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Northern Ireland's EU millions could be derailed if Brexit goes ahead

By John Mulgrew

Published 08/03/2016

Railway upgrade: the Londonderry to Coleraine train passing Downhill in Co Londonderry
Railway upgrade: the Londonderry to Coleraine train passing Downhill in Co Londonderry

Northern Ireland will lose out on millions in key business and infrastructure funding if the UK votes to leave the EU, after it's been revealed the region received more than £170m in just two years. Stormont departments have received a wealth of cash injections from the EU, including money for roads, business development, job creation and a number of other funding streams.

That includes everything from railway upgrades to business loans.

And that's aside from £635m for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), mainly due to single farm payments.

The bulk of funds aimed at helping business, trade and infrastructure in 2013/14 and 2014/15 went through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

During the two financial years, it drew down almost £100m alone from the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme. That includes projects such as CoFundNI, which is part-funded by the scheme, along with help for other Northern Ireland businesses.

That funding includes projects funded directly by DETI, along with others implemented by Invest NI, Tourism NI, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), the Department for Social Development (DSD) and the Department for Regional Development (DRD).

But economist John Simpson says he doesn't believe Westminster would plug the massive multi-million pound gap left behind by a Brexit.

Northern Ireland also received a total of €3.5bn (£2.7bn) in total across all European co-funded projects between 2007 and 2013.

The latest detailed breakdown of figures, which have been revealed in Assembly questions from SDLP MLA and enterprise committee chairman Patsy McGlone, show the DRD received £50m in EU funding streams over the last two financial years.

That included £10.7m from the Interreg Iva scheme, mostly towards overhauling the Enterprise train service, and £19m towards upgrading the Londonderry to Coleraine line, and works on the Knockmore to Lurgan train lines.

Projects were cash has been received towards include the upgrading of the A2 between Belfast's Shore Road and Greenisland, more than £5m for new buses, and £11m just in 2014/15 towards the Coleraine to Londonderry rail line. The Department of Finance and Personnel has also received £12m in the same period.

Economist John Simpson said: "There are those who want to argue that there will be money released for these purposes. At best, it's a wish list, and at worst it could be a deceptive trap.

"First, if we vote to leave the EU, the Barnett formula will still determine what comes to Northern Ireland. Could we really expect to get a better allocation?

"Given we already have a generous Barnett formula, I think we would be at risk, losing these particular items. There is nothing in the particular arrangements we would get this EU funding from another source.

"I don't believe any British government will see this as a high priority, to top-up what has gone away.

"Whether we do get any concessions from the British government, you can rest assure there will be an administrative hiatus. The uncertainty will not be easy to live with."

Patsy McGlone said Northern Ireland is "quite clearly" a net beneficiary of EU funding, and would lose out on millions each year if the UK was to leave.

"Out and about, people in rural economies, farming and wider afield have all derived benefits.

"No one can convince me that if we left that they (the UK Government) would give us like-for-like."

Aside from infrastructure, 'peace' money and business assistance, Mr Simpson said the single biggest loss to Northern Ireland would be single farm payments.

Northern Ireland received €2.23bn (£1.73bn) in direct payments alone during 2007 to 2013.And it's earmarked to receive roughly the same during 2014 to 2020.

"The biggest thing is the single farm payments, which is huge. If the UK was to come out, and fund that, it was previously much more stringent than when it joined the EU."

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