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Ring and Calleary lock horns over rural spending

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Anton McNulty

Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, TD, is taking a ‘blinkered approach’ to rural underspending, according to his opposition spokesperson and fellow Mayo TD, Dara Calleary.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Rural, Community, and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Calleary, hit out at Deputy Ring, following a number of Dáil questions where he asked Minister Ring about the amount of funding from various rural programmes and schemes which have been paid out to participants.
The Ballina-based TD claimed that the latest data he has received on a large underspend in capital funded schemes showcases how ‘this Fine Gael led government is not delivering for rural Ireland’.
“Minister Ring is very quick to talk up ‘approved funding’ but that is no good if there is no delivery of capital funds to important projects in rural parishes. The hubris from the Minister and his ministerial colleagues to any facts based criticism shows how out of touch they have become,” he said.
“Reading the recent progress report on the Action Plan for Rural Development, one would think that all is rosy in rural Ireland. While funding may have been approved for LEADER, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, and CLÁR, the large underspend is an indictment of the maladministration by the current government.
“For example, just three percent of the €21 million allocated for the 2018 Town and Village scheme has been spent to the end of June this year, while 20 percent of the 2017 budget still remains unspent.
“A quarter of the 2018 CLÁR budget remains unspent. Meanwhile, there are just 17 months left in the current 2014-2020 LEADER programme and 76 percent of the total €250m fund remains unspent.

‘Massive underspends’
“These massive underspends are the hallmark of Fine Gael in government. It clearly evidences to a major dereliction of duty in delivering for rural Ireland. Furthermore, PQ [parliamentary questions] replies released to me also show that almost 80 percent of the department’s €138 million capital budget for 2019 remains unspent halfway through this year,” the Fianna Fáil deputy leader said.
Deputy Calleary submitted a number of parliamentary questions to Minister Ring’s department on spending in various programmes such as LEADER, CLÁR and rural regeneration.
In response to a question submitted on July 9 about spending on the LEADER programme, Minister Ring said that of the total budget of €250 million over the period 2014-2020, €220 million has been allocated to Local Action Groups throughout the country. While the overall spend to date is 24 percent, Minister Ring said project payments will increase significantly once projects are completed.
“While the overall spend to date is 24 percent of the total allocation available to the LAGs [Local Action Groups], there has been a significant increase in project approvals since the start of 2018, with over 2,100 projects approved to a value of €75.8 million. Project payments, in particular, under the programme will increase significantly as these projects are completed and submit payment claims,” he said.
In response to another question on the capital spend from his department for 2019, Minister Ring said that to date €28.1 million of €138 million has been spent but expects the majority of payments to be spend in the fourth quarter of the year.

Fourth quarter spends
“As is usual for capital programmes, the majority of claims for payment will be made in the final quarter of the year as projects progress to completion and capital grant approvals are drawn down. This is particularly true for the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, for which projects were only recently approved following due diligence.
“Continued close monitoring of expenditure is a matter of significant priority so as to ensure full use of our allocated resources, and that value for money is delivered in respect of our funding. I intend to ensure that the resources made available to my Department this year are fully utilised, delivering benefits for all communities and for rural Ireland,” Minister Ring added.