Thursday, 27 May 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
166. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the work that his Department is currently undertaking to develop the North South Consultative Forum that is envisaged in recent British-Irish bilateral agreements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22498/10]
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin): The establishment of the North/South Consultative Forum, provided for in both the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement, has been discussed with the Northern Ireland Executive at all the plenary meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council since the re-establishment of the Executive in May 2007. At those meetings, the Government delegation is led by the Taoiseach, while the Northern Ireland Executive delegation is led by the First Minister and deputy First Minister. The plenary meeting in July 2007 noted the intention of the Northern Ireland Executive first to complete its review of the Northern Ireland Civic Forum, a body provided for in the Good Friday Agreement for consulting civic society in Northern Ireland. That review is still outstanding.
During 2008, the Government consulted with the social partners and various cross-Border and North/South groups on the establishment of the Consultative Forum. Following on from this we formally communicated our proposals to the Northern Ireland Executive on the role, format, membership and operation of the Forum.
On 15 October 2009, as a contribution to the process leading to the establishment of the Forum, the Government facilitated a consultative conference in Farmleigh involving the social partners and other civil society groups from across the island. The conference was opened by the Taoiseach. Participants from across the island came from all traditions, including representatives from business, the trade union movement, agriculture and the community and voluntary sector. There was a wide ranging discussion on the role of civil society and its capacity to contribute meaningfully to cross-Border co-operation. There was strong support for further such engagement to explore specific areas for co-operation, North and South, at the level of civil society.
Following on from the October event, and to contribute further to the process leading to the establishment of the Consultative Forum, a second consultative conference took place in Dublin, yesterday, 26 May. As on the occasion in October last, the event was well attended, with over one hundred representatives from civil society from both parts of the island in attendance. There were two panel discussions on the key themes of the conference; sport and young people, and the role that innovation can play in economic recovery, North and South. There was further strong endorsement for continuing engagement between representatives of civil society, North and South. The establishment of the formal North South Consultative Forum will be further discussed at the next plenary meeting of the NSMC, scheduled for 5 July 2010. We will press strongly to have the matter brought to an early conclusion.
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