‘New challenges and approaches to cross-border cooperation’
Chair Peter Osborne, Director Anthony Soares, Members of the Board and distinguished guests,
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis an Ionad don Staidéar Trasteorann as cuireadh a thabhairt dom labhairt ag comhdháil an lae inniu. Beidh na pléití inniu agus amárach ina ábhar thar a bheith úsáideach chun ár smaointeoireacht i dteannta a chéile a fhorbairt i dtaobh na gcaidreamh trasteorann atá againn agus i dtaobh cuir chuige nua chun na caidrimh sin a chothú.
Tá ról thar a bheith ríthábhachtach ag an Ionad i dtaobh idirphlé riachtanach a éascú maidir le caidrimh Thuaidh/Theas, agus caidrimh Thoir/Thiar go deimhin - agus tá ról ag an ionad freisin a chinntiú go dtabharfar cluas do na daoine sin go léir a bhfuil leas acu sna caidrimh sin.
I have seen how the work of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, since 1999, has shown the value of research on the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of cross-border cooperation. It has provided evidence and analysis that has helped to inspire and shape the development of North/South and East/West cooperation for almost 25 years.
In particular, your work provides a channel through which perspectives from civil society can influence and shape public policy, so that policy approaches on all sides are better informed.
The work of the Centre in monitoring the conditions for North/South cooperation, and how those conditions are evolving in a post-Brexit context, is extremely valuable.
Today, I want to briefly touch on the political challenges we face but devote the greater part of my remarks this morning looking at the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of North/South Cooperation
The long shadow of Brexit hangs over relationships on these islands and has fundamentally changed the EU-UK relationship.
Unilateral action – whether on the Protocol or on legacy – will not bring sustainable solutions and is at odds with the spirit of partnership that underpins the Good Friday Agreement.
With the right political will, I have no doubt that solutions can be found on the issues around implementation of the Protocol.
I recently met with PM Truss and regularly discuss the subject with EU counterparts.
I am convinced that we all want a negotiated solution. There is an opportunity now to inject fresh impetus into EU-UK discussions.
I believe there is a path to an agreed way forward if we keep our focus on the real problems that affect people in Northern Ireland and on identifying practical and pragmatic solutions.
It would allow businesses in Northern Ireland to reap the full opportunities that the Protocol presents, and it would support the development of a more positive and cooperative relations between the EU and the U.K.
As we look towards a difficult and economically challenging winter, it is deeply regrettable that the Executive is not in place to provide the leadership that the people of Northern Ireland need and deserve.
What we are faced with is the decision of one political party not to operate the Institutions.
More than four months after the May elections, the Assembly has not been able to function – denying the mandate given by the people in those elections.
As we approach the October 28th deadline for Executive formation, I urge the parties to move forward so that Northern Ireland can once again have a functioning Assembly and Executive and resume the work of the North South Ministerial Council.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, we owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to give it our best effort.
Turning now to the theme of the conference, when I look at the island of Ireland today I see
an island of over 7 million people, with a more diverse population than at any previous point.
an island where cross-border trade in goods alone came to €7.5 billion in 2021.
an island where there are 110 million border-crossings by people annually.
An island where we need to maximise the opportunities of collaboration and cooperation to build a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for all.
The imperatives to do so are clear.
By working together we can better meet the shared global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.
To be globally competitive we must exploit the opportunities of all island economic cooperation – maximising economies of scale, fostering innovation and future proofing our skills base.
In terms of public services there is much we can learn from each other but we can – and should – also collaborate to deliver more efficient and effective public services for our citizens.
Sitting here in Dundalk you know only too well that balanced regional development requires us to work together on a cross border basis to fully develop the North West, the Central Border Region, the Newry / Dundalk axis, and the entire Dublin-Belfast corridor.
Above all, sharing this island, requires us to continue our journey of patient and careful work building relationships and partnerships across the island.
The Good Friday Agreement established the North South Ministerial Council to exchange information; develop cooperation on matters of mutual interest and reach agreement on common policies and action. Within the NSMC the North/South Bodies have a special role in implementing policies and programmes on an all-island basis.
Structures and Institutions matter.
The Council is not currently meeting in the absence of a functioning Executive. But challenges to its work long predate the Assembly election in May or the vacancies in the offices of First Minister and deputy First Minister which arose in February.
No positive or constructive agenda is served by this approach.
We should be talking, through the structures created by the Good Friday Agreement, about how we can work together to grow our economy, to address climate and environmental challenges, to strengthen our transport connectivity and how to improve our health and education services – to name but a few.
The Good Friday Agreement gave us, in the form of the NSMC, a structure through which we can do all these things, and do them successfully. It is unacceptable that the Council is not being permitted to do that job and I hope it can before too long.
We will continue to work to support the restoration of the NI Executive, the full operation of the NSMC and to foster the wider political and civic support so critical for advancing North/South cooperation.
This is where organisations like the Centre for Cross Border Studies have such an important role to play – to deepen understanding and to foster webs of connectivity at different levels and in different sectors.
Business too is playing its role with, for example, the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council clearly articulating the case for ‘Business on a Connected Island’ to maximise the island of Ireland market and integrated supply chains; to grow business and create new jobs.
At a regional level also we are seeing exciting developments. The North West City Region is now a vibrant integrated partnership with strong people-to-people links, economic and environmental relationships.
Over here on the east coast the links between Newry and Dundalk have always been strong and new exciting partnerships are being developed along the Dublin-Belfast corridor.
So we are seeing civil society, business and local authorities all stepping up to the challenge of building stronger North South connectivity and cooperation on the island.
The Irish Government too is stepping up, building on the potential of the Good Friday Agreement.
Resourcing, prioritising and delivery are at the heart of our approach.
The Shared Island initiative, which I established in the Department of the Taoiseach and launched almost two years ago is about taking up the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement, to build a shared, reconciled future on this island, working with all communities.
Central to this approach is an unprecedented political and resource commitment that we have made to all-island investment, through our €1billion Shared Island Fund.
Together with the forthcoming PEACEPLUS €1.1billion programme, this represents unparalleled funding for cross-border investment in support of shared peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland.
This will take forward the practical, hard work of delivering cross-border infrastructure projects; identifying and addressing common environmental, economic and social challenges; and investing to release the full capacity of our border regions.
We are deploying the Shared Island Fund through all-island partnerships, working with the Northern Ireland Executive, UK Government, Local Authorities, educational institutions and civil society.
More than €120 million has already allocated by Government from the Shared Island Fund over the last two years.
Backed by the Shared Island Fund, the Government is now moving forward with delivery of the Ulster Canal, and the Narrow Water Bridge here in County Louth.
Two major cross-border infrastructure projects that have been talked and talked about for decades.
In moving from commitment to action, we are not only delivering these landmark sustainable tourism and recreation assets for the central and east border regions.
We are also showing the benefit and impact of ambitious cross-border working: creating opportunities; connecting people; and, broadening our interactions across communities.
My focus is on projects and outcomes that make a real difference to communities on the ground – on both sides of the border.
With the Shared Island unit leading from the Department of the Taoiseach I am ensuring that priority is given across Government to all-island projects, initiatives and policy development.
I have asked all Ministers to identify Shared Island investment, policy or cooperation initiatives under their portfolio. Progress to implement Programme for Government objectives and NDP priorities on Shared Island is being carefully tracked including through regular updates to Cabinet.
Next generation of projects
And, because our Shared Island initiative is looking forward, we are also developing and delivering a new generation of cross-border approaches and investments.
A key element of our approach has been to develop open competitive all-island programmes, investing in and fostering North/South partnerships without jurisdictional restrictions.
In August last year the Government launched a major new €40m North/South Research Programme specifically to support collaborative research, innovation and development between higher education institutions and researchers on the island, focusing on shared challenges. And in March this year we announced a total of €37.3m for 62 collaborative projects in the first round of funding under the Programme.
In April, I launched the Government’s new competitive Shared Island Local Authority funding scheme. This provides seed capital for new cross-border investment projects, with €5m through the Shared Island Fund.
There has been a really strong response from Local Authority partnerships to the call for proposals.
This afternoon, in Cavan Town, I will be joined by the Minister for Housing, Heritage and Local Government to launch the 25 successful awards under the scheme.
This will enable the movement from ideas to action: scoping out new cross-border propositions for creative industry clusters and agrifood innovation hubs; growing the circular economy and decarbonising public buildings - to mention just some of the 25 projects we are supporting.
And we will do more - from funding of all-island research hubs to programmes for enterprise partnerships.
Taking a collaborative approach to new and emerging challenges is another fruitful way forward – enabling a sharing of expertise and best practice but crucially also joint work on some of the key issues our citizens are facing.
In July, we allocated €15m for a new scheme to support the installation of Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure at sports clubs and grounds right across the island.
And, we provided €3m for cross-border community climate action partnerships. To support local interventions that can help meet climate and energy targets, North and South.
We are looking now at closer collaboration on the potential of hydrogen energy.
We aim to do significantly more on climate action working with a new Executive in Northern Ireland - and with the British Government - as part of our Shared Island agenda.
I am strongly of the view that we need to be more ambitious for what we can do in the area of public service delivery on the island.
Ensuring our citizens can access the appropriate health care nearest to them and rolling out highly specialised services on an island wide basis.
In the area of Education, the Government will seek to do significantly more with a new Northern Ireland Executive, and with the British Government, through the framework of the Good Friday Agreement. To step up our cooperation and support, particularly on educational attainment issues.
I want to see Education as a far more central concern for how we work through the Agreement in the years ahead.
Over the last eighteen months, through the Shared Island Dialogue series, we have been listening to civil society on how, in practice, we could better share this island.
I welcome the fact that the Centre for Cross-Border Studies, members of the Ad Hoc Group for North/South and East/West cooperation, and many others here today, are active participants in the Dialogue series.
We have directly involved almost 2,000 citizens and civic leaders so far, and continuing through this year.
Looking at common interests and opportunities to deepen our interactions North and South.
And, engaging with wider questions. For instance, on the equality agenda; on arts and culture; and on ending gender-based violence and abuse, an urgent societal task.
In all of this, we are working to ensure that underrepresented voices and experiences - including of women, young people and ethnic minorities - are heard.
The Dialogues are proving to be positive, practical, clear-eyed civic engagement about how we shape the future of this island.
And the Shared Island Dialogues are providing starting points for deeper conversations and civic initiatives such as the All-Island Women’s Forum and the iCommunity project led by The Wheel and Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action.
We can only benefit from greater sharing of experience, and shaping of shared visions and goals for this island, thinking both North/South and East/West.
As all of you in this room know, wide ranging and inclusive civic interaction is fundamental to building positive engagement across communities and borders.
It is critical in affirming a context for cooperation and indeed coexistence, where no one’s community identity, beliefs or aspirations for the future are compromised.
Of making real the vision of the Good Friday Agreement of working in practical ways for reconciliation.
The Centre for Cross Border Studies has been at the heart of the civil society ecosystem that is so vital part of the Peace Process, over the last 25 years and for the years ahead.
I look forward to your continuing contribution as we continue the journey of reconciliation on this island, founded on the Good Friday Agreement, and I wish you well with the remainder of your conference.
Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.