Michael Ring has hit back at Fianna Fáil for ‘misleading’ the public in relation to Government funding for rural communities.
The Fianna Fail TD calculated, from parliamentary question replies, that €270M which was sanctioned for 2017-2019 rural schemes and LEADER funding had not been spent by the end of August.
However, according to Minister Ring, the Department of Rural and Community Development has now publicly confirmed that there is no such underspend within the Department.
“Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Rural, Community, and Gaeltacht Affairs, Dara Calleary, is misleading people in relation to Government investment in rural areas. I ask him to desist from doing so. The truth is this Government is spending more money on rural communities than ever before,” Ring said.
“Let me be clear: there is no underspend in relation to my Department’s funding of rural communities. My Department spent all of its capital budget last year, it will spend it in full this year, and will do so again next year.
“Last year the Department spent €237.5 million of a total budget of €239.2 million (the savings made mainly related to administration costs savings on staff and admin overheads). For the year to date in 2019, the Department’s spend is very much on target*.
“This is a deliberate and reckless attempt by Fianna Fáil to mislead people and undermine the work of the Government.”
In relation to this claim, Minister Ring continued: “I can confirm that since the Town and Village Renewal Scheme and Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Schemes commenced in 2016 there have been approvals of €91.5 million with payments of €51 million made for completed works.
“There are commitments of €39.9 million remaining on these schemes, not €56 million as Fianna Fáil claim. This money will be paid when the works are completed.
“These are capital projects which can have long lead-in times for design, procurement and delivery. Works usually take 18-24 months with main payments made on completion of the projects. Such timelines are necessary to enable local authorities to deliver projects under our capital programmes.
“For example, if I approve funding for the building of a community centre, the money doesn’t leave my Department until the centre is built.
“This is a fundamental principle in managing public finances. It’s cynical and desperate of Fianna Fáil to try to characterise it as an underspend. Do they think we should hand over the money before the work has even started?
“This Government is spending more money on rural communities than ever before and it is spending it on time. When Fianna Fáil were last in Government, we didn’t have any money to spend on rural communities and 1,000 jobs a week were being lost.
“It is the job of the opposition to hold the Government to account but in doing so it should stick to the facts and not mislead people. Otherwise, it is doing rural Ireland a disservice.”