By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The government’s plan to include Kerry and Clare in the have-nots region of a new rich-poor partition of the country — aimed at maximizing EU grants — has been thrown out by Brussels. Now Ireland is to be split into two 13-county areas.
Announcing the setback during a visit to Dublin of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the government had got "practically all that we sought."
"We are not entirely happy, but about 95 percent happy," he said.
The decision means the poorer counties in the West, Midlands and border areas will continue to receive what is called Category One status aid under the EU Structural funds.
Category One status is granted by Brussels if the per capita income in GDP terms is below 75 percent of the EU average.
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It means the less well off areas will get greater subsidies for farm and industrial development. Industrial grant aid will be 40 percent, compared with 20 percent in other areas of the country.
It is estimated that up to £200 million could be involved.
Previously the whole of Ireland had qualified, but increased prosperity has meant that overall national income levels exceed the threshold.
The newly designated poorer region involves about 30 percent of the population and 60 percent of the land.
Included are Donegal, Sligo, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Cavan, Monaghan, Louth, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and Laois.
The three regions included have GDPs of 66 percent (Midlands), 71 percent (West) and 76 percent (Border Counties).
The efforts to tag on Kerry and use Clare to link it to the counties farther north were criticized as "a farcical patchwork" and "blatant subsidy-shopping" by the opposition.
However, the late addition of Kerry to poorer region delighted colorful South Kerry Independent TD Jackie Healy-R’, who had been strongly lobbying for his county to be split off from the wealthier Cork.
The Southwest region has a GDP of 102 percent, but, taken alone, Kerry’s GDP is 68 percent.
Healy-R’ claimed his area was "bog rock and wilderness, emptied of people by emigration" and he is now looking for special consideration from the government.
Support from the Kerry TD is crucial to the survival of the minority Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition.
Four months ago Healy-R’ traveled home in triumph from Dublin when Kerry’s penurious state appeared to be in line to get more handouts from Brussels.