Adjournment Debate. - INTERREG Programme.

Tuesday, 21 June 1994

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 444 No. 1

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Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  I should like to share my time with Deputy Bradford.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  I am highly critical of last week's decision by the European Union Commission in Brussels to reject the application submitted jointly by the south-western and south-eastern regions of Ireland and South Wales for inclusion in the INTERREG development package of £2.4 billion. It is clearly evident that the south-western region's application was the victim of our Government's lack of commitment to the region's proposal and the red tape bureaucracy on the part of the European Union.

On a recent visit to Cork the Taoiseach gave an assurance that his Government would support wholeheartedly and press for the inclusion of the south-western region in this package, yet there is no evidence that such was the case. Had this Government lobbied and canvassed the support of other EU member states for the south-western region to be included, we would have had a different result. Can the Taoiseach or his Minister inform the House why he failed to deliver the promise he gave recently in Cork to have the [271] south-western region included in this INTERREG development package?

As Ireland is now the only island nation within the European Union — since Britain has been joined to the Continent by the Channel Tunnel — why did this country not receive preferential treatment for our south-western region's proposal? The region has much in common and a direct sea link with south Wales. In their joint submission to the European Union authorities in April last Cork and Glamorgan, south Wales, outlined the strong cultural and commercial links obtaining between the two regions. I ask the Minister of State why was that fact not taken into account by the Brussels bureaucrats and her Government?

I call on the Taoiseach to instruct our European Union Commissioner, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, to take immediate steps and use his influence with his European counterparts to redress this decision immediately and have the south-western region and south Wales included for INTERREG funding. I would go further and call on the Taoiseach to lobby the leaders of the EU member states to have this joint submission of the south-western region and south Wales accepted for INTERREG funding. I need not remind the House that the south-western region is a disadvantaged area with direct links with south Wales. Why did they lack the punch to push it through? I urge the Minister to act before it is too late.

Mr. Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford  Zoom on Paul Bradford  As is his habit, Deputy Sheehan has said it all so I rise merely to support the sentiments he expressed. A successful INTERREG programme would have produced very beneficial results for the south-western region of our country and also for south Wales with which we have very strong links. I am disappointed that progress has not been made in the matter. I wonder whether this arose through failure at Government level to impress on our European Union colleagues the importance of this programme to the respective regions, or does the fault lie elsewhere. I should like to know from the Minister of State whether [272] the position can be rectified even at this eleventh hour.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Ms E. Fitzgerald): Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  I appreciate the eloquence with which Deputy Sheehan put his case. As somebody with family links in west Cork I understand the importance of the point he made.

We put the proposal to the European Union very strongly. I travelled to Wales to meet Sir Wyn Roberts, the Secretary of State for Wales, again to put the case, when there was a joint agreed position between the Irish and British Governments on this. INTERREG is a Community initiative under European Union Structural Funds with the objective of promoting cross-border co-operation and supporting the economic development of border areas. During the last Structural Fund round there was a joint Ireland-Northern Ireland programme under INTERREG. The eligible areas comprised the counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo in the south and all of Northern Ireland except Belfast. All of the border areas in the Community covered by the first INTERREG initiative were land border areas with the exceptions of Kent-Nordpas de Calais and Corsica/Sardinia.

In June 1993, the European Commission published a consultative document on Community initiatives in the new Structural Fund round covering the period 1994-99. In that document the Commission said that it would prefer to maintain the general rule that maritime borders do not qualify, while being prepared to examine specific cases, especially where this would be of benefit to Objective I regions, to determine whether genuine cross-border co-operation possibilities exist.

In putting forward its views on the consultative document, the Government said that access to the Community through the east and south-west coast and UK posts was of vital strategic imporance to Ireland and that a maritime INTERREG programme for Ireland and the UK was considered essential to eliminate infrastructural bottlenecks. As [273] Deputy Sheehan has rightly said, we are the only island nation in the European Union.

The Government also submitted that within the context of such a programme other co-operative measures could also be covered. In February 1994 the Commission produced its proposals for Community initiatives to cover the period of 1994-99. In the case of INTERREG, it proposed that in addition to the maritime border areas covered under the previous initiative — only two in the whole European Union — the borders between southern Italy and Greece and between Ireland and north Wales should also be eligible.

The draft guidelines for the new INTERREG initiative included — as well as the North-South border area as before — Gwynedd in Wales and the east region in Ireland. The Commission has been using the old planning regions for the purposes of defining NUTS III level regions, so east in that context covers Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. This area corresponds with the Dublin and mid-east regions for the new regional authorities which were established earlier this year.

The Commission's proposals have now been considered by the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions, and the management committee on Community initiatives comprising representatives of the member states. Having completed this consultation process the Commission will now formally adopt the final guidelines for initiatives. It is understood that they hope to do this in late June or early July.

During the course of the consideration of the draft guidelines, the Irish authorities made strong representations to the Commission, at both ministerial and official level, for the inclusion of both the south-east sub-region and Dyfed in Wales, in order to provide coverage for the Southern Corridor, and the south-west, comprising Cork and Kerry, which has established and developed cross-border links with the county of west Glamorgan and the city of Swansea over a long period. A number of other member [274] states also wanted additional areas added throughout the process, the Commission has tried to restrict the number of internal maritime borders which would be included. Eventually the Commission agreed to the inclusion of the south-east sub-region along with Gwynedd in Wales. Unfortunately, it would not agree to the inclusion of the south-west. This is a disappointing result but I think I can say with fairness that everything possible was done to press the case. We went from one to two regions and we could not push the Commission the extra mile to create three regions.

Section 9 of the draft guidelines on the new INTERREG Community initiative provides that in exceptional cases, and in the context of cross-border co-operation programmes, Community assistance may be given to measures in NUTS III areas located outside but adjoining the eligible areas provided they involve a high degree of cross-border co-operation and form only a limited proportion of the total expenditure. The Government will be examining the possibilities under this provision to provide support for suitable projects in the south-west sub-region. It must, however, be recognised that the scope available under this provision is considerably less than that which would be provided by full eligibility under the initiative. Unfortunately, to answer Deputy Bradford's question, it looks as if we are at the end of the road.

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  Is the Minister of State throwing in the towel? Why not get the Taoiseach and the EU Commissioner to plead our case? Are we going to be left in the wilderness?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  I must move on to the next item. Deputy Sheehan, please desist.

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