Dáil Éireann - Volume 492 - 09 June, 1998
Adjournment Debate. - INTERREG II Funding.
Mr. Hayes Mr. Hayes
Mr. Hayes: European Social Funding and the consequences for the INTERREG II programme are a matter of concern for a number of organisations. Some of the measures in the INTERREG II programme are directed at increasing training and human resource opportunities in some of the most deprived communities in the country. The dynamic behind the INTERREG II programme is to bring together two regions in the EU. In this case Wales and east Ireland have been brought together as a funding agent to ensure that their activity is of benefit to the economic generation of those areas. It also ensures that people work together and get some tangible benefit from their activity.
I wish to refer to a specific case which has been on the Minister's Department's files for some time — the Virginia House Tallaght Community Arts Centre which has established a media access training course with partners in Wales.
Money was awarded for the media access training course in September 1997 and since then the centre has been waiting for a substantial tranche of money under the INTERREG II programme. It is incomprehensible that a programme cannot be established because the necessary funding has not been provided by the European Commission.
Another problem that has arisen as a result of lack of funding is that the Welsh partner has completed its second stage of training while the Tallaght course has been unable to get off the ground. The Tallaght centre has been trying to ascertain from the Department when it will get  the final tranche of money for the programmes, but no information has been forthcoming since last September. Similar problems are experienced by organisations throughout the country. In exasperation the organisation in my constituency asked me to raise this matter to ensure the Minister takes action. I realise the final decision rests with the European Commission, but the Minister should do everything in his power to ensure the moneys are granted to these organisations, which are without huge political clout. In the main, they are non-profit-making organisations, many of whose schemes are community working schemes. This centre demands the final tranche of money from Europe so that it can proceed with its programmes in conjunction with its Welsh partners.
Mr. Treacy Mr. Treacy
Mr. Treacy: I refer the Deputy initially to the replies to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 38 of 7 May and 82 of 6 May. The INTERREG Maritime Initiative is a joint Ireland-United Kingdom programme under the European Union's initiative for the development of cross-border regions throughout the Union. The lead Departments for this programme are the Department of Finance and the Welsh Office. Most of the funding involved comes from the European Regional Development Fund. There is also an element of European Social Funding involved in its subprogramme 2 which deals with human resources development. Our Department has responsibility for the drawdown of the ESF element on the Irish side while the United Kingdom's Department of Education and Employment has a similar role in respect of the ESF component of the programme on the Welsh side.
The difficulties referred to by the Deputy relate primarily to the ESF aspects of the initiative. I understand, however, that there are also cash-flow difficulties arising on the European Regional Development Fund element of the initiative. Without going into the details here I would point out to the Deputy, first, that the various EU Structural Funds each have quite different rules not least in relation to how and when drawdowns can be made and, second, that in some significant ways the European Regional Development Fund rules are more flexible than those used by the ESF.
There are a large number of similar cross-border INTERREG initiatives across the member states frontiers in the European Union. The EU procedures for the drawdown of European Social Funds for all of these initiatives require that both sets of national authorities apply separately for funding advances to the European Commission. On arrival in Brussels, however, both applications are processed together so that any problems arising in the processing of either state's application have the unfortunate effect of automatically delaying action on both.
The kernel of the problem in this case relates to ongoing technical difficulties encountered by  the United Kingdom authorities which have given rise to processing problems within the Commission. For the reasons I have already outlined, this has meant that Irish drawdown claims on behalf of our beneficiaries could not be expedited by the Commission. I emphasise that the problems which have given rise to the delay were not caused by the Irish side and that while every effort has been and is being made by our officials to have the problems solved, it is literally beyond our Department's scope to correct the matters in question involving the UK and the European Commission.
Active efforts to resolve the problems have been pursued by our Department for some time. Our officials and those of the Department of Finance have had several meetings with those from the Welsh Office and the UK Department of Education and Employment. The most recent of these took place last week. Arising from these contacts arrangements are now in place to ensure closer collaboration in submissions to Brussels.
On the aspect of most immediate importance, I understand that following joint consultations between all involved, a revised decision on financing for this initiative has been submitted by the Commission services to Commissioner WolfMathies for approval. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Finance have been in contact with the European Commission at senior level to bring to attention the critical need for an early resolution. A decision on this matter by the Commissioner will in turn facilitate an immediate application for a drawdown of funds by our Department. Once funds come from the Commission they will immediately be transferred to the various individual projects. As several of these steps are outside the control of our Department's hands, I cannot say with certainty when funds will issue, but I expect this should occur within the next month.
I assure Deputy Hayes and the project beneficiaries that I too accept the need to resolve this matter as quickly as possible, that our Department has made and will continue to make every effort to resolve the impediments involved, which are both beyond our control and not of our making. While I hope for an early resolution, once again I am not in a position to offer guarantees as to dates or otherwise.
Dáil Éireann 492 Adjournment Debate. INTERREG II Funding.