30/01/2002

Northern Ireland Executive opens European offices in Brussels

David Trimble and Mark Durkan arrived in Brussels on Tuesday January 29, to put their seal of approval on a new £500,000-a-year office designed to spearhead Northern Ireland's interests in Europe.

Just yards from the front door of the European Parliament, the new offices will be a focal point for any Northern Ireland companies hoping to gain a foothold on the continent.

First Minister David Trimble and Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan held a series of high-level meetings on Tuesday January 29 with senior figures from both the European Parliament and European Commission.

Billions of euros have been pumped into Northern Ireland to support infrastructure, social and community regeneration and business as part of the wider peace process.

But with this funding due to run out in 2004, an Executive spokesman said it was important that Northern Ireland continued to fight its corner.

The office, which has been used as a base by Stormont Ministers attending EC meetings, will also assist those behind Belfast's bid to become European City of Culture in 2008.

The office, which opened last May, has already attracted criticism for proving to be more expensive to run than was first estimated.

The four full-time staff will swell to six when two experts in inward investment join the Executive's Euro team later this year. (AMcE)

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