Written Answers. - Competitiveness of Border Region.

Seamus Kirk

Question:

48 Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Finance if he has read the recent publication entitled Border Crossings; and the proposals, if any, he has to establish cost competitiveness in view of the serious implications for the local economy in the southern Border counties as identified in the publication. [17199/95]

As the Deputy is aware, improving the competitiveness of the economy as a whole, including the Border counties, is a key element of the Government's economic policy. Fiscal, monetary, incomes and sectoral policies are geared towards enhancing the economy's ability to compete effectively, so as to increase living standards and maximise employment potential.

The Government recognises that the cessation of violence in Northern Ireland has opened up new opportunities on both sides of the Border. This increased cross-Border trade, and a gradual movement towards an integrated and all-island economy, will benefit communities North and South.
The new opportunities which exist for North and South form the key message of the bookBorder Crossings. The message is that opportunities exist, that there are many similarities between North and South, and that the common external challenge has never been greater. The book argues for greater economic co-operation between Belfast, Dublin, London and Europe.
In order to ensure that the Border regions benefit from this process of change, two programmes in particular have been established with the specific objective of providing assistance to the Border region: these are the Ireland-Northern Ireland INTERREG programme 1994-99 and the special programme for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border counties. These programmes are additional to the CSF operational programmes being implemented in the Border region.
The objective of the INTERREG programme is to promote the creation and development of networks of co-operation across internal borders of the European Union and assist such internal border areas to overcome development problems arising from their isolation. All of Northern Ireland with the exception of Belfast, and the six Border counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo are covered by the programme. The programme is divided into five sub-programmes covering infrastructure, roads, energy, transport, telecommunications; environmental protection, management of water resources and removal of pollutants; natural resources; agriculture, fisheries, forestry; human resources, training and education; and economic development, tourism, community development, and special measures in economic development such as linkages.
Under INTERREG a total of 156 million ECU of EU funds has been allocated to the Border counties and Northern Ireland for cross-Border projects. Of this amount 89.5 million ECU, significantly over half of the EU funding approved, has been made available for the six Border counties, and, as in the case of the peace programme, matching funding will come from central Government, local authorities, the private sector and community groups depending on the nature of the project being funded.
The objective of the special programme for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border counties is to promote and assist peace and reconciliation in those areas. The programme provides for actions under five broad themes: urban and rural regeneration; employment; cross-Border development; social inclusion; and productive investment and industrial development.
The total EU funding available for the initiative will be 300 million ECU, IR£240 million, over three years. Funding for a further two years is likely subject to a Commission review. Up to 80 per cent of the funding will be available for activities in Northern Ireland and at least 20 per cent for activities in the Border counties. At least 15 per cent of the overall amount will be devoted to activities carried out in a cross-Border context.