Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring has told Mayo County Council it must spend funding allocated for community projects across the region or face having the money withdrawn.
Minister Ring made his comments in response to Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary, who had accused Fine Gael of not delivery for rural Ireland because of a large underspend in capital funded schemes. The minister said it was “a sad day when I’m begging the councils to spend money”.
Minister Ring says he has announced various grants under LEADER, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, and CLÁR, but large chunks of that funding have not been invested.
“I’m putting the money in and I can’t get them [the council] to spend it,” he said.
Deputy Calleary pointed out that just three per cent of the €21m allocated for the 2018 Town and Village scheme had been spent up to the end of June, while 20 per cent of the 2017 budget still remains unspent. It has also emerged that one-quarter of the 2018 CLÁR budget remains unspent. Meanwhile, there are just 17 months left in the current 2014-2020 LEADER programme and 76 per cent of the total €250m fund remains unspent.
Deputy Calleary said he had tabled a parliamentary question that revealed almost 80 per cent of the Department’s €138m capital budget for 2019 remains unspent halfway through this year.
“These massive underspends are the hallmark of Fine Gael in government. It clearly evidence of a major dereliction of duty in 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,” said Deputy Calleary.
Minister Ring warned local authorities they will be receiving letters in the coming week informing them that money allocated in 2016 will be withdrawn because they haven’t spent it. He said Mayo County Council wasn’t the worst-performing local authority but money could be taken off it too. The minister also vowed that councils who don’t spend the money quickly will be penalised when it comes to further announcements this year and only the top LEADER companies will receive funds,
“Dara Calleary should be getting onto the Fianna Fáil and Independent Alliance-controlled council to spend the money.”