Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin highlighted that EU regional funding “has been one of the success stories of Europe” in his address to a joint meeting of the Border, Midland and Western (BMW ) and the Southern and Eastern (S&E ) regional assemblies in Portlaoise on Friday June 22.
The assemblies are responsible for the management and monitoring of European Regional Development Programmes in Ireland since 1999 and Minister Howlin stated that these programmes “had played an enormous role in the development of Ireland’s economy”. The Minister added that Ireland will be pushing to maintain similar levels of funding for the 2014 to 2020 period to help secure economic recovery.
In his address, Minister Howlin also acknowledged the successful way in which both regional assemblies had managed and monitored the European Regional Development Programmes and informed the meeting that this experience will be taken into account in designing the future programmes.
In his opening address, Councillor Cyril Burke, Cathaoirleach of the BMW Regional Assembly, called on the Minister to retain a focus on the development of all regions in a balanced manner, so that Ireland can restore its economy to a sustainable growth path. He also called for a proactive and coherent regional policy within Ireland and he informed the Minister that the Regional Assemblies were willing to work with the Government to achieve this.
Councillor Burke stated that the Regional Assemblies have demonstrated their capacity to effectively manage both the previous and current European Regional Development Programmes and to ensure the full utilisation of the funds available for the benefit both regional economies. These programmes had a combined public investment of over €8bn of which €1.3bn was from the EU. He also outlined the valuable role played by the Assemblies in promoting the INTERREG transnational co-operation programmes, which have to-date benefited 180 local, regional and national organisations in Ireland.
Councillor Burke proposed that Ireland should support an ambitious approach to European Regional Development Programmes for the 2014-2020 period, clearly aligned with the overall Europe 2020 Strategy goals of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and concluded by stating that “if these funds are to provide some of the stimulus needed across Europe to re-ignite the EU economy, then it is essential that adequate resources are made available to ensure that these programmes can have a real impact at regional level”.
In his response to Minister Howlin’s address, Councillor Tomás Breathnach, Cathaoirleach, Southern and Eastern Regional Assembly, highlighted the democratic mandate of Regional Assembly Members as well as the technical expertise of the Assemblies’ management teams. Councillor Breathnach called for these to be harnessed and enhanced in the years ahead. He informed the Minister that the Regional Assemblies remain at the disposal of his Department to design and deliver a new generation of Regional and Territorial Co-operation Programmes in an efficient and cost-effective way.