Structural Funds & Poverty

One of the most frequently cited benefits of Ireland’s membership of the European Union is the Structural Funds. From this programme, Ireland has received large amounts of money mostly spent through the National Development Plan. This includes the European Social Fund the Peace Programme and ‘community initiatives’ like EQUAL, INTERREG, Horizon, NOW, URBAN and LEADER. The European Anti Poverty Network works – at national and European – level to ensure that structural funds are directed towards combating poverty and the negative effects of social exclusion.

Contents: Structural Fund Explained

  1. What do European Structural Funds do?
  2. How are Structural Funds organised from 2007-2013?
  3. Other features of Structural Funds from 2007-2013
  4. Structural Funds in Ireland
  5. Social Inclusion and Structural Funds
  6. How Structural Funds are spent
  7. Monitoring Structural Funds
  8. EAPN Ireland engagement with Structural Funds



1. What do European Structural Funds Do?

The Structural Funds were created to help those regions within the European Union whose development is lagging behind. The aim is to reduce the differences between regions and create a better economic and social balance within the EU. Structural Funds are used by the European Union to support:

  1. Economic development in the poorer regions of the EU
  2. Social development for excluded groups across the EU

The EAPN’s objective is to ensure that the Structural Funds are used to address poverty and social inclusion. In Ireland, a broad range of areas have benefited from Structural Funds. Practical benefits include the construction of schools, the provision of public transport and other social infrastructure, childcare, community and local development, training and employment schemes, adult and community educational programmes, and other projects which had a clear social intent or outcome.

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2. How are the Structural Funds Organised from 2007-2013?

The Regulations at EU level outline the structures and rules and include a General Regulation and Regulations for each of the funds which are:

  • European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) provides support for a broadrange of mainly social and economicinfrastructural activities, including broadband and communications, urbandevelopment and transnational/interregional activities.
  • European Social Fund (ESF) fundstraining, employment and socialinclusion initiatives.
  • Cohesion is a special fund used mainlyfor road and other infrastructure inperipheral regions. Ireland does notbenefit from this Fund from 2007.


During the period 2007-2013 these funds are to be used to achieve three objectives:

Objective 1: Convergence (for less developed regions and not including Ireland)
Objective 2: Regional competitiveness and employment (All other regions)
Objective 3: European territorial cooperation (Border regions, inter-regional and transnational co-operation programmes. The Peace Programme is funded under this objective. Community Initiatives were part of Structural Fund Programmes up until 2007 and focused on addressing specific issues. They were channelled from the Commission through national
intermediary bodies. Community Initiatives were accessible to community and voluntary organisations to run local or national activities addressing poverty and social exclusion.

There are no Community Initiatives in the 2007-2013 Structural Funds period which involved funding coming more directly from the EU. However, INTERREG (Inter-regional) is now reflected in the new Objective 3, URBAN (urban initiatives) is catered for with a focus on cities under Objective 2. LEADER (rural development) has been moved out of Structural Funds and is now under the new EU European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) which is to be community initiative which ran during the 2000-2006 period addressing inequality, discrimination and exclusion in the labour market), is mainstreamed to a limited degree within the ESF programme at national level. This includes ‘activation’ funding for organisations.

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3. Other Features of the Structural Fund Regulations 2007-2013

Partnership Principle: Article 11 of the General Regulation names civil society and nongovernmental organisations, and bodies responsible for promoting equality between men and women as partners who are to be involved at all stages of the Structural Funds Programmes
Social Inclusion is named within the Regulations generally but more specifically addressed in the European Social Funds. Measures should be taken to promote Gender Equality and combat discrimination (on a range of grounds) in all activities which take place under the Structural Funds.

One of the key elements of the reform of the Structural Funds is their ‘simplification’. This means that the level of financial and programme monitoring and supervision by the Commission is reduced and Member States have greater freedom to decide how the new Structural Funds operate nationally. In order to guide Member States, Community Strategic Guidelines (CSG) have been developed in consultation with Member States that spell out in detail the Commission’s priorities for the Structural Funds. At least 75% of the funding has to be spent on priorities linked to the Lisbon Growth and Jobs Agenda and the National Reform Programme.

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4. Structural Funds in Ireland

In the previous three rounds of Structural Funds (1989-1993, 1994-2009 and 2000-2006) Structural Funds in Ireland were always integrated into the Irish National Development Plans (NDP) which covered the same periods. However, from 2007–2013 the Structural Funds and the NDP are separate programmes. The overall managing body for both the NDP and Structural Funds Programmes in Ireland is still the Department of Finance.

In the past Ireland qualified for funding under Objective 1, which goes to more disadvantaged regions. In the last programme the country was divided into two regions, the Southern and Eastern Region (S+E) and the Border Midland and Western (BMW) Region, so that the BMW Region could qualify for Objective 1 funding. During this round no Irish region qualifies for Objective 1 funding and therefore the overall EU allocation for Ireland in 2007-2013 is smaller than previously was the case, falling from €3.7bn in 2000-2006 to approximately €882m. The NDP 2007-2013, which is almost completely funded from Irish sources, is worth nearly €184bn. The level of funding Ireland can draw down has been impacted on by the economic crisis.

Based on the EU Community Strategic Guidelines each Member State had to draw up their National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) which outlines their national priorities. The NSRF in turn is the basis on which each Member State drew up their Operational Programmes.
The Operational Programmes (OPs) for Ireland for 2007-2013 are:


  • South and East Regional OP
  • Border, Midland and Western (BMW) Regional OP
  • Human Capital Investment (European Social Fund) OP
  • Cross Border/Interregional OPs including the (a) PEACE III Programme, (b) INTERREG IVa (Cross-Border) Operational Programmes: Northern Ireland, Scotland and Border region of Ireland; Ireland- Wales, and (c) INTERREG IVB (Inter-regional) Programmes: (i.) Atlantic Area; (ii.) ‘Northern Periphery’ Countries; and (iii.) North West Europe.

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5. Social Inclusion and Structural Funds

In terms of social inclusion in the OPs the key areas to look at are their objectives, the extent to which anti-poverty organisations are represented on monitoring committees, how activities directly or indirectly address social inclusion, to what extent anti-poverty organisations can access funding through the OP, and finally if social inclusion and equality are horizontal issues and how these are monitored and reported on including the indicators that are used to monitor social inclusion outcomes.

It is clear that while NGOs (e.g. the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, Irish Rural Link, National Women’s Council and the Community Workers Cooperative) are represented on monitoring committees the Irish Structural Fund Programme 2007-2013 is less focused on social inclusion than previous programmes, and there are fewer opportunities for anti-poverty groups to gain access to funds.

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6. How Structural Funds are Spent

The funding from the OPs is mainly spent by Government departments and agencies such as FAS. Some funding is channelled through intermediaries such as local community groups under the HCIOP to provide training and under the PEACE III Programme as part of a partnership approach.

In past funding periods greater levels of activity took place through community organisations and through a process known as ‘global grants’ national bodies, such as the Combat Poverty Agency and Area Development Management Limited, were able to manage funds and act as intermediary bodies through which local groups/organisations could access funding for activities. All spending is closely monitored by the Managing Authority and the European Commission with strict rules and spending time frames agreed in advance.

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7. Monitoring Structural Funds

The Community and Voluntary Pillar is represented on the monitoring committees for the overall Programme and each of the OPs. The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed is on the Human Capital Investment OP Monitoring Committee, Irish Rural Link and the National Women’s Council are on the BMW Monitoring Committee, the Community Workers Cooperative is on the PEACE III OP. Social inclusion, gender equality and equality mainstreaming are named as horizontal/cross-cutting issue for the ESF and equality and sustainable development for the Regional OPs.

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8. EAPN Engagement with Structural Funds

EAPN at European and national level has engaged with the Structural Funds from the beginning and focuses on the potential of the Funds to act a tool for addressing social exclusion. This involves lobbying to influence the shape of the funds in each round and the Regulations which outline the rules for the Funds. It continues to monitor implementation as the funds to ensure that social inclusion remains as high a priority as possible and engages with and lobbies the European Commission’s Regional and Employment and Social Affairs Directorate Generalates which are responsible for the Structural Funds. EAPN (Europe) coordinates a working group of members from each Member State through which it collates its information on Structural Funds.
EAPN Ireland Training for Trainers Manual

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