Shared Island Fund: Update

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 18th October 2021.

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Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 18th October 2021

3. Ms Kimmins asked the Minister of Finance for an update on the Irish Government's Shared Island Fund. (AQO 2595/17-22)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

This is an Irish Government initiative, with further details published on 4 October 2021 as part of the national development plan. The plan includes significant references to a number of major strategic investment initiatives, including the PEACE PLUS programme, the economic corridor and the strategic rail review.

Some €500 million in capital funding has been made available for the Shared Island Fund as part of the national development plan. The key criteria for the fund will include delivery of all-Ireland benefits. I am also aware that, over the past year or so, the Irish Government have announced that the fund will provide funding for a number of projects in the border region.

I hope to meet Minister McGrath later this month to discuss further how the national development plan will be delivered and how the Executive might usefully engage at the strategic level with its delivery and that of the Shared Island Fund alongside our own investment plans.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware — it will come as no surprise that I am raising it — of the proposal for the city park in Newry. It is a key priority for the vital regeneration of Newry city. Whilst it is heartening to hear that Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has submitted a bid for the project to the Department's complementary fund, I am keen to hear, based on the Minister's engagements with the Shared Island unit, what scope he sees for the Shared Island Fund to finance the park.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her question. I know that she has been very keen on this particular project as a key component of the overall Newry regeneration proposition, some of which is coming through the city deal proposals. It is hoped that another major staging post for those proposals will be announced in the not-too-distant future. Of course, the bid for the complementary fund will be assessed with other bids across the North, with the exception of the north-west city deal. The complementary fund applies right across the North, and I welcome that the council has put in a bid for that.

I am aware, as is the Member, of the strategic location of the proposed park in Newry, with the greenway linkage from Carlingford right to Portadown, if you take the towpath in as well. The park will be in a very strategic location along that route, and it has that all-island component to it. I know that the Member has already had some dialogue with the people who operate the Shared Island Fund. I hope that that is a fruitful proposition in the use of that fund, which, hopefully, will complement Newry, Mourne and Down District Council's pursuit of funding in that regard.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

As an SDLP representative, I am delighted to say that my party has supported the Albert Basin park proposal every step of the way. It is fantastic that other parties have come on board of late, and that is very positive.

The Minister talked about the Irish Government's commitments through the Shared Island Fund. What are his commitments, as Finance Minister, to delivering funding to develop infrastructure opportunities on this island? What are his commitments to the Albert Basin park development as Finance Minister in this part of the island?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I am not sure who the Member is referring to when he talks about latecomers to the party when it comes to the idea of a park in Newry. I am sure that he will articulate that at some stage.

I have engaged very frequently with the Department of the Taoiseach and others who run the Shared Island Fund. I want to bring a prospectus from that to the Executive in order to make sure that the Executive, and the Infrastructure Minister in particular, have an opportunity to engage with that so that the plans that the Executive have, with the limited capital pot that we have, can add maximum value when they are being used across the island. We want to hook up with the national development plan and the Shared Island Fund, which is a component part of that. I am very keen to do that in order to make sure that our Executive programmes and the funding that we have can be enhanced through engagement with other sources of funding, be that the PEACE PLUS or the Shared Island Fund, and that we maximise the potential for cross-border infrastructure, which has suffered from a lack of investment for decades.

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

Will the Minister outline what impact the potential continued boycott of North/South bodies by the DUP will have on this very welcome investment in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Regardless of our political outlook or the current nonsense that is going on in relation to the protocol, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that whatever limited funds we have — we always recognise that we have limited funds — we make maximum use of them for the benefit of all the citizens that we represent here and right across the island. Therefore, when other funding is available, be that PEACE PLUS or the Shared Island Fund, we must cooperate and collaborate as best we can. There is a willingness from the South to do the same and to get the maximum benefit for citizens right across Ireland.

North/South arrangements are a component part of the three strands of the Good Friday Agreement. There is this institution, North/South arrangements and east-west arrangements, and most parties want to operate them fully for the benefit of all citizens and in faithful observance of the agreement. Interference with those arrangements only serves to disrupt potential investment and arrangements between the Governments, North and South, that would make sure that we get the best benefit for all our citizens. Those things are built on the premise of mutual benefit. When you disrupt them, you undo the benefit for the citizens that the DUP claims to represent.