PUBLIC SECT0R: Irish projects body seeks external agency support

The International Fund for Ireland - a body aimed at reconciling Nationalists and Unionists in the Irish border counties through economic regeneration - has launched a search for external PR support.

The internationally-funded body, backed by the European Union and various countries, the Fund has so far handed out £455m to 4,800 projects in Northern Ireland and the southern border counties of Cavan, Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Monaghan and Louth.

Now it is asking for agencies to tender for a three-year contract to provide it with strategic advice and day-to-day support. The deadline for tenders is 23 April 2003, while all requests for tender must be made before 16 April.

According to a report on the fund conducted by KPMG it had supported 4,400 projects and created 37,500 jobs since its creation in 1987.

KPMG found that more than 11,000 people had participated in cross-community and cross-border groups and that nearly 2,100 companies had been involved in cross-border sectoral development programmes.

However, in 2000 the fund was criticised by the European Union Court of Auditors for failing to provide financial controls on some projects.

The court - the EU's financial watchdog - said that while the fund was useful in promoting peace and economic development and was developed and implemented in 'difficult circumstances', it needed to improve project selection and appraisal procedures.

In 2001 USAID, the organisation responsible for handing out the US's foreign assistance budget, doubled its annual contribution to the fund from £12.5m to £25m.

But the increase attracted some criticism in the US media that the contribution was too generous and should be allocated to poorer countries than Ireland with its 'Celtic Tiger economy'.

As well as the EU and US, countries contributing to the fund include the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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