Donegal’s unique strengths as a region can open up a range of opportunities for the county to avail of E.U. funding, Letterkenny Town councillors were told at their meeting this week.
Highlighting the presence of the Gaeltacht and off shore islands and its proximity to Derry, Donegal County Council’s EU Manager, Maria Ferguson said the county boasted aspects that were different from other areas. “We can tap into those unique strengths,” she maintained.
Addressing the Town Council’s monthly meeting as part of a presentation by the E.U. Funding & Policy Unit, she said: “There are huge advantages in being a border county. We have access to border programmes that other areas don’t.”
The EU Manager declared: “Local authorities are not at the races when it comes to European funding. There’s a reluctance to get involved in these programmes because they’re seen as too bureaucratic.”
During the presentation, Council members were informed of the key sectoral funding opportunities that were being explored by the Donegal EU unit including in the areas of tourism, marine, renewable energies, culture, social inclusion, enterprise and skills and the diaspora.
On the latter aspect, Cllr. Tadhg Culbert spoke of its importance in relation to the unit’s future plans and pointed out that the Letterkenny Reunion Committee brought thousands of people home for their reunion event every three years. Among them were successful business people who had thrived overseas in countries such as Australia and America.
Could, Cllr. Culbert asked, this be exploited from the point of view of securing businesses and jobs for Letterkenny? “The Reunion committee has contacts all over the world and we should be looking to build on that,” he argued.
Earlier, both Ms. Ferguson and Carol Margey, Assistant Planner with the EU Unit, had outlined the two key areas of the unit including its administrative and developmental functions.
Based in Lifford and established in January 2010, it represents the first dedicated unit in the Republic of Ireland and has already reaped dividends with up to ten projects up and running.
The local EU Manager cited as an example Belfast City Council which had secured £17 million in funding to date through its EU unit. There were, said Mr. Ferguson, always new opportunities coming on stream.
Ms. Margey revealed that the unit in Donegal offered four levels of support and spoke of the Local Authority Swimming Pool schemes which had benefited from EU funding including the Letterkenny Regional Swimming Centre (233,700 euro), Waterworld Bundoran (203,080 euro), and Ballyshannon Leisure Centre (73,950 euro).
If the project was good enough and could stand on its own merits, it would be considered, she insisted.
The EU Unit representatives, who also included Research and Policy Officer Roisin McBride, said the aim was to develop a European Policy Agenda while it was also hoped to develop networks and strategic partnerships.
Reacting to the presentation, Cllr. Jim Lynch said the Council had not been aware of what was available through the local offices and he wondered what specific funding they could apply for in terms of the locality.
Other councillors also welcomed the presentation with Cllr. Pascal Blake asking if funding might be made available for the upgrading of Letterkenny’s old town.
The EU Unit Manager stressed the unique strengths that the county had when it came to drawing down potential funding but suggested it might be better to look at it through “smaller robust applications” as opposed to a fire sale approach.