Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Ceisteanna (61, 191)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

61. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has held discussions with the European Commission on the allocation of additional funding for the Border region in view of the particular challenges that will arise in that area following Brexit and the need to improve infrastructure to assist existing businesses remain competitive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48995/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

191. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the particular infrastructural needs of areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan will be given priority consideration if Cohesion Funds are available post-2020 in view of the negative impacts Brexit will have on the Border region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49276/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 191 together.

As I am sure Deputies will agree, the EU-funded INTERREG and PEACE programmes continue to act as important drivers of regional development for the Border region of Ireland and for Northern Ireland. 

INTERREG programmes funded by the EU exist to address the challenges encountered by border regions.  In the case of Ireland, an additional and unique programme, the PEACE programme, addresses the challenges in the region arising from conflict.  

The current INTERREG programme has a total value of €282 million and is aimed at promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion.  The current PEACE programme has a total value of €270 million and aims to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border counties of Ireland.

Ever since the UK referendum on EU membership the Government's clear and consistent position has been that it is committed to the successful implementation of the current programmes but also to a successor post-2020. To that end, my officials and I have been working closely with the European Commission at all levels to ensure this important source of funding for the Border region continues post-Brexit and we continue to do so.

I am pleased, therefore, that the Government’s ambition for the programmes was reflected in last December’s EU-UK joint report on Brexit in which both parties undertook to honour their commitments to the PEACE and INTERREG programmes under the current multi-annual financial framework, MFF, and to examine the possibilities for future support favourably.  This was matched by a commitment from the Commission to propose the continuation of the programmes in its proposal for the next MFF covering the period 2021-2027.   

This has happened, and I warmly welcome the Commission’s proposal for a special new PEACE PLUS programme, which will build on and continue the work of both PEACE and INTERREG.

Brexit will have a negative impact on counties in the Border region. We hope an agreement can be reached but counties such as Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal and the Border region generally very much depend on programmes such as PEACE. They have made an important contribution to peace and reconciliation and many community projects have gained from them. As someone from a Border county, I know the visible, tangible benefits and advantages that derive from such programmes. The implications of the loss of such funds is something people in the Border region were conscious of during the referendum campaign.

The Minister referred to a PEACE PLUS programme. I ask him to ensure that continues and that the Government commits to do that.

Some 83% of the PEACE IV programme, of €270 million, is committed with 88 projects approved for funding. These include groups of projects under the local authority PEACE action plans, and projects in the area of shared education and giving additional support to children and young people. I have visited some of these projects and am aware of how valuable they are.

Under the INTERREG programme, €282 million has been allocated, 87% of available funding, which has been committed to 32 different projects. I am committed to working with the European Commission to try to put in place a successor programme to these funding streams. This will form part of the negotiation that we will have with the Commission across most of next year in respect of the new European budget.

I thank the Minister. It is vital in light of Brexit. In Cavan and Monaghan county councils, PEACE offices play an integral and significant role in terms of delivery of community and social projects, and there is an economic benefit for all projects that are allocated PEACE funding. PEACE workers in Cavan and Monaghan county councils, such as Jane Crudden, have been instrumental in delivering on that due to their engagement with community groups and due to the community groups having the willingness and the foresight to take on the projects.

As we know, there is huge bureaucracy involved in regard to all of these projects. It is important that community groups are not burdened with further bureaucracy when it comes to securing funding, given these issues become more complicated and complex as we go on. I ask that the Minister commit to securing further funding and that there would be a positive bias towards the Border area.

It is in recognition of the vulnerability of our Border counties and the north west to the great challenge of Brexit that, for example, in Project Ireland 2040 we have put particular focus on key projects, such as the N2 and N3, that will be of particular benefit to the communities and counties the Deputy represents. It is why we are also committed to the A5 project and why, for example, we have made particular commitments to projects like the Ulster Canal.

In regard to the concerns on bureaucracy, I will certainly keep this in mind. I am encouraged by the fact the drawdown is so high. The fact over 80% of the funding for both funds has now been committed points to the fact these structures are working and can work. As I said, I will certainly keep the Deputy's points in mind in the negotiations that will continue in regard to a successor to PEACE and INTERREG. I know these are valuable programmes, I know they have made a big difference on both sides of the Border and I will work hard to deliver something that will take their place.