Community schemes’ cash caught in red tape

Minister of State Sean Canney

Two community schemes in Galway to improve village recreational facilities are under threat – because of bureaucratic wrangling.

Last October, the Kilconnell Tidy Towns Committee was awarded €5,580 to create a pathway around their sensory garden – adjacent to the polytunnel used to grow vegetables – to allow access for wheelchairs, buggies and those with mobility issues.

And the Hymany Trail Walking Way was also granted €5,500 to lay reinforced matting on the section of the greenway between Portumna to Ballygar.

The funding application was submitted by the Galway Rural Development Company (GRD) on behalf of both community groups to the Department of Rural and Community Development which was overseeing the €12 million Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme as part of the Government’s ‘Action Plan for Rural Development’.

The schemes were to have been completed by the end of last year but the groups had applied for an extension, which was granted.

Now, however, six months on, the money has still not been handed over because of red tape between the Department and the GRD.

Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development Sean Canney said the delay was down to wrangling over who had responsibility for the maintenance of the projects completed.

Chairperson of Kilconnell Tidy Towns, Debbie Donnelly, said as part of the application they had to secure quotes from contractors and, of the ten they contacted, only two were willing to carry out the works.

This contractor has been put on hold for months while they wait to receive the money from the GRD.

“We have been told we can’t start it until the GRD draw down the money but this delay is threatening the entire project because our contractor is a landscaper who is coming into his busy time.

“It’s also holding up another project – we got funding to build an outdoor mud kitchen for children beside the sensory footpath so we start that until this work is done,” she stated.

“We have sent numerous emails, left many messages, all to no avail. How can community groups – all volunteers – be expected to deal with this farce and how could we have confidence in either department going forward?”

Deputy Canney said he had been working with Independent Councillor Tim Broderick to sort out the issue.

“The funding is safe but I’m annoyed it’s still not sorted. We’ve been trying to get the Department and the GRD to sit down and work it out – it’s not huge money but it will have a huge impact on these communities,” he told the Connacht Tribune.

“I don’t want to see community groups tied up in red tape and having their projects that they work so hard on getting delayed. It’s not affecting all grants in this scheme – just some of the grants allocated to leader companies. If I had my time over again I’d have urged the groups themselves to apply for the funding as they are the ones which will have the liability for the maintenance.”

CEO of the GRD Delia Colohan confirmed that two community groups have had their work held up ‘due to lack of clarification on a number of queries’ to the Department.

“Drawdown of funds will happen when the work is completed – GRD does not hold the funds. The chairperson of GRD has written to the Department seeking an explanation and we are waiting for a response from them.”

Ms Donnelly said the community had successfully executed projects such as a playground and a park before with public funding but they had never experienced such nonsense.

“We have three community employment schemes here who would help to maintain it. We have had the Brothers of Charity out planting, saying they would use it. It’s beside the school, near a nursing home – it would be a well-used facility. If it goes on much longer we’ll lose our contractor.”