Europe set to agree £250m Ulster package for Ulster

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The Independent Online
The European Commission is expected to agree this week a £250m package for Northern Ireland, including plans for cross-border spending totalling £35m.

Representatives from both sides of the border will serve on a committee to monitor the expenditure. The cash would be aimed at agricultural co- operation, infrastructure and links between government groups and the private sector in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The plan has been put together by Padraig Flynn, commissioner for social policy, and Monika Wulf-Mathies, commissioner for regional policy. Senior officials are set to agree today that the plan can be given the stamp of approval on Wednesday.

The document to be discussed sets out what types of projects are likely to be targeted. Baroness Denton, a minister in the Northern Ireland Office, met Ms Wulf-Mathies last week. The package has been negotiated between Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels. There has also been a series of meetings between the Northern Ireland business community and senior commission officials aimed at setting out guidelines for how the money should be spent.

The total package is 300 million Ecu over three years. Up to 80 per cent is due to be spent in Northern Ireland, and the remainder in the Republic's six border counties - Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Leitrim, Donegal and Sligo. The commission has recommended that at least 15 per cent of the total goes on cross-border activities.

The cash will fund up to 75 per cent of measures, so the total budgetonce supplemented from national funds will be at least 400 million Ecu.

The monitoring committeewould be another step towards creating a cross- border authority for European issues, albeit on a much smaller scale than that envisaged in the framework document being negotiated between London and Dublin.

Some of those involved with the package are worried that squabbles between London and Dublin may minimise the cross-border element. Both are keen on seeing as much of the cash safely within their territory as possible.

Some of the Northern Ireland community want more spent on genuinely cross- border efforts, such as a new scheme to link the local administrations in Londonderry and Donegal.

Priorities are also expected to include a university campus for West Belfast, a new energy link between north and south in South Armagh, and the replacement of the peace lines.

Mr Flynn said that cash must go to grass-roots groups rather than just local government and business, and help to create jobs through training, tourism and education.