A European Commissioner leading a Brussels taskforce on the North Ireland will today meet a senior minister in the Stormont power sharing government.
But as Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner arrived in Belfast, two of the province’s three MEPs accused the Stormont Executive of snubbing their requests for briefings on their discussions with senior European officials.
Unionist MEPs Jim Nicholson and Jim Allister also accused First Minister Ian Paisley of not even acknowledging their request for a briefing on the visit in May of EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
“Under Direct Rule, for all its many faults, the local departments were careful to brief and appraise the MEPs on the key issues concerning Northern Ireland in Europe and before any significant EU Commission visit,” the two unionist MEPs said.
“The obvious benefit was that a unified case could be presented on behalf of Northern Ireland.
“It is a matter of disappointment to us, but, more importantly, prejudicial to the best interests of Northern Ireland, that on the occasion of this important visit of Commissioner Hubner, designed to carry forward the work of an EU taskforce on Northern Ireland, the new administration has failed to communicate with and brief the MEPs.”
Commissioner Hubner will meet Finance Minister Peter Robinson in Belfast.
She has also pencilled in discussions tomorrow with Mr Nicholson and Mr Allister, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brun, Dennis Rooney of International Fund for Ireland and Pat Colgan of the Special EU Programmes Body and will tour projects supported by the European Regional Development Fund and Peace Funds Programme.
However the statement from former Democratic Unionist MEP Jim Allister and Ulster Unionist counterpart Jim Nicholson said Mr Allister felt the executive was snubbing them because of his opposition to the new power sharing executive at Stormont.
They argued: “Jim Nicholson wrote to the First Minister weeks ago, after Mr Barroso’s visit, asking for a meeting and briefing on the administration’s approach in Europe. He still awaits even an acknowledgement.
“Whether motivated by arrogance, petulance or spite, Stormont’s failure to engage with the MEPs is a sad reflection on the new government and its mode of operation.
“Nonetheless, when we meet Commissioner Hubner today we will vigorously press the case for a radical reappraisal of the funding opportunities available to Northern Ireland, based on the premise that we need Cohesion Funding for core infrastructural projects, rather that the cosmetic approach of more soft money in the PEACE III package.
“Undoubtedly, it would have been better to have had the opportunity to synchronise the message.”
Mr Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described the MEPs’ comments as regrettable.
“Both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister take very seriously their responsibilities in securing the best possible support from Europe,” they said.
“Both men recently met with European Commission President Barroso, confirming over one billion euro funding to 2013 and securing the unique taskforce, which will help promote growth, innovation and jobs.
“The junior minister, Ian Paisley Junior has also recently returned from a visit to the office of the Northern Executive in Brussels.
“Neither Jim Allister or Jim Nicholson sought briefing for Commissioner Hubner’s visit. It is a matter of regret therefore, that both MEPs have chosen to pursue this through the media.”