Ex-prisoners and dissidents share in €333m EU peace cash bonanza
Five republican ex-prisoners' groups in the border counties have received more than €6m in EU peace funds.
The support groups for 'ex-PoWs' and 'combatants' are among hundreds of organisations in Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan and Louth that have shared in the €333m peace pot.
More funds are on the way with the launch of a new funding programme last Friday that will pump €270m into the North and border regions over the next four years to promote peace and reconciliation.
The last funding programme, PEACE III, injected millions into the region.
Along with big-ticket projects, like the Skainos Centre in East Belfast and the iconic Derry peace bridge, grass roots cross-community projects also benefited.
Ex-prisoners, North and South, received substantial funding for the important role they are regarded as playing in advancing the peace process.
The five ex-prisoners' groups south of the Border were paid €6.5m in grants over the lifetime of the Peace III programme, according the to EU database on the programme.
Abhaile Aris, a support group in Donegal where Sinn Fein TDs Pearse Doherty and Padraig Mac Lochlainn once worked, received €1.7m in peace grants. Failte Abhaile, in Louth, received €1.9m.
The former Sinn Fein TD Arthur Morgan, who is also an ex-prisoner, sit on its board of directors.
Failte Cluan Eois, in Clones, Co Monaghan, received funds of €1.15m; La Nua, in Leitrim; received just over €1m while Tus Nua, a group based in Sligo, got funds of €753,182. The organisations all run courses and training for ex-prisoners.
Dissident republicans in Leitrim were also targeted in peace-funded projects. An outreach programme for dissident republicans was approved for a €12,000 EU grant under the county's Peace and Reconciliation project.
The programme targeted republicans who did not subscribe to the Good Friday Agreement and who still "supported actions". It was aimed at being the "first step in encouraging and supporting participants to engage in the Peace Process".
Pobal, the agency that administers and allocates state funds in the Republic, said it allocated €41m in PEACE III grants to 90 cross-border projects and a total of €253m since the programme's inception in 1995. In addition to those funds, the six local authorities in the border counties also received millions to distribute to local community events and projects with relevant cross-border themes over the six-year period of the Peace III programme.
Louth County Council said it had drawn down €3.1m in PEACE III grants since 2011, allocated to around 40 local projects, ranging from storytelling groups to theatre and arts programmes.
Monaghan County Council said this weekend that it had been allocated a total of €7.2m in PEACE III grants between 2008 and 2014 and that 52 community groups and organisations benefitted.
The projects that it funded included a men's hub, which was grant-approved for €157,243 and a project called 'Women Journeying Towards Reconciliation', which was grant-approved for €111,885.
However, the figures on what these projects actually drew down in grants were not available.
Elsewhere, a €8m regeneration project centred on the River Termon was unveiled last month, with a footbridge uniting the villages of Pettigo, Co Donegal and Tullyhammon in Fermanagh to "create a safe, shared space where people from different communities and cultures can meet and learn from each other."
In Donegal, a grant of €69,000 was approved for the "JUAH Project - a journey of understanding, acceptance and healing" for former members of the "security services".
Its purpose was to develop "a continuum of support" for former security force personnel in Donegal" who worked during the Troubles, "addressing areas such as sectarianism, racism, discrimination, cultural diversity, a shared-heritage conflict resolution and active citizenship through focused peace and reconciliation work with the Retired Garda Associations and Irish Army".
Other projects included the 'Leitrim Story Telling' project, in which participants from three story-telling groups produced a CD of their stories.
In Cavan, the Virginia Pumpkin festival got grant approval of €20,000, while in Louth a puppet show for an "intercultural float" for the annual St Patrick's Day Parade got grant approval for €29,000.
The amounts actually drawn down by the projects were unavailable last week as a public database operated by the EU Special Programmes body, SEUPB, which manages the funds, said some financial information on it needed updating.
Local authorities in the border region also received EU 'technical assistance' grants for their work in administering the funds.
Louth County Council, for example, said it received an assistant grant of €403,317 over the period of the programme from 2011 to 2014.
"This covered salaries and expenses of dedicated staff, stationery, partnership board member expenses, meeting costs, advertising, information sessions with interested applicants and opening and closing project events, which were required under the programme," the council said.
The EU peace funds programme was launched in 1995 to boost the Northern Ireland peace process, with the money to be spent on projects supporting peace and reconciliation and cross-border community relationships.
The latest programme, PEACE IV, was launched in Belfast on Friday and will run until 2020, offering €270m in grants to hundreds of peace related projects.
Around €100m will be directed at projects aimed at children and young people. In the region of €28m will be allocated to "local authority shared spaces", €35m to "local authority action plans", and €17m to projects aimed at "victims and survivors".
A second EU funded programme, INTERREG, supports cross-border economic development projects and will also roll out a fund of €274m for projects in the North, border counties and Western Scotland, bringing the total funding package to €550m.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said this weekend that the Irish contribution to PEACE III was €120m, comprising €66m in European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) and €54m match funding.
It will be €54m - €46m ERDF and €8m match funding - for PEACE IV.
At the launch on Friday, Minister Brendan Howlin said the two programmes "will see investment of more than half-a-billion euro in the region over the next seven years in support of a range of exciting cross-border initiatives".