North will get €2.7bn EU aid package


The European Commission has approved an aid package for the North worth €2.7 billion (about £1.6 billion sterling), aimed at boosting economic growth, improving labour skills and promoting reconciliation between the communities and cross-Border co-operation.

The EU will provide almost half the money, with the Northern Ireland administration contributing €0.588 billion and private investors expected to provide €0.842 billion.

Announcing the package, known as a community support framework, the EU Commissioner responsible for regional policy, Mr Michel Barnier, said that it reflected the EU's continuing commitment to the Northern peace process.

"Through the new programmes contained in this decision, the European Union will be able to maintain its support for all sections of the community in Northern Ireland in their effort to build an inclusive society and a peaceful and prosperous future," he said.

"I am pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the Northern Ireland Executive. Their close involvement in the community support framework discussions is reflected in the high quality of the final document.

"I see this as the beginning of a new partnership between the European Union and the regional institutions in Northern Ireland, representing all its people," he said.

The package, which represents the EU's second Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in the North, promises to focus on those most affected by the legacy of conflict, and tackle the economic and social patterns which have grown as a result.

Projects financed under the programme will involve members of both communities, and cross-Border co-operation will be encouraged. Much of the money will go towards encouraging the growth of knowledge-based industry and improving the skills of the workforce.

Tourism, agriculture and fisheries will receive special support. The programme will seek to even out some of the economic imbalances between different parts of the North.

One of its priorities is to encourage links between the North and the Republic.

More than 200 workers in the Northern Ireland textile industry are to lose their jobs at the Northern Ireland Jeans Company plants in Derry and Newtownards, Co Down.

It had been hoped the former Hawkesbay Company would be thrown a lifeline by London-based PKG, but an administrator appointed to deal with the disposal of assets said there was no alternative but to close the factories. Some 130 jobs will be lost in Derry, with the remainder shed in Newtownards.