LEADER in Ireland
Minister Eamon O Ciuv recently relaunched the LEADER programme in Ireland. Announcing the €425m package of support he emphasised that “Despite the difficulties facing us, the investment that the Programme will provide presents us with an opportunity to change rural communities in Ireland for the better.“ This sentiment would be echoed by the staff and voluntary boards of the 36 LEADER companies throughout the country who have provided support to tens of thousands of individuals and community groups over the years. With each company allocated approximately €10m to distribute in grants over the coming five years, there is no doubt that they have a key role to play in building small enterprise and services in rural areas.
LEADER has been operating in Ireland since 1991 and is part funded from the EU. It has grown from a pilot initiative with 12 companies and a national annual budget of approximately €10m per year to one which is a core element of the Rural Development Programme with 36 local action groups (or LAGs) administering over €80Million per year across the whole of rural Ireland.
The approach and success of LEADER in Ireland has been presented internationally as a model of good practice and the Irish LAGs are at the forefront of an EU-wide LEADER movement constituting over 2000 groups in 27 member states. Over the past two years LEADER in Ireland has undergone a process of restructuring, (see cohesion box). This is now complete. New companies have been set up, staff assigned and funding has been allocated by the Department of Community Rural and Gaelteacht affairs. All of the rural enterprise and quality of life objectives under the rural development programme will be delivered by LEADER.
Funding to local development in rural areas is provided through a number of organisations and initiatives both national and co-finanaced by the EU. The LEADER programme is one of these as is the Local Development Social Inclusion Programme (LDSIP) and the Rural Social Scheme (RSS). In many areas these programmes were managed locally by separate organisations. In 2006 an initiative was launched to encourage the merging or cohesion, of these organisations and the establishment of a single entity to deliver both LEADER and social inclusion funding. This process was completed early in 2009 with the establishment of 36 cohesed “LEADER-Partnerships”.
So what exactly is LEADER and how does it impact on people living in Rural communities across Ireland?
First of all LEADER companies, or Local Action Groups, are non for profit companies established to promote the development of their own specific rural areas. These areas coincide in many cases, but not always, with county boundaries. The board of the company is drawn equally from community, farming, and rural enterprise organisations as well as state agencies and local politicians. The focus of the work of LEADER is to support small rural business and to strengthen facilities and services for rural communities.
With funds in the region of €1-2 million to distribute per year through grants, each LEADER company has very clear procedures in place to ensure this happens both efficiently and to the best effect. Applications are received, go to an evaluation committee, recommendations are made to the Board and on approval by the board, applications for funding are vetted by Departmental inspectors before a contract is signed with the applicant. Once this contract is signed the applicant can carry out the work and will be paid on its completion.
The procedure described is straightforward and should be reasonably efficient however there is a considerable amount of work involved in encouraging people with good project ideas to come forward, in helping them put a structure on their idea and in filling out the best application possible. Many successful entrepreneurs who have worked with LEADER over the years would say that such support and encouragement was often more important to them then the grant. Once that grant has been secured project promoters often need help in setting the project established and indeed in developing it to its full potential once it has gotten off the ground.
Most LEADER companies have a small contingent of staff, a manager, administrator and 2 or 3 project officers. They work closely with colleagues involved in other schemes aimed at improving life in rural areas, schemes such as the rural social scheme, rural transport and social inclusion work. Every part of Rural Ireland has a LEADER company to which people can make applications for support. While LEADER may not always be in a position to assist with a particular project they will direct applicants to agencies who can help them or will advise on how a project could be improved or developed.
Leader companies have funded the development of new walking routes under the regulations Leader can fund up to 75% of the cost of the project and will allow voluntary labour to make up a portion of the other 25%. This is subject to your application. Please consult with your local Leader company if you wish to develop a walking route