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European Law Monitor newsA new beginning for the future of Northern Ireland

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso met with Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness on 1 May to welcome in a new era of power sharing in Northern Ireland. After three and a half years of diplomatic deadlock, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are now coming together to lead the Northern Ireland Assembly from 8 May onwards.

"I want to pay tribute to the courage that you have both shown and I also want to acknowledge the role that the British and Irish Governments have played in reaching this point," said Mr Barroso on his very first visit to the province.

The EU has a longstanding commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future for Northern Ireland. Since the late 1980s, the province has received over two and a half billion euros of EU funding for peace-promoting projects.

"Our commitment is to continue this support," said Mr Barroso. A budget of €1bn has been allocated for 2007-2013 and will go towards the Lisbon strategy's growth and jobs objectives with a view to creating a more entrepreneurial economy. To this end, a new taskforce will look into how Northern Ireland can maximise its share of European funding.

During the meeting, NI leaders told Mr Barroso they were highly privileged to have him visit the incoming administration in person. "We are delighted that President Barroso is with us and he has made a little bit of history in that he is the first president of the European Commission to actually come into this building [Stormont parliament building]," the Sinn Fein leader said. Mr Paisley echoed this view, saying: "We need the help of the European Union. There are two areas where we need help. We need financial help but also the aid of the experts."

It is hoped that conflict zones elsewhere in Europe and beyond will also be able to benefit from the knowledge and experience gained from the EU's peace and reconciliation programmes.