New RDP '˜must be easily navigated'

Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and Chairman of Stormont's Agriculture Committee William Irwin MLA has said that the new round of Rural Development funding must be easily navigated for applicants to the programme.

Mr Irwin made the comments following this week’s Agriculture Committee where members were given an evaluation of the previous RDP scheme and asked questions of officials on the new round of funding.

He stated: “As a former member of a Local Action Group in my own constituency I know the significant hurdles that applicants to the previous round of funding faced. I personally represented a number of applicants in resolving issues primarily relating to the procedure of the grant scheme and I have to say these hurdles left a sour taste with those applicants and I can fully understand why.”

He stated: “There are of course many good news stories in terms of the money provided by the previous round of funding and I can think of a number in my own locality where the grant aid has made a difference for those who applied. However there were significant teething problems in getting the previous scheme up and running and the public expect these problems to be fully ironed out in this next funding round.

“Speaking to colleagues who are part of the revised LAG’s I know that information events have taken place in various areas and these have been well attended and the next step will be hosting specialised funding workshops. I would of course urge the Department to move swiftly in finalising the other aspects of the programme to ensure the LAG’s across the province are fully equipped to roll out their programmes and open calls for applications as soon as possible.”

Mr Irwin concluded: “It is vital that the process of accessing this financial assistance is made as straightforward as possible for applicants. The nature of the Rural Development Programme is to assist our rural areas to grow economically and socially and lessons must be learned from the last scheme to ensure that this new funding opportunity is more easily navigated by applicants.”

The new Rural Development Programme for Northern Ireland will run from 2014 – 2020. The Programme was formally approved by the European Commission on 25th August 2015.