Marian Harkin MEP has warned that government proposals “will totally undermine the LEADER model of community-led local development and will wipe out meaningful community and voluntary involvement in the sector”.
The Independent MEP made the comment today, following a meeting between LEADER groups and MEPs in Brussels earlier this week.
She stated: “The current proposals being pursued by Minister Hogan will wipe out 20 years of experience in the planning and delivery of national and EU local development programmes. It will sideline the community and voluntary sector, reducing their role to mere bit players in community development. This amounts to nothing less than a power grab to further centralise and control decision-making.”
Ms Harkin added: “The fancy name for this new process is alignment, but it’s really a takeover, transferring local delivery of LEADER funds to boards nominated under the auspices of the local authority and county manager. The reason for this is that local authorities are strapped for cash, and I believe this is seen as an opportunity to use the EU as a mechanism to help fund local authority approved projects rather than an investment in community and in citizens.
“Local authorities provide very valuable functions and indeed central government has consistently sidelined them and refused to adequately finance their programmes. My disagreement is not at all with local authorities but with a centralised department who wants to see the politicians’ fingerprints on every cent of EU money.
“Virtually all EU money goes through the Department of Finance where it is channelled into national programmes. However, the Commission and Parliament strongly intend for a small proportion of this money to go directly to the community and voluntary sector so that they can be involved in improving their communities and quality of life.
“The crazy thing is that the current Irish system is seen as a model of best practice at European level. The European Court of Auditors has endorsed it, the European Commission supports it, yet we are about to change it.
“In this the European Year of Citizens, it makes a mockery of citizens to take this structure away, and all under the heading ‘putting people first,’” the Ireland North & West MEP concluded.