Northern Ireland

MEP says UK government putting Peace IV money at risk

Peace bridge in Derry
Image caption The Peace Bridge in Derry has benefited from European money

The Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson says the UK government's attitude towards Europe could jeopardise Northern Ireland's access to EU funding.

European leaders are meeting in Brussels on Thursday to discuss spending plans from 2014 onwards.

The British government is calling for a freeze in the EU budget and is opposed to proposals for a five per cent rise.

Mr Nicholson said some local groups could face an uncertain future.

He said many depended on peace funding.

"What I am spelling out to the people of Northern Ireland and the many people who depend on the peace funds - you better prepare - Peace IV may not happen," he said.

"The harsh truth is Europe is prepared to support it, the parliament is prepared to support it, the government in the Republic have made it clear to me they will support it, but what we need is a request from both the government of the Republic of Ireland and the government of the UK.

"The UK, because of its position on the budget - they want to freeze the budget, are not prepared to make the request for the extra funds."

Leaders of the EU's 27 member states are gathering in Brussels for two days of intense negotiations over spending plans for the seven years beginning in 2014.

The UK wants at least a freeze in real terms, arguing that any above-inflation rise would be unjustified when many countries are having to cut their own spending.

David Cameron has said Britain will not give away any of its rebate and has threatened to use its veto.

If the five per cent proposed rise was passed, it would see the EU budget top one trillion euros.

Mr Nicholson said it could be next February before a decision on Peace IV funding is known as it may take until then for European leaders to finalise the budget.

Since 1995 the border counties of Northern Ireland and the Irish republic have benefited from around £1.35bn in funding

Some of the biggest projects to benefit include the Peace Bridge across the River Foyle and the proposed new Conflict Transformation centre at the Maze.

As well as the big projects, many voluntary community groups have also come to depend on EU funding.

The current Peace III programme and another inter-regional programme are due to end next year.

A consultation was launched in August asking the public how any future European Peace money should be spent.

The consultation closed on 20 November.

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