DUP boycott of North-South bodies puts £1bn peace funding ‘at risk’

Sinn Féin claims money for reconciliation projects ‘in jeopardy’ without ministerial council

A peace wall on Divis Street, Belfast. Northern Ireland Minister of Finance Conor  Murphy said the intent was to use the programme money to place a particular focus on supporting groups working on both sides of remaining peace walls in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

A peace wall on Divis Street, Belfast. Northern Ireland Minister of Finance Conor Murphy said the intent was to use the programme money to place a particular focus on supporting groups working on both sides of remaining peace walls in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

 

Peace and reconciliation funding worth almost £1 billion is being put at risk by the DUP boycott of North-South political structures, Sinn Féin has claimed.

The party said the money earmarked for the Peace Plus programme can only be released once formal sign-off has been given by the North-South Ministerial Council.

The DUP last week announced an immediate withdrawal from the council and other cross-Border bodies in protest against Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit agreement. The protocol avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing the customs and regulatory barrier between the EU and the UK in the Irish Sea.

The DUP, which has also threatened to collapse Stormont if changes to the protocol are not secured, said it would only continue to co-operate on a North-South basis in relation to health issues.

The UK government and EU both contribute to the Peace Plus programme, which supports projects in Northern Ireland and Border counties in the Republic.

The Irish Government and Stormont Executive are also involved with the funding initiative, which will see about £1 billion invested over the next seven years.

The funding is administered by North-South implementation body the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).

The ministerial council cannot function without DUP participation.

Sinn Féin Minister of Finance Conor Murphy said if the council did not sign off on the Peace Plus funding then it could not be released.

“If there is an interference in the working of the North-South Ministerial Council that funding will not be made available at the end of the year,” he said.

“It is time-bound over seven years and each year if the approved amount of money is not spent then it is returned.

“So any attempt to interfere in the workings of the North-South Ministerial Council will have a profound effect on a lot of community and voluntary groups, rural groups and groups that are trying to create employment, groups that are trying to invest in their own areas.

“So all of this will be placed in a significant jeopardy. If we cannot get approval at the North-South Ministerial Council, then we can’t advance the programme.”

Mr Murphy said the intent was to use the programme money to place a particular focus on supporting groups working on both sides of remaining peace walls in Northern Ireland.

“The DUP should really think through the consequences of the actions they purport to take before they embark on them,” he said.

“It is in real jeopardy. If we are not able to get sign-off at a North-South Ministerial Council in October then there is a huge jeopardy over the ability of that programme to go forward.”

The issue was raised at a meeting of the Executive Office committee at Stormont on Wednesday by Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan. He said the funding had been “jeopardised by the arrogance of the DUP”.

Fellow committee member Diane Dodds of the DUP rejected the suggestion the funding was at risk.

She later accused Sinn Féin of “scaremongering” and talking “nonsense”.

Mrs Dodds said when powersharing was down for three years between 2017 and 2020 there had been no disruption to similar funding programmes.

She also pointed to research from Ulster University claiming that the Northern Ireland protocol had cost the North £850 million so far.

“Getting the protocol scrapped should be Sinn Féin’s priority rather than spinning nonsense,” she said.

“The protocol is polluting all our politics. It’s time to fix the problem.” – PA