Deputy Declan Breathnach: I apologise on behalf of Deputy Brendan Smith. Deputy John Curran said the Minister is dogged but I would say he is a Rottweiler this morning. I thank him for the funding that comes from his Department.
The two questions concern the discussions the Minister has had with his Northern counterparts and other officials in respect of the funding of fundamental cross-Border projects and the dealings he has had with the European Commission, particularly on PEACE programmes and their continuation in the vacuums that exist, whether they arise from Brexit or the lack of devolved government in the North.
Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development (Deputy Seán Kyne): I propose to take Questions Nos. 26 and 28 together.
PEACE IV supports peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border counties of Ireland, promoting social and economic stability, particularly through actions which promote cohesion between communities. It is co-funded by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund.
My Department is accountable and provides funding under three themes – shared spaces and services, building positive relations, and children and young People. My Department’s primary role in developing projects is as an adviser on the PEACE IV steering committee, together with other relevant Departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The steering committee which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body as part of its overall management of PEACE IV considers and approves all funding applications. Discussions between my Department and counterpart Departments in Northern Ireland take place primarily within the steering committee process, engaging directly on specific projects from time to time, when necessary.
The Government is committed to securing agreement on successor programmes post-2020 and continuing the deep cross-Border cooperation that is the hallmark of the current cross-Border programmes. In that regard, I am pleased that both the European Union and the United Kingdom have committed to examining favourably support for the programmes post-2020.
My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, has overall responsibility for the PEACE programme and engaging with the European Commission, including programme funding post-2020. However, I expect my Department to contribute strongly to the shape of any new programme as discussions progress.
Deputy Declan Breathnach: I understand the use of the words “favourably considering”. We all respect the fact that a commitment is in place until 2020 from the British Government and the European Union to fund the programme to which the Minister of State referred. Where there is a vacuum is in the planning processes of organisations such as the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN, the east Border region and the local authorities. Looking into the future at fundamental projects that need to be supported on a North-South basis, we can see that we have a problem. The programmes are essential in achieving progress both in rural and urban places along the Border which have suffered for many years. The European Union recognises other countries that are not in the Union and there are many programmes outside an EU structure. It is important to explore that option and bed it down in advance of a possible Brexit to help to continue to support the peace process.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I absolutely agree with the Deputy. The value of the current PEACE programme is circa €270 million, including the Irish and UK matching funding, with €229 million from the European Union and €40.5 million from the Irish and UK Governments. The latter figure is composed of €8.75 million from the Irish Government and €31.7 million from the UK Government. Some 85% is funded from the European Regional Development Fund. The funding is expected to be fully committed before the end of 2018. Obviously the long-term objective is to secure a successor programme beyond 2020.
In terms of engaging, agreement has been reached between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland on a safeguard clause for funding agreements with programme beneficiaries in the light of Brexit. It will Brexit-proof letters of offer to the greatest extent possible and give programme beneficiaries assurances as to the legal and financial commitments into which they are entering, thus allowing them to plan for the future with confidence. Work is being undertaken by officials in my Department with officials from Northern Ireland to ensure there will be certainty as we move towards Brexit.
Deputy Declan Breathnach: I recognise the funding to which the Minister of State has referred. However, the overall figure that has been contributed to the Border counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo means that it would be a catastrophe if the funding was to slow down. Any Deputy from these Border counties could be asking questions about this matter. It is imperative that we redouble our efforts to ensure both communities, the local authorities, businesses and the progress achieved during the peace process will never be forgotten about. There are many communities along the Border and further north and south which have been impacted on by the Troubles. It is essential that we continue these programmes and enhance them. They have become essential to the Border region in how local authorities operate and communities benefit. I welcome the Minister of State’s answer and want to assure him and the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, that I came into the Dáil Chamber in the first instance to co-operate with others in enhancing communities.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I concur with the Deputy. Obviously he is from the Border region; therefore, he has much more first-hand experience of what happened in the past. We are fully committed to ensuring there will be a successor programme. My Department will provide €6 million for projects over the lifetime of the programme, with a matching contribution of €33 million to be provided by the European Union. The remaining Exchequer contribution of €3 million is to be provided by the Department of Education and Skills under the programmes I listed, including a number of projects that relate to children and young people, the local authority children and young people’s programme, the shared spaces and services capital development projects, local authority shared spaces projects, shared spaces for victims and survivors and building positive relations on local authority action plans and regional level projects. There are a range of funding streams, with funding from my Department and the European Union. It is important that we ensure this funding stream continue into the future.