18. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has held discussions with the European Commission regarding the allocation of additional funding for the Border region in view of the particular challenges that will arise following Brexit and the need to improve infrastructure to assist existing businesses to remain competitive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 47147/17 asked on 09 Nov 2017)
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): At the outset I would like to be clear about the Government’s appreciation of the important contribution that EU funding has made to the development of the border region and to cross-border cooperation over the last quarter of a century.
As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I have responsibility for two cross-border programmes with Northern Ireland, namely INTERREG and PEACE. These programmes have a combined value of more than half a billion Euro over the period 2014-2020.
As part of my Department’s contingency planning for Brexit, the risks to these programmes – which are 85% funded by the EU – were identified. The Irish Government has been clear about its commitment to the full implementation of the current programmes and to successor programmes post-2020.
In the aftermath of the UK referendum my immediate objective was to ensure that current funding would continue. I was pleased, therefore, that towards the end of last year agreement was reached on a safeguard clause that has enabled funding letters of offers to be issued to programme beneficiaries for both programmes.
Now that that short term objective has been achieved, my medium term objective is to ensure the full and successful implementation of the current programmes out to 2020, during a period in which the UK is expected to leave the EU. My long term objective is to secure funding for successor programmes post-2020.
It was for that reason that in the wake of the UK referendum I proposed to my Northern Ireland counterpart, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, that we jointly write to the Regional Policy Commissioner, Corina Cretu, to underline the importance we attach to the continuation of EU funding.
In December Máirtín and I visited Derry together to see the impact that EU funding is making on the ground.
And in April I raised the impact of Brexit on the two programmes at the meeting of the General Affairs Council devoted to Cohesion Policy in Luxembourg. While in Luxembourg I also took the opportunity to have a bilateral meeting with Commissioner Cretu where I impressed upon her the enormous contribution that EU funding has made to the economic and social development of the region, as well as the vital importance of continuing this funding. I also invited Commissioner Cretu to visit the region to see for herself the impact on the ground.
These two programmes are well regarded in Ireland – North and South – in the UK, and throughout the EU, so I believe the necessary goodwill is there for future funding from the European Union.