Joint campaign by NI MEPs for additional `peace money'

THE North's three MEPs have pledged to work together to secure additional funding under the European Union's "peace money programme…

THE North's three MEPs have pledged to work together to secure additional funding under the European Union's "peace money programme for local grassroots projects.

Mr John Hume, the Rev Ian Paisley and Mr Jim Nicholson are to meet Mr Jacques Santer, president of the European Commission, to press for a third phase of funding for the North's district partnerships up to 1999.

The European Parliament allocated £240 million over five years for Northern Ireland and the Border counties of the Republic under its Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in 1995.

Under a sub-section of this programme, 26 district partnerships, one for each local council area, have received some £10 million in phase one which ended last December.

Funding will be allocated, between now and next June, under phase two, and should additional funding be secured for the final two years of the programme, 1998 and 1999, it is possible the district partnerships will have a phase three plan.

The partnerships are made up of representatives of political parties, businesses, the voluntary and community sector, trade unions and statutory agencies. They implement local action plans to promote employment, urban and rural regeneration, social inclusion, investment and industrial development.

At a conference in Belfast City Hall yesterday on the work of the district partnerships, Dr Paisley, leader of the DUP, said it was "of absolute necessity" that funding for a third phase be received.

He said: "£10 million has been allocated and a further £34 million is to be allocated under phase two. It is our intention and commitment that additional funding should be secured for the final two years of this vital support programme, 1998 and 1999."

He added that it was of "vital importance" that communities that have suffered from terrorist violence in the North benefit from the programme.

"There is great power in unity and this partnership programme demonstrates what a united Ulster can do in unity for its people and I'm glad we've all learned that lesson and dedicate ourselves to this Joint task," he said.

The SDLP leader, Mr John Hume, said the peace and reconciliation funding provided for important work at "grassroots" level. He said the district partnerships were helping to build trust between the different sections of the North's communities, which was vital for a lasting peace.

Mr Jim Nicholson of the UUP said he believed the additional funding could be secured, but the support of the people of Northern Ireland was needed.