Belfast Telegraph

Brexit threatens £425 million in EU Peace programme grants to Northern Ireland

Applications have already begun for the latest pot of money meant to protect young people through skills development

By Michael McHugh

A Brexit could threaten European grants worth almost £425 million to support peace in Northern Ireland.

The money would improve the lives of children and young people and help victims and survivors deal with the legacy of the Troubles under plans announced last month.

The EU has worked for years to promote cohesion between Catholics and Protestants as well as economic stability, according to the European Parliament.

A European Parliament statement said: "The EU Peace programme is now seen as an example of peace-building policy to be shared throughout Europe and other regions."

Europe has paid £1.3 billion euro since 1995 to support peace in Northern Ireland and the border counties in the Republic of Ireland through PEACE and Interreg programmes.

It has helped build a peace bridge linking mainly Catholic and Protestant communities in Londonderry and the Skainos Centre in East Belfast.

The latest pot of money, £424 million from Europe, was announced last month and applications have already begun. The programme is due to end in 2020.

The money is coming from the EU's PEACE IV and Interreg programmes and a key plank of the strategy is protecting young people through skills development for anyone up to 24.

It is hoped it can be used to support youths who fall out of education and training programmes and are at risk of anti-social behaviour or lives of crime and violence.

The entire grant package will be used to fund projects in Northern Ireland, the border region and parts of western Scotland.

However, Eurosceptics argue that UK taxpayers get back less than half the amount they "pour into Brussels" in grants and rebate.

Former MEP Jim Allister leads the Traditional Unionist Voice, a small party with one seat in the devolved Assembly.

He claimed membership of the EU cost the UK over £1 million an hour.

"There is the nonsense spun about Northern Ireland being unable to survive without EU handouts. Not only is it our own money we are getting back, but even we are net contributors.

"Prosperity and growth, along with the dignity of standing on our own feet and making our own decisions, await us outside the EU. Why are we waiting?"

As the only part of the UK to share a land border of 300 miles with another EU member state, the Republic of Ireland, Brexit could have particular implications for Northern Ireland.

Irish premier Enda Kenny has claimed Britain leaving the EU could throw Northern Ireland's peace process into turmoil while several high profile figures have raised the prospect of security checks at the border.

Ian Paisley MP, son of former DUP leader Ian Paisley, has argued that it is already heavily policed via surveillance cameras and little would change through Brexit. The DUP has confirmed it will campaign for an exit.

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