Funding for the LEADER programme has been cut by 60% over the last 15 years, endangering the “critical mass” of the programme.

Padraig Casey of Ballyhoura Development told a rural and agri-sector forum in Mitchelstown on Friday evening that the overall LEADER budget had been cut from €400m in 2007 to €180m for the new CAP.

Casey maintained that the scale of funding in 2007 helped rural communities and businesses survive the financial crash of 2008-2012, and that a similar level of support was now needed given the challenges posed by COVID-19 and Brexit.

“The €180m that is currently allocated brings LEADER down to a place where [you have to ask] does it really have a critical mass, can it really make a difference at that level?” he asked.

LEADER’s community-led and bottom-up development model had the capacity to support rural and on-farm businesses, Casey insisted, in terms of adopting new technology, looking at local food supply chains and renewable energy projects.

However, he maintained that the concept of financing LEADER through the Regional Development Fund and the EU Social Fund, as well as through Pillar II of CAP, had to be embraced by Government so that sufficient funds are allocated to the programme.