Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 07 May 2008

COMMITTEE FOR 
FINANCE AND PERSONNEL

OFFICIAL REPORT
(Hansard)

UPDATE ON PROGRESS ON PEACE II CLOSURE AND PEACE III FUNDING

7 May 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings: 
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin (Chairperson) 
Mr Roy Beggs 
Dr Stephen Farry 
Mr Simon Hamilton 
Mr Adrian McQuillan 
Mr Declan O’Loan 
Mr Peter Weir 
Ms Dawn Purvis

Witnesses: 
Mr Pat Colgan ) Special EU Programmes Body 
Ms Margaret Bateson ) 
Mr Martin Tyrrell ) Department of Finance and Personnel

The Chairperson:

We move to the briefing from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) on the Special EU Programmes Body’s progress on Peace II, which is scheduled to close in September 2008, and Peace III, which is about to begin.

Good morning. We will hear from Martin Tyrrell, head of the European division, North/South programmes branch, DFP; Pat Colgan, chief executive of the Special EU Programmes Body; and Margaret Bateson. Pat has been here before, so he knows the routine. It is good to see you again.

Mr Beggs:

I declare an interest as a member of Carrickfergus neighbourhood development group, which received Peace II funding.

Ms Purvis:

I declare an interest as a board member of Healing Through Remembering, which receives Peace II funding. I am also the vice-chairperson of the Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre (EPIC), which also receives Peace II funding.

Mr Weir:

In the spirit of openness and transparency, I declare an interest as a member of North Down local strategic partnership, which is connected with Peace funding.

Dr Farry:

I declare an interest as a member of a council that will shortly be dealing with Peace III funding. I also declare an interest as a board member of the Community Relations Council, which is one of the action bodies.

The Chairperson:

Adrian, Simon and I have nothing interesting to declare.

Mr O’Loan:

I am a member of Ballymena Borough Council and a member of Ballymena local strategic partnership.

The Chairperson:

The Committee is obviously very interested in Peace funding.

Mr Pat Colgan (Special EU Programmes Body):

It is good to meet our friends again.

DFP took the lead: Martin Tyrrell prepared the paper, and we had an input into it. Therefore, he will speak to it.

Mr Martin Tyrrell (Department of Finance and Personnel):

Members should have received a paper last week, setting out the situation thus far regarding Peace III and the outgoing Peace II programme.

Peace III opened at the end of 2007, while Peace II is scheduled to close in September 2008. All projects should be closed by that date. For much of this year, both programmes have operated in parallel, and they will continue to do so until the autumn. Therefore, because of the overlap, there will be no gap as there was between Peace I and Peace II. All Peace II projects that are still running have a definite end date, which is usually June 2008, or September 2008 for some projects. Peace II projects can apply for Peace III funding if they meet the criteria, and they can receive funding if they get through the highly competitive selection process.

Under Peace III, there have been local action plans from all seven council clusters and from Belfast. Those applications will be assessed at a steering committee next week, and decisions on funding will then be taken. Furthermore, steering committees have reviewed around 20 other project applications. Since the end of last year, steering committees have met roughly every two weeks to discuss all the themes of the programme, and, to date, four projects, worth approximately € 40 million, have been approved.

Peace III, like Peace II, is subject to EU N+2 spending targets, and it will come up against the first of those in 2009 — €28 million, which must be spent. To date, we have approved projects worth €40 million. That does not mean that we will spend €40 million over the next 12 months; however, we will spend a proportion of that. A further 24 project applications will have been assessed by the summer, and, in all probability, several of those will be approved.

There is still €83 million in the Peace II programme, which must be spent before September 2008. Approximately 1,500 projects are still open, which means that almost every project will have to spend, on average, €10,000 per month up to September. That is a big challenge; however, as yet we have had no indication that that challenge will not be met. We are confident that the N+2 targets for Peace II will be achieved this year.

That essentially sums up the situation regarding Peace II and Peace III.

Mr Colgan:

I am happy to respond to any questions or comments.

Mr Weir:

Thank you for your presentation and for your paper. You mentioned the clusters post-2011; following the review of public administration, there will be 11 districts.

Now that there has been a firm decision on RPA, and, given that some clusters do not relate to the proposals for new boundaries and are in different areas, my only concern about a programme that runs between 2007 and 2013 is that to wait until 2011 will seem to be making adjustments at the tail end of the process. Does it not, therefore, make sense to re-examine clusters now?

Mr Colgan:

We have had detailed discussions with of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) on the matter. Furthermore, we have had good co-operation from all of the local authorities’ chief executives towards making that happen. We discussed that very point with them and asked them whether we should go ahead with the clusters as they are now, or try to adapt to the RPA’s 11 clusters. The general feeling is that so much progress has been made to put together action plans for the existing clusters that it would be better to get them up and running and not to delay getting letters of offer and money on the ground.

We anticipate that, when we issue letters of offer to various clusters, we will introduce a condition whereby we can review that at the end of 2009 or 2010, to examine possible reconfigurations and to take account of matters. The purpose of that is to give us a bit of a build-up of momentum to 2011. It is, therefore, a pragmatic decision, which aims to ensure that no further delays are caused by reconfiguration of clusters, redrafting of multi-annual action plans, and so on.

Mr Weir:

I want to explore the issue of encouraging representation from certain groups. During recent years, there has been a degree of focus — which is not entirely surprising — on under-representation from various unionist groups, the Orange Order, and so forth. I am interested to hear more details on the work that you have done to encourage representation from migrants’ groups, who have, in the past, been under-represented. Can you expand on the work that has been done to ensure that different migrants’ groups have proper access to funding?

Mr Colgan:

As you have rightly mentioned, the programme has engaged actively with members of the loyalist, unionist and Protestant communities in order to ensure that they have full and open access to it. We have worked with the Orange Order; members of the Phoenix group, which has worked with former security personnel; and a range of other such groups. We will continue to engage actively with them.

Migrants’ groups and minority-ethnic groups are named as a specific target group in our operational programme. We have engaged with several umbrella groups that represent them, such as the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism in the South. In fact, we finance a project, called Synergy, which is based in Dundalk and does much cross-border work in that area. It works with another umbrella group in Northern Ireland to examine possible joint application to the programme. There are two proposals on the table as to how that might be addressed, and we have asked the two groups to come together to discuss it. Therefore, we are actively engaged with them.

We anticipate that a significant region-wide project will be put in place to address strategically matters in that area. When I say “region”, I mean “eligible region”, which includes all of Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic.

Mr Weir:

Are there capacity issues, or is catch-up work being done with migrants’ groups in Northern Ireland? Having compared the situation in Northern Ireland with that of the Republic of Ireland, two contrasts struck me immediately. First, the number of migrant workers in the Republic of Ireland is, proportionately, an awful lot higher than it is here. The flow of migrant workers is longer established in the Republic of Ireland. Are networks, therefore, much stronger in the Republic than they are in Northern Ireland?

Mr Colgan:

I am fairly confident that a good deal of communication has been built up during the past two years among the various networks and groups that work in that area. Recently, I attended the launch — well, it was more of a celebration — of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008 in Dungannon, County Tyrone, which brought together many of those groups in the South and in Northern Ireland. There was a good interchange of views. A fairly good exchange of competence and expertise is happening, and we will encourage more of during Peace III, it is hoped, through the INTERREG programme.

Ms Purvis:

Thank you for your presentation and the briefing paper. Where possible, some groups will continue to operate under Peace II until September 2008. Do you have figures for the number of Peace II programmes that will cease between June and September and those that will continue to operate under Peace III?

Mr Colgan:

We do not know the exact number of projects that will transfer to Peace III. At the moment, we are conducting a scoping exercise to determine potential. Yesterday, I met the Racial Equality and Good Relations unit in OFMDFM, which represents victims and survivors, and we agreed that it is important to identify groups that have the potential to continue to operate under Peace III. We must support those groups that want to extend their project, to ensure that they are ready to take advantage of opportunities available under Peace III.

I will have a more exact indication of numbers in a week or so, after completion of the scoping exercise. We must discover which groups want to continue, have the capacity, and so on.

Ms Purvis:

The paper mentions that you will arrange workshops to help applicants understand the application criteria and procedure. One of the advertisements mentioned a public body or a lead applicant. as there been any confusion about the definition of that?

Mr Colgan:

That is a good point. The workshops will be organised jointly by the Community Relations Council and Border Action and will focus on victims and survivors groups and on dealing with the past, which is part of the Peace III programme. The workshops will adopt a developmental approach to ensure that people understand how to access Peace III.

The advertisement outlines the technical definition of a “Lead Partner” in the context of the programme. The phrase is actually a “Public Sector Body or equivalent”. That does not mean — and this is Eurospeak by the way — that a group must be a public body constituted as a public body; it means a non-profit organisation with experience of managing EU funds and public moneys. For example, all of the community and voluntary groups that are part of Peace II qualify under that definition. There may be confusion over the use of the expression “Public Sector Body or equivalent”, but through the workshops —

The Chairperson:

Are you satisfied that people understand it?

Mr Colgan:

The message is getting through. We have engaged with groups and, as more people challenge us about the definition, we stress that it is not only public authorities that can apply to Peace III. That wording has been used widely throughout Europe to define the organisations that can, and should, take advantage.

In 2001 or 2002, I participated in the discussions in which that concept emerged. Its intention was to prevent consultants and private companies taking advantage of opportunities, under public moneys, to make a large amount of money.

Ms Purvis:

I am concerned that it will deter smaller groups.

Mr Colgan:

Dawn is correct. We must ensure that we project that message proactively.

Dr Farry:

I return to the issue of clustering that Peter Weir mentioned. About six months ago, we had, effectively, the same discussion, and, at that stage, little work had been undertaken in preparation for Peace III. There was a reasonable expectation of a decision on the future boundaries for local government. I do not particularly agree with the boundaries decision, but I accept that the new boundaries will soon come into effect.

As far as I am aware, discussions among local authorities are still at an early stage. In my own area, a couple of meetings have taken place, but the actions plans still require formal approval.

I am led to believe that a number of the plans may be returned to local authorities so that further information can be provided. The process is still in an embryonic stage. Local authorities have not begun to explore the possibilities of Peace III. When it comes to the potential of local authorities to take on community planning powers, a greater emphasis will be placed on good relations at district council level through OFMDFM’s new integration and cohesion strategy.

It is bizarre that we will have to wait until 2011 to move to the new arrangements for local authorities. You say that what you are doing now is the pragmatic thing. Many people have told me, however, that they are bewildered by the news that we were proceeding along a line that was thought up about six or nine months ago, when the nature of council interaction was so fundamentally changed. The police jumped ahead of the councils, which will now have to change in response. It is a shame that we are, unnecessarily, going down that tunnel. We have not gone far on the journey: we can readily turn back and take a different path. That would make a lot more sense and would be more coherent at a local level.

Please respond to that. [ Laughter.]

Mr Colgan:

From the beginning, we never set out to be prescriptive on this issue. Our attitude has always been one of facilitation. These are voluntary clusters; they are not imposed by us. They are clusters that the local authorities have told us that they are comfortable with. They were conceived before the definition of the RPA, as you rightly say. We had the option to twiddle our thumbs until the RPA was defined and then begin the process. We rejected that notion as imprudent, because we had an important spending target to meet by the end of 2009. If we do not meet that spending target, no one will forgive when we say, “Well, actually, we were waiting for the RPA to happen, and it didn’t.” Those excuses will not be accepted.

If any of the clusters are interested in reconfiguring, we will listen to them, talk to them and work with them to do that. However, the strong message from the representatives of SOLACE, who have been in detailed discussions with us on these matters, is that they are content for us to continue as we are, provided there is the possibility, as we make progress, that in 2009-10 we can review the situation. I am happy to do that.

The Chairperson:

Will there be an opportunity to reconfigure at that point?

Mr Colgan:

We can reconfigure at that point, and we can re-examine the redistribution.

The concept behind these configurations is to build capacity. However, as I said, we are not prescriptive, and we do not have fixed ideas. In particular, before August this year, I will examine the need for the clusters and the local authorities to recruit people to implement the action plans. If they cannot recruit people in August, they will miss important deadlines.

Mr Weir:

Mr Colgan mentioned SOLACE on a couple of occasions, and, without wanting to denigrate the chief executives, they are not elected members. They do not represent the councils.

Mr Colgan:

That is a fair point.

Mr Weir:

I do not know whether the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) has taken a similar line, but it is the principal voice of local government in Northern Ireland. I declare an interest as a vice-president.

Mr Beggs:

I was waiting for that one. [ Laughter.]

Mr Weir:

Leaving that aside, NILGA is the representative voice of the councils. Its officers are elected members of councils. Any discussion about what is happening in local government should involve democratically accountable, elected members rather than chief executives of councils, who, with the greatest respect to them, are not democratically accountable.

The Chairperson:

A bridge is still required between then and now.

Mr Weir:

NILGA represents all 26 councils.

The Chairperson:

That was not my point.

Mr Weir:

I appreciate that there must be a bridge to the future, and I share some of Stephen Farry’s concerns.

There is going to be a quick review of the situation in 2009. As for the voluntary nature of the arrangement, my understanding is that the councils got a clear message that they should be in clusters of certain sizes, and many of them felt that, to have any opportunity to access funding, they would have to undertake what might be described as a marriage of convenience. If councils were told that it was a purely voluntary arrangement, they certainly did not give that impression to councillors. There is a strong feeling that, in many cases, people are not 100% comfortable with particular connections, but they feel that they must make those connections in order to access funding. Therefore, there is work to be done.

Mr Tyrrell:

It is important to say that, although RPA was a big factor in the clustering approach, it was not the only one. Another factor is that this programme has a smaller budget, and the proportion of the budget that we can use for technical assistance has also gone down. Previously, we had a larger budget, 10% of which we could put into technical assistance, which paid for programme administration and for the administration of entities, such as the local strategy partnerships. That is no longer the case; we can now use only 6% of a much smaller programme budget for technical assistance. Therefore, the practicalities dictate that we cannot continue to support an approach that is based on 26 local authorities.

Dr Farry:

We do not suggest that we adopt the current 11-council model from the RPA.

Mr Colgan:

Exactly. However, if I may say so, the first proposed deadline for a definition of the plans under RPA was October 2007; that did not happen. It was then said that it might be ready, perhaps, towards the end of the year. The date kept moving forward. We would have said strongly to the elected members and the chief executives of the local authorities that, if we did not get organised, we would run the risk of coming up against spend targets that we would be unable to meet. We would have put them under pressure in that respect, and we had to do so.

In that context, we said that we were all for voluntary clustering, and that that was what should be done. We certainly never set out to be prescriptive, so the clusters that have emerged are those that were chosen by the elected representatives and the chief executives. We deal with elected representatives and the chief executives, and, as Peter Weir knows well, NILGA has an extremely important part to play in our programme as the nominating authority for local authority representatives on our monitoring and steering committees, although we engage actively and proactively with the Assembly in that regard.

We deal with the chief executives, who are the accounting officers for the funds. From a governance point of view, they are the people who must answer for the spend and the targets that must be met.

Dr Farry:

If you were to undertake a reconfiguration, how many months’ delay would that involve? The RPA plan was announced by the Minister of the Environment just before the Easter recess in early March; that was two months ago. Effectively, that window has been lost. However, local authorities signed off their draft action plans only in March. Money from Peace III has not been spent yet.

Mr Colgan:

That is true. We had eight multi-annual action plans for Northern Ireland on the table by the end of March.

Dr Farry:

Those plans have not been approved yet.

Mr Colgan:

No. They are going through a steering committee and an economic appraisal. Our first impression of those action plans is that they are very good from a strategic point of view but they lack some of the detail. That was always going to be the case; they were always going to be developmental. From the beginning, our intention has always been that, as soon as possible, we would issue letters of offer that would contain certain conditions. Those conditions would include additional development work at local level to ensure the involvement of people, and so on, in various areas, and anything else that might be necessary, including the possibility of reconfiguration.

Dr Farry asked what time might be added if we were to examine reconfiguration now. Basically, the eight action plans that are on the table, with the exception of the one from Belfast City Council, would need to be reconfigured and rewritten. We would have to go back to square one and start again. That would add at least three months to the process. Therefore, we could not even get close to issuing a letter of offer before the end of the year. That would mean that no recruitment could start, and no moneys could be spent, and we would be in trouble when we have to report on spend in September of next year,.

Dr Farry:

You gave me a figure of three months. We have known the configuration of the RPA for two months. Therefore, with hindsight, had decisions been taken to reconfigure when the Minister announced the plan, we would have been talking about only one further month. Money has not yet been spent. I understand that some of the action plans may be referred back to the Committee for additional information. This is a long-term programme — over three years, and greater impact will be made at local level if the structures are right from day one, rather than going down a blind alley just to ensure that targets are met at an early phase.

The box may well be ticked in year one; however, there may be a declining efficiency and ability to have joined-up government and joined-up spending with this programme and with other council spending programmes down the line.

Mr Colgan:

The most important target for the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) is ensuring that spend targets have been met by September next year. It would be difficult to justify coming back to this Committee with the excuse of having been unable to spend because of the delay in implementing the multi-annual action plans.

The Chairperson:

If there is an obvious delay, as some of the parties are still divided on the configuration, on the numbers —

Dr Farry:

We have accepted that now. We won the argument, but lost the vote.

Can Mr Colgan offer some information on how it will be ensured that spend through Peace III is genuinely value-added, and that it does not counteract or duplicate other spending? At a local level, councils are set to get a significant increase in their good-relations budget, and there was an obvious interaction between good relations and Peace III, given the nature of that funding.

How does one ensure at local level that there is no duplication, cross-over or double–funding of projects? The same question would apply at a regional level as well, on discussing investment, when dealing with the past and with victims’ issues. OFMDFM have announced additional money for that. Regarding the issue of shared space and money for sports stadiums and such, how is the SEUPB seeking to ensure that money spent through Peace III is in addition to what the Government are already doing, and that double-funding will not result?

Mr Colgan:

The key mechanism in doing this is to make sure that the SEUPB is in constant contact with those responsible for national policies in the key areas. We have very regular meetings with representatives of OFMDFM, DSD and any other Government Departments that are involved. These meetings concern exactly what is happening. DFP is provided with fortnightly updates from SEUPB in relation to the details of actions being taken on the Peace III programme, including information provided to other areas.

We engage with the victims’ commissioners designate to ensure that they are fully aware of the approach. We have detailed discussions with those responsible with the preparation of the victims’ strategy document.

Everything possible is being done to ensure that there is additionality in what we are doing, that there is no duplication, and that there is genuine complementarity. I will take any further suggestions as to how this might be improved upon.

Mr Beggs:

You remarked that no gap-funding would occur. Many of the programmes with unspent moneys that were scheduled for June have been extended to September. Is there potential for gaps in the funding of projects which may qualify for Peace III?

Mr Tyrell:

There is no gap period —

Mr Beggs:

I refer to the gap in funding is. I agree that in your calendar there is no gap, but the issue is that there is potential for —

Mr Colgan:

The main thing to remember regarding the gap is that Peace II and Peace III are totally separate programmes. They are completely different. It is wrong to speak of a transition from one to the other with no hiatus. They are totally different. Each programme has a different set of objectives, demands, and criteria — it is wrong to refer to a gap between one programme and the other because they are different programmes. Hopefully there will be groups who participate and work on the Peace II programme who are eligible, interested, competent and capable of taking part in Peace III.

The Chairperson:

Will there be a gap?

Mr Colgan:

The key question is in what is being done with these groups. The SEUPB offers to help them if they think that they are capable of continuing their work under Peace II until September.

Discussions are ongoing with the accountable Departments to observe the realities of what is happening on the ground. Furthermore, that is why we are conducting the scoping exercise that I mentioned earlier, which will enable us to identify the groups with the potential to transfer to PEACE III. We can then identify specific problems that may occur.

The Government Departments may wish to assist those groups to ensure that they can continue to operate. We also may be able to help them to receive additional moneys under PEACE II, provided they are eligible.

It is important that we do not accept that there is a gap. We are talking about two different programmes. People cannot logically talk about a gap between two programmes that are so distinct.

The Chairperson:

Were a group to migrate from one programme to another, is there a possibility of a gap in funding?

Mr Colgan:

I will not accept the word gap. We will do everything that we possibly can to work with the groups that have the potential to transfer onto PEACE III.

The Chairperson:

I cannot think of another word that is appropriate.

Mr Colgan:

It is important to distinguish between the programmes, because we had so many problems with gaps in the past.

Mr Beggs:

I appreciate that there is a new stream of funding. However, it would be wasteful were people to be made redundant only to have to go through a recruitment exercise two months later.

Mr Colgan:

I fully accept that.

Mr Beggs:

Priority 1 theme 2 concerns acknowledging, and dealing with, the past. Your submission states that a consultation is ongoing to:

“ensure consistency of PEACE III actions with any future Victims’ strategy. It is intended that a call for applications will be advertised before the end of June.”

How soon will you be able to process those applications so that projects that are successful in their bids can receive the money?

Mr Colgan:

Priority 1 theme 2 consists of three strands. The first strand has been open to applications since 14 April 2008, and will remain so for most of the rest of May. Applications will be processed during June and July, and money should be made available to those groups during the summer months.

A scoping exercise is ongoing to consider which groups may be affected by the work of the other two strands. By the end of May 2008, there will be open calls for applications under both of those strands. Any applications received will be processed by September or October 2008. We will then issue letters of offer at that time.

We had a meeting yesterday to discuss those points. The timetable is being monitored carefully, and part of that monitoring involves our weekly updates to DFP to keep them and the Minister informed about such issues.

Mr Beggs:

I appreciate that PEACE III is a separate funding stream. Are you ensuring that potentially successful groups that have practical issues communicate with the appropriate Departments? Ultimately, there is an additional victims’ fund that Government may, if it wishes, make available to bridge the area that the European money cannot cover.

Mr Colgan:

That is correct. That point was addressed at our meeting yesterday.

Mr Beggs:

In your opening remarks, you talked about the very competitive process for drawing down funding. Priority 2 theme 1 is about creating shared public spaces. Your written submission points out that a total amount of funding for that theme of €750 million was sought. What amount of funding was available for that theme?

Mr Tyrrell:

Some €82 million was available.

Mr Beggs:

Do you expect all the funding streams to be overbid by a ratio of approximately 10:1?

Mr Colgan:

We do not expect that extent of overbidding. We always said that there is a danger of overbidding. As some of you may remember, there was an extension to the PEACE II programme. Some themes were overbid for by a ratio of 4:1 or 5:1. That was one of the reasons we could not configure the problem in the way in which we have been able to do this time, which has enabled us to manage expectations better. It has also enabled us to use the knowledge at a local level in order to generate different paths of access to the programme.

The theme of creating shared public space is one that lends itself to potential capital build projects in areas in which interesting work could be done, and it was well signalled that opportunities could exist. Groups had been thinking about work that they might conduct; therefore, I was not surprised by the number of bids.

Many worthwhile projects could be done, and that makes it difficult to select projects, but the criteria are quite clear.

Mr Beggs:

Figures at the end of 2007 showed how much Peace II funding remained to be spent. The expenditure profile needed to be increased significantly to make use of that funding. Are there indications that money is being returned unspent? At the end of a funding stream, expenditure increases so declaring unspent money would be a difficult expectation to deliver.

Mr Colgan:

We manage that very tightly, and we are involved in a range of options. Some projects are underspending, and we are closely monitoring those. A monitoring committee meeting will take place soon, at which proposals will be put forward for some movements in the programme to take account of that and move it to areas of the programme in which there is potential for spending. It is my ambition that, by the close of the programme, not one euro of EU moneys in the programme will go unspent. Margaret Bateson, our finance manager, will confirm that. There are difficulties: the currency exchange rate, for example, presents challenges. However, we are managing those challenges carefully. I could give you a list of potential movements and options that will be issued to the monitoring committee over the coming days in advance of the meeting; the decisions will be taken there and will be managed carefully.

The Chairperson:

Martin Tyrrell’s report give a significant update on progress on the projected underspend. Some effective steps are being taken through redistribution and other methods.

Mr Colgan:

The total amount that remains to be spent is €83 million. At the end of a funding stream there is always a push to spend money.

The Chairperson:

Roads Service does that every year.

Mr O’Loan:

I take your point that you make real efforts to ensure that you do not contradict or duplicate any of the work on acknowledging and dealing with the past. Have you had any discussions with the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group , which is considering wider issues than simply that of victims, but the overall picture of dealing with the past? The group has not reported so I do not know to what extent it is prepared to declare its hand, but it is important that you are travelling in the same direction, provided that the group’s report is generally accepted.

Mr Colgan:

We have not had discussions with the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, but we will. It has been on our minds to do that. We have engaged with the other key players in that area, and I take your point.

The Chairperson:

We have not discussed the EU task force. What impact, if any, does that have?

Mr Colgan:

It presents opportunities for SEUPB to take on board one of the suggestions of the task force, which was that the lessons learned from the Northern Ireland peace process should be made available on a wider basis. We are in discussions with the member states and the European Commission about how we can make that happen. We will shortly bring forward proposals about that. That is the only aspect of the task force that affects us directly. Martin Tyrrell might want to comment on the task force overall.

The Chairperson:

You refer to the rest of Europe learning from us, but the programme is meant to be of benefit to us.

Mr Tyrrell:

Aside from Peace, there is the INTERREG transnational strand. In previous rounds of funding, Northern Ireland has tended not to feature prominently in that area. This time we have set an ambitious challenge of getting much more involved in projects and getting more project partnerships together. We are eligible for three programmes, and we hope to draw several million euro from each of those.

The Chairperson:

Is that the only new interface that is opening? One of the expectations of the task force is that we will become better informed of opportunities, particularly those that are related to the economic priorities that have been set by the Executive.

On that basis of a more proactive engagement, we would find that there are more European programmes available to tap into. It does not seem to generate that amount of traffic.

Mr Tyrrell:

There are no new resources; however, we will certainly improve awareness of these funding opportunities among stakeholders. A great deal of capacity has already been established in Northern Ireland and the border counties through the INTERREG cross-border programme. We hope to make a step change in that capacity to enable us to engage at a wider European level, a transnational level and in inter-regional funding.

There are other opportunities too, for example, the JESSICA funding stream. I am not an expert on that but there are current initiatives to obtain resources from that. However, the taskforce has alerted us to opportunities where previously we have not been very active.

Ms Purvis:

Is there more of a focus on local programme delivery in Peace III in comparison to previous PEACE programmes? If so, has that presented any difficulties for organisations that are organised on a regional basis? I refer particularly to groups that work with minority ethnic groups or migrant workers.

Mr Colgan:

We have tried to make sure that there is a balance in the programme. There is no question that the programme puts an increased onus and responsibility on local authorities to take responsibility for some of this work at their own, local, level. That already happens in Northern Ireland, with the clusters, and in the South, through the six newly constituted partnerships, with local authorities taking the lead.

We have proactively promoted region-wide projects in various sectors. Minority ethnic groups were mentioned; there are projects in the women’s sector and in a range of other targeted group sectors. We hope that a good range of region-wide projects will emerge under the umbrella of lead partners, who might be NGOs, community voluntary sector organisations, state agencies or other organisations.

Ms Purvis:

Would there be difficulties for other smaller regional based groups?

Mr Colgan:

We have proactively encouraged smaller regional-based groups to come together under the umbrella of a lead partner. We have afforded as much help as possible to anyone who has come to us, while encouraging them to organise themselves more proactively on a regional basis. It goes back to the Mr Tyrell’s earlier point in relation to getting better value for money out of what can be spent in programme administration, as well as becoming more efficient.

The Chairperson:

Thank you very much gentlemen. Your submissions have been very helpful and it has been very good to see you again.

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