Beginning of the end?

Comment & Opinion

BUMPY ROAD Part of the Clew Bay Greenway between Bertra and Murrisk, under construction in 2018.

Funding freeze eased for Mayo communities – but only after Great Greenway Scandal cost them millions 

News this week that Mayo County Council can once more apply for funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development was a welcome development.
Communities sorely in need of funding throughout this county have lost out over the past year thanks to the actions of Mayo County Council.
In fraudulently drawing down money from the Department, Mayo County Council shot not just themselves in the foot but communities all over the county.
In October 2019 it drew down over €2 million for greenway projects it said were finished but were not. Indeed, construction on some had not even begun – are three years later are plans on paper only.
The council was forced to repay over €1 million in funding, while another €1 million worth of projects were allowed to proceed under strict terms and conditions.
Furthermore, Mayo was frozen out of all Department funding schemes for all of 2022 until last week. These included the Rural Regeneration Development Fund (RRDF), Town and Village Renewal Scheme, Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme, Clár and LIS road funding.
It is hard to know just how much funding Mayo lost out on, but it is certainly multiples of the €2 million Mayo falsely claimed for.
One only has to read the views of Mark Ruddy from Belmullet in this week’s news analysis to grasp the deep frustration this scandal has caused. Mark makes a cogent point too about the actions of the Department in effectively punishing communities like Belmullet – communities that did nothing wrong – for the sins of the council.
Communities like Belmullet have to start their applications again. They had a €16 million application in for the RRDF alone, which they were able to bring to the table on a voluntary basis during Covid due to the greater availability of local professionals. There is no guarantee they will be able to do that again.
The funding is subject to ‘enhanced checks’ – and one imagines everything Mayo County Council apply for now will be gone through with a fine-tooth comb.
Because while funding may be back in the offing, we’re not at all convinced by how Mayo County Council handled this saga.
It showed a major reluctance to volunteer information to the Department once the house of cards started to tumble, hoping the investigations would cease and not widen. At times its apologies have seemed half-hearted.
Some of its councillors showed a remarkably ambivalent, it not outright hostile, attitude towards the Department’s efforts.
It’s that sort of culture that will leave many people worried about the future direction of the authority.
There is so much to learn from this episode. Time will tell if the willingness to learn is there.