Economy Minister Arlene Foster has been accused of “complacency” after revelations about how little money Northern Ireland has got from a major EU scheme.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt yesterday said that research by Assembly staff which has been given to MLAs shows that Northern Ireland got 94 per cent less than the Republic from one of the EU’s largest pots of money.
Mr Nesbitt said that Northern Ireland secured 35 Euro per head of population, compared to a massive 590 Euro for every person in the Republic as part of the Framework Programmes 7 (FP7), the EU’s main fund for research.
For decades, the Republic has put intense effort into securing EU funds, many of which have paid for large infrastructure projects such as roads.
One of the Executive’s key objectives is to increase by 20 per cent the amount of money Northern Ireland receives from EU competitive programmes, one of which is FP7.
In the Assembly yesterday Mrs Foster referred to collaboration between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
She said: “It has been shown that, when both jurisdictions collaborated in relation to FP7, we had a very high rate of success.”
But Mr Nesbitt said he was surprised by what he described as the DUP minister’s “complacency”.
He said: “The Assembly’s own research department has shown that not only did Northern Ireland draw down less per head of population than England, Scotland or Wales, the comparison with the Republic of Ireland is eye-wateringly, staggeringly, stark.”
He added: “It is all very well the minister pointing out that the Republic is a sovereign state, whereas we are a region of the United Kingdom, with all the implications for governance, but it is equally important to point out that her ministerial colleagues in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have failed over a number of years to identify an appropriate region of the EU against which we could benchmark our performance in drawing down competitive EU funds such as FP7.
“Until that happens, our inability to match the engagement of Dublin for the benefit of our people remains as a political embarrassment.”
At the time of going to press, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment had not responded to a request for comment.