With an election expected to be imminent, two Mayo TDs are clashing over rural funding.
Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary has questioned Fine Gael’s commitment to rural Ireland but Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, has responded by accusing his constituency colleague of ‘misleading the public’.
Deputy Calleary says information received by him from Freedom of Information data begs questions of the Government.
“I have obtained FOI data which concerns a pre-budget submission made by a senior official in the Department of Rural and Community Development to their counterpart in the Department of Public Expenditure.
“It reveals that the government’s flagship Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF) will make ‘savings’ in 2019. It is shocking that this is the attitude in the Department and confirms suspicions that the fund was setup not to fully pay out.
“Rural Ireland, its unique ways of life and culture should be protected and fostered. However, this information confirms our worst fears that Fine Gael are overseeing the degradation of rural Ireland,” he said.
He was also critical of what he says are plans for the department to integrate the Town and Village Renewal scheme with the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure scheme which he described as ‘dreadful news for rural communities’.
However Minister Ring accused Deputy Calleary of making ‘another desperate and cynical attempt ... to mislead the public in relation to Government investment in rural Ireland’.
“It is ironic that Deputy Calleary should be so critical of the €1 billion Rural Regeneration and Development Fund which is the most significant Government initiative for rural communities in generations. It is supporting redevelopment projects in rural communities at an unprecedented scale.
“Since the Fund was created in 2018, twelve projects in Mayo have been selected for major investment in towns and villages such as Ballinrobe, Ballintubber and Swinford as well as major tourism focused projects such as the Great Western Greenway and Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park. There is much more to come.
“For Deputy Calleary to inform the public that the Fund is ‘not designed to pay out’ because the funding allocated has not yet been fully spent is a disgraceful misrepresentation of the truth.
“Let me be clear, all of these projects and many more which are yet to be selected will be fully funded and delivered to an excellent standard.
“As Deputy Calleary well knows, these are capital projects which can have long lead in times for design, procurement and delivery. Works usually take 18 to 24 months with main payments made on completion of the projects. Such timelines are necessary to enable local authorities to deliver projects under our capital programmes,” he said.
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday (Monday), Deputy Calleary responded by saying his criticism was not of Minister Ring per se, but of the Fine Gael government.
“Michael Ring is only one member of cabinet. The other 14 are not doing anything to help rural Ireland. We have a Taoiseach, a Minister for Public Expenditure and Minster for Housing all Dublin-based and very much Dublin-focused in their thinking and that is a huge part of the problem,” he said.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Minister Ring argued his Department has delivered for rural Ireland and for Mayo.
“In terms of my own role in community development, there are more people working in rural Ireland now than at any stage since the foundation of the State. And it is not me saying that, those are CSO figures.
“I’m very proud of my own record. I have allocated funding to every corner of this county and every corner of the country. We’ve had major infrastructure coming into the county in terms of health, education and roads. We’ve had health centres opening, big developments at schools in Mayo and several road projects. Then in terms of support and funding for sporting and cultural groups and organisations, I have helped groups in every corner of this county. I’m very proud to stand on my record,” he said.