Priority Questions. - INTERREG Funding.

John Perry


12 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he will consider allocating a portion of the additional £2 million from the INTERREG II community initiatives fund towards funding community driven projects in Border counties, particularly given that the Bord Fáilte projects fund has no money. [15459/98]

The Minister for Finance has overall responsibility for the Northern Ireland-Ireland INTERREG programme. However, I understand the monitoring committee for the Northern Ireland-Ireland INTERREG programme yesterday approved an additional allocation of 0.6 million ecu, approximately £480,000, for the tourism measure as part of a number of financial reallocations within the INTERREG programme. These financial reallocations are subject to a formal EU Commission decision before funds can flow. This will be a welcome boost for the tourism measure as the bulk of the funding originally made available in 1994 for Bord Fáilte assessed tourism projects has been allocated. I hope the additional funds will attract a mix of community and private sector based tourism projects in line with the objectives of the programme.

It is open to any community group to make an application through the Department of Finance for INTERREG funding. However, the level of demand for grant assistance to date has been such that only the very strongest projects have received support. Furthermore, the European Commission has reminded all working groups under the programme of the need to have a clear and strong cross-Border dimension in projects to be funded from these additional resources.

Peace is imminent, something which is very welcome. While welcoming the £408,000, it is insufficient owing to the number of programmes which have been activated. Will the Minister state how community initiatives can grow with such development, given that he indicated in his reply that only projects supported by Bord Fáilte and which carry significant weight will be successful? There are a huge number of projects throughout the Border counties which would definitely be beneficial in the context of tourism growth. We have had 30 years of violence and £408,000 is only a pittance. We need £4 million, given the number of projects brought to my attention. Will the Minister seriously examine increasing the funding from Bord Fáilte or other sources?

Regarding the role of the Department of Finance, Bord Fáilte is the governing body for tourism and should have a major say in the allocation of funding, particularly in the context of Border counties during this very important time of tourism growth.

I could not agree more with the sentiments expressed by the Deputy. An amount of £2 million had to be reallocated and we received 25 per cent of it. I would have gladly accept the entire amount. In the context of this week's vote in Northern Ireland and the peace process, the Border region has potential in the tourism area which never previously existed.

In the past some people have not been shy about coming forward. For example, of the £13.6 million which was previously allocated, £10 million was received on the southern side of the Border. At that time projects to a cost of £40 million were submitted. This is a usual situation. Twenty-four capital product projects were approved and 18 marketing projects were approved, giving a total of 42 projects. However, 140 projects sought funding. Unfortunately, the money is not available, but I take the Deputy's views on board, namely, that any extra funding would be gratefully accepted.

The British Government has invested £150 million in Northern Ireland for the promotion of all aspects of peace. In this context the provision of £70,000 per county is insignificant. In County Sligo there are two major projects, one concerning a surfing centre in Strandhill where there was a recent tragedy and another concerning a field study centre in Sligo. I ask the Minister to appeal to the Minister for Finance to provide a greater allocation.

We are exceptionally grateful to the EU, the UK, the US and other countries which have continued to support Ireland. In spite of the breakdown of the ceasefire in 1995, the EU continued to support us. The future is particularly bright, especially in regard to tourism.

That concludes priority questions.