Ireland’s programme of capital investment in the seafood sector, co-funded by the European Fisheries Fund (EFF), is set out in the Seafood Development Operational Programme 2007-2013, and was approved by the European Commission in 2009 in accordance with Regulation (EC) No. 1198/2006 (EFF Regulation), the framework regulation for investments in the seafood sector. The Operational Programme (OP) seeks to implement the strategic investment priorities indentified in the National Strategic Plan for the Fisheries Sector, prepared in accordance with article 15 of the above Regulation. Approximately €42 million is available to Ireland from the EFF for the period of the OP. This may extend up to 2015.
Given the modest level of co-funding available to Ireland and the broad range of investment priorities identified in the Strategic Plan, a complimentary programme funded solely by the Exchequer was launched in 2010. This Irish Seafood National Programme 2007-2013 provided public support to investments in seafood processing, aquaculture and certain other areas not covered by the OP. The OP provided co-funded support primarily for the 2008 fleet decommissioning scheme, but also covered marine environmental protection measures and coastal development in non-fisheries activities.
The EFF Regulation required member states to produce an independent interim evaluation of national OPs in 2011. This was submitted to the European Commission in June 2011. The Interim Evaluation was conducted by consultants Fitzpatrick Associates. The Evaluation noted the changed economic circumstances facing Ireland and the impacts this was likely to have on availability of Exchequer funding for measures included within the National Programme. It also noted that the measures included in the OP were not likely to be sufficient to draw down the full €42 million allocation from the EFF. The Evaluation recommended the amendment of the OP to include most of the measures previously included in the National Programme, to ensure availability of supports to these important areas of the seafood sector and to ensure full draw down of EFF funds. The recommendations were accepted and a revised OP was submitted to the European Commission in March 2012. This is currently being delivered through schemes operated by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Bord Bia and Udaras na Gaeltachta.
No EFF funds are returned to the European Commission. Funds are transferred to Ireland annually based on claims submitted by my Department towards the end of each year. I am confident that the broad range of measures now included in the OP, the bulk of which are to the benefit of private operators within the industry, will be more than sufficient to ensure full draw down of all the available EFF funds.