1. Key messages about local development and CLLD in this country
In 2021, Ireland and several other EU Member States celebrated the 30th anniversary of LEADER. Initially, there were 16 LAGs, covering about half of the rural territory. Since the mid-1990s, all rural areas have been included in the delivery of LEADER. The advent and progression of LEADER have built on Ireland’s strong tradition of community development and volunteerism, and civil society organisations are the main drivers of local development. The LEADER specificities (seven specific features) have been integral to the approach pursued and advocated by civil society. Endogenous (community-led) LAGs have successfully harnessed the LEADER methodology and resources, and they have integrated LEADER with other programmes – especially in respect of social inclusion and environmental conservation. As drivers of territorial development, civil society organisations collaborate with statutory bodies, local government, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and the productive sector (farmers, trade unions and employers) through partnership arrangements – using the nomenclature of local development company (LDC). LDCs are present in rural and urban areas, and they come together to form the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN), which supports best practice exchanges, inter-territorial cooperation, policy development, reviews and evaluations.
Legislative changes, introduced by the Irish government in 2014, have caused local authorities (municipal government) to assume the mantel of LAG, with most LDCs being designated as ‘implementing partners’. Under this system, the implementing partners operate in line with CLLD, and they promote, animate and support territorial development. Meanwhile, the local authorities oversee their operations and approve LEADER-funded payments.
In respect of the EU Action for Smart Villages initiative, launched in 2017, Ireland’s Department (Ministry) of Rural and Community Development considers that LEADER is well positioned to become the key policy ingredient and catalyst towards the ‘smart’ revolution of rural towns and villages in Ireland, particularly through its community-led approach to rural development.
3. Possibility of multi-funding (linking several Funds in one strategy)
All local development companies have multi-annual territorial development strategies, which are approved by their respective local authorities. LEADER provides one of the funds they use to implement these strategies. Other funds are sourced through EU LIFE, INTERREG and several Irish government-funded programmes, most notably the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP).
4. Number of LAGs
Number of LAGs using this Fund
Total number of LAGs
Most recent available programme allocation
5. Purposes, objectives for which CLLD is used
The current LEADER Programme has three themes, as follows:
- Economic Development, Enterprise Development and Job Creation;
- Social Inclusion; and
- Rural Environment.
Each LDC has a level of autonomy in respect of the allocation of resources to each theme, in line with its territorial development plan.
6. State of play
The Irish Government is providing interim funding to enable LDCs to continue their activities during the interregnum between LEADER programmes (2021-22). LDCs are currently undertaking consultations and research to prepare for the next round of LEADER, while they continue to deliver a suite of other area-based and community-led programmes and initiatives, many of which are expected to run concurrent to LEADER 2022-28.
7. Key achievements so far
CLLD is strongly embedded among rural communities, and many public sector bodies have become progressively more inclusive of citizens / communities, and they consult more systematically with them in respect of the decisions that affect them.
LDCs’ territorial strategies are explicitly bottom-up, and they are characterised by a high level of differentiation in line with territorial characteristics, resources, assets, challenges and potentials. Thus, a culture of evidence-based planning has been embedded and strengthened at local level. Furthermore, the capacity of civil society to devise and deliver projects has been strengthened, and many communities are embracing social economy approaches to local economic development.
The valorisation of local resources and assets, associated with CLLD, is evident not just in rural development, but in the approaches being pursued by statutory bodies, particularly in respect of tourism and food.
8. Key barriers encountered
The administration of LEADER has become increasingly bureaucratic and burdensome. This can be off-putting for project promoters, and lead to a decline in innovation, as promoters strive to conform with programme regulations, rather than respond to distinctive territorial needs and opportunities.
The growing bureaucratic burden has caused development officers to become ‘project officers’ – in how they undertake their functions. Consequently, they spend increasing amounts of time enabling promoters to access funds, rather than in enabling them to develop their capacity, take risks, be creative and ensure they have succession and sustainability plans and systems in place.
The transfer of decision-making functions from LDCs to local authorities has resulted in a decoupling of development from governance, with the result that those allocating the funds have lesser access to local-level evidence than was the case prior to 2014.
9. Some national specificities
Ireland has a comprehensive suite of national policies that support rural development. These include a specific rural development policy (2021-25), together with policies in respect of volunteering (2019), the social economy/ social enterprise (2019) and community development frameworks (2018). These operate under the aegis of a dedicated Ministry for Rural and Community Development, which is headed by a senior government minister. The rural development policy advocates a whole-of-government approach.
FLAGs operate under a separate governance structure, although all include representatives from LDCs and local authorities. They report centrally to a national body (Bord Iascaigh Mhara).
This new country profile, the 21st in this LDnet series on CLLD in Europe, offers an overview of CLLD in Ireland in the 2014-2020 period and beyond: local development approach, use of EU funds, number of LAGs, achievements so far, barriers encountered, national specificities. January 2022
Main author: Brendan O´Keeffe
Series coordination and editing: Urszula Budzich-Tabor, Stefan Kah, Haris Martinos