Sinn Féin spokesperson on rural development Claire Kerrane has called on the government to address falling levels of LEADER funding.

In October, Minister Heather Humphreys announced €180 million indicative LEADER funding for rural communities post-2023, with €70 million available for the 2021-2023 transition period.

Recent responses to parliamentary questions have confirmed a “consistent decrease” in allocations of LEADER funding to rural communities across the state.

Organisations such as the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN) have also advised that funding cuts will have significant impacts on community-led local development in rural areas.

Deputy Kerrane said:

“Last month we heard the minister announce €250 million in LEADER funding for rural communities from 2021-2023 to great fanfare.

“However, the reality is that this funding is made up of €70 million already allocated as part of the LEADER Transitional Programme for 2021-2023, and €180 million indicative funding for 2023-2027.

“That works out at €35 million/year, which means there is no increase in LEADER funding on the previous period.

“Recent figures from the department show that LEADER funding has stagnated in comparison with the previous period, when €250 million was allocated for 2014-2020.

“As well as this, funding has dropped significantly since the 2007-2013 period, when over €376 million was allocated for LEADER.

“That means the indicative funding allocation from now until 2027 is 33% less than funding for the 2007-2013 period.

“This is a blow for rural areas, who rely on the programme to support community-led local development.

“I understand that many local action groups [LAGs] had hoped to secure greater funding to ensure they can deliver these vital programmes in rural communities.

“Any drop in funding will have a major impact on the ability of LAGS to support development in their communities.”

‘Must reconsider plans to cut’ LEADER funding

Independent TD Carol Nolan said that Minister Humphreys, along with the agriculture minister, “must reconsider plans to cut” LEADER funding.

The TD for Laois-Offaly said that she will be engaging with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue on the matter.

“Plans to reduce the funding to the next round of the programme make no sense whatsoever given the proven track record of LEADER organisations to deliver significant benefits to rural communities throughout Laois-Offaly and beyond,” the deputy said.

“I am particularly alarmed by the ILDN’s assessment that the drop in funding will hit weaker communities including our youth, women, and older people.

“There is a clear trajectory and pattern emerging here that must be resisted.”

The deputy said that this “latest round of cuts only confirms the view” that many rural representatives have: “While government gives with one hand to rural communities, it immediately takes back with the other.”