Dublin in a spin over EC aid deal figures

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The Independent Online
AN explosive disagreement over what Ireland was promised in regional aid yesterday left the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, furiously denying that he had lied. An embarrassed Irish Prime Minister faced accusations of exaggerating the figure to which Dublin is entitled.

Under the latest revised regional aid proposals Ireland stands to receive at least pounds 500m less between now and 1999 than the pounds 7.84bn Dublin insists has been committed. Denying he had broken his word, Mr Delors said Ireland would receive what was promised, but said this came to only pounds 7.3bn.

The row is the most heated to have arisen between Dublin and Brussels in the 20 years since the Irish voted to join the Community. The issue today goes before EC commissioners who will hear the Regional Affairs Commissioner, Bruce Millan, argue that Brussels has insufficient cash to meet its commitments to the four poorest nations in July. Commissioners are expected to vote 16-1 against Ireland getting the amount it claims.

In the Dail yesterday Albert Reynolds looked more shaken than at any time since assuming the premier's post last year as he faced questions on the Millan proposals. The Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, was noticeably testy. He insisted the Development Plan 'would be implemented in full' and said he had every confidence that Mr Delors entered 'an honourable agreement in good faith'.

He hinted that Community accounting systems may have caused confusion and underlined his faith in 'the quality' of Irish submissions, suggesting that Dublin's arithmetic may have leaned towards the optimistic in drawing down the maximum support levels.

Ireland, which receives nearly pounds 3m a day from the EC structural funds, is recognised as having possibly the best record of putting EC regional spending to good use. By contrast in Greece and Portugal, which receive nearly pounds 7m a day, the EC funds often go astray or fuel inflation.

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