and commercialise their farmhouse cheese utilising their Montbeliarde cows, whose milk is used in traditional French cheese production.

The minister added that such a project will deliver an innovative new rural business which has the potential to create jobs.

“I am determined to ensure that rural communities benefit from support and investment through LEADER or any other programme under my department.

“I expect that the number of LEADER project funding approvals around the country will continue to increase significantly as we approach the end of the year.”

Minister Ring concluded, noting that: “The 1,500 approvals represent a remarkable turnaround for LEADER after a challenging start for the programme.

The LEADER Local Action Groups in each area are there to assist all current and future applicants.

“I would encourage other groups and businesses to talk to the representatives from their local group to see how LEADER can be of benefit to them.”