Andersonstown News Group

Northern Ireland written question – answered on 24th February 2005.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has sought European Commission state aids approval for all or part of the Government's and Invest Northern Ireland's financial support to the Andersonstown News Group; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

During the five-year period for which figures are readily available (1 April 199931 December 2004) funding from Northern Ireland central Government sources has been made available to the Andersonstown News Group (ANG) from a number of Northern Ireland Departments. The state aids approval position in respect of this funding is detailed as follows.

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI)

DETI offered £92,248 under the EU Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation's (Peace I) Interest Relief Subsidy Scheme (a scheme offered through local banks, subject to scrutiny by DETI and the European Investment Bank). This was notified to the European Commission and clearance received.

DETI offered £270,000 under the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (Peace II) for workspace units (not related to the ANG's printing and publishing of newspapers.) This was assessed against state aid rules and was deemed not to be state aid as the support was not considered to have the potential to distort competition.

The Local Enterprise Development Unit (a predecessor body of Invest NI) provided funding for marketing, employment and management salary grants. This funding was issued under a notified scheme approved by the European Union Commission.

Support of £37,056 for training and development was provided under the Company Development Programme (CDP)(now managed by Invest NI). In 1993 the Commission formally acknowledged CDP as a regional aid scheme. In 1998 the Commission required all training support to be compliant with a new framework on training aid. At that stage action to re-notify was started but not followed through. To address this the block exemption report on CDP issued to the Commissioners on 27 July 2004 and the Commission acknowledgement was dated 30 July 2004.

DETI are providing funding of £4,000 via InterTradeIreland 1 through the Acumen programme. This programme is designed to stimulate cross-border trade by assisting individual SME's with tailored consultancy and sales salary support mechanisms. The programme is a partnership funded by Invest NI, Enterprise Ireland (in the Republic of Ireland) and InterTradelreland. The programme was treated as exempt under the SME Block Exemption. This has been registered with the European Commission

Office of First Minister Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM)

Funding of £33,500 provided by OFMDFM was for the Irish language newspaper . As it was the only Irish language newspaper in existence OFMDFM took the view that there was no distortion or potential distortion of competition and consequently the state aid rules would not be applicable.

Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP)

Peace I funding of £5,095 was provided by DFP under the District Partnerships Sub Programme for which Department of the Environment had oversight. This funding was for accommodation and administration costs. The amount involved did not exceed €100,000 and accordingly was within the Commission's established relevant de-minimis arrangements for small amounts of aid.

DFP in Northern Ireland and the Department of Finance in the Republic of Ireland, have approved funding of £199,150 in respect of a joint application from Preas an Phobail and Comharchumann Forbartha. Funding is for the expansion of in selected border areas. The funding complies with state aid regulations on the basis that it is the only existing Irish language newspaper and does not have the potential to distort competition between EU member states.

Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL)

The Arts Council for Northern Ireland (a non-departmental public body of DCAL) provided £54,400 funding towards the production of La. The amount involved did not exceed €100,000 and accordingly was within the Commission's established relevant de-minimis arrangements for small amounts of aid.

DCAL, through Foras na Gaeilge 2 the Irish Language Agency, has provided funding of £148,439 for the publication of La. DCAL has been advised by Foras that the aid is compatible with European Union law on state aid.

Department of Social Development (PSD)

DSD provided £277,375 under the Department's Urban Development Grant (UDG) scheme (23 November 1999) to assist the construction of new purpose built printworks and offices. The UDG scheme has been notified to the European Commission who consider it to be compatible with the EC Treaty. Consequently, UDG funding to the Andersonstown News is compatible with state aid rules.

DSD also provided £70,000 via Making Belfast Work (MBW) (March 2000). MBW is designed to augment mainstream spend by Departments in the most deprived areas of Belfast across a range of community interventions. At the time of funding, the Andersonstown News was a local community newspaper which did not trade across boundaries, and the content of which meant that it was not considered to have the potential to be tested across national boundaries. Following an internal economic appraisal the grant was not considered to support a tradable activity because the paper was unique and covered only local community issues. This funding was therefore not considered to be a notifiable state aid.

1 InterTradeIreland (the Trade and Business Development Body) is funded jointly by DETI in Northern Ireland and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE) in the Republic of Ireland. DETI contributes 33.3 per cent. and DETE 66.6 per cent. of the funding.

2 Foras na Gaeilge (the Irish Language Agency of the North/South Language Implementation Body) is funded jointly by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) in Northern Ireland and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DCGRA) in the Republic of Ireland. DCAL contributes 25 per cent. and DCGRA contributes 75 per cent. of the funding.

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