Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 3 July 2001 (continued)

The Council underlined, as it had done at previous meetings, the importance of the role of the body, and the EU programmes coming under its remit, in contributing to the development of peace and reconciliation and maximising social and economic benefits on the island, not least in the border areas.

The Council noted that between 1995 and the end of the current round of structural fund programmes in 2006, the European Union will have contributed about 1·3 billion euros to North/South programmes. It will continue to play an important role in support of the peace process.

The first paper tabled at the meeting reviewed the progress made to date and outlined the next steps towards implementation of the common chapter contained in the Northern Ireland structural funds plan and the National Development Plan for Ireland. That set out a strategic framework for building on and developing North/South and wider co-operation across a broad range of sectors and activities in the context of those plans. The paper highlighted the fact that, under the Belfast Agreement, North/South co-operation has been placed on a new basis through the establishment of the North/South Ministerial Council and the new institutional framework outlined in strand two. In this context, the North/South Ministerial Council provides a strategic focus for taking forward implementation of the common chapter. Moreover, the SEUPB has been given a statutory mandate to monitor and promote implementation of the common chapter under the direction of the North/South Ministerial Council.

The Council welcomed as timely a report by the two Finance Departments on progress to date in taking forward the co-operative actions outlined in the common chapter. This report showed that while commitment to implementation of the common chapter had been clearly stated, there was a need for greater clarity on a number of the issues involved. In order to ensure the maximum effectiveness of the common chapter in delivering practical benefits both North and South, and to set out more clearly the policy and administrative framework within which the SEUPB will perform its important role in monitoring and promoting implementation of the document, the report pointed to the need for a clearly defined action plan to address the issues involved. Accordingly, the report recommended the establishment of a working group, chaired by the two Finance Departments, to review the issues identified and to bring forward proposals for action to the next North/South Ministerial Council sectoral meeting in this format. The Council noted the progress to date on the implementation of the common chapter and approved the establishment of the working group as recommended in that report.

The Council was advised that the Peace II monitoring committee had agreed the programme complement at its meeting on 15 June 2001 and that this completed the final stage of development of the programme. The complement, which was prepared by the SEUPB as managing authority for the programme, contains detailed information on how the funds allocated will be spent. The Council endorsed the approval of the programme complement and agreed that it should be sent to the European Commission for information, as required by structural funds regulation.

The Council also noted with satisfaction the progress made to date on the implementation of the Peace II programme. The programme complement apart, there are a number of associated stages that must be completed to enable full implementation of the programme. These include the appointment of intermediary funding bodies (IFBs) to deliver elements of the programme and the development of the local strategy partnerships in Northern Ireland. It was agreed, given the key role that IFBs had to play in the delivery of the programme, that priority should be given to concluding contract negotiations with IFBs and that a deadline of 20 July should be set.

The Council received an overview on the progress to date in relation to spend and closure of the current Peace I and INTERREG II programmes. Under EU regulations, all funding under both programmes is required to be fully expended by 31 December 2001. The Council noted that overall expenditure currently stands at 86% for Peace I and 89% for INTERREG II and that the SEUPB would provide a further progress report on the implementation of both programmes at the next North/ South Ministerial Council meeting in this sector. The Council also agreed that the body should provide monthly reports to the two Finance Departments on the closure of the programmes.

The Council received a report on progress made to date on negotiations involving the two Finance Departments, the body, and the European Commission on INTERREG III programme proposals. The Council was advised that the European Commission's comments on the draft INTERREG IIIA programme had been forwarded to the Northern Ireland and Southern authorities in May and that a meeting had taken place in Brussels on 1 June involving the European Commission, the two Finance Departments and the programmes body.

The Council was advised that it is planned to submit a revised programme to the European Commission by mid-August and that it is expected that negotiations on this programme will be completed in the early autumn. The Council noted the current position of the negotiations and stressed the need to ensure that these were progressed quickly so that the programme could be implemented on the ground as soon as possible. Given the delay in getting this programme up and running, the Council indicated that it hoped to hear about significant progress in this area at the next North/South Ministerial Council sectoral meeting in this format.

The Council received a report that provided an update on the staffing and recruitment position for the implementation body. The Council was advised that the SEUPB is currently engaged in a recruitment exercise to fill the five posts that were approved by the North/South Ministerial Council at the sectoral meeting in April and four other posts that were approved by the Council in the initial staffing structure for the body on 16 June 2000. It is hoped that these appointments will be made in the near future.

The Council was also advised that the exercise to carry out a full analysis and evaluation of the proposed staffing structure for the body was ongoing. Although some work remains to be done, it is expected that this will be completed by the end of the summer. The Council agreed that in the meantime the body could proceed to recruit a further 19 staff to replace lower-tier staff, within the staffing levels agreed in the initial structure, who are currently on secondment or who are on short-term contracts with the body. It was acknowledged that recruitment of these posts now, followed by recruitment of second-tier management posts after completion of the full evaluation, would allow for a phased replacement, which would avoid any sudden depletion of staff and should assist in a more organised transfer of knowledge.

The Council noted that the cost of these staff would be met from within the approved budget for the body and urged the Finance Departments to work with the body to ensure that the whole staffing exercise is completed as soon as possible.

11.45 am

It was agreed that the Council would meet again in this format in Northern Ireland in October 2001. The exact venue for the meeting has yet to be confirmed.

The Council agreed the text of a joint communiqué, which was issued following the meeting, and a copy of this has been placed in the Assembly Library.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel (Mr Molloy):

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister of Finance and Personnel's statement on this meeting, which brings us up to date with the European programmes. It is important that we move swiftly to implement this because of the gaps that have arisen in funding.

Is the Minister satisfied that the arrangements that have been put in place will allow the funds to be drawn down and wholly utilised? When does the Minister plan to put the money into use? The report notes the establishment of a working group to examine aspects of the common chapter. Precisely what issues are to be addressed by this group? Will the Minister assure the Assembly that this will not introduce a delay in the distribution of funds that are much needed on the ground?

I raise the issue of gap funding because it is becoming clear that gap funding applications from a number of the most disadvantaged areas have been refused, and a number of projects have collapsed as a result. Is the Minister aware of this? Can he do anything to ensure that the gap funding will be put in place to prevent schemes from falling apart?

Finally, why has only 86% of the Peace II money been spent at this date?

Mr Durkan:

I recognise the Committee's keen interest in the whole area of EU structural funds, not least in respect of the Peace programme.

As regards a timetable, the fact that the programme complement has been agreed by the monitoring committee allows us now to take the next step of preparing to call for applications for the funding. We also need to complete work on the contracts for the intermediary funding bodies, so we are working towards seeing the first allocations from the Peace II fund being issued in the autumn.

We appreciate that that means we will be developing some of these arrangements over the summer. We want to take steps to make sure that people are fully informed - as people's patterns are not very regular during the summer - but we also share the sense of urgency articulated by Mr Molloy.

The work that is to take place on the common chapter should not in any way delay any of the necessary work, particularly in bringing forward the Peace II programme. The cross-border provisions in the Peace II programme are not necessarily predicated or dependent on the development of the commitments in the common chapter, although we want to bring both forward together.

The report that I referred to in my statement identified several difficulties in realising the prospectus that is common to both the previous common chapter and the present common chapter plans. The working group is trying to recognise those difficulties and to find solutions to them. However, that should not hold up any of the work that we need to undertake to get Peace II on-stream.

With regard to gap funding, it will do no harm to remind Members that when we were bringing in the interim funding arrangements, groups were lobbying us and saying that £3 million was needed for gap funding in this financial year. The arrangements that we have put in place for the six months to October of this year have seen a total of £10 million in interim funding being awarded. Therefore the current arrangements have provided £10 million in gap funding for that six-month period. That compares well with the total of £9 million gap funding that we issued in the last financial year, and it certainly compares favourably with the £3 million that the lobby groups asked for.

As Mr Molloy said, not everyone was successful in those applications. Departments had to make a judgement on the basis of Peace II criteria. Decisions can be queried and subsequently reviewed. People who have been unsuccessful in gap funding applications under these arrangements can reapply when the Department of Finance and Personnel calls for applications in the new round for the full programme. Anyone who has been successful in gap funding applications also has to make a full and proper application in the new round.

Mr Hussey:

Mr Speaker, I will try not to give you the problems that you had earlier with an ex-teacher.

Will the Minister put more meat on the bones of the procedures for selection of the intermediary funding bodies?

I agree with the Chairperson of the Finance and Personnel Committee, who has already referred to the gap funding scenario. Will the Minister inform the House of the percentage of groups that have been unsuccessful? The Minister told the House, in his answer to Mr Molloy, how much money has been distributed, but it would be useful to know the percentage of groups that have been successful and unsuccessful. It would also be useful if the criteria or scoring system used for groups that appeal decisions were made available to all groups, so that they could ascertain the likelihood of the success of an appeal.

The Minister is aware of particular concerns in the Unionist community about the effectiveness of Peace I. Can the Minister confirm that those concerns have been addressed in the proposed implementation of the Peace II programme, together with an increased sustainability requirement? As Peace I comes to an end in which there appears to have been some back-end loading of projects, which explains the 14% still to be distributed, will the Minister assure the House that the end monitoring of the entire Peace programme will include a review of the effectiveness of Peace I in the Unionist community? A front-end loading of Peace II may be required to redress that balance.

Mr Durkan:

All Members will recognise that there were delays in getting aspects of Peace I up and running, which meant that the spending rate ran behind in some respects. However, steps are being taken to ensure that all spending is completed before the end of this year.

As well as the lessons taught us by Peace I, the Department of Finance and Personnel is trying to recognise the issues that the Member refers to concerning uptake of the programme. It is essential that all sections of the community have an equal opportunity to benefit from the programme. That is why - and I repeat this for the umpteenth time in the House - under Peace II, horizontal principles have been adopted and are inherent in all aspects of the programme, and those principles address equality and balance considerations.

Members of the monitoring committee also expressed concerns about these issues. The programme complement has been agreed by the monitoring committee not only on the basis of some of the commitments given about the programme complement, but also because of the significance of the horizontal principles.

Decisions can only be made on the basis of applications received. Applications received from areas or groups that meet the criteria will be well favoured. Money cannot simply be withheld on the basis that other applications were not received. As we know from our experience of Peace I, we need to make sure that we have a reasonable allocation and reasonable drawdown rates. Members need to look at all of these issues in the round.

The local strategy partnerships will be able to carry forward many important lessons of the previous programme to the intermediary funding bodies (IFBs). Many of the issues that involved some differential uptakes as far as Peace I was concerned will be well reflected on by local strategy partnerships, IFBs and Government Departments in Peace II.

IFBs were appointed using a competitive tendering process, as previously indicated to the House. The outcome of the process was the subject of a press release and was notified to the Finance and Personnel Committee.

Ms Lewsley:

The Minister mentioned the 20 July deadline for concluding the contract negotiations with the IFBs. Will he confirm that every effort will be made to conclude these negotiations within the deadline and ensure, in a speedy and satisfactory way, that IFBs are ready to do their job, which is to feed this money through to help the groups on the ground?

Mr Durkan:

When the North/South Ministerial Council agreed the deadline of 20 July last week, it was with the intention of meeting that deadline. We hope that agreement can be reached sooner.

We recognise the importance of ensuring that the overall programme is implementable. We need to ensure that the key position of IFBs, who will be responsible for distributing about 34% of the total value of the programme, is clearly established. While the tendering process and evaluation exercise that took place identified the bodies that should be appointed, there are other outstanding issues and some contractual points to be sorted out. Those are being pursued, not with a view to creating any delays or difficulties, but with a view to assisting in certainty and making sure that IFBs are best placed to perform their roles in a timely way. They should ensure that the managing and paying authorities are in the best place to ensure that the rest of the programme complements well and properly with those arrangements.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I do not welcome the statement. It has serious implications for the future of this funding as it applies to Northern Ireland.

I know a little about the programme as I, together with my two MEP Colleagues, sponsored it originally. At first, the Irish Republic wanted to get its hands on this money. The three of us were determined that the greater proportion of this money would come to Northern Ireland as the people here have suffered the most. We said - generously, if I may add - that the border counties had been affected by the problems. We decided unanimously that there would be money for that.

The new cross-border body is getting its hands on all this money. I do not know what legal right it has to have anything to do with Peace I or INTERREG II, because that was not originally in its agreement, and it was not operating when those programmes came about. Ministers have been telling people in Northern Ireland that the money has run out. We now find out that 86% of the funds allocated for peace has been spent and the remainder has not. This money could have been made available to those operations that had to shut down. These are serious matters, which the Assembly should take cognisance of.


Is the Minister saying that all the money coming from Europe has to be scrutinised by the joint board? What about the money directed specially to Northern Ireland? I know that there is not yet a structure in place for monitoring the situation - meetings have been called but have not taken place. I did, however, attend a meeting with the Minister's party leader, and we had a long discussion about the monitoring of the money from Peace II. We need to know how this will be structured. Originally the three MEPs nominated two representatives to the main monitoring body. I have been pressing the Minister for information on what is to happen with regard to that but, so far, have not received any. I am surprised that it seems to have been delegated to Mr Nesbitt, who finds it difficult to organise his diary in order to meet the people who should be making representation to him. There has been difficulty in getting this matter settled. It needs to be settled. The money used to come to Northern Ireland, but it seems that the spending and monitoring of it is now in the hands of the Irish Republic. That is the key to the whole situation. The Minister -

Mr Speaker:

Will the Member bring his question to a close?

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

My question is simple. Mr Durkan and I have talked about this matter. I put the question to him personally, eyeball to eyeball. I made the situation crystal clear to him, and he knows my position. You do not need a dictionary to understand what I am getting at.

Mr Durkan:

I acknowledge fully the insights Dr Paisley has as a Member of the European Parliament who was very much involved in securing the Peace I programme. That being said, there are several misapprehensions under which he is labouring.

First, 80% of the Peace II moneys are to be spent in Northern Ireland, 20% in the border regions. The Special EU Programmes Body is the managing authority for Peace II. That is in position and is legal. There is no question of anything else being changed or moved in that regard.

Secondly, we need to be clear about the Peace I money and the 86% spend rate. The money has all been allocated. The problem is that not all of it has been drawn down and spent. Under the European Union regulations, we do not have the freedom to decide to spend the money on something else. We have to follow the regulations. Money can only be spent within the confines of the measures for which it has been allocated. Where it is clear that money may not be spent on a relevant project, it will have to go to designated reserve projects. It is not a case of going to another project that is currently in funding difficulties. The regulations and the programmes will not allow us to do that.

With regard to the monitoring arrangements for Peace II, in case it has escaped Members' notice there are monitoring committees in place. There is a community support framework (CSF) monitoring committee as required by European regulations, created on a format agreed by social partners and others, including local government, arising from the interim CSF monitoring committee.

Monitoring committees for the programme for building sustainable prosperity and the Peace II programme have been set up and are already functioning, having been tasked with approving the programme complements. There are five sub-regional representatives who give voice to local government interests and perspectives on the CSF monitoring committee. They are from five political parties, all of which are represented in the Assembly.

The two programme monitoring committees comprise representatives from four parties, including the Member's own party. The Peace II monitoring committee, which is a North/South body, and which is chaired by the Special EU Programmes Body, includes, for instance, a DUP MLA. Those arrangements are in place.

Dr Paisley referred to the Northern Ireland Partnership Board, which was just one aspect of the Peace I programme. It did not monitor the whole programme; it oversaw district partnership measures alone.

Under the new programme, we will be setting up a Northern Ireland regional partnership board. It will not only oversee local strategy partnerships, but will promote, foster and sponsor the wider development of partnerships, rather than micromanaging the local partnerships. Not least, it will try to improve the interaction of Government Departments and statutory agencies in regard to the work of partnerships. It will also try to build more partnership links between the different districts.

Because it will have a wider ambit, it is appropriate that the chairperson of the regional partnership board should be from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It will be the responsibility of the two junior Ministers. The secretariat for that body will be the Special EU Programmes Body. It will be an arrangement particular to Northern Ireland, because it is specifically the regional partnership board for Northern Ireland. Members should not be under any misapprehension that services, arrangements or facilities that apply specifically to Northern Ireland cannot be provided by the Special EU Programmes Body - it is entirely competent.

Mr Neeson:

I welcome the Minister's statement. However, in common with Dr Paisley, I think that many grey areas remain, particularly in regard to the relationship between the Special EU Programmes Body and the monitoring committee that has already been established in Northern Ireland. Despite the Minister's attempt to outline the relationships, the details are still unclear.

Secondly, have all the intermediary funding bodies (IFBs) been identified?

Finally, the local strategy partnerships will have an important part to play in regard to the Peace II funds. Has a deadline been set for the establishment of the outstanding partnerships?

Mr Durkan:

I am surprised that Mr Neeson, who is a member of the CSF monitoring committee, feels that there are grey areas. The role of the managing authority, as prescribed in European regulations, is clear. The Special EU Programmes Body is the managing authority for the Peace II programme. Equally, the European regulations set out the role of monitoring committees. In this round of funding, we are adhering to and applying the criteria for the operation of these committees in an effective way. The Peace II monitoring committee is chaired by the Special EU Programmes Body. This committee involves representatives from the social partners, from local government and even from Government Departments, some of whom are members, although most attend as advisers.

I cannot see where there is a grey area in the relationship between the monitoring committee and the body; the body is chairing the committee. The committee has agreed the programme complement, but it has identified some outstanding issues of concern, about which it will want to be satisfied as the programme gets under way and develops. The feedback that I have received from the two programme monitoring committees, not least at the last meeting of the CSF monitoring committee, which I chaired in Derry last week, is that people are very impressed with how those committees are operating. Their role is much clearer and more meaningful than in the previous round.

In respect of IFBs, I refer the Member to the answer that I have already given. The tendering process and the evaluation exercise have identified appropriate IFBs to cover the various measures for which they were asked to submit. That list has been identified and is a matter of public information. It has also been given to the House. We now want to conclude the necessary contractual negotiations by 20 July.

Ms Morrice:

As the European Commission's Northern Ireland representative when Peace I was drawn up, I also have a special interest in this. I thank the Minister for the regular updates on the European programme and funding and how it is working. However, it has become clear through the interventions of Members that there are many grey areas and a great deal of confusion among Members and Committees. If we cannot understand how this system works, then the most important people - those who are trying to access funding and who are far further down the line of receiving information - must be extremely confused. What plans does the Minister have to adopt a more proactive approach to supplying information on these issues? It should not be a matter of statements being issued now and again or questions being asked of the Minister. Is he prepared to publish a guide to funding for recipients?

Will the Assembly get the opportunity to review the programme complement and the common chapter? Members would appreciate a debate on the report. That would be a better way of letting them have the details. I also want to know about other forms of assistance and guidance for groups applying for gap funding. What should they do, and which areas should they apply for?

Finally, I want to ask about INTERREG III. The Council was advised of the European Commission's comments on the draft, which is now being revised. Can the Minister elucidate that? What did the European Commission not like about our proposal on INTERREG III? What changes are being made, and will the Assembly be able to see them?

Mr Durkan:

There are a number of points there. I remind Members that information has been given to the House and is also available in a number of other forms, including the various documents that have been published.

Ms Morrice mentioned the programme complement and the common chapter. The common chapter is not part of the programme complement, but part of the community support framework that was adopted last December. It has been the subject of previous questions and discussion in the House and in Committees and has been cleared. The common chapter is also reflected in the National Development Plan for Ireland.

12.15 pm

Many Members - and I am not referring particularly to Ms Morrice - ask practically the same question each time I make a statement. They do not appear to listen to the answers, and then they complain about grey areas. I ask Members to consider that and apply it when the documentation is published and furnished to them. Many of the representations that I receive suggest that many people are "clueing in" to some of the arrangements that are in place. In particular, the very successful operation of the monitoring committees and the commitment of their members has been of great assistance in that regard.

Ms Morrice rightly made a point in relation to communication and information. All the monitoring committees have been impressing that since the first day of their existence. For example, last week the CSF monitoring committee agreed the appointment of a working group to take forward a communication strategy precisely in order to make good some of the points raised here. Let us remember, however, that because of the urgency of getting this programme under way and of getting funding on the ground, we cannot wait until there is a perfect communication strategy. The SEUPB has been working to make sure that a range of facilities will be available for people to have information on the programme, on the types of measures that will be considered and on the relevant managing authorities for those measures. That will now be part of our work, as we have completed the agreement on the programme complements.

As has happened in relation to other programmes, the European Commission raised points concerning particular aspects of the regulations with regard to INTERREG III. The intent of particular issues has been queried, and, as INTERREG III is a cross-border programme, part of the questioning was to make sure that what was being said meant the same thing in both jurisdictions. That was agreed at the last North/South Ministerial Council meeting in this format, and I am quite happy that we will be able to answer the fairly straightforward questions raised by the Commission.

Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his statement and his comprehensive responses to several questions. On behalf of the North/South Ministerial Council, the Minister underlined the importance of the SEUPB's role in contributing to the development of peace and reconciliation and in maximising social and economic benefits on the island as a whole, not least in the border areas.

The Minister referred to the Special EU Programmes Body's statutory mandate in relation to monitoring the implementation of the common chapter. A number of programmes touch on health or education responsibilities. While the Minister is not directly responsible, I would like to know how he sees that in respect of the continuing unlawful ban imposed by David Trimble on the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Minister of Education. Can the Minister advise the Members of any adverse effect of that ban in relation to those Departments' having input into such programmes as they come forward?

Mr Durkan:

The Council recognised that development of the common chapter to date has not been satisfactory. There are several considerations. There has naturally been preoccupation with bringing forward the structural funds programme and the Peace programme. The concentration has been on negotiations with the European Commission and on working with the monitoring committees. Also, the common chapter is incorporated in the National Development Plan for Ireland in the South and in the community support framework in the North, but not always on a like-for-like basis. There are a number of issues.

The common chapter, as it applies in the South, is not confined strictly to EU funding. In the North, because it is in the community support framework, it is. There are therefore a number of meshing issues that we need to resolve. Those are not just between jurisdictions; we recognise that there are some meshing issues within jurisdictions as well. The working group was set up to try to ensure that we have plans for progress.

There is no point in having the perfect common chapter. The Member will have heard me say before that we had the common chapter seven years ago - it was a great book, but the movie was never made. This time, we need to ensure that we move forward. To develop and implement the common chapter, the Special EU Programmes Body needs to have a certain role in promoting and monitoring it. However, it would be entirely remiss for either the North/South Ministerial Council or myself, as Minister of Finance and Personnel here, to say that it is entirely up to the body. The body will not be able to monitor and promote very much unless the Government make the appropriate decisions and have the will to make something of the common chapter. That is why the working group is important.

Developing and operating the common chapter will involve a range of Departments, both North and South. As things develop, it might well also involve some of the different sectoral formats of the North/South Ministerial Council. To date, it has not significantly done so. Any difficulties that there have been concerning any of the sectoral formats in the North/South Ministerial Council, or concerning the common chapter, cannot therefore be blamed on any of the difficulties that there were with North/ South Ministerial Council appointments. The successful implementation of the common chapter will involve a range of different formats, including North/South Ministerial Council formats.

Mr Byrne:

I too welcome the Minister's statement and, in particular, the confirmation of the staffing arrangements that are being put in place for the Special EU Programmes Body. Can the Minister confirm that that body will continue to receive the strong and active support of both Departments of Finance, thereby enabling it to carry out its important work in building peace and co-operation? Can he also confirm that the people, North and South, want to see continued peace-related progress being made?

Can the Minister give a commitment that a practical and meaningful common chapter programme of work will be formulated and acted upon, thus demonstrating active practical North/South co-operation and development along the border zone in particular?

Mr Durkan:

The Member raised several points. I hope that it is clear to Members from what I have said that I, Charlie McCreevey TD and the North/South Ministerial Council are clear about the important role of the Special EU Programmes Body. We recognise the work that it has done in establishing itself and the necessary lead-in work that it has undertaken to bring Peace II on-stream. We are therefore committed to supporting the body's direct practical needs in relation to funding and staffing. Again, that was reflected in the statement. The Departments of Finance, North and South, and the North/South Ministerial Council will want to continue to work with the body to ensure that it can discharge its role across a range of programmes in the way that it needs to. People should appreciate the complexity and diversity of working demands that the body will face.

As I indicated, we want to ensure that we have a work plan for the common chapter that translates it into a programme for achievement and delivery, not just a text of aspiration. We have to get away from the "it's the thought that counts" approach to these matters. That is why we have established the working group and why I look forward to having a work plan. I hope that the plan will be not just practical, but will have strategic merit. It should indeed benefit border areas, but the scope of the common chapter and the benefits that it might bring are not confined to border areas.

Mr Shannon:

Over the years, many people have expressed concerns about the allocation of funding. What steps will be taken to ensure that funding is equally allocated between areas that are perceived to be Unionist and those that are Nationalist? There has been a large shortfall in funding for Unionist areas. Will funding targets be set, and, if so, who will monitor them? Will safeguards be put in place to prevent shortfalls? Are measures in place to ensure that both communities benefit from the programme?

Mr Durkan:

The Member has raised a familiar point. First, I refer the Member to my previous answer, when I spoke about horizontal principles, including balance and equality. I also remind Members that we must operate in accordance with section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Authorities are required to pay due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity.

An equality impact assessment was carried out on the policies in the structural funds plan to ensure that they did not directly or indirectly discriminate against or disadvantage any group. The assessment also identified the scope for enhancing equality of opportunity. Since then, we have consulted the Equality Commission and decided to update the assessment, in the light of the further refinements that have been made to the programme's priorities and the more detailed information that was available in the programme complements.

Summaries of the operational programmes and details of the programme complements were sent to about 650 consultees, and some helpful comments were made. We are analysing the results of that exercise. The main questions related to communications, accessibility and monitoring. The programme monitoring committees and the community support framework monitoring committee want to see those issues pursued. Everyone involved is well seized of those issues.

We cannot predetermine a certain geographical distribution of funding. To do so would be to disregard the merit of particular projects or how well they measure up against the criteria set out by the Department and the European Commission. There would not be much point in negotiating the criteria with the European Commission or agreeing the details of the complements with the monitoring committees if, at the end of the exercise, the project were simply a geographical carve-up.

I hope that Members are reassured that all necessary steps will be taken to ensure that we fulfil all the criteria, objectives and statutory obligations that relate to the programme or are derived from the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Mr McHugh:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The Minister's statement contains some comprehensive answers. However, I have listened to a great deal of negative comment from Members about the fairness of the distribution of funding. I hope that such complaints will not be used against members of my community in this round or to justify allocating funding in the opposite direction. The new round allows for single identity work. That is a mistake; it allows communities to remain in splendid isolation and exclude themselves from working with other local communities.

12.30 pm

My question relates to the importance of the implementation of local strategy partnerships, with district councils being well in the running on this occasion. The Minister mentioned four local strategy partnerships. Is there a resistance on the part of councils to the inclusion of partnerships that were previously in place and to people from the voluntary sector being stakeholders? If the situation changes, how will this impact on the round of funding?

Mr Durkan:

I thank the Member for the welcome he gave to my original statement. I hope that the Member's fears will have been allayed by my previous response: allocations will be made according to the criteria set down in the details of the measures and on the basis of merit. Every effort will be made to ensure that people are made aware of the funding and take advantage of it and that the application process is accessible.

There will be no discrimination against anyone on any grounds. Not only will the authorities that manage the measures ensure that that is the case but the monitoring committees will also want to be satisfied that there is no discrimination, as will the European Commission, which attends committee meetings.

Sean Neeson put a question earlier about local strategy partnerships. Although I answered several of his questions, I omitted to answer that one. At the North/ South Ministerial Council sectoral meeting it was reported that four local strategy partnerships had already been established. Judging from the feedback that we have received, it looks as if a number of local strategy partnerships will be established.

Where the establishment of local strategy partnerships has been agreed within two months of the programme complement's being agreed, 22 June, those partnerships will be entitled to receive their allocation of moneys under priority three. If agreement has not been reached on the establishment of local strategy partnerships, the existing district partnerships in those areas will receive 25% of the funding under priority three. The allocation of the remaining money will be determined when agreement is reached.

I assure Members that while there have been some misunderstandings and misgivings about the changing nature of the scope of partnership at district level, most people, not least those in the community and voluntary sectors, have been reassured of our aims.

First, we want to extend the scope of partnership and thereby extend the leverage of interest that those involved in partnership will have. Secondly, we are trying to extend the life cycle of partnership and make it more sustainable so that it does not perish when Peace II moneys run out.

Councils are being asked to play a more corporate role in the new partnership arrangements. This is not to allow them to muscle in and dictate to the partnerships but rather to ensure that the corporate work of councils is informed and influenced by the strategic thinking of the partnerships. Equally, the local statutory agencies must be involved, and we want to ensure that these agencies work their passage on the partnerships to a greater extent than they had previously done in Peace I.

That will involve negotiations at local level. Fifty per cent of the partnerships will represent Government, including statutory agencies and local government. They will determine the balance themselves. The remaining 50% will involve social partners, the four pillars of which are the community and voluntary sector, the business sector, the trade union sector and those with agricultural or rural interests. Among the details being ironed out are the precise numbers and configuration rather than wholesale issues of principle. I am not aware of any difficulties or resistance from local government.

The sitting was suspended at 12.36 pm.

On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair) -

2.00 pm


Winter Service Review


Mr Deputy Speaker:

I have received notice that the Minsiter for Regional Development wishes to make a statement on the winter service review.

The Minister for Regional Development (Mr Campbell):

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for granting me time in the busy schedule of the House to make a statement on the review of my Department's winter service activities. I realise that it is a rather unseasonal topic, given that it is the height of summer, but it is an important issue, as indicated by the high level of interest among public representatives and the public.

Members might recall my statement to the House in January 2001 following the heavy snowfall of Christmas week, the heaviest since 1982. I announced that I had commissioned a review, with a final report to be completed by the end of June, so that the proposals could be effectively implemented in time for winter. A second heavy snowfall occurred at the end of February, and this was also considered in the review.


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