I propose to take Questions Nos. 242 to 244, inclusive, together.
My ongoing engagement with the Northern Ireland Administration through the North South Ministerial Council, both in Plenary format and through the Trade and Business Sectorial sessions, presents a very useful forum to drive cross border and all-island economic development. I will continue to pursue relevant and appropriate initiatives through the North South Ministerial Council.
The concept of a specific Border Development Zone as a means of fostering economic recovery in the cross-border region of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland was the main theme of a conference organised by the Centre for Cross Border Studies (CCBS) and the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) in January last. This follows the development of this concept in the CCBS-sponsored Bradley/Best economic study of 2012 and I am aware that the CCBS has undertaken research on the topic in the intervening period also.
I strongly believe that it is important to continue building on what has already been achieved in the region by the relevant State bodies and by local authorities on both sides of the border. The work of the Cross Border Body, InterTrade Ireland, has been foremost in this regard, with a significant range of enterprise development initiatives and programmes in place. My Department jointly funds and provides oversight to this Body, together with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Belfast and it represents a very effective mechanism for tackling business development on an all-island basis. In addition, there is on-going co-operation between Enterprise Ireland and its Northern Ireland counterpart agency, Invest Northern Ireland on areas of mutual interest.
A further useful mechanism has been the work of organisations such as the Irish Central Border Area Network, the North West Region Cross Border Group and East Border Region Ltd. These organisations involve local authorities on both sides of the border working together to pursue the specific needs of communities in their regions. They have the experience and local knowledge to assist with driving future development strategies of mutual interest. Indeed, the projects led by such groups, and others, under the Enterprise Development theme of the INTERREG IVA Programme (2009-2015), have made a significant impact on developing small businesses in the region. My Department co-funds the Enterprise Development strand of this INTERREG Programme, under which a total of 29 individual projects have been initiated. Work is underway on devising the format of the next strand of the INTERREG Programme for the period up to 2020, and my Department is involved in that process.
The concept of initiating a Border Development Zone in the border region is an interesting proposal. However it could raise significant issues involving EU State Aid Rules and other EU provisions and it would also, of course, require detailed negotiations between both Administrations on this island. There would also, almost certainly, be significant resource issues. For these reasons, and while I will of course keep abreast of the ongoing research by the CCBS, I do not envisage the establishment of such a zone as being practical or realistic at this time, especially given the existing, well-developed arrangements which are in place, as set out above.