EU investment taskforce to return
A special European Union taskforce which helped deliver millions of pounds of investment to Northern Ireland is set to return next year.
The announcement by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso came after a meeting with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Brussels.
The first taskforce was set up in 2007 after Mr Barroso visited Belfast and the scheme was credited with improving access to valuable EU policies and programmes.
The Commission president has now confirmed his taskforce will return to Northern Ireland early next year to examine further potential funding opportunities.
Mr Robinson said: "President Barroso's announcement this morning is hugely significant for Northern Ireland. The taskforce was a unique initiative originally set-up in 2007 to ensure that Northern Ireland took full advantage of the opportunities that membership of the EU offers.
"Since then the taskforce has enabled us to secure funding valued at 23.2 million euro (£19.5million) under the Framework 7 Programme, significantly surpassing our previous achievements.
"Over 2,000 projects with a total value of 13 million euro (£10.9 million) have been approved under the Rural Development Programme and over 42,000 people have participated in skills programmes through the social fund so far. Even from these few examples it is clear that the work of the taskforce is making a significant difference."
Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness also opened the Executive's new offices in Brussels.
Mr McGuinness said: "Healing division, tackling the causes of conflict and embedding peace does not happen overnight. The President and the European Union have been with us in every step we have taken along this process.
"The continuation of the taskforce during these financially difficult times across Europe, underscores the President's commitment to building peace. The taskforce is a unique approach to promoting our interests and involvement in Europe. We need to build on our achievements to date."