The €500 million figure quoted by the SDLP is substantiated by European Commission figures for EU regional funding of Northern Ireland. However, this is not a ‘net’ figure and does not take into account Northern Ireland’s proportion of the UK’s contribution to the EU. A more complete statement would be to say that Northern Ireland receives €55/£45 million more than we pay to the EU.

The “Battle Bus”

The SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, launched his bid to be elected on 23 May 2019, to one of Northern Ireland’s three seats in the European Parliament. On 8 May, there was a photocall in front of a campaign bus with the displayed claim: “Europe sends us €500 million a year”. The “us” refers to Northern Ireland.

The debate

This has resulted in a debate about both the amount and nature of funds being sent by Europe to the region. Another European election candidate, TUV party leader, Jim Allister, accused the SDLP leader of reflecting a state of “dreamland versus reality”. The DUP MEP, Diane Dodds, who is fighting the same election, also contested both the figure and the basis of Eastwood’s assertion, stating: “The money we get from Brussels originates in UK pockets as we are net contributors to the EU. It is our own money coming back.”

Where does the SDLP figure come from?

According to an SDLP representative contacted by FactCheckNI, the €500 million figure quoted on the side of the SDLP battle bus was derived from data released by the European Commission:

Notes: Figures are in € millions; figures do not include any match funding by the Northern Ireland Executive; figures do not include other sources of EU funding, such as Horizon 2020.

This details that €3,533.1 million is to be delivered in Northern Ireland over seven years between 2014 and 2020, which can be broken down to the approximate annual figure of €500 million used by the SDLP. However, this does not consider the contributions made by the region; it is not a net figure.

UK net contribution

A recent fact check by Full Fact detailed the overall net contribution of the United Kingdom as a whole and found that in 2017, the UK paid in £8.9 billion more than it got back. The House of Commons Library research service published the following illustration, showing the calculation of the net contribution:

Northern Ireland net contribution

An 2016 fact check by FactCheckNI explored the claim that Northern Ireland was a net contributor to the EU. We concluded:

“This claim is false, as we estimate that Northern Ireland was a net recipient of £74 million in the 2014/15 financial year. Others have claimed that Northern Ireland is a recipient of £58 million, but this fails to take into account the requirement for match funding under the PEACE Programme and the exact value of farm subsidies.”

Northern Ireland’s estimated net contribution to the EU can be calculated by using mid-year population estimates for 2016 (for the 2017 budget):

Estimated surpluses or deficits for future years will depend on actual figures and historic foreign exchange rates.


The claim that Northern Ireland receives €500 million annually from the EU is accurate as a rough average over the period 2014-2020. However, this is a gross figure that excludes Northern Ireland’s financial contribution towards the EU budget.

For the 2017 budget, we estimate that Northern Ireland received a net surplus of £45 million. The actual amount will be affected by historic foreign exchange rates.

It should also be noted that these figures exclude any direct funding to organisations for EU-wide programmes that are open for competitive bidding, such as Horizon 2020. Such income increases any contribution surplus to Northern Ireland.

Image source: Nichola MALLON

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