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In 1994 the European Commission (EC) created a special Task Force to look into ways of giving practical assistance to Northern Ireland and the six border counties of Ireland (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo) in consultation with the national authorities. The creation of the Task Force was an expression of the European Union’s (EU) commitment to the peace and reconciliation process.
The Task Force conducted a broad-based consultation with both governments, with extensive input from local authorities, business, trade unions, voluntary groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
It was the opinion of the Task Force that ‘the European Union has a clear interest and vital role to play in maintaining the momentum for peace and reconciliation by means of a special support programme for Northern Ireland and the border counties…… not only for the benefit of the region most affected, but also for the wider benefit of the European Union as a whole.’
On the basis of this conclusion, the European Council of Essen (December 1994) approved a proposal for a multi-annual Community Initiative and in July 1995 formally established the ‘Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (SSPPR)’, which was then referred to as the PEACE I Programme which ran from 1995 - 1999.
The two Member States that oversaw the PEACE I Programme are the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland. The interests of the two Members States were represented by the Department of Finance and Personnel (Northern Ireland) and the Department of Finance (Ireland), responsible for designating central funding and the overall implementation of the PEACE I Programme.
There were 64 different Implementing Bodies/organisations, responsible for one or more Sub-programmes and Measures. The reason the Programme had such a wide-ranging number of organisations responsible for delivery was outlined by the European Commission’s Task Force, stating that the implementation and delivery mechanisms should ‘facilitate genuine bottom-up involvement by empowering local agencies and groups to participate in the direction and control of spending’.