Following on from the short tour of US financial centres the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers [The businessmen of God? – Ed], along with both Junior ministers and the Agriculture minister, are in Brussels for a two-day
junket trip – BBC report here. The Irish Times has an eye-witness account [subs req]
At a reception at the Northern Ireland executive office, the Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness charmed senior EU officials and ambassadors with their humorous “Chuckle brothers” routine while ensuring to ask Europe for as much additional help and support as it could offer.
“We would be grateful for any help or any suggestions you can make to us because we have a strange government in Northern Ireland, nobody in our government was ever in government before . . . So we are all green as far as I’m concerned, of course I’m not green,” joked Mr Paisley, who also praised Irish Ministers for their use of EU funds.
“The South were very wise. They got money they used it very well. They put it into infrastructure. Of course if I got €6 million a day for five years I could do very well too. But the treasury put their big thieving fist on it and we never got it,” he said.
That last paragraph is worth noting in particular. And the contrast in how those funds were used is highlighted in the earlier linked report.
After talks with Ms Hubner the two leaders met Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Mr Barroso told Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness that the North already had a strong sense of hope following the peace process and the setting up of the Executive. “We now need to turn that into opportunities and help Northern Ireland use available European funding as quickly as possible,” he told them.
He said up to now the bulk of EU funding had gone towards peace projects, but now the aim was to look at growth, innovation, research and training to build up the Northern Irish economy.
Too late perhaps..
Northern Ireland has received about 2.5bn euro in regional support from Europe over the past 20 years.
However, Northern Ireland no longer has Objective One status – the term given to regions of the EU which qualify for the most support from Brussels.
As for the purpose of this meeting.. [subs again]
The commission has [already] allocated €1.1 billion in funds to the North for its next budget period 2007 to 2013. No new money is expected to be provided by the EU during this period but the taskforce is expected to put forward ideas next month on how to help Northern Ireland bodies to draw down the available money more speedily and efficiently.
And from this additional BBC report
“It’s not about money any more,” said Jane Morrice, a former MLA for the Women’s Coalition, and now the Northern Ireland representative on the European Economic and Social Committee.
“It’s about co-operation, it’s about trade… making friends and influencing people, and profiting from it, but in a valuable way, that creates business and creates partnerships.”