Hain – Government must not let dogmatic ECJ position deprive Northern Ireland of vital peace funding

The Government’s insistence on taking the UK out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice after Brexit could cost Northern Ireland millions of pounds in funding for peace and reconciliation programmes, the Open Britain campaign warns today. 

 The European Union’s PEACE IV programme, which receives £208 million in funding from the European Regional Development Fund, aims to boost “cohesion between communities involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland” and to boost “economic and social stability” in the region. It applies to Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic of Ireland, and is the fourth of the EU’s programmes for peace in Northern Ireland. It runs from 2014 to 2020.

Projects funded by the PEACE IV programme include the Victims and Survivors Service, which received £11.4m to support up to 17,650 victims and survivors of the Troubles. Northern Irish councils have also been given funding for PEACE Actions Plans, designed to “promote positive relations between people from different communities and backgrounds”, for a total of nearly £29m. The programme was welcomed by DUP leader Arlene Foster.

The programme is governed by an EU regulation and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, has said that “the PEACE programme that is one of the very important instruments that has contributed towards the Good Friday agreement and I am very attached to that and I am very attached to maintaining conditions for peace and stability in Northern Ireland.”

The UK Government themselves have pledged to maintain the programme. In their position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland, the Department for Exiting the European Union suggested that the UK and EU should “agree to the continuation of PEACE funding to Northern Ireland and border counties of Ireland.” They also accept that EU agencies should continue to be the “managing authority” of the programme. 

Therefore, unless the Government changes its position on the European Court of Justice, Northern Ireland could no longer be able to benefit from the PEACE programme.

This issue needs to be addressed quickly and ideally in the Brexit position paper on Northern Ireland which the Government has promised before the end of August. 

Commenting, Peter Hain, leading supporter of Open Britain and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: 

“This Government’s dogmatic insistence on taking Britain out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice could put vital funding for Northern Ireland at risk.

“The EU’s PEACE programme has made a massive contribution to helping communities across Northern Ireland put the past behind them and build a brighter, more cohesive future.

“Michel Barnier has been clear that he values the EU’s work on the peace process and wants to see it continued. It would be the height of irresponsibility for the Government to look a gift horse in the mouth and give that funding up because of their obsession with the ECJ. 

“Ministers themselves say the UK should remain part of the PEACE Programme. But they have not faced up to the reality that this cannot be squared with their policy of leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The Government needs to bow to reality and accept that this programme will require the softening of their unnecessary red line on judicial sovereignty.” 

/ends

Notes to editors:

This story is reported in the Observer: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/aug/19/brexit-leave-northern-ireland-peace-programme-jeopardy-open-britain-michel-barnier

The PEACE IV programme applies to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland border counties of Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal. It is predominantly funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It has two main aims: “Cohesion between communities involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland; and economic and social stability.”

The PEACE IV programme for the 2014-2020 programming period has a total value of €270 million (£245m). The ERDF contribution to the programme is approximately €229 million (£208m). The rest of the money comes from match-funding (i.e. non-EU sources which may include national, regional and local government funding).

According to the European Commission, “The legal basis for the fourth PEACE programme covering the 2014-2020 programming period is Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of 17 December 2013 and Regulation (EU) No 1299/2013 of 17 December 2013.” 

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32013R1303&from=EN

As all EU Regulations are governed and arbitrated by the European Court of Justice, this means the PEACE IV programme also falls under the remit of the ECJ.

Speaking at a press conference on 20 July 2017, Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, said: “As a European Commissioner in the years after 2000, I consolidated and facilitated and improved with the authorities of Northern Ireland and the UK, the PEACE programme that is one of the very important instruments that has contributed towards the Good Friday agreement and I am very attached to that and I am very attached to maintaining conditions for peace and stability in Northern Ireland.”

In December 2015 Arlene Foster, then the Northern Ireland Executive’s Finance Minister, welcomed the EU’s formal adoption of the PEACE IV programme. She said: “The people of Northern Ireland want and deserve peaceful and secure society. European funding, delivered through the PEACE programmes, has played an important part in reinforcing peace and stability in Northern Ireland and the border region. I very much welcome the European Commission’s adoption of the PEACE IV programme. I am particularly pleased that the new programme, which aligns with the Executive’s Together: Building a United Community strategy, will have a stronger focus than ever before on our young people. Investment in our young people is vital as we look to create a sustainable economy for future generations.”

https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/news/foster-welcomes-go-ahead-%E2%82%AC269million-peace-iv-funding

The European Commission’s fact sheet on PEACE IV is here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/atyourservice/en/displayFtu.html?ftuId=FTU_5.1.9.html

A list of programmes funded by PEACE IV can be found here: https://www.seupb.eu/piv-overview

The Government’s position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland, released on 16th August 2017, says:

“The UK believes that the UK and the EU should be mindful of the full breadth of commitments made in the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement. Ensuring that nothing is done to undermine it will require detailed and close engagement between the UK and the EU throughout the negotiations. At this stage, the UK proposes that both the UK and the EU should:

  • affirm the ongoing support of the UK Government and Irish Government, and the European Union, for the peace process;
  • formally recognise that the citizenship rights set out in the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement will continue to be upheld; and
  • agree to the continuation of PEACE funding to Northern Ireland and border counties of Ireland.

“The UK proposes that, without prejudice to the wider discussions on the financial settlement and Structural and Investment Funds, the UK and the EU should agree the continuation of funding for PEACE IV for the duration of the existing programme and, with the Northern Ireland Executive and Irish Government, explore a potential future programme post-2020. In doing so, the UK wants to work with the EU on how together we can maintain the implementation of the PEACE IV programme, including the role of the SEUPB as managing authority, and that of the NSMC in agreeing the policy direction of future programmes. Notwithstanding the outcome of the negotiations on this specific issue, the UK government would remain committed to peace and reconciliation programmes and to sustaining cross-border cooperation. The UK’s approach to PEACE funding applies to the exceptional circumstances of this programme, recognising its link to the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement, and should not be taken to imply any wider policy positions on the financial settlement as a whole.”

The full Government position paper on PEACE IV is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/northern-ireland-and-ireland-a-position-paper

All currency conversions are taken from www.xe.com and are correct as of 8th August 2017.