Minister Michael Ring allocated €118,000 in funding to constituency project despite warnings from civil servant of “problematic precedents”

MINISTER Michael Ring allocated almost €120,000 in funding to a constituency project despite warnings from civil servants it could set “problematic precedents”.

Another official said that the project appeared to have the least merit of four proposals that were looking for an extra grant on top of what they had already received.

The Kiltimagh Velo project – which is turning a disused railway line into a tourist attraction with pedal-powered carriages – ended up getting the single largest funding allocation of any local authority project last year.

Mayo County Council had ended up with a significant cost over-run on the velo project according to a letter sent to the Department of Rural and Community Development last November.

It said: “During construction over the last number of months a number of unforeseen additional works were required during the reinstatement of the railway track including reinstatement of a number of sections of subsided railway line.

“Additional expenditure of €147,550 has been incurred as a result of these works.”

They asked the Department if there was any possibility of getting extra funding and in an early departmental submission, it was suggested they might get 80% of the money.

It explained: “Mayo has been a significant beneficiary under all of the rural schemes in the recent past but has also, for the most part, delivered on very good projects.”

It was one of four proposals – along with a greenway in Longford, a flooding fund in Donegal, and a local improvement scheme in Limerick – that went forward for extra money.

However, a senior civil servant was not overly encouraged about the Mayo project with an email saying, “I see a case for supporting the … [project] in Limerick and the extension to the Longford Greenway.”

A separate email to Minister Ring said: “At this stage, my view is that, subject to your views we might proceed with Limerick … and the Longford Royal Canal extension.

“I want to speak to [a colleague] re the others but have some concerns that we could set problematic precedents.”

After speaking with Minister Ring on December 11, it was then decided that only one of the projects would actually be funded.

“Following our discussion, he [the Minister] is not inclined to approve any of the proposals except Donegal Red Cross given the very exceptional nature of the request and the history,” an email explained.

The following day, there appears to have been a change of heart with the minister looking for a new summary report on all four projects.

At first glance, the outlook for the Kiltimagh project now appeared even more grim.

The new report explained: “A difficulty with this request is that the project has been completed and paid for, but the council did not signal any issue in relation to the increased costs in the course of the project.

“Nor did the council make an application for the project under the 2017 Rural Recreation Scheme. Of the four projects outlined above, this project seems to have the least compelling case for additional support.”

Exactly thirty-six minutes after that report was sent, it was confirmed by Minister Ring that he would fund the four applications.

An email said: “The Minister has approved all four projects.”

The Kiltimagh project was one of dozens funded by Minister Ring in Mayo last year. Altogether, the county got just over €8 million from the Department of Rural and Community Development, which was the fourth highest total in the country.

Only Dublin, Cork, and Donegal – which got extra allocations due to major flood damage in August – received more money in 2017.

Mayo took in 6.1% of the €131.9 million funding granted last year, even though its population makes up less than 3% of the national total.

On per capita funding however, three other counties – Leitrim, Sligo, and Longford – actually did better than Mayo.

Michael Ring was so happy with the level of grants that his home county got that he asked staff at his department to tot it all up for local media in Mayo.

An email said: “Minister Ring would like to issue a press release highlighting all the funding that has been allocated by our Department to Mayo in 2017 to go out in early new year.”

It also suggested that a line be added to directly address a local political rival from Sinn Féin Rose Conway Walsh because of her “criticism of the Department” – this did not however make the final version.

In a last-minute change, Mr Ring also asked that the words “from his department” be added to a headline about the €8 million that Mayo had received last year.

In a statement, the Department said: “Individual applications were made to the Department for the four projects late last year. They were all very different applications and were assessed on their own merits.

“As outlined in the correspondence between the officials, the Kiltimagh Velo Rail project was recommended for funding. The other three projects were also supported.

“In the case of the Velo Rail project, it was supported on the basis of its potential impact as a local tourism attraction. Another consideration, as highlighted in the correspondence, was Mayo County Council’s track record of delivering very good projects.”

A spokesman for the minister said: “After Dublin, which received the highest allocation of funds from the Department, the five next highest recipients are the five largest counties in the country. Mayo, the third largest county in the country, is the fourth highest recipient of funds from the Department.

“This government was elected to help bring the benefits of a recovering economy to all parts of the country. Minister Ring will continue to highlight government investments in every county in Ireland and he encourages his government colleagues to do likewise. To that end, information on how much was allocated to every county by his Department in 2017 was distributed to Government TDs and Senators.”

  • If you want to hear what Minister Ring had to say about the story, check out the Broadsheet post here which includes a link to his Midwest Radio interview.
  • Redactions in the document below are mine and only cover email addresses and personal telephone numbers.
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