13 counties to lose out in new regional EU aid fund
A VAST swathe of the country will no longer qualify for preferential regional aid from the European Union form 2014, raising fears that the effects of an economic imbalance between cities and rural regions will intensify.
The Border, Midland and Western (BMW) region – which incorporates 13 counties stretching from Laois to Donegal and Mayo to Louth – has, since 2000, been the target of special financial assistance from the EU because its economic performance was below that of the rest of the country and EU averages.
Between 2007 and 2013, a total of €458m in structural funding has been made available to the BMW region, with €229m of that coming from the European Regional Development Fund, and the remainder from the public purse.
The special status has been under threat for a number of months as the EU prepares to launch a new funding programme that will cover the period 2014-2020.
But the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has confirmed that no special status will be given to the BMW region in the next funding phase.
Sinn Fein TD Peadar Tobin, whose constituency is in Meath West, which is part of the BMW region, queried the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, about the BMW funding at a recent Jobs Committee hearing. The Minister's department said no 'bonus intensity rate' will be made available to any regions in Ireland under the new 2014-2020 regional aid map for Ireland that is currently being drafted.
"For the 2014-2020 Irish regional aid map, economic data such as unemployment and gross domestic product for all counties, including those counties in the BMW region, will once again be analysed afresh when deciding which counties will be designated for regional aid," said the department.
The BMW region would still qualify for aid, but it would lose the preferential status it currently enjoys, meaning funding levels would be much lower.
Mr Tobin said that the BMW had always received preferential treatment to allow for enterprise development in a region with high unemployment, weak infrastructure and lower than average standards of living.
He said it was "shocking" that the region looks set to lose its preferential status.
"This can only arrest enterprise development in the region, leading to further unemployment and immigration," he claimed. "That this change would happen in the middle of a recession is shocking."
There were 136,589 people on the live register in the BMW region at the end of August, down just over 5,600 year-on-year.