Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

PEACE IV/INTERREG: Letters of Offer

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 17th October 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 17th October 2016

5. Mr McGuigan asked the Minister of Finance for an update on the issuing of letters of offer to successful applicants to the PEACE IV and the INTERREG programmes. (AQO 478/16-21)

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

Both the PEACE IV and INTERREG Va programmes, which were approved to the value of €269 million and €283 million respectively, have opened for project calls. A number of applications under INTERREG have progressed through to final decision. I am pleased to report that 17 applications have been approved to a value of approximately €120 million. I said that to the House in my last Question Time. Those are all INTERREG projects.

The next stage will be for the Special EU Programmes Body, as the managing authority for the programme, to issue letters of offer to successful applicants. My officials are working with their counterparts in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Dublin to agree the detail of the letters of offer. I had a positive discussion in that regard with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, on Thursday past. The statement by the British Chancellor, Mr Hammond, on 3 October guaranteeing their share of finance to projects approved prior to any Brexit, if it happens, is a welcome development. The clarification provided will facilitate full commitment of expenditure for both PEACE IV and INTERREG programmes and the issue of those letters of offer.

I would like to stress to the Member that the assessment process for applicants is continuing at pace and that decisions on funding will continue to be taken. The key steering committee meetings, for example, to consider support for victims and survivors and sustainable transport are scheduled for the coming weeks. None of us is under an illusion that there is not some trepidation about the future among bodies and institutions that are applying for funding, but my message has been that we want to expedite applications and that we will fight to make sure that all the money that they are entitled to is paid. I am confident that is where we are. I am also very hopeful that those letters of offer will issue in the short weeks ahead. On 28 October, I will bring together in Antrim many of the groups that have applied for Peace and INTERREG funding to try to give them an update and to make sure that they know that we are working very hard to ensure that the letters of offer are issued and honoured.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I remind the Minister of the two-minute rule.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for that fulsome answer. Can I ask for a wee bit more information on the meeting in Antrim and on how else he intends to engage with recipients of Peace and INTERREG funding?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

I had a very successful engagement, I thought, with the organisation CO3, which represents chief executives in the third sector, the week before last, to hear their views and their hopes for the future in relation to EU funding. I am focusing, as the Member may be aware, on Peace and INTERREG money. Many other Departments access EU funding, including for the CAP payments and the social fund. That has been a big help to those who are involved in further and higher education, including organisations like the Prince's Trust, which I have also met in this regard. In Antrim, I will bring together people and organisations that have applied for Peace and INTERREG moneys. It will be useful to hear about their plans from them; to explain to them what has been going on in my Department in our negotiations with London, Brussels and Dublin; and to assure them that we will get the result that they want in this regard.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

Does the Minister agree that this relaxation of time pressures possibly presents an opportunity for applications that were originally submitted in a rushed manner to meet the Chancellor's November deadline to be reviewed and potentially resubmitted to ensure that they are fully able to access all available funding?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her question. If the application is not correct, it would not have passed the steering committees. Some applications have gone back. There is a little bit of space now for people to return. We have asked some people, including councils, to come back with more information and more authoritative analysis of their needs. That will happen in the coming weeks. We have a little bit of space. I have to say to the Member that, although the process has been more rocky than any of us would wish, the criteria are there and applicants will have to make sure that they fulfil the criteria and that the applications are wholly kosher if they expect the letters of offer issued against their bids.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

We know that the Treasury has guaranteed funding for agricultural support until 2020, which is not much of a guarantee given that the UK could not leave the EU before 2019. The Minister talked about expediting the process for the other grants. Has he any indication that the Treasury will also expedite the application and ensure that things are not held up in the Treasury so that groups in Northern Ireland will not lose out?

Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin

It is almost as if the Alliance Party wants to give me more powers. My influence with Mr Hammond is not just as great as I would like it to be, but I am meeting the Chief Secretary to the Treasury next Monday, along with my counterparts from Wales and Scotland, and we will say that the Treasury needs to make sure that the EU funding, which has been held up a little bit more than any of us would have liked, is expedited. The Member raises the wider question of the receipts in relation to agricultural payments to what he would refer to as the UK. Nine per cent come here. If there is a Barnett consequential, it would be 3%. There are really hard questions there among the many hard questions to the British Government and the Treasury. Are they guaranteeing — they have not done so yet — that 9% of the budget for agriculture would come to the North if there is a Brexit?