Cementing Northern Ireland’s PEACE

Peace does not come easy after conflict.  It is a gradual process, requiring patience and assistance.  That is one clear conclusion from Northern Ireland’s attempts to slowly leave the Troubles behind.  The European Union’s PEACE programmes have played an important role in that journey.


In fact, PEACE I began in 1995, preceding by three years the Good Friday Agreement between the UK and Irish governments.  PEACE IV – the latest and possibly last iteration – is about to begin.  Over the course of the first three programmes, €1.3bn of financial support went into Northern Ireland and on both sides of the border areas, with EU money supported by funding from the Irish and Northern Irish governments.  A further €150m has been allocated for Peace IV.


Northern Ireland’s then MEPs John Hume, Jim Nicholson and Ian Paisley were strong advocates for PEACE I, along with the then President of the European Commission Jacques Delors.  Academic institute Incore, in its ‘The Story of Peace’ publication, adds that “equally important were the European Commission officials whose job it was to animate and implement the programme”.


Seamus McAleavey, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), represents many of the community groups funded through the PEACE programmes.  “The Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation was inspired, in my view, by the Commission President Jacques Delors, who visited Belfast in the aftermath of the 1994 ceasefires,” says McAleavey.


“In effect, one of the central planks of the big European vision of preventing another catastrophic war in Europe was localised in our peace process.  Delors was convinced that strengthening civil society organisations would deepen the peace process and start the more difficult task of reconciliation.  Delors thought the EU needed to invest money to build the process, but I think for some it was all about solidarity between the EU and a region coming out of conflict with echoes of the Thirty Years War.  It made a major contribution to the development of the peace process in Northern Ireland at a grass roots level.”


PEACE I leaned heavily on the experience of the International Fund for Ireland (see box), which was already actively supporting civil society in both jurisdictions.  During the years of the Troubles, civil society fulfilled many of the roles that in other places might have been undertaken by businesses or the public sector.  Community groups, for example, rebuilt retail centres badly damaged by bombing and many had credibility with members of communities who distrusted local and central government.


The inspiration for PEACE I also came from the realisation that half of all peace projects internationally collapse within five years.  For the Troubles to genuinely come to an end, there needed to be a peace building programme that followed on from the peace process itself.  That longer lasting peace building project needed to construct relationships between communities that had been in conflict.  It also had to address legacy issues, such as lack of mutual trust and different perceptions of civil rights.


Accoding to Incore’s analysis, it was essential that the peace building process, supported by the EU’s PEACE programme, had continued over the five years 2002 to 2007 when Northern Ireland’s political institutions were suspended.  Joint EU membership by the UK and Ireland is seen by many as a key aspect of the peace process – an issue that some pro-EU politicians are raising in the context of the Brexit debate.


The most iconic project to emerge from the PEACE programmes was probably Derry’s Peace Bridge.  This was awarded £14.7m from PEACE III, with money from the EU Regional Development Fund backed by contributions from the Irish government and the Northern Ireland Executive.  This pedestrian bridge helped bring together two sides of the city, separated by the River Foyle: one of which is predominately Catholic and other traditionally Protestant.  The bridge has physically and socially reconnected a city in which for decades many residents of one part of the city avoided visiting the other side.  Funding for the Peace Bridge has helped to attract about £100m of other infrastructure funding into the city, much of it to improve the quality of its public spaces.


Derry City and Strabane District Council chief executive John Kelpie explains: “The Peace Bridge acts as a catalyst for redevelopment and regeneration in our city and district.”  The council’s Mayor Councillor Elisha McCallion adds: “The development of the Peace Bridge has made a huge impact on our city and district, not only in terms of our local economy and tourism offering, but in joining our city and our communities together. The Peace Bridge encourages greater social interaction and engagement between all of our communities and continues to be a focal point for walkers, runners, cyclists, shoppers and tourists.”


Commercial projects run by community groups have also been supported by the PEACE programmes.  Creggan Enterprises is a community owned not-for-profit social enterprise, which operates a business centre in one of Derry’s most deprived areas, containing shops, offices, micro-enterprise workspace units and meeting rooms.  Its Rathmor centre operates as neutral space in which different communities can come together to address the legacy of conflict.


Rathmor has benefited from PEACE funding to clear derelict land and build the workspace units.  “The PEACE programme has been extremely important in helping to sustain peace building in Northern Ireland and supporting disadvantaged communities that were previously marginalised and excluded,” says Creggan Enterprise’s executive director Conal McFeely.


“It has supported economic development and brought investment: without it we would not have seen the growth in social economy enterprises such as ours, which has been recognised nationally and internationally as an example of best practice.  PEACE I, II and II were also crucial in dealing with the legacy of conflict, putting resources into supporting the victims of conflict.  Without it, we would not have been where we are today.”


McFeely adds: “The funding process was supportive of community development and the role of the social economy in advancing greater local ownership.  It was quite easy to deal with, not too bureaucratic, and it was prepared to take risks.  PEACE funding has provided leverage for other investment opportunities.”


One of the big projects in Belfast benefiting from PEACE funding has been the Skainos Village, a shared space urban regeneration project in East Belfast.  It hosts various services provided by the East Belfast Mission and others, including youth support, elderly day care, training and employment programmes, adult education, a cafe, shops and offices.  The centre operates as a social enterprise and helps to bring together different communities, including newly arrived ethnic minority families.  Centre manager Gary Robb says PEACE funding “contributed greatly and was invaluable to the centre becoming operational”.


Rural areas have benefited, too.  The quiet twin villages of Pettigo in County Donegal and Tullyhommon in County Fermanagh are split by the River Termon and were artificially separated socially by the border and the impact of the Troubles.  A regeneration scheme – called the Termon Project – supported by €8.3m funding from PEACE III has created a new bridge and riverside walkways, park and related community facilities. 


Although it is now 18 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, Northern Ireland’s peace process remains unfinished business.  Consequently PEACE IV has been approved and details of how to apply have just been published.  But PEACE IV is significantly different from PEACE I, II and III.  There will be fewer approved projects, a smaller total budget, with average grant size increased.  “It will spend much less than the first programme and will be more concentrated particularly around local government,” explains NICVA’s Seamus McAleavey.  Applications are also encouraged from other public bodies and from community groups.


Applicants will have to show stronger evidence of potential impact than was the case with the previous PEACE programmes.  Other criteria include proof of cross-community or cross-border co-operation, strong corporate governance and partnership arrangements, value for money, project sustainability and equality and high quality project design.  The Special EU Programmes Body, which administers PEACE IV, explains that “all of the new 2014-2020 Programmes will focus on a narrow range of activities to ensure that there is sufficient funding available to bring about significant change”.


Despite progress, social difficulties persist in the areas worst affected by conflict. “Divisions between communities are still very evident with low levels of trust and high levels of residential and social segregation,” says the programme documentation. In some respects, things have actually got worse.  While tensions between loyalist and nationalist/republican communities have eased, the problems faced by incoming ethnic minority communities are growing.  Schemes addressing those tensions are also eligible for PEACE support.


The message then is that however much support there is for communities affected by the Troubles, conflict resolution may take generations, not just years.  The PEACE programmes have unquestionably assisted with the steps taken so far.




Peace I, II, III and IV


Peace I was approved in 1995 and operated until 1999, with a focus on the legacy of conflict.  It provided €667m to 15,000 projects.  Peace II operated from 1999 to 2006, to reinforce progress on peace building, through economic development and cross-border co-operation.  It funded 7,000 projects, using funding of €995m.  Peace III followed, from 2007 to 2013, promoting reconciliation.  More than 400 groups received its €333m.  Peace IV is running from 2014 to 2020, with a budget of €270m.  The priorities for Peace IV are reconciling communities and contributing to peace.  Its main objectives are shared education; helping children and young people; creating shared spaces and services; and building positive relations at a local level.


Twelve counties are eligible for support – all of Northern Ireland and the six border counties in the Republic – Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal.  This is a total population area of 2.1 million people – about a third of the population of the whole of the island of Ireland.  PEACE is administered by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), based in Belfast, which also handles the EU’s Cross-border Programme for Territorial Co-operation for Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland (INTERREG).  The PEACE programmes have been unique special programmes for the EU.


The PEACE programmes were built on the legacy of the International Fund for Ireland – which remains an important source of funding for many community projects.  It promotes economic and social progress and encourages cross-community contact, dialogue and reconciliation across the whole of Ireland.  PEACE I was part-funded by the EU’s contributions to the IFI, which was established in 1986 by the UK and Irish governments and is supported by the EU and the governments of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


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