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Address by the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin T.D., on the occasion of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Plenary, Farnham, Co Cavan


Good morning to you all and a sincere thanks to British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Co-Chairs Brendan Smith TD and Karen Bradley MP for inviting me to speak here today. 


I am particularly delighted to be back in person, after the last few years, for the 62nd British Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary here in Cavan. 


I would like to compliment the committee chairs and the wider membership of BIPA on the excellent programme you have put together for your plenary meeting.


With representatives here from the Oireachtas, the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly, the High Court of Tynwald and the States of Guernsey and Jersey, there can be no better place for taking stock of the British-Irish relationship. 


The border region – a unique shared space

The deep nature of our ties is clear to see in Cavan and across the border region. Our shared history, interconnected economies and our cultural, family and community connections, make this a unique space.


The dividends that the Good Friday Agreement has delivered over almost 25 years – in terms of peace, reconciliation and collaboration – are also well understood in this region. 


Those dividends were powerfully demonstrated very recently in the outpouring of practical support and empathy following the terrible accident in Creeslough, Co. Donegal.


In the midst of such tragedy, we saw communities, citizens and emergency responders on both sides of the border rally to help. The very best of human nature - the best of human decency and courage - was evident in the huge response, characterised by friendship, genuine concern and support across borders and communities.


British-Irish relations

Given the proximity of our islands, our shared past and present, and our rich community and family ties, the British-Irish relationship is of fundamental importance. The recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II provided a touchstone to reflect on that relationship.


As I said at the time - “The Queen’s reign was one of historic duration, immense consequence and a focus of respect and admiration around the world.” The Queen’s steadfast commitment to reconciliation and partnership on these islands has always been deeply appreciated by the people of Ireland. 


Her State Visit in 2011 marked a crucial step in good relations between our two countries. Her words and dignified gestures paved a pathway towards true friendship, which we must continue to build on.


Given her legacy, the President and I valued the opportunity to pay our respects at the service for reflection in Belfast and at the State Funeral in London.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


I speak at a time of political change and some uncertainty in the United Kingdom as we look at the prospect of a third British Prime Minister this year.  I wish them well in the challenging times ahead.


This has undeniably been a difficult period in British Irish relations.


While recognising that Brexit has fundamentally changed the relationship, I am clear that the UK remains an important partner for us given our trade and intertwined economies, our ties of family, history and culture, and our shared commitment to democratic values and norms.


It is in this context that your gathering here today, and the work of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly, is so important. 


The engagements you have as Parliamentarians help build understanding, develop common objectives and, crucially, build relationships that will endure into the future – supporting renewed and positive British-Irish relations.


I was also delighted to see Lord Speaker, John McFall, address the Seanad in early October. I met with Lord McFall during his visit and I fully support his call for intensified efforts to “build enduring relationships between our two Parliaments”. Learning from the generation of leaders who gave us the Good Friday Agreement and building relationships between our next generation of leaders – that is our collective task. 


A stable and prosperous Britain is in all our interests. 


To the incoming British Prime Minister, I want to stress the importance of the two Governments working in partnership to support the gains of the Good Friday Agreement. 


Our joint responsibilities of stewardship of the Agreement are more critical than ever now in the absence of a properly functioning Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.  



This year and next we are marking the milestones of 50 years of membership of the EU. Our EU membership has played a key role in our transformation into an open, globalised and progressive country. Our membership is grounded in shared values and through the EU we can better influence and advance our goals on the world stage. 


As we celebrate this milestone, we must also reflect on the significant and profound change that Brexit has brought, across these islands. 


Managing that change has undoubtedly been challenging, but I believe that it is all our interests to see a close and stable EU-UK relationship into the future - one founded on our shared values, common global interests and our important trade and economic links. In an increasingly troubled and troubling world, close neighbours strengthen our resilience. 


There is a real opportunity to find jointly agreed solutions around the implementation of the Protocol. But substance is what is now required to sustain good intentions and catalyse durable solutions, and I urge the new British Prime Minister to move quickly to genuine and substantive engagement with the EU on that basis.


Our focus must be on finding solutions that address the real problems that affect people and businesses in Northern Ireland. 


Partnership, vision and compromise delivered the Good Friday Agreement. We need to see a return to that partnership approach to resolve the genuine concerns of people and businesses in Northern Ireland. 


Northern Ireland

I want to take this opportunity to reflect on a particularly important milestone next year – the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. 


That Agreement is a series of interlocking and reinforcing commitments that gave all of us – the two Governments, political parties, civil society – specific tools and responsibilities to make peace a lasting reality.


It is also one of the best examples in our collective histories of what we can achieve when we work together. The 30 years of violence that it effectively brought to an end claimed over 3,500 lives.


There are people alive today because Hume and Trimble, Ahern and Blair, their predecessors and successors, came together for peace. They sold difficult compromises then and in the years that followed to their own supporters, on decommissioning, the release of paramilitary prisoners, and on changes to our Irish Constitution. In doing so, they put the needs of everyone in Northern Ireland, ahead of their own ideologies.  


The Agreement was a determination – endorsed by citizens on both sides of the border – that politics, not violence, is the only way forward.


This was based on a belief, that politics had the potential to make Northern Ireland, a better, more peaceful and more prosperous place to live. 


As democrats, this is a belief that I am sure all of us in this room continue to hold. 


However, the decision of one political party not to participate in the Northern Ireland Executive runs counter to democracy and risks undermining the faith of people in the potential of politics. 


There is a genuine risk that people in Northern Ireland will become disengaged from a political process that they do not feel is working for them. Politics has to respond to the legitimate, everyday needs of voters. As John Hume often reminded us, “you can’t eat a flag; real politics is about the living standards, about social and economic development.” Ultimately, voters in Northern Ireland expect their politicians to deliver for them on these issues. 


We are entering into a winter where communities and families will face enormous challenges. The cost of putting a decent meal on the table, heating our homes, or getting to work, school, or to visit our family and friends is rising. It is incumbent upon us, as elected representatives, to lessen those burdens where we can.


In Northern Ireland, the absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly makes a challenging situation all the more difficult. 


This is a moment for politicians to embrace their responsibilities to the voters of Northern Ireland. It is time for the Assembly to function and a new Executive to be established before the 28th of October deadline.


Failure to do this is a denial of the mandate voters in Northern Ireland gave to their political representatives. 


Shared Island


As we work through these vital concerns, in the Irish Government we are also fostering a positive agenda for the future, through our Shared Island initiative.


As I said when I established and launched the Initiative, and indeed as I set out to this Assembly last year, this is an open, inclusive approach to the future of this island, that all communities and traditions can engage with in confidence. 


It has been established to unlock the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement to deepen cooperation and connections across our borders and communities.


So that together – whatever your identity- we work for a shared, reconciled future.


Through this Initiative we are:


- Significantly raising the level of ambition for North/South and East/West partnerships;

- Delivering tangible benefits for the whole island, through our €1billion Shared Island Fund; 


- Enabling people across this island to interact and work in new ways on their common interests and concerns, today and for the years ahead.


Over the last 2 years, we have allocated more than €120 million from our Shared Island Fund.


To move ahead with cross-border investments that had been talked about for decades; like the Ulster Canal restoration and the Narrow Water Bridge. Landmark projects that will connect communities and foster sustainable tourism in the central and east border regions.


We are also delivering a new generation of all-island investments, including a €40m North South Research Programme, and a new scheme of support for collaboration between local authorities on the island. 


We want to deploy the Fund and work in more strategic ways with a new Executive in Northern Ireland and through the North South Ministerial Council.


Importantly also, we’re developing a strong East-West dimension to the Shared Island initiative.


Because strong and sincere partnership between the Irish and British Governments is the fundamental dynamic to move from peace building to prosperity and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.


Citizens and civil society are central in our Shared Island initiative.


We have to nourish and develop our civic and our political relationships in meaningful, inclusive ways. 


That is why I am fully supportive of invigorated British/Irish and North/South parliamentary institutions and connections, focused on the issues that matter most for the people we represent.


Through our Shared Island Dialogue series, we have engaged directly with almost 2,500 citizens and civic representatives.


With contributions across all communities, political traditions and regions on how, together, we shape a shared future on this island.


On practical concerns like community development and growing sustainable tourism.


And on deeper societal questions around accommodating and celebrating our diverse identities and cultural traditions; and how we achieve a more inclusive, equal island.


The Dialogues have been genuinely inspiring for me and the 12 Government Ministers that have participated so far.


Reminding us just how strong is the will and the energy in communities up and down this island to live up to the core commitment Good Friday Agreement:


‘To strive in every practical way for reconciliation’.


In this way we are fostering conversations on the future that don’t constantly reduce our interests and interactions to a false dichotomy of green or orange; unionist or nationalist; Irish or British.


This never adequately described us in the past, and certainly doesn’t today on this diverse and diversifying island we share.


When we reflect on the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement, it is worth remembering that this is not the first obstacle that we have encountered. Each time, we have challenged ourselves to ensure that the full potential of the Agreement, of peace, is achieved.


Those that negotiated our peace had the foresight to recognise that peace would require constant work. They also knew that the Agreement was not the end of the peace process; rather it was a ‘truly historic opportunity for a new beginning’. 


As we look forward to the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, we must grasp this historic opportunity to ensure that the institutions of the Agreement flourish and, together, to build a better future for our children.


Go raibh míle maith agaibh agus bain taitneamh as na cúpla lá le chéile.