An Intern's Perspective

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Northern Ireland: EU benefits and the impact of the "Brexit"

Posted by [email protected] on March 27, 2018 at 4:20 AM

By Žygimantas Burnickas

Northern Ireland is a net beneficiary region of the EU and is deeply impacted by the cohesion funding. The 2014-20 multiannual financial framework (MFF) has allocated around 835 million euro to Northern Ireland. There are four main programmes implemented in order to support Northern Ireland’s development: 1.PEACE 2.INTERREG 3.Rural Development 4.ERDF. Their main aim is to strengthen social inclusion, environment protection, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), research and innovation (R&I), as well as combat poverty and climate change. Even though the NI has voted to remain in the EU Referendum by a majority of 56% to 44%, the UK and Northern Ireland with it, is leaving the EU.

It is known that Northern Ireland has had a rough past with Great Britain. Irish Republican Army (IRA) was a militant nationalist organisation, which was mainly active in last century. Its purpose was to use armed force in order to end British ruling in Northern Ireland and achieve reunification of Ireland. It was estimated that, between 1969 and 1994, the IRA killed about 1,800 people, including approximately 600 civilians. It involved bombings, assassinations and various ambushes. Therefore, the implementation of PEACE program was crucial in order to stop the violent acts and unnecessary killings. On July 28, 2005, the IRA announced that it had ended its armed campaign and instead would pursue only peaceful means to achieve its objectives.

Northern Ireland PEACE programme is one of the main and long lasting EU initiatives, which has been receiving financial support from the EU since 1989, through both EU regional policy and EU contributions to the International Fund for Ireland. Its main aim is to promote cross border cooperation between Ireland and the UK. The programme’s objectives are to reach cohesion between communities involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland and to enhance economic and social stability. Between 1995 and 2013, PEACE programme received a financial contribution of 1.3 billion euro.

For the 2014-2020 period PEACE programme has a total value of 270 million euro. Eighty five percent of it has been contributed by ERDF. During that period, there are four main objectives of this programme: 1.Creating shared education 2.Helping children and young people 3.Creating shared spaces and services 4.Building positive relations at a local level. A representative from European Commission González Hernandez said, “The PEACE program builds bridges for the communities, which have been divided for a very long time. It is helping to build a future with them and provide better opportunities for education, which will make a lasting impact.” There are various examples showing the benefits of PEACE program. For instance, bridges constructed, radiotherapy units built, which helped bringing the communities together and uniting people. As well as, ex-prisoners coming together and having various conversations. This would not have been possible without EU’s contribution. It is clear, that PEACE project has had an enormous impact on Northern Ireland’s community and bringing people together.

The INTERREG programme tackles the issues arising from existence of borders. It promotes greater levels of economic, social and territorial cohesion across Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland. During 2014-2020 period, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) contribution to the Programme is €240m (85%). In addition, €43m (15%) will come from match funding, raising the total value of the Programme to €283m. The Programme has four key priority areas where it wants to make significant and lasting change: Research & Innovation; the Environment; Sustainable Transport and Health & Social Care.

Another important project is Rural Development in Northern Ireland. The estimated contribution for this programme during 2014-2020 is around 421 million euro. 228 million of which is funded by the EU. The project focuses on environment protection, climate change adaption, social inclusion, competitiveness of SMEs, educational training, low carbon economy and R&I. A few of its many plans are to provide 100 operations on village renewal, provide advice for around 1225 farm holders on R&I, support investments in 4500 farm holdings, benefit around 130 000 people from supported basic services.

The ERDF programme contributes to regional funding for R&I, business support and low carbon emission. These objectives are not only the EU priority but Northern Ireland’s as well. The funds allocated by the EU for 2014-2020 are 313 million euro. It is planned that around 2825 enterprises will receive support from this programme by receiving grants and other non-financial support from research and innovation. Around 102 start-ups will be supported and 2803 direct jobs will be created.

The damage that “Brexit” could do to the Northern Ireland is tremendous. Currently around 10 percent of NI’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the EU funding. The UK government will not provide as much funding for the infrastructure of the island as EU policies did. UK member of European Parliament (MEP) Derek Vaughan mentioned, “The EU has played an important role in promoting the economic development of Northern Ireland and it’s recovery from decades of conflict and division”. Bulgarian MEP Andrey Novakov stated, “There are regions such as Northern Ireland, where cohesion policy makes significant difference for the lives of the people. In the way the economy functions and in the way it generates new jobs”. MEP from Northern Ireland Martina Anderson said, “We cannot ignore the implication of Brexit on the lives of people as a consequence of the removal not only of the financial support but the membership of the EU, which has meant a lot to people.” With the help of EU funding, it is possible to reach a completely different level of regional development. Only with national or regional level, such development would not have been possible. Therefore, Northern Ireland will lose a significant source of income in its development and could suffer divergence in comparison with other UK’s regions. If, god forbid, the island after the “Brexit” began to develop regressively or even dwindle economically, some people of the Northern Ireland could be infuriated, which might result in country’s division and bad blood that we have seen in the past century.

All things considered, Northern Ireland has received a lot of financial support from the EU, which has not only quickened the region’s economic growth but also united the communities and provided support in delivering peaceful environment. The EU membership is important to more than half of the NI’s citizens but despite that, it will most likely be taken away. The “Brexit” will probably affect the region’s development in a negative way. It will slow down the island’s growth and enhance the differences between other regions of the country, which could result in tearing its economy as well as the community apart.

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