Call for answers on $180m funds


Questions are to be asked by a Stormont committee over two large-scale funds which were set up to pump cash into the Province.

It follows articles by the News Letter showing there was no evidence of any tangible benefit to Northern Ireland from the funds – together worth an estimated $180m – years after they were announced.

At the close of yesterday’s meeting, at which the issue of the under-threat Exploris Aquarium was also raised, enterprise committee chairman Patsy McGlone made reference to Wednesday’s News Letter, in which an investigation into the US-based funds appeared.

Mr McGlone said: “Can we ask the department (of enterprise, trade and investment) what essentially has been done with these funds? And if we could also copy the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) into that.”

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew wanted to ask them if any other such funds existed too. “Yes,” agreed the chairman, “and just how efficiently have they been operated, or otherwise, since?”

The committee expects written responses in reply.

One fund, called Emerging Europe and said to be worth $30m to Ulster, was announced with what one MLA had called a “fanfare” of publicity in March 2009, but has so far done nothing for the Province – though those behind it say it does remain committed to investing in Northern Ireland.

The separate US-run Emerald fund, which was unveiled in 2008 with a pledge of $150m, has also not yielded any apparent benefit to Ulster according to reports, including one recently from the New York Times – though attempts by the News Letter to glean details from the USA had been unsuccessful.

When it comes to the Exploris centre in Portaferry, the committee also agreed that, following a visit to the aquarium on Wednesday, letters will go to no fewer than seven Stormont departments asking how they can help the floundering attraction, which faces the possibility of closure.

A meeting is also being sought with Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster on that issue.