Peace II Programme

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance and Personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 14 October 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:30, 14 October 2002

1. asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to provide an update on the implementation of the Peace II programme.

(AQO 302/02)

Photo of Sean Farren Sean Farren Social Democratic and Labour Party

The implementation — [Interruption].

Photo of Sean Farren Sean Farren Social Democratic and Labour Party

Implementation of the Peace II programme is, I am pleased to say, progressing steadily. All implementation bodies have been appointed, and all measures have been opened. Nearly 2,700 applications have been received, and many grant offers have been made. Payments to projects began in May, and discussions are taking place with the European Commission to finalise the programme complement as soon as possible. The Special EU Programmes Body will be working with all implementation bodies to ensure that targets for expenditure under the programme are met.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Peace II programme provides a great basis for building more voluntary and community capacity. There were reports about difficulties with certain sectors, particularly the community and voluntary sectors. What is the Minister doing to address the situation that some of those sectors find themselves in when dealing with funding difficulties?

Photo of Sean Farren Sean Farren Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have been made aware of concerns in the community and voluntary sectors about funding allocations and applications being assessed in time. I have directed that work being introduced on several fronts should address those concerns. Discussions have taken place in the Administration and with the implementing bodies for the programme. I regret to say that following today’s Question Time one of my last official duties will be to meet with representatives of intermediary funding bodies to hear their concerns and to tell them how these are being addressed, so that we can identify and remove obstacles to the more rapid allocation of money to projects and groups that have applied for funding.

There will be a review of the application form that has caused some concern and a review of processes to make submitting applications easier. There will be continuing discussions with the European Commission to identify ways of simplifying the application of its regulations, and there will be a review of the scope of activities that can be funded from measures in the programme in consultation with the monitoring committee. At a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in Ballycastle last Wednesday, my counterpart from the Dublin Government, Tom Parlon, Minister of State at the Department of Finance, and I had a report from the chief executive officer of the Special EU Programmes Body on some of those issues. As I have already said, I will be taking forward some of those discussions with representatives of intermediary funding bodies later this afternoon.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr J Wilson] in the Chair).

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

Can the Minister confirm the uptake for the Peace II programme in constituencies across the Province, particularly in Strangford? What steps is his Department taking to ensure that equitable funding is available for all sustainable projects in the Province, especially in Strangford?

Photo of Sean Farren Sean Farren Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member has asked a question that has been submitted for answer later. He would not expect me to have, either at my fingertips or in my head, the kind of details that he seeks on constituency allocations. Allocations are not made on a constituency basis; preference is given according to measures within the different priorities. In my response to Mr Byrne’s question, I said that more than 2,700 applications have been received from organisations and from community and voluntary groups throughout Northern Ireland. Although not all have been successful, many have been, and the assessment process is ongoing. Details are available regularly.

The Special EU Programmes Body has been submitting monitoring reports to the Department of Finance and Personnel and will continue to do so. I am in a position to make those reports available to my Executive Colleagues, so that we can see where money is being allocated. As the Member will appreciate, meeting social need is an important requirement. Identifying areas of social need is one of the horizontal principles that must be borne in mind when determining allocations. In particular, allocations made under the local strategy partnerships, which are responsible for two of the measures in priority 3, have directly taken account of relative need in all 26 district councils.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

I listened carefully to the Minister’s answer and welcome the fact that Peace II funding has begun. I also welcome the possibility of simplifying the complex application forms for Peace II funding. Can the Minister explain, in the light of the community’s great concern, the delay in delivering that funding? Why have we had to wait until now? I and many other Members understood that the funding would be on stream long before now.

I share the Minister’s concern that he is carrying out his final duties today. However, he must remember that if his party had joined with the rest of us, 82% of this place would not be disenfranchised by the 18% sitting on the Benches opposite.

Photo of Sean Farren Sean Farren Social Democratic and Labour Party

I shall respond to the first part of the Member’s question, for which, as Minister of Finance and Personnel, I am directly responsible. Although there have been some delays, allocations have been made since May 2002. There have been some considerable delays in the establishment of some of our local strategy partnerships and the development of their local strategy plans. Further delays were the result of the long and detailed consideration that must be given to applications. There is an understandable concern that applications are assessed fully, according to the criteria.

The criteria for Peace II funding are different in several respects from those applicable to Peace I funding. The particular emphasis on the "distinctiveness" criterion has caused some problems. The Special EU Programmes Body and the intermediary funding bodies are anxious to address the problems and to help groups articulate their aims and objectives as effectively as possible with respect to all the criteria. It is hoped that those groups do not find themselves in a situation in which their applications are returned for further clarification and elaboration. That has already happened and has therefore contributed to some of the delay. However, there is a significant momentum behind the Peace II programme, and I am confident that we can deliver on the spending objectives — not only in the immediate future but throughout the period for which the programme will operate.