Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Michael Creed has denied that a roll-out of several million euro for coastal projects has been delayed to tie in with his party’s European election campaign.
Dozens of projects qualifying for grants totalling up to 4 million euro this year are awaiting letters of approval from Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), almost two months since first recommendations were sent to the State’s sea fisheries development board.
Members of seven Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAG) told Afloat that there was considerable frustration over a “long wait”, and a belief that this was influenced by the European election date of May 24th.
The EU Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) has a budget of 12 million euro over six years for coastal-based projects which would encourage fishing communities hit by quota restrictions and other challenges to diversify.
The FLAG scheme is one of 18 drawn from the 240 million euro EMFF Operational Programme 2014-2020, co-funded by the EU and the Government.
The money is disbursed by BIM after initial assessment and approval by the seven regional FLAGs, representing a broad range of stakeholders.
Each FLAG region must have at least one boundary comprising the coastline; it must have a significant level of employment in fisheries or aquaculture; must have a population of over 70,000 in its electorate district; and must have a minimum of 150 and a maximum of 400 vessels in all fleet segments on the fishing vessel register.
Both State bodies and community groups can apply for funding. Projects approved in two rounds of FLAG funding totalling 3. 1 million euro to 247 projects last year ranged from coastal trails to small harbour facilities, "micro-seafood" enterprises, kayaking, and sailing for people with disabilities
Last year’s successful applicants were announced by Mr Creed in May and July, 2018.
Mr Jerry Gallagher, chair of the North FLAG, said that the boards had complained then about the delay in rolling out final approval letters, and has been assured there would be a speedier delivery this year.
The FLAG boards have “done their work” and submitted projects from mid-March of this year to BIM, he said.
“We’d really like to see these projects being rolled out earlier, as promised, because some of them are very dependent on the summer tourism season,”he said.
The grants are paid after receipts for the projects are furnished to BIM, he pointed out.
“Many community groups can’t approach banks without a letter of approval from BIM,” he said.
Mr Finnian O’Sullivan, chair of the South FLAG, said that he had not received complaints from applicants in his area about the delay, but “it would be no harm to have the complete list out” at this stage.
A spokesman for Mr Creed said that the projects had not yet come before the minister, and BIM was still awaiting a final list from all seven FLAG boards.
A BIM spokeswoman said that “some but not all of the projects were approved mid-March”.
“Once projects are approved, the average turnaround is two months or thereabouts. There isn’t any delay in issuing the letters of approval,” the BIM spokeswoman said.
Mr Gallagher described the statements as a “smokescreen”.
In response to a Dáil question by Galway West Independent TD Catherine Connolly, Mr Creed said he was “aware that a number of FLAG board meetings have taken place recently, and that the FLAGs are actively notifying selected projects to BIM, who issue formal project approval”.
“I expect to announce a tranche of EMFF FLAG grant awards later this month,” Mr Creed said in the written reply dated May 8th, 2019.