I thank the Chairman and wish members of the committee a good afternoon. I thank them very much for inviting our delegation today; its is always a pleasure.
Members of the East Border Region, EBR, last presented to this committee in February 2019. It is fair to say that while a key consideration then was obviously the impact of Brexit on the Ireland-Northern Ireland Border area, no one could have foreseen an even greater challenge in the face of Covid-19.
In March 2020, EBR, like so many other organisations globally, had to radically change our whole concept of working from 100% office-based to 100% home-based. Throughout its long history, which is almost 50 years now, EBR has always adapted a thoroughly pragmatic approach and the response to the pandemic was no different. Board members and staff rose to the occasion.
As a project partner on nine large strategic INTERREG VA projects to the value of €104 million, it was essential that all claim deadlines were met and that our 60 partners were paid in a timely manner. To date, I am pleased to say that EBR has not missed a deadline. The INTERREG projects are currently being implemented and outputs are consistently being met. Members have been provided with a copy of our annual report, which outlines further information on these excellent genuine cross-Border projects.
Apart from managing INTERREG VA, there have also been notable achievements since 2019. The first I want to address is the East Border Region charter. Since our inception back in 1976, EBR has worked under the backdrop of the European Union. In January 2020, because of Brexit, one half of the region was for the first time no longer part of the European Union. As a genuine cross-Border organisation, EBR needed to address the situation. Our response was to apply to the Department of Foreign Affairs' reconciliation fund to assist with capacity-building activities with our elected members, officials and key stakeholders to address the very real impact of Brexit on our cross-Border region.
Having secured the funding, for which we were grateful, in both 2019 and 2020, EBR agreed to develop a charter. This innovative charter is elected member-led and that is very important. It represents a renewed mandate for EBR to be a principal mechanism for cross-Border co-operation on behalf of the member local authorities. Each local authority endorsed the charter at full council. Again, in the context of the time, that was very important. This was in the form of a declaration of commitment which, again, as I said, was significant in the context of Brexit. The local authorities committed to working together to improve the prosperity of citizens of the region and the public and private services they can access. The attendance of both the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and Minister Conor Murphy at the official launch of the EBR charter in June 2021 showcased the innovative nature of the charter and the commitment of both governments to cross-Border co-operation.
East-west co-operation is another significant development since 2019. Since its inception, EBR has focused primarily on North-South co-operation but Brexit again highlighted the need to develop relationships on an east-west basis. In the aftermath of the referendum, as negotiations between the UK and the EU intensified, it was clear that many UK politicians were not familiar with the intricacies of the Ireland-Northern Ireland Border area. EBR, and we are again grateful, has just been awarded €53,000 from the reconciliation fund for a one-year programme to inform and highlight the particular needs and priorities of the region to MPs and officials in London, Wales and Scotland.
Looking pragmatically towards the future, what are our opportunities? We are pleased to say there are two real key opportunities for cross-Border co-operation on the island, the first of which is the PEACEPLUS programme. The €1.1 billion PEACEPLUS programme represents a real opportunity for local authorities and key stakeholders in our region and, indeed, across the whole eligible area to access funding for cross-Border projects, which will make a positive contribution to the economic, social and environmental development of the region.
EBR thematic working groups, which align to the themes of PEACEPLUS comprising officials, elected members and key stakeholders, are currently developing projects in anticipation of the opening of the programme later this year. Our priorities have been identified, and, in the course of all the work we have been doing in terms of thematic working groups, it has not changed over the years. We have always got common issues. There are always common priorities. When we look at what has been highlighted across the region, both North and South, we see economic development, business development, skills and entrepreneurship, regeneration tourism, biodiversity, climate action and energy. The projects will focus on addressing the impact of both Brexit and Covid-19 on our region.
The €1 billion Shared Island Fund is another key opportunity for EBR. Already, the fund has contributed to a key infrastructure project within our region, the Narrow Water Bridge, which will have both national and international significance. EBR has championed this genuinely cross-Border project since the early 1970s when we were formed. We are delighted to see that project progress. Similarly, the shared island funding to progress the upgrade of the Ulster Canal is extremely welcome. This is another strategic cross-Border infrastructure project that will benefit the citizens on both sides of the Border. The strategic rail review is certainly also welcome from our perspective.
In conclusion, while the challenges facing all of us over the past few years have been immense, EBR has demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity. I am honoured to lead the organisation because we have always had that pragmatic solution-based focus. During this period, significant monies have been drawn down into our region and there is a real opportunity to realise many of our cross-Border objectives in the coming years. In 2016, when the referendum first occurred, none of us could foresee that we would actually be in a fairly good position in 2022.
EBR recognises and welcomes the ongoing support of the Irish Government for our work. High-level support and commitment from both Governments is essential to making a real difference in our region. As well as Government support, we believe successful cross-Border co-operation also requires a bottom-up, needs-based approach which is driven and delivered locally.
EBR is well placed. It has a proven track record in co-ordinating, facilitating and managing cross-Border co-operation.