Ireland and Northern Ireland are currently partners in two EU-funded cross-border Cooperation Programmes, PEACE and INTERREG. Between them they have seen nearly €3.5 billion of investment in Northern Ireland and the Border region of Ireland over the last quarter of a century.
The Government is proud of the role it played in securing EU funding for a fourth PEACE programme. Along with its sister INTERREG Programme, it will see investment of more than half a billion Euro in Ireland and Northern Ireland over the period 2014-2020.
The programmes are important drivers of regional development in a cross-border context. Through EU-funded cooperation, a range of Departments and agencies, North and South, have engaged in and benefitted from a variety of cross-border and cross-community projects.
Support for the two programmes from the European Regional Development Fund is not only an important source of funding but also a key element of the European Union’s continuing commitment to the process of peace building and reconciliation in the region over the last quarter of a century.
As part of the contingency planning undertaken by the Government prior to the UK referendum on EU membership, my Department identified the risks to these EU-funded programmes in the event that the UK voted to leave.
As a result, we responded to the result of the referendum immediately, with the first official level contacts with the European Commission taking place on the day of the referendum result itself.
The Irish Government has been clear that its ambition is the successful implementation of the current programmes and successor programmes post-2020.
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum I proposed that the then Finance Minister in Northern Ireland, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, and I would write jointly to the EU’s Regional Policy Commissioner, Corina Cretu, to highlight the importance we attach to the programmes. I then raised the matter at meetings of the General Affairs Council devoted to Cohesion Policy. In the margins of last April’s Council meeting in Luxembourg I had a bilateral meeting with the Commissioner about the programmes. I subsequently wrote to her to invite her to visit the region and see for herself the important work that is taking place on the ground, and she has indicated her desire to do that. In the meantime there have been ongoing contacts at official level.
I was delighted, therefore, that December’s agreed progress report between the EU and the UK includes a specific paragraph which reflects the Irish Government’s ambition to complete the current programmes and to examine favourably the possibilities for future programmes. In its communication that accompanied the progress report, the Commission commits itself to proposing the continuation of the programmes.
Now that the Council, the Commission and the UK have all signalled their commitment to the programmes, my officials and I are proceeding on two fronts.
As regards the current programmes, my objective is ensure the successful implementation of PEACE and INTERREG, notwithstanding the UK exit in 2019.
As regards future programmes, my objective is to ensure the continuation of the deep cross-border cooperation that is the hallmark of the current programmes with Northern Ireland. My Department is developing proposals about ways of achieving this for discussion with the Commission.