by Alan Jacques
Cappamore-Kilmallock councillor Lisa Marie Sheehy has called for the LEADER rural development programme in Limerick to be kept in community control.
Speaking in Brussels where she was part of a delegation of 40 key stakeholders from the community and rural development sector, the Sinn Féin public representative asked that the LEADER programme’s role in economic development for rural areas be safeguarded.
The visit to the European Parliament was hosted by Munster Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada and included representatives from Ballyhoura Local Development Company as well as voluntary and community organisations from all over Ireland.
Emphasising the importance of the LEADER programme, Cllr Sheehy, who is Ireland’s youngest female politician, said it was one of Ireland’s major successes over the last 20 years and enabled community and economic development in rural areas.
“A strong and sustainable local economy is built on a sound SME sector and LEADER has been to the fore in supporting start-ups and promoting rural diversification.
“West Limerick Resources and Ballyhoura Local Development have been to the fore in offering support to community organisations in County Limerick, ensuring that our small town, villages and countryside maintain a sense of community life and vitality,” she said.
It was in this context, that she opposed the Department of the Environment’s “haphazard plans” to take control of the LEADER programme from the local community development companies and put it in the hands of the local authorities.
“I raised this with the European Commission and with the Irish Government and stated that Ballyhoura Local Development and West Limerick Resources must remain in the driving seat as a far as administering the LEADER programme is concerned,” she said.
This was also the view of Liadh Ní Riada who maintained that Ballyhoura Development and West Limerick Resources had the experience and expertise to administer the LEADER programme in County Limerick.
“This power-grab by the Department of the Environment is an attempt to take vital European funding out of community control and put it in the hands of local authorities,” she said.