Secure Northern Ireland's fair share of EU cash
The Assembly today debates an Ulster Unionist motion relating to the draw-down of EU funds. I have spent almost 25 years in Brussels and never before have I seen such an amount set aside for research and innovation.
The EU is comprised of 28 member states and, as a consequence, there is no doubt that the fight for funding will be more competitive than ever before.
The FP7 research and technological development projects funding period is currently winding up. However, €80bn (£67bn) will be available under the new research and innovation funding package Horizon 2020 between 2014 and 2020.
Figures indicate that, in Northern Ireland, substantially less funding – €63.7m – was requested from the FP7 package than in the Republic (€2,715.2m).
There is nonetheless an enormous disparity between the requested sums.
In the Republic of Ireland, applicants have been set the challenge of securing €1.4bn-worth of funding. The Irish government is wildly ambitious.
Our own Executive is aiming for £100m. Where is our soaring ambition and vision for the future?
We have some of the top research institutes in Europe, our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are renowned innovators and our universities are ranked amongst the best in the world. I have no doubt that we could spend this money innovatively and to the benefit of Northern Ireland.
We must rise to the benchmark set throughout the rest of the UK. Under FP7, requests from Northern Ireland constituted around 1.22% of the UK's overall requests for FP7 funding – in spite of Northern Ireland totalling around 2.9% of the UK's population.
While improvements have been made, the Executive must further step up efforts to secure future EU funding.
I want to see the Executive engage in what would be an incredibly worthwhile battle – a battle to secure our fair share of EU funding – in all the programmes.
Today's debate should focus minds and help address how to achieve this.