I propose to take Questions Nos. 395 and 396 together.
My Department has a number of programmes that support cross-Border initiatives. To date, the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund has approved €255 million for 164 larger projects, worth a total of €347 million. The Fund seeks to support large scale, strategic projects, which have the potential to transform rural economies and communities and can deliver planned and sustainable regeneration in towns and villages, driving greater economic activity and footfall, addressing dereliction and ensuring the re-use of buildings. In 2019, funding of €325,000 was approved to Waterways Ireland to develop the Ulster Canal project to ensure that Phase 2 of the project is ready to proceed to construction. In April 2021, RRDF funding of €5.57m was approved for Phase 2 of the Ulster Canal Restoration Project. The project will restore the Clones section of the canal, creating a navigation channel extending from Clones to the Clonfad Aqueduct. The overall cost of Phase 2 is €12m and the project was also awarded funding of €6m under the Shared Island Fund in December 2020.
PEACE PLUS is a new cross-border EU funding programme for the period 2021-27, which will succeed both of the current (2014-20) PEACE IV and INTERREG VA Programmes. The Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and relevant Government Departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland have finalised the PEACE Plus performance framework. The value of the new PEACE PLUS programme is estimated at just over €1 billion and represents an opportunity to continue to fund peace building interventions alongside activities which help to make the region a more prosperous, healthier place to live through funding areas of mutual interest on a cross-border basis. The draft programme document was recently approved in both jurisdictions and the next step is the draft programme will now be considered by the EU Commission. Following the Commission’s approval, it is likely that the programme will be launched in Spring 2022. It is currently estimated that my Department will have responsibility for the oversight and delivery of projects amounting to some €375m under PEACE Plus, contributing funding of over €96m over the lifetime of the programme, but will be refunded over €76m, resulting in a net contribution of over €19m. It is anticipated that spend will commence during 2022, however, at this time it is not known what the commitment my Department will be making over the next two years as the drawdown of funding for the programme is not spread evenly over the programming period.
PEACE IV is a cross-border Programme co-financed by the EU through the European Regional Development Fund. It supports peace and reconciliation and promotes social and economic stability in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo) and is managed by the SEUPB, one of the North-South Bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement. The total value of the Programme is c.€270m (including Irish and UK match funding). It is 85% funded by the EU, with a matching combined contribution of €41m from the Irish and UK Governments. My Department of Rural and Community Development is an Accountable Department for PEACE IV and provides funding under three of the four programme measures, with responsibility for the oversight and delivery of projects amounting to over €180m in the region. Over the lifetime of the programme my Department will contribute over €39m but will be refunded c. €33m resulting in a net contribution of over €6m. By the end of 2021, funding of just over €30m will have been provided to the SEUPB since the programme’s inception, with funding of €6.967m paid during 2021, resulting in an outstanding balance of almost €10m to be drawn down before 31 December 2023.
The Libraries Capital Programme will invest €29m in 17 projects, a Small Scale Capital Works programme and the My Open Library service between 2016 and 2022. This includes funding of €2.8m for the library element of the Monaghan PEACE Campus, which also receives funding under the PEACE IV Shared Spaces and Services Programme.
LEADER is a multi-annual programme co-funded by the EU to support rural development outside of farming. The programme plays an important role in delivering on our common rural development agenda, supporting communities and enterprises in progressing employment, social inclusion and environmental projects at local level. Several North-South LEADER cooperation projects have been approved for funding by North South Local Action Group partners and when delivered, will provide great benefits for rural communities in both jurisdictions. The total value of the southern element of these co-operation projects is just over €1.1m.
The next LEADER Programme to be delivered under a new EU CAP framework will not commence until 2023. To bridge the gap between the 2014-2020 programme and the next framework programme, my Department launched a Transitional LEADER Programme for the period 2021-2022, which commenced on 1 April 2021. The Transitional Programme has a budget of €70m for the period 2021-2022, which is co-financed by the EU. The programme will place a focus on recovery from the impact of Covid-19, community capacity-building, digitalisation, and climate action.
The €70m is being allocated as follows:
- €65m is being allocated to support locally-led rural development across the 29 Local Action Groups (LAGs)
- €3m is being allocated to support the LEADER Co-operation measure which encourages rural areas to work together on joint projects with mutual benefits for each participating area
- €2m will be allocated to prepare for the next LEADER Programme.
The increase in the Co-operation measure will provide funding for LAGs to work together on inter-territorial or trans-national LEADER projects.
In Northern Ireland, to date Letters of Offer worth £60.9m (99% of the total Local Action Group (LAG) project allocation of £61.3m) have been issued across the schemes to rural businesses, the Community Voluntary Sector and to Councils for the benefit of rural communities. Total LEADER investment spend to date is £55m of which £45.1m is project spend.
Cooperation encourages and supports LAGs to undertake joint actions with other LAGs taking a similar approach in another region, EU Member State or a third country. There are currently eight LEADER Co-operation projects which include North South Local Action Group partners and represent an investment of close to £2.5m. This includes the International Appalachian Trail in the Northwest as well as Industrial Heritage, Coastal defence and regeneration projects. These projects have taken time to develop but are now well advanced and nearing completion. When completed, these projects will generate great benefits for local communities in both jurisdictions and it is hoped that these relationships can be developed going forward.