The EU, the UK and the Irish government are “putting their money where their mouth is” in their commitment to peace in Northern Ireland, vice-president of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic has said.
Northern Ireland is set to receive close to £1 billion in new funding announced on Monday by Mr Sefcovic, the Taoiseach, and Northern Ireland Secretary in Belfast.
The funding programme – Peaceplus – amounts to 1.14 billion euro (around £978 million) and is designed to support peace and prosperity across Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland.
Peaceplue will deliver investment across six key themes designed to ensure the continued economic, social and environmental development of Northern Ireland and the six border counties
The scheme is a partnership between the EU, the UK Government, the Government of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar, Mr Sefcovic and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris met at the recently opened site of the Peace IV shared space redevelopment project, the Newforge Sports Centre in South Belfast, to launch the funding.
Also in attendance was Paschal Donohoe, minister for public expenditure, and Dr Jayne Brady, head of the civil service of Northern Ireland.
The programme, which will be managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), includes a focus on peacebuilding activity and taking the opportunity to implement actions that will contribute positively to building the economy and increasing prosperity, as well as helping communities become more resilient and adjust to new challenges.
Speaking at the event, Mr Sefcovic said the funding was a demonstration that the contributing governments were “putting their money where their mouth is”.
He said: “I am pleased to be in Northern Ireland to mark the launch of Peaceplus, together with representatives of the governments of the UK and Ireland. The European Union’s support to this programme is part of our strong commitment to peace in Northern Ireland, now and in the future.
“Here in Northern Ireland, we have seen how peace, when it is not a given, becomes an overwhelming desire, a primary necessity. And how much we can achieve when we put our minds and hearts to it. With an overall contribution of 1.1 billion euro, we are – collectively – clearly demonstrating that we are putting our money where our mouth is.
“The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement has provided a sustainable basis for peace in Northern Ireland for the past 25 years. It took great political courage from all sides to make it happen. We all have a duty to protect it, and the gains it has brought about.”
Mr Heaton-Harris said the UK Government was providing more than £730 million of the total funding.
“Twenty-five years after the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland has so many stories to tell of how its communities have delivered on the Agreement’s promises around peace and reconciliation,” he said.
“Those efforts continue today, and I’m so pleased to attend the launch of Peaceplus alongside colleagues from the Irish Government, European Commission and Northern Ireland Civil Service.
“The UK Government is pleased to support the Special EU Programme Body’s work in this area, providing over £730 million in funding. The Government is committed to helping Northern Ireland to reach its full potential as a prosperous and stable part of the United Kingdom.”
Mr Varadkar said the scheme was a reminder of what was possible, despite the lack of a functioning executive in Northern Ireland.
Powersharing institutions have been suspended for more than a year due to the DUP’s boycott of Stormont in response to post-Brexit trading arrangements.
“It’s a real pleasure to be here in Belfast to formally launch the Peaceplus programme. With record funding of 1.1 billion euro, Peaceplus is an unprecedented investment by the EU, the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland in reconciliation and cross-border co-operation, helping to build peace and promote prosperity on the island,” Mr Varadkar said.
“Although we are making this announcement against the stark backdrop of suspended power-sharing Institutions, today is a welcome reminder of just what is possible, and how we can make real progress. When Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU work together, it yields a significant dividend for Northern Ireland and the border region.”
Dr Brady, head of the civil service of Northern Ireland, said the funding represented a “significant commitment” to the region.
“Peaceplus will build on the significant achievements of previous programmes and provide the opportunity for our communities to foster understanding, develop relationships and contribute to the building of our shared society,” she said.
One of six cross-border bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement, the SEUPB has managed the positive impact of 3.39 billion euro of cross-border funding through the Peace and Interreg Programmes for more than 23,000 projects since 1999.