Where do EU grants to Northern Ireland go?

The EU runs seven major programmes in NI
The EU runs seven major programmes in NI
  • NI got 3.5 billion Euro over seven years – though the UK gives more than it receives
  • Examples of funding range from refurbishing cross-border trains, to a huge peace project targeting an incredibly thinly-populated border region
  • Which large-scale projects in your region are listed here?

Right across the Province, there are road signs, playgrounds, and polished plaques which bear the EU flag.

They are all the result of EU grants – money put into a central pot by the EU’s 28 states, then parcelled out again across the continent.

An artist's impression of the Giant's Causeway visitor centre

An artist's impression of the Giant's Causeway visitor centre

The News Letter has sought to bust through the jargon and unravel exactly what such direct subsidies mean for Northern Ireland.

In total, about 3.5 billion Euro was allocated to programmes covering the Province during the last major EU funding round – the vast majority of it being in farm subsidies.

The figures come from the Belfast office of the European Commission (responsible for managing the EU budget and enforcing its laws), and cover the period from the start of 2007 to the end of 2013.

Another roughly 3.5bn Euro is allocated for the current funding round (2014-2020).

The aerospace firm Bombardier's east Belfast facility. The firm has recieved millions in EU funding in NI.

The aerospace firm Bombardier's east Belfast facility. The firm has recieved millions in EU funding in NI.

It is far from clear what will happen to this if the UK opts to pull out.

The Commission’s Belfast office would not say if the current programmes will be immediately null-and-void if the UK decides to leave on June 23, and told the newspaper this would amount to engaging in speculation.

Meanwhile the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) said that, despite Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments making up the lion’s share of EU spending, “there are no contingency plans in relation to payments currently made under the CAP in the event of a British withdrawal”.

The 3.5bn Euro is spread among seven big EU programmes, laid out here.

EU funding has gone to restocking Lough Neagh with eels

EU funding has gone to restocking Lough Neagh with eels

However the actual amount of EU cash in the Province could still be higher because there are other EU funds which, whilst not specifically earmarked for Northern Ireland, might still be used to finance schemes here.

To give a scale of how big 3.5 Euro is, the annual budget for the whole Northern Irish health service in 2016/17 is roughly £4.9bn (or 6.2bn in Euro at today’s exchange rate).

Despite the huge-sounding numbers, it should also be noted that the UK is a net contributor to the EU, not a net recipient of money (see below).

Here is where the 3.5bn Euro which was directly set aside for Northern Ireland from 2007-2013 actually went:

• CAP Pillar I: 2.2bn Euro

What is this? Administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), these are general payments which go directly to farmers.

This is basically given according to the area of land being farmed; it is not dependent on whether and is grazing or arable, or how many family members work at the farm.

However extra payments can be made – for example, for farmers under 40 who have recently taken over the reins of the farm, or if certain environmental criteria are met.

• CAP Pillar II: 329m Euro

What is this? These payments, also handled by DARD, are for what the department terms “rural development”. This can include payments for farmers in “severely disadvantaged” areas.

• European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme: 306.8m Euro.

What is this? This is handled by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), and gives money to university research, businesses subsidies, and tourism and environment projects. The programme has now disappeared, but a new one has since got up-and-running called Investment for Growth and Jobs, which is basically the same thing.

Biggest projects helped by this programme:

Just under £14.6m (more than 18m Euro today) was approved in 2012 for the Department of Regional Development to help buy over 100 buses as part of its “Clean Urban Transport” scheme (a project which cost £29.2m in total).

In 2014, the EU approved £13.4m (almost 17m Euro today) towards the £26.7m publicly-funded renovation of the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. The project is listed as “Waterfront Convention Centre” – a redesign of the building which has seen a boxy white extension added to the much-vaunted venue, prompting widespread criticism.

The EU also gave £6.2m (about 7.7m Euro today) to build the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre; gave £8.9m (11.24m Euro) to upgrade the A2 Shore Road between Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus; and approved a £10.2m grant (12.88m Euro) to Bombardier in 2010 to help it with research on a business jet programme. Bombardier announced it was to make about 1,000 staff redundant in Northern Ireland this month.

• Peace III: 224.8 Euro

What is this? This is not run by a department, but is run by a group called the Special EU Programmes Body. It covers Northern Ireland and the border regions of the Republic, and is designed to promote reconciliation. Previous Peace programmes (I and II) have run since 1995.

Biggest projects helped by this programme:

In 2007 the EU approved £9.6m for the Peace Bridge in Londonderry, part of £14.1m-worth of public funding used to create the project.

In 2011, it approved £5.9m-worth of funding for the Girdwood Community Hub in north-west Belfast, between the Crumlin and Cliftonville Roads. This was to be “shared, welcome, open” centre, aimed at creating a “shared space” in the area. Total public funding, including the EU grant, was £8.8m.

Other large-scale projects have included £4.8m in EU money for Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council, approved in 2014. This was part of a £7.7m project in total, which aimed to “reposition Dungannon town and its civic space as a regional best practice model of a shared, safe and inclusive town”. In practical terms, this means funding for “an iconic Peace Tower/Beacon”, cultural events, helping a migrant support group, a women’s centre, and more.

In east Belfast, the EU approved £4.1m-worth of cash for the Skainos Centre on the loyalist lower Newtownards Road - which is today home of the Methodist Mission, as well as Irish language classes run by former UVF man David Ervine’s sister-in-law, Linda. Total public funding for this project was £6.1m, including the EU cash.

In 2009, the EU approved 5.4m Euro in funding for Donegal County Council (worth roughly £3.7m-or-so at the time) for the Termon Project. This centred on the incredibly tiny settlements of Tullyhommon and Pettigo, next to the border and the river Termon. The project (which also involved 2.6m Euro in other funding) was aimed at creating “iconic and flagship shared public spaces” such as community facilities, and “rekindling the villages’ community spirit”. According to figures cited in the Irish Parliament, the two settlements have little over 500 people between them.

At the other side of the Province, Belfast Peace and Reconciliation Action Plan, run by the city council, saw about £3.6m of EU money put into it.

In 2008, 5.8m Euro was approved for Monaghan County Council for the Clones Erne East Sports Partnership Project (out of total public funding of 8.5m Euro) for building a running track, pitches, and more.

In 2010, Newry and Mourne District Council (which a few years earlier had named a children’s playpark after republican paramilitary Raymond McCreesh) was given £3.7m by the EU to “increase community cohesion”, “reducese [sic] manifestations of sectarianism and racism in the community”, and to “embed good relations at all levels”.

• Interreg IVA: 192m Euro

What is this? Also run by the Special EU Programmes Body, this money goes towards Northern Ireland, western Scotland, and the Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border region.

Biggest projects helped by this programme:

In 2008, 22m Euro was approved for Project Kelvin (forming part of a roughly 29m Euro public funding package). This aimed to provide direct access to the underwater telecoms cables which run across the Atlantic from the USA. Upon completion in 2010, then-trade minister Arlene Foster said it had brought the Province “fast, low cost and resilient telecommunications”.

In 2008, £18.8m in EU money was approved (out of a total public funding pot of £25m) for a health project called “Putting Patients First”. However, there were very few details about what this actually is on the website successes.eugrants.org , whilst another EU webpage about the project was broken, yeilding zero information about what the project involves in practical terms.

In 2012, £9m was approved for the North West Regional Science Park (total public cash, including this EU money: £12m), and in 2014, £9m was given to a project for overhauling the Enterprise cross-border trains (out of £12.2m in public cash overall).

• Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme: 165.7m Euro

What is this? Run by the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL), this assists with job market training. For example, groups such as the Prince’s Trust and the Conservation Volunteers are among those to have recieved cash from this fund.

Biggest projects helped by this programme:

The EU approved £38.6m in 2010 for the DEL’s training branch, for its Training For Success Programme Led Apprenticeships scheme.

The description of the project includes things such as training in first aid, IT, and health and safety, seemingly with the aim of helping applicants into apprenticeships.

The total public funding for the project, including the EU cash, was £96.7m. Another £25m in EU cash was approved the following year for Training for Success.

Other details of projects have been difficult to come by, because of technical problems with the EU’s search webpage.

•European Fisheries Fund: 18m Euro.

What is this? This is run by DARD and funds things like improvements to boats and ports.

Biggest projects helped by this programme:

In 2010, the EU approved £716,600 for the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure’s Lough Neagh / River Bann eel management programme (total public cost £1.4m, including the EU money), which involved restocking the waters with eels.

In 2010, the EU approved £566,500 for upgrading quay walls in Kilkeel (half the total project cost), and in 2013 gave £396,400 (also half the full cost) towards upgrading the quay walls in Portavogie.

In 2014 it approved £361,600 to Ardglass Sea Products so it could build a cold store and blast freezing facility (half the total cost).


Although the European Commission has confirmed that the UK is a net contributor, finding a firm figure for exactly what the balance is between what is given and what is received has proved essentially impossible.

The Treasury in Westminster was asked the question, which in turn passed the query to No10 officials, who in turn did not answer it.

According to Commons briefing papers, it has been estimated that the UK’s total contribution this year to the EU will be about £19.6bn. Once rebated money and EU funding received by councils and departments is taken into account, the net contribution is £11.1bn.

However, a European Commission source said this figure fails to take into account other EU funding which the UK recieves, such as European cash which goes to universities.

As for Northern Ireland specifically, the European Commission said no figure could be arrived at for its own individual contribution to the EU because Northern Ireland is just a component of the UK, and not a member state in its own right.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK provides just under 12 per cent of the EU’s money (in 2013).

The other top funders are Germany (21 per cent), France (17 per cent), and Italy (at about 12.5 per cent).

Overwhelmingly the UK’s contribution is in the form of a Gross National Income payment, which is basically a percentage of the earnings of each country’s citizens (capped at a maximum of 1.24 per cent of the total earnings from a country’s citizens).

The rest is made up of a contibution from the UK’s VAT income (amounting to 0.3 per cent of VAT income) and what are called “traditional” payments, made up of the income derived from levies such as customs duties.