Belfast Telegraph

EU structural and investment projects in Northern Ireland 'guaranteed after Brexit' but concerns over £300m of funding

EU structural and investment projects in Northern Ireland signed before the Chancellor's Autumn Statement will be guaranteed after Brexit, the Treasury said.

The current level of agricultural backing, which underpins the farming industry, will also be matched by the Government until 2020.

Europe's Peace programme for entrenching the peace process through community development is due to run until 2020. The future of a programme designed to pump 17 million euro into groups which help victims of the conflict had been in doubt, it has been claimed.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said: "We recognise that many organisations across the UK which are in receipt of EU funding, or expect to start receiving funding, want reassurance about the flow of funding they will receive.

"That's why I am confirming that structural and investment funds projects signed before the Autumn Statement and Horizon research funding granted before we leave the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave.

"The Government will also match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020, providing certainty to our agricultural community, who play a vital role in our country."

But Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir has said that short term assurances provided by the Chancellor around EU funding do not go far enough.

"Prior to the referendum, the European Union had agreed to contribute over €1.2 billion to Structural and Investment Fund programmes in the north scheduled to run between 2014 and 2020. This includes contributions to the cross border PEACE IV and INTERREG VA Programmes. The decision today not to underwrite that sum in relation to EU funds from now to 2020 is a setback to the economy and a failure by the British government to match European support for the peace process. 

“"Despite the promise of the British Prime Minister to act in the interests of all, there has been no attempt to consult with myself, the Executive or the Irish Government, about the best way forward in relation to European funds.

"While the decision to honour letters of offer issued up to November will help some applicants for EU funds, it will leave a question mark over scores of other vital projects and means potentially up to £300m of future funding is in peril.

“"I have discussed this issue with the Chancellor and with my counterparts in Scotland and Wales, calling on the British Government to give a commitment that devolved administrations would not lose a penny of EU related funding streams. I have also written to the European Commissioner for Regional Policy with Ireland’s Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and reiterated the joint support of the Executive and the Irish Government for our cross border PEACE and INTERREG programmes.

"Rather than providing the certainty needed following the EU referendum this short-sighted decision could deepen the economic blow. It is clear the Executive needs to be front and centre in decisions around Europe and in all negotiations on these crucially important issues."

Assurances expected from the Treasury include:

:: All structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before the Chancellor's Autumn Statement on the budget will be fully funded, even when these projects continue beyond the UK's departure from the EU.

:: The Treasury will also put in place arrangements for assessing whether to guarantee funding for specific structural and investment fund projects that might be signed after the Autumn Statement, but while the UK remains a member of the EU.

:: Where UK organisations have bid directly to the European Commission on a competitive basis for EU funding projects while the UK is still a member of the EU, for example universities participating in Horizon 2020, the Treasury will underwrite the payments of such awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK's departure from the EU.

While the UK voted to leave the European Union by 52% to 48%, 56% in Northern Ireland voted to remain.

Stormont's first and deputy first ministers Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness recently registered their concerns with the Prime Minister over the future of projects relying on EU money. Northern Ireland receives approximately 10% of the UK's cash from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

EU funding has helped build the Peace Bridge over Londonderry's River Foyle and boosted transport links between Belfast and Dublin.

It has supported scores of community groups working in some of the most deprived parts of Northern Ireland as part of the rebuilding of a more normal society after the Troubles.

Brexit campaigners had claimed Northern Ireland got back £67 million less than it contributed to Europe last year.

The Chancellor added: "We are determined to ensure that people have stability and certainty in the period leading up to our departure from the EU and that we use the opportunities that departure presents to determine our own priorities."

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